The contemporary American university is an enormous Kafkaesque bureaucracy teetering on top of a small Dickensian sweatshop. If we don’t count the sports teams and the research institutes, the university consists of preindustrial artisans, the instructors, divided between a small and shrinking group of elite tenured artisans and a huge and growing number of impoverished apprentices with no hope of decent jobs — with all of the artisans, affluent and poor, crushed beneath the weight of thickening layers of middle managers.
Apart from useful research, most of which could be done just as well in independent institutes, the product of all but the most prestigious American universities consists of diplomas which are rendered progressively more worthless each year thanks to credential inflation. According to the Federal Reserve of New York, the underemployment rate for recent college grads — that is, the percentage working in jobs that do not require a college diploma — was 40% at the end of March 2021. True, workers with college diplomas tend to make more than those without them — but at least some of the premium comes from Starbucks baristas with B.A.s pushing high school graduates into even worse jobs.
In a productive economic sector, labor-saving technology and/or the factory-style division of labor result in what might be called the virtuous circle of industrialism: Prices for consumers fall, wages for workers rise, and the ratio of managers to productive workers stays the same or shrinks. In the American university, however, technological stagnation, artisanal production, and administrative bloat result in rising prices for consumers, falling wages for the majority of productive workers (nontenured instructors) and more and more bureaucrats per worker over time.