The American Corp-University Complex

I swore on my doctoral degree paper that I would never teach another university course as a part-timer, or more honestly called — as an adjunct or ‘adjunk.’

For those unfamiliar with the American University Corporate Complex, the adjunks are the people with higher degrees: Masters, ABDs, All But Dissertations, (have completed all of their doctoral course work including exams, or referred to secretly as unemployable Doctors in the Humanities), which teach regular university courses as professors do, and most importantly — work for wages that are comparable to prison labor stipends. So why do such people with advanced university degrees do such things?

I too crawled back into such dignity killing adjunk work after receiving my doctorate degree. The reason I sacrificed my self-respect was for starting up my ‘new career’ in welding after receiving a useless six-year doctoral degree in history. I chose a community college that offered a course in the manual arts, where there are still some jobs left under monopoly capitalism, and where the pay is often a lot better than many first year assistant professorships. I mean a starting wage at around 50,000 dollars per year. I thought that I would receive one of my manual arts courses for free if I taught an adjunk course for the community college administrators. Well, this used to be the case in the past, but this time around, I only got a few hundred dollars subtracted from my expensive welding course tuition.

I taught the adjunk course for the community college administrators thinking that it would be easy with little or no supervision. They forced me to use their own pre-made course syllabus and their own pre-ordered course textbook. I ignored both during that semester of teaching, but I was soon harassed on all sides by the administration. When they offered me a course for a later semester in my area of doctoral specialty, I was deeply shocked with the new requirements. The dean told me honestly that I had to cover the over 30 plus ‘course outcomes’ for the class. In my previous educational experience, I had never heard of such state mandated ‘course outcomes’ for a university level course. She printed out the course outcomes for me, and told me that I should look them over.

I looked over the ‘course outcomes’ for about ten minutes and I didn’t know whether to laugh or to rip them up. I actually placed the copies in my personal fraud and scam folder. After reading over those outcomes, it was obvious to me that some state bureaucratic hack had written the course outcomes for an area of study that he or she knew nothing about. The person who wrote them obviously knew nothing about the recent historiography in my field. The many outcome themes related to a bad Social Studies course that they tend to give in American public high schools.

After thinking over such outcomes, I began to shudder. It was obvious that the state community college system did not want any critical thinking or real learning to take place inside of the classroom. Instead, they wanted a pathetic wage slave with no self-respect to teach a bunch of rote crap with lots of useless busy work for the students. I thought: the poor students that have had to sit through such a waste of time — and they had to pay lots of money for this! I rejected the offer to teach such a course, and the course went for the same dismal pay as before: 1,000 dollars for four months of teaching. How did American higher education end up like this?

Most of us have used the American university system as students. I lived in it for many years, until I graduated with my PhD inside of a futile humanities program.  A PhD in history opened my mind to new ways of thinking, and I can do research inside of an archive, but as of yet, there is no job for me. I know that I am not the only one stuck as a PhD with no work, and I also know that a few other PhD holders have ultimately found the long desired tenure track, assistant professor position. The actual problem is not I, nor is it the PhD degree. It is an American academy, or a higher education system that has become another corporate complex inside of the global, monopoly capitalist order.

Important questions are in order: why are so many students in debt and without any means to pay the debts back? Why are so many parents fed up with the added on costs of tuition, when the services at the colleges and universities seem to go down for their sons’ and daughters’ education? Why does tuition and other fees keep rising when the students take longer to graduate?

The answer to all of these questions, and the reason why there are so many unemployable PhDs, is due to the corrupt administrators that run both the private universities and the pseudo, state ‘non-profit’ ones. They have successfully transformed the academic world of the university into one of the shameless scams of the new American economic nightmare. The US university system is now up there with cash checking centers and money stores, Wall St. hustlers, bank card and account user fees, variable rate bank mortgages with little money down, and used car dealership leasing agreements. The disaster of the US academy is neither due to professor teaching costs, nor due to athletic program costs. Rather, look to those administrators’ six figure salaries and full round of benefits.1

At the university where I graduated from with my PhD, every Saturday night, the president received specially catered meals at his ‘home,’ which the university paid for completely. The president also received the free use of a car with free parking right by his office, a subsidized house paid by the college funds, special box seats with a fully loaded catered table with alcohol at sporting events, and a luxurious office in the oldest and prettiest building on campus. This was only the president. Imagine what his six figure salary assistants received, then the provosts, the assistant provosts, the deans and the assistant deans. Now tally up the salaries and perks of the multiple administrator-director parasites on every American university campus, everything from ‘affirmative action director’ to ‘foreign student services director’ to ‘alcohol and drug abuse director.’

