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How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation (Cultural Front) Paperback – January 1, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0814799758 ISBN-10: 0814799752
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Editorial Reviews


How the University Works primarily focuses on the current issues faced by humanities and other departments in higher education. Still, this text is an invaluable source for anyone involved in postsecondary studies.”

-Labor Studies Journal

“Not only the most persuasive political argument, but also the most sophisticated theoretical analysis of the university’s labor system.”-The Minnesota Review

“How the University Works is a serious wake-up call for the entire profession, and, based on what I overheard at the [2007 MLA] book fair, Bousquet is about to emerge as the Al Gore of higher education.”

-Thomas Hart Benton,The Chronicle of Higher Education

"Bousquet serves up a stinging indictment of those universities that exploit their students from the moment they set foot on campus. . . . [He] reveals the dystopia that the contemporary university has become."

-The Minnesota Review

“Marc Bousquet’s How the University Works should be required reading for anyone with an interest in the future of higher education, including administrators, faculty members, graduate students, and—even more significantly—undergraduates and their parents.”

-Thomas Hart Benton,The Chronicle of Higher Education

“Bousquet takes an uncompromising look at the way colleges employ those who teach—and how many professors have done nothing as tenured positions have been replaced with adjunct slots.”-Inside Higher Ed

About the Author

Marc Bousquet is Associate Professor of English at Santa Clara University and the founding editor of Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor. His previous books include Tenured Bosses and Disposable Teachers and The Politics of Information: The Electronic Mediation of Social Change.

Cary Nelson is Jublilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also the national president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Among his twenty-five books are Manifesto of a Tenured Radical (also published by NYU) and the landmark coedited collection Cultural Studies.


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Product Details

  • Series: Cultural Front
  • Paperback: 281 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (January 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814799752
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814799758
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #776,661 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Anonymous VINE VOICE on March 10, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book is smart and laudable in its aims, and well worth reading: it argues forcefully against many of the illusions academics, and others, subscribe to about their working conditions, and for a more class-conscious and organized professoriate, one that refuses to allow the invisible trend of adjuncts and graduate students taking over most of the university's teaching load to continue without a fight. Though some of the book's specific analyses are new -- especially its bracing analysis of the use of graduate student labor and its total rejection of the commonplace idea of "the job market" -- its argument in broad outline is far from groundbreaking, but it's still a useful piece of advocacy. It's perhaps a bit oversold, with the author busking its cause in the Chronicle of Higher Education, on YouTube, and with the book's own web site, as well as the gripping cover design; all of this might suggest more novelty and perhaps more of a manifesto than the book actually delivers. What it actually gives us is mostly fairly dry and academic in tone, and the book spends as much time on critical readings of various cultural texts about academic labor as it does analyzing data, synthesizing conclusions, or delivering arguments for proposed solutions.

But the major strike against this book is simply how sorely it needed a good copy-edit from front to back. No book aimed at advocating political change to a broad general audience should be written in such bloated academic-ese. For instance, no one ever simply subscribes to a mistaken view in this book when they can be "interpellated" by it instead. The constant use of vaguely theoretical jargon ought to have been held in check, and the convoluted sentences simplified; the arguments themselves are relatively simple, and mostly right on target, so it's a shame to see them advocated in a manner that will cut them off from the agreement (or even the comprehension) of as many people as possible.
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43 of 49 people found the following review helpful By SocProf on March 11, 2008
Format: Paperback
Marc Bousquet has written quite a book that deserves to be widely distributed not only in academia but to any organization involved in labor issues. The University (capitalized as generic) may be the main topic but the background and consequences apply to general labor-management relations. It's a very dense book that weaves social theory, labor relations history and contemporary academic labor analysis.

It should command one's attention and will give academic readers quite a few "wow, that's what's going on where I work" moments. And if you enjoy Michael Berube's writing, you'll enjoy this as well.

I disagree with the previous reviewer that it is badly written. It is dense, yes, but not inaccessible. Most of the concepts used will be familiar to anyone who has paid attention to labor issues beyond academia. It is one of the arguments of the book that, indeed, academics have tended to not think of themselves as labor, and that therefore, academia would be exempt from the major trends affecting the labor market. It has been a costly mistake, for instance, with the massive increase in the use of contingent work. Two major points made by the book:

*"We are not `overproducing Ph.Ds'; we are underproducing jobs." The university would not be able to function without the reserve army of graduate students and contingent workers. In this sense, the work they do constitutes REAL jobs and positions that are simply never filled but could be filled by degree holders. But the way the managed university works is to fill these positions with contingent work, on a casualized basis and treat them as if they were not actual positions.
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Format: Paperback
Marc Bousquet is efficient in revealing (though often in horrible heavyset prose) the system of increased corporatization of universities (since 1960s) and its progressing reliance on exploited labor of graduate students, part-timers and (no-benefits) adjuncts. Bloated ranks of administrations, inflated athletic programs, kowtowing to the whims of rich donors who are often quite illiterate themselves are indeed signatures of the modern American edutainment industry.

"Cheap labor" graduate students who teach for many years are getting kicked out upon graduation only to enhance the pool of part-timers at other colleges. The corporate "system" is identified as the biggest problem and the class of "management" that "enjoys solidarity" as the primary foe of academics, who need to unionize and oppose the exploitators ("by the most inclusive forms of unionization", p. 28).

Page 27: "Imagine what would happen to graduate programs... if they were held responsible for... the employment of every person to whom they granted a PhD but who was unable to find academic employment elsewhere. In many locations the pipeline would jam in the first year!"
I hear sincere enthusiasm here, an Utopian dream of professorship for everybody and even a call for authoritarian rationing of PhD degree holders production.

Still, the author never asks an obvious question: why do we see the commercialization of higher education in the first place? The "system" in his view is such a big and horrendous monster to be destroyed that the author is unable to master the fortitude to look past it and analyze from what kind of social mutation this monster came to life.
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