What has happened in one industry after another is that it has become standard practice to tell people who create anything of aesthetic or intellectual value that they are going to have to be cool with getting paid little or nothing for their work while the people who develop the closed platforms used to “share” what they produce burn through a few rounds of VC money figuring out how to monetize their users. So this summer, I read about Mark Zuckerberg refinancing his multimillion dollar mortgage at 1% interest and then about how the members of Grizzly Bear contemplated whether they would be able to afford health insurance.
I just can’t imagine this playing out too differently in academia. We are such easy marks. Compared to academics, indie rock musicians are positively entrepreneurial. Just look at how we have allowed for-profit publishers to amass fortunes built on our free labor. Decisions about how MOOCs get implemented will be made above our pay grade, anyway, by university administrators who are constantly faced with difficult decisions that pit fiscal realities agains institutional ideals. I would not trade places with them, and I don’t want to caricature them as ruthless pragmatists with no patience for the life of the mind. But it seems hard to explain the alarming shift toward dependence on precarious labor over the last decade, with non-tenure track faculty positions added at approximately three times the rate of tenure-track or tenured positions (raw data are here) without assuming at least a weak bias in favor of budgetary concerns over the ideal of academic freedom.