So recently in my travels I encountered a colleague who has ascended to a high level administrative post at his school. We know each other as scholars and are academic friends. He’s the kind of person who I’m happy to see at a conference and with whom I’m happy to share a drink when the opportunity presents itself. Anyway, like lots of places, his school took a massive hit on the endowment. Since they’re private, it hurts even more. He’d ascended to administration hoping to make things better. Now, he’s overseeing some awfully ugly cuts. At one point, he used some euphemistic language that I can’t reconstruct here. I replied, “so you’re going to have to fire professors?” He didn’t visibly cringe but he might as well have as he said something to the effect of “I’d rather you didn’t put it that way. We’re starting with non-renewal of some non-permanent faculty and then we will see.”
We live in scary times. I wonder whether this isn’t going to lead to new kinds of academic shakeups in terms of institutional privilege. Those institutions hit less hard by the current crisis for whatever reason are like investors with extra cash — they can build while everyone else burns. On the flip side, being at a posh private school is apparently no longer insurance that you’ll have good working conditions and job security. According to McGill’s provost, no tenured or tenure track professor in Canada has ever been dismissed for financial distress, so I’m grateful for my own job security, but I worry for the state of the profession and for people in vulnerable positions on either side of the border. And for all the paranoid talk of administrators taking advantage of this opportunity to introduce some new draconian measures, my sense is that they hate it too.
At least I am also running into recent PhDs (like within the last year) who scored some good jobs on the market this year, so all hope is not lost.