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The Journal of Economic Issues – Editor’s Prize 2020

Quentin Duroy and Jon D. Wisman, The Proletarianization of the Professoriate and the Threat to Free Expression, Creativity, and Economic Dynamism, Volume LIV, Number 3, September 2020


A short note on the motivation for researching and crafting our article, “The Proletarianization of the Professoriate and The Threat to Free Expression, Creativity, And Economic Dynamism.”


During our academic careers, we’ve watched with dismay the rapidly declining freedom of professors in their workplaces. About two years ago, we decided to investigate. What we found was that our freedom of control over our workplaces was being significantly compromised by six major forces, the most important of which has been replacement of tenured with contingent faculty. Whereas in the U.S. in 1969, 78 percent of faculty were tenured or on the tenure track, only 27 percent held this status in 2018. This means that 73 percent of faculty in higher education are on short-term contracts and can be terminated for what they say or write. They constitute a huge subaltern class of unfree professors carrying heavier teacher loads on less pay, poorer office space, and less or no rights to participate in their teaching unit’s decision-making.

The other five forces degrading the faculty’s workplace are: an expansion of for-profit colleges and universities, the rise of online education, the introduction of annual evaluations and merit pay, the development of outcomes assessment, and the increased reliance on external research funding. It became clear that the proletarianization that had over centuries debased craft workers in other industries had come to academia.

But whereas industrial efficiency predominantly doomed earlier craft workers, surging inequality and laissez-faire doctrine are doing so for the professoriate. This has fueled a severe decline in political support for federal and state funding for higher education, condemning students to indebtedness. And efficiency has declined as the ratio of administrators to faculty has skyrocketed, increasing tuition.

But far more is at stake than degradation of faculty’s workplaces. Higher education has long been that social institution in which freedom of expression has been greatest. A restriction in this freedom not only weakens the potential for political freedom, but also economic dynamism. Freedom of expression is critical for invention and innovation. And far from least among the tragedies accompanying the proletarianization of the professoriate is that rising inequality has instilled career insecurity among students, steering them toward trading off a course of study that would stimulate their self-discovery and knowledge-widening for a narrower focus on vocational studies expected to gain them employment security.

The purpose of our article is to stimulate discussion among faculty and administrators within academia concerning the proletarianization of the professoriate and the grander purposes of academia in society.

Jon D. Wisman and Quentin Duroy


Jon D. Wisman is Professor of Economics at American University in Washington, D.C. He has twice been selected by American University as the Outstanding Teacher of the Year. He has published articles and chapters in a wide variety of journals and books, and edited Worker Empowerment: The Struggle for Workplace Democracy. Much recent published work addresses topics in the history of economic thought, guaranteed employment, and the role of inequality in generating economic crises and environmental devastation. During 2002, he served as President of the Association for Social Economics. His book, The Origins and Dynamics of Inequality: Sex, Politics, and Ideology, Oxford University Press, will appear in Fall 2021. CV available at http://www.american.edu/cas/faculty/jdwisma.cfm.; most blog posts available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jon-wisman/

Quentin Duroy is Associate Professor of Economics at Denison University in Ohio. He holds the John E. Harris Chair in Economics and was the 2020 recipient of Denison University’s Brickman Teaching Award. His teaching and research reflect a globally oriented outlook which examines the intersections among neoliberal/laissez-faire ideology, local and global governance, resource use and climate change. His recent scholarship has appeared in the Journal of Economic Issues, Ecological Economics, and La Revue de la Régulation among other venues. He holds a Ph.D. in Ecological Economics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; an M.A. in American Culture Studies from Bowling Green State University; and an M.A. in Economics and Finance from Université de Rennes, France.

Past JEI Editor's Prize awardees:

2019 Thomas Masterson, Ajit Zacharias, Fernando Rios-Avila, and Edward N. Wolff;  "The Great Recession and Racial Inequality: Evidence from Measures of Economic Wellbeing" : Journal of Economic Issues, Volume LIII, Number 4, December 2019

2018  Natalia Bracarense and Karol Gil-Vasquez; "Bolivia's Institutional Transformation: Contact Zones, Social Movements, and the Emergence of an Ethnic Class Consciousness"  Volume LII, Number 3, September 2018


MURIEL PÉRISSE,Université d'Artois Faculté EGASS-Master GRH-MTRH

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Volume LI; Number 1, March 2017




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