The Great Stratification (of Academic Labor)
Writing in the Chronicle Review of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffery J. Williams contrasts the structure of the academic labor market with that of medicine:
Given that there are more than 1.4 million college faculty members in the United States, it is clear that they are not disappearing. But the all-purpose professor has faded. We have tended to see the professor as a single figure, but he is now a multiple being, of many types, tasks, and positions. And instead of the traditional idea of a community of scholars, all roughly equivalent, we now have a distended pyramid, with a huge base of people whose primary job is teaching, often entry-level courses; a layer of specialists in particular fields and researchers who may hardly even teach above them; and a thin spire of administrators commanding the peak.
The spread of academic labor follows the trend of other professions. The idea of the professional usually evokes a generic image—the old-fashioned family doctor, for instance, who hung out his shingle—but now we have a much more variegated system of alpha and beta practitioners. And … most professionals now work in hierarchical bureaucratic structures.
Along with the greater differentiation of tasks over the past 50 years, we have experienced a progressively steeper stratification of academic workers.
The comparison with medicine, however inexact, suggests a few ideas that we might be able to use. …[H]ealth-care professionals maintain their employment conditions in part through their professional organization, and particularly for nurses, unionization.