Phi Beta Cons

Gulag U.

The January/February issue of Academe, the Association of American University Professors’s monthly magazine, is devoted to unionizing graduate students. Cary Nelson (the president of the AAUP) has announced a goal of 51 percent union representation for these students. With that percentage, he feels that proposals such as making university employers pay into a nationally administered retirement fund for graduate students will become national standards. “Collective bargaining in the middle of a recession is critical,” he says.

I see clearly now that the AAUP is just another union (how did I think otherwise?). But it’s worse. After listing ways to give graduate students more power, Nelson writes: “These goals are critical whatever the future holds, whether it be tenure in the corporate university or part-time wage slavery for life in Gulag U.”

It’s hard to believe that an educated person such as Nelson can so carelessly invoke the Soviet Gulag, the network of forced-labor camps in Siberia used for political repression and one of the grimmest examples of inhumanity in modern history, to describe the prospects of a newly minted Ph.D. And it’s hard for me to believe that yesterday I had some respect for the organization.

Jane S. ShawJane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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