In a political culture that make a fetish out of democracy, the American higher academy is a hierarchy that resembles the Vatican or the Pentagon — and it is even more ‘byzantine’ than the local City Hall. First, there are the ‘trustees’ or in the case of the state entities, ‘regents.’ Then their appointees: chancellors and presidents. The presidents then appoint their assistants and the next group in line, provosts, assistant provosts, and they in turn appoint, deans and assistant deans, and then they in turn appoint the various directors around campus. There’s no democracy there. All of these positions do two things: they delegate, or really hand down, their workloads onto the people below them and they all make good salaries in the six figure range. These positions have continued to grow astronomically at all universities and colleges. In higher education institutions where the main service is educating students, almost none of them teach.2

The administrators are definitely not dumb, however. They are actually the smartest ones on the campuses. During the 1980s when the reaction on university campuses began to mount, administrators, in collusion with state authorities, began to set up the campus police brigades. They ate donuts like other cops — and most importantly, they had the same legal rights as local cops. No more Sixties crap was the hidden code. At first, campus police forces arrested working class, African-American kids and other lower class drifters that ventured onto the well-cut green lawns, or the privileged space of ‘the campus.’ College kids with white skin privilege could still drink underage and smoke their weed in their dorm rooms. But like all methods of gradual repression, and especially in the United States, this would soon change.

Now the police regularly arrest these same paying students for various infractions that are not crimes in most other countries around the world.3 The United States is the only country in the world with such university police forces and that regularly arrest the same paying customers who study there! This method worked so well that now many community colleges have similar cop gangs. And just like the administrators, regular university cops on the beat make six figure salaries with the full round of benefits.4

What about the tenured professors? They will make six figure salaries after working for over 20 years in the institution. Unfortunately, they often behave as scared, cowardly and institutionalized drones. The tenure system makes them that way. They have had to walk lightly into such a tight system, so that they never offended anybody in order to receive their tenure security blanket. They have had to obey commands for over twenty years of previously schooling. They are well-trained intellectuals and have transformed themselves into the high managerial class on the campuses. There are very few ‘tenured radicals’ left. The ones that do stay in the system, have to moderate and internally police themselves; i.e., Angela Davis, or they end up fired; i.e., Ward Churchill.

Ward Churchill wasn’t the only one. Think Sami Al-Aran, professor and Palestinian rights activist fired from the University of South Florida before moving into the American gulag, or the professor, Norman Finklestein, ‘denied tenure,’ or politely fired due to his exposure of the Zio-Nazi movement. And there are many others, albeit less known, that have suffered under such a cruel system. At my own university where I received the doctorate curse, a ‘tenured’ professor with an Arabic sounding name publicly exposed the practices of animal cruelty within the university. The university administrators used every overt and covert action to kick him out. Finally, a new president arrived on campus. He simply called in the campus police, and the campus police ordered him to vacate his office immediately.

The American college-university, six figure salary club definitely has its perks – and they can fire and hire at will. The college campus has become their sacred garden of delights.

  1. Stripling, Jack and Fuller, Andrea, “Presidents Defend Their Pay as Public Colleges Slash Budgets,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 3, 2011. []
  2. Gonzalez, Yvonne, ” ASU Calls Goldwater Report Seriously Flawed,” State Press, August 23, 2010. []
  3. Henderson, Kelli, “Students with unattended tickets could face arrest by campus police,” The Collegian Online, May 17, 2012. []
  4. Bousquet, Marc, “What UC-Davis Pays for Top Talent,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 19, 2001. []

James Courtney Flaks is an unemployed doctor historian, metal and painting artist, and budding revolutionary. Read other articles by James.