More about that relative autonomy thing

Lulu of the Lotus-Eaters quilty at philos.umass.edu
Thu Oct 6 09:27:57 MDT 1994


Paul Cockshott writes:
| A commercial language school is a self expanding capital, a public university
| generally is not. There may of course be intermediate institutions, but
| the dividing point is whether they just break even or make a profit.

I well understand Cockshott's distinction between capital and
revenue labor expenditures.  Oddly enough, I once had to argue it to
a Marxism professor who made a strange conflation with the
distinction between manual and intellectual labor.  That said, I
think the distinction is useful in macro-economic distinctions
between forms of economies, or of large tendencies within an
economy.  As determinative of the class-consciousness of an
individual, however, it seems fairly worthless.

Let me be concrete in my example.  Here in Northampton, MA there is
a commercial language school called the 'Language Institute'.  In
the same town there is a prestigious private, non-profit college,
Smith.  The next town over has UMass, a large public university --
nominally funded by the state.  All three of them pay their language
instructors about $1500 for a semester course.  The Language
Institute clearly *exploits* the labor of its instructors in Marxian
terms.  The other two, perhaps do not.  However, this is less than
clear.  Smith is non-profit for tax-purposes, but in fact tuition
monies go to a 'capital fund' which is used for expansion and
reinvestment.  No dividends are paid to shareholders of the college,
but neither are dividends paid in many for-profit corporations.
Most certainly, the administrators (try to) act so as to minimize
labor-costs, while maximizing income, just like in a private
for-profit capitalist firm.  UMass is nominally funded by the state,
rather than direct income (though even that nominal illusion is
largely being abandoned with 'tuition retention'; but let's ignore
that).  However, two things are noteworthy: 1) The actual wage paid
to language instructors is pretty closely tied to that paid in
*competing* schools like the Language Institute and Smith; 2) UMass
has switched much of its language teaching from the main school to
'Continuing Education', in *specific* response to the unionization
of the graduate employees (who make two-three times as much as CE
instructors -- though they are largely the same physical people).
CE is 'self-funded', even though its credits apply to main school
requirements.  I've taught in CE, and the economic arrangement is
basically that students pay $300 each to take a course, while the
instructor gets $100 per student.  It may not be *exploitation*
proper, but it sure FEELS a lot like it.

The question, it seems to me, is if there is ANY reason to think
that the class-consciousness of a language instructor at UMass,
Smith, and Language Institute is one wit different.  Any instructor
is exposed to union-busting management, has a wage subject to
competitive pressure in the local capitalist system, makes the same
wage, and may in fact switch between the schools from semester to
semester.  All incidentally, lack any health-benefits, job-security,
and collective-bargaining.  Actually, I HAD nominal collective
bargaining at another nearby school, where I got paid $1700 for a
course.  It's quite noteworthy, btw.  that currently about 1/3 of
college instructors are short-term, untenured appointments -- most
lacking benefits such as health-insurance.  By the
turn-of-the-century it will be over 50%.  The wages per course go as
low as $1000 in places (occassionally lower).  It would seem as if
one would *more* expect class-consciousness from university
instructors than from, say, steel-workers -- given how much better
off the latter often are (even though technically "exploited").

Yours, Lulu...

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