I asked this question: Are universities run more and more like businesses? What are the consequences?

A couple days ago. The title was edited by someone and I believe the conversation got a bit derailed. I think the title was edited because my original title implied that universities are run like businesses which might be seen as unfair to people but I am just guessing here.

Anyway, although the responses on my original question were very interesting and I appreciate them, as a young academic myself who will go into the job market in the next 2 years (hopefully) what I am really asking is: Given that you believe the following:

  • Universities are run like businesses and put profit above quality
  • Tenure-track positions are declining while "abusive" positions like post-docs and adjuncts are increasing.
  • Meanwhile super highly paid administrators are getting paid more and more.

What can we, as academics, do to fight this trend or get out of it? Do any of you feel guilty for supporting what I feel like is straight up corruption? Or am I being dramatic?

I never complained about the low pay I received as a graduate student because I felt very grateful to be paid at all to learn high-level mathematics. I didn't mind teaching and I love my research. However, I always believed I would do a post-doc or two and become a tenure-track professor if I worked hard enough and published good papers. However, after witnessing what our post-docs go through and seeing some numbers about how pay is distributed within the university, I can't help but thinking that these are not the kind of organizations I want to be a part of even if I do become one of the few successful ones who gets a decent job. So rather than gripe about it, what are some things that can be done? Or is there basically nothing that we can do? I mean, whatever happens, universities are useless without their professors right? Don't we have some kind of power?

  • I have made the same observation in the U.S. Quality of education is going down and schools seem to care more about not upsetting students (i.e. customers) than they do about education. – Aaron Hendrickson Aug 8 '20 at 23:07
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    Universities make no "profit". They have no stockholders. Even private universities plow all revenue back into the organization somehow, sometimes by holding it in reserve. State universities in the US can only operate with tax funded support, though that has declined since no one wants to pay taxes anymore, even to get services. You are misguided, I'm afraid. – Buffy Aug 8 '20 at 23:20
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    In a market economy, any organization that puts quality above breaking even disappears in short order. (In a non-market economy, an organization that wants high quality is just stealing resources from non-consenting others to fund it.) – Alexander Woo Aug 8 '20 at 23:28
  • @Buffy They do not make a "profit" on paper like othe business do. However, they have HUGE endowments which are managed by people paid well over $500k a year. They definitely do not "plow all revenue back into the organization" except to fatten their own paychecks. Sounds like profit to me. Honestly this episode of "The Patriot Act" does a great job of explaining: youtube.com/watch?v=YytF2v7Vvw0 – user128124 Aug 9 '20 at 0:50
  • @pictorexcrucia: You do the arithmetic, and you realize that this kind of corruption actually makes very little difference. Even in the worst cases, if the administrators cut all their salaries down to a reasonable level and used the money to improve the conditions for part-time adjuncts, it would only be enough to help a few percent of the adjuncts. There just isn't enough money overall. (Budgets are all more or less public info. Go look.) – Alexander Woo Aug 9 '20 at 3:28

Before this question gets closed for not being an answerable question, let me try to give some personal life advice, which might sound frivolous but is serious:

Start your own monastery.

Sure most professors care about the quality of their universities, but they also want time and energy to do their research, or they want to have some perks in their life, or they have families they need to support. They also realize that, even if they did take over the university, most of the problems would still remain; they still wouldn't have the funding to provide the small classes and individual support and research opportunities their students need, at least if they wanted to pay themselves above minimum wage.

Forget about industry; it's an order of magnitude worse in industry, where there is no way of making enough money to survive, never mind make a profit, without lying to everyone else left and right.

  • Haha yeah I suppose the question will get closed. Although I really wish some older academics would just give their perspective on how they personally deal with it. Ironically enough, such things do exist which I have the privilege to be involved in. Of course even if I live in an institute in a small village in Turkey, I will have to make a living somehow. gokovagt.org/institute/doku.php If enough people wanted to start a math monastery together, it might just work. – user128124 Aug 9 '20 at 0:54
  • @pictorexcrucia: Having looked into these things a little but not a lot, the biggest barrier to being self-sufficient is growing grains (while still having time to do something other than farming). Small-scale grain farming is hideously inefficient compared to factory farming methods. Growing vegetables isn't so hard. – Alexander Woo Aug 9 '20 at 3:40
  • @AlexanderWoo Barter: exchange of maths, or other, tuition for grains. With or without money... – Solar Mike Aug 9 '20 at 5:43
  • @SolarMike: Who would be your customers? At some point, you're back to trying to start a college - without a reputation to start with - and you're wanting qualified students. I mean you could probably do SAT prep tutoring, but that's a hella shady business. – Alexander Woo Aug 9 '20 at 5:56
  • @AlexanderWoo so now you want a college? In your answer it was a monastery and monasteries tended to get some of their foodstuffs from outside. – Solar Mike Aug 9 '20 at 5:58