Imagine a land where the most highly educated citizens work for a pittance. Where the local lord treats them more or less as he pleases because the supply of workers is greater than the work available. Where the nobles enjoy lives of relative ease and comfort while the people who do most of the work struggle to make ends meet.
These aren’t the sans-culottes of late 18th-century France. We’re talking about the modern American university. Specifically, Harvard—at least if you believe the complaints by the graduate students trying to unionize there. They have a case, too, even if their solution isn’t the cure they think it is. Even taking into account the value of the tuition relief that grad students receive in exchange for the teaching and research they do, their low pay and limited benefits are all too real.
These grad students (and part-time adjuncts) carry much of the teaching load at universities for one reason: They are cheaper. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, at Harvard the average professor’s salary is $205,000. Grad students get a fraction of this, and the glut of Ph.D.s means most will never find the professorships they seek.