How the University Works

Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation

281 pages

4 illustrations

January, 2008

ISBN: 9780814799741



Also available in


Marc Bousquet is Associate Professor of English at Santa Clara University and the founding editor of Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor. His previous books include Tenured Bosses and Disposable Teachers and The Politics of Information: The Electronic Mediation of Social Change.

All books by Marc Bousquet

Cary Nelson is Jublilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also the national president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Among his twenty-five books are Manifesto of a Tenured Radical (also published by NYU) and the landmark coedited collection Cultural Studies.

All books by Cary Nelson

As much as we think we know about the modern university, very little has been said about what it's like to work there. Instead of the high-wage, high-profit world of knowledge work, most campus employees—including the vast majority of faculty—really work in the low-wage, low-profit sphere of the service economy. Tenure-track positions are at an all-time low, with adjuncts and graduate students teaching the majority of courses. This super-exploited corps of disposable workers commonly earn fewer than $16,000 annually, without benefits, teaching as many as eight classes per year. Even undergraduates are being exploited as a low-cost, disposable workforce.

Marc Bousquet, a major figure in the academic labor movement, exposes the seamy underbelly of higher education—a world where faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates work long hours for fast-food wages. Assessing the costs of higher education’s corporatization on faculty and students at every level, How the University Works is urgent reading for anyone interested in the fate of the university.


  • “Bousquet takes an uncompromising look at the way colleges employ those who teach—and how many professors have done nothing as tenured positions have been replaced with adjunct slots.”

    Inside Higher Ed

  • “Marc Bousquet’s How the University Works should be required reading for anyone with an interest in the future of higher education, including administrators, faculty members, graduate students, and—even more significantly—undergraduates and their parents.”

    —Thomas Hart Benton, The Chronicle of Higher Education

  • “How the University Works is a serious wake-up call for the entire profession, and, based on what I overheard at the [2007 MLA] book fair, Bousquet is about to emerge as the Al Gore of higher education.”

    —Thomas Hart Benton, The Chronicle of Higher Education

  • "Bousquet serves up a stinging indictment of those universities that exploit their students from the moment they set foot on campus. . . . [He] reveals the dystopia that the contemporary university has become."

    The Minnesota Review

  • “Not only the most persuasive political argument, but also the most sophisticated theoretical analysis of the university’s labor system.”

    The Minnesota Review

  • How the University Works primarily focuses on the current issues faced by humanities and other departments in higher education. Still, this text is an invaluable source for anyone involved in postsecondary studies.”

    Labor Studies Journal