Curtis Bowman has posted a very interesting review of Marc Bousquet's How The University Works. The review is wide-ranging and I recommend the entire article to you. One passage in particular, though, struck a chord with me. Discussing Chapter 4: Students Are Already Workers, Bowman writes:
The growth of work-study jobs, as is to be expected, has come at the expense of full-time staff members, i.e., secretaries, library workers, and the like. Consequently, an ever greater percentage of staff-related work is performed by students.The LumpenProf's oldest Lumpkin has just started college, and along with a host of other brand new experiences has come the new experience of a work-study job. She's working in the dining hall during lunch twice a week. This is part of her financial aid package, and has been a welcome alternative to student loans. But the notion of work-study has always made me uneasy, in much the same way that using prison labor makes me uneasy. The goal of teaching students, or of rehabilitating prisoners, does not fit easily with the notion that an institution might also benefit directly from the cheap labor of these populations. That there is a conflict of interest here should be obvious. And even though Karl Marx himself writes in The Communist Manifesto, that there ought to be a "combination of education with industrial production," I have never been terribly impressed with the revolutionary potential of that particular goal.
Faculty, parents, and students themselves, often tend to focus on the positive aspects of these work-study relationships -- building character, job skills, minimizing student debt, etc. But as Bowman correctly notes, it also means universities are free to hire fewer full-time staff. This union-busting aspect of student work-study perhaps should be an issue in much the same way prison labor is when used to compete with outside workers. And parents and students might also notice, as Bowman writes, that "such steps obviously lead to a decline in the quality of the very institutions that cut costs in the above fashion. Such measures are really little more than a form of slow-motion institutional suicide."
There is also a downside for faculty that often goes unnoticed. Each semester at my institution I meet the new cohort of student workers manning the phones and copy room. But after a recent three-day back and forth over how to send a fax (that ended with me sending the document by snail mail), I begin to suspect that I may be disadvantaged by not having more full-time professional staff helping me in my day to day work.
I was initially very happy about my daughter's work-study arrangement. But now I'm starting to have second thoughts. I think work-study may just be evil. It's difficult for me to imagine, though, turning down the work-study offer and taking out student loans instead. It's equally difficult for me to imagine going on a crusade on my own campus against the use of student workers. I don't think students, faculty, parents, or even staff would support it. What do others think about this? Is this a real issue? Or is the LumpenProf just worrying too much?