By Richard Vedder
In my book Going Broke By Degree and elsewhere, I advocated that more services, including instruction, be provided to universities by private providers under short or intermediate term contracts. My friend Bob Zemsky of Penn (The Learning Alliance) has carried this idea one step further: why don't so-called "contingent faculty" do better than unionize --why don't they incorporate --and then sell their services collectively to universities? Universities can have a competitive bidding process with different instructional companies, perhaps owned and operated by contingent faculty themselves. They hire the firm, and thus do not have to worry about fringe benefits, legal issues relating to having employees on their payroll, etc. The owner-employees no longer have university bosses and control their own destiny. They save union dues, and are not mixed in the same union with others (full time tenured faculty) who may have competing economic interests.
The little corporations could be very small, say two or three friends selling their services to the Modern Language Department to teach beginning French or Spanish, or could be huge, selling services university-wide. In the long run, larger companies will try to buy up the smaller firms and try to achieve some economies of scales. How that would work out is unknown, because I am uncertain as to the scale economies realizable here, but I suspect they are sizable (e.g., developing a common curriculum usable on many campuses, offering common multi-campus exams, perhaps have some lectures provided at multiple campuses simultaneously using distance learning techniques).
At first, I thought Bob and I were the odd couple on the Spellings Commission, me the resident radical and Bob the ultimate Establishment cautionary voice (many of Bob's remarks started, "You got to be careful...." ) But I realized in the long run that we actually have in many ways very similar ways at looking at things, with a mutual appreciation of using market forces to break down inefficient bureaucratic ways of doing things.
To schools facing an unionization threat from contingent faculty: tell them, "incorporate yourselves and liberate yourselves from both us and the unions."