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Posted by David Wi****son on December 05, 1998 at 21:14:53:

Enclosed is an e-mail I received from Norm Matloff's mailing list regarding University overproduction of Ph.D.'s.

I enclose this for the benefit of those logging on this list for the first time who wonder where all the action is. It is obvious to most of us that have been around this issue for a while that while there are a number of reasons contributing to the Ph'D. excess; i.e. declining research funding, poor U.S. knowledge of basic sciences, perhaps inadequate educational standards at Ph.D. granting institutions —there is one overriding factor behind all these factors —the practice of using a University graduate education and student visa as a defacto "pre H1-B application", by which many who would undoubtedly otherwise wish to apply to Graduate school here are encouraged to attend.

Such a practice fundamentally distorts what the basic purpose of what a University graduate education should be. Those who attend Graduate school should do so because they really want to do so, and for no other reason.

The present system gives University officials employing graduate students and businesses employing Ph.D.'s a vested interest in maintaining an oversupply of Ph.D.'s, thus preventing any change in the situation. The present H1-B, system also is designed to prevent collective action by technical workers against their employers by giving these employer an effective veto power against that most basic of worker rights —the legal ability to stay in the country where they have chosen to abide— a factor even medieval serf's were not deprived of.

The present system under the guise of "expanding opportunity" has succeeded only in creating a new class of employees deprived of almost all the employee rights which unions fought to establish at the turn of the century. A system that oppresses all of us can do no good for any of us.

To quote Karl Marx: "To do away with the illusions that the situation requires that we do away with a situation that requires illusions."

I would encourage any of you who have not yet done so to subscribe to Norm Matloff's mailing list. Contact him at <matloff@heather.cs.ucdavis.edu>.

David W*****son

To: H-1B/age discrimination mailing list

One of the standard arguments the computer industry lobbyists use to justify their claim to need to hire H-1Bs involves pointing out that nearly 50% of Ph.D.s granted by U.S. universities in computer science go to foreign students, who are typically later hired by U.S. employers as H-1Bs and possibly sponsored for green cards. As most of you know, my response is (a) the vast majority of H-1Bs don't even have Master's degrees, let alone Ph.D.s; (b) one does not need a Ph.D. in computer science to do the work in the field, including research; and (c) we are vastly overproducing Ph.D.s in science and engineering.

Regarding point (c), recall that I have pointed out many times that U.S. universities have just as much a vested interest in a liberal H-1B policy as industry does. The universities want to have bodies to fill their graduate programs in order to maintain their research fiefdoms, and they employ H-1Bs in low-wage teaching and research positions.

Accordingly, universities have lobbied for liberal H-1B policies just as much as industry has.

Enclosed below are two items which relate to this point. The first consists of comments from a member of this e-mail list regarding a recent article in the San Jose Mercury News about the current strike at University of California campuses by graduate Teaching Assistants (TAs). The article itself is at < http://www.mercurycenter.com/premium/svlife/docs/atlarge3.htm >.

The author of the article describes these graduate students as cheap, migrant labor. The member of this e-mail list noted that this dovetails with the H-1B issue in various ways, especially since so many of the graduate students in the science and engineering areas are foreign students who hope to be sponsored for H-1Bs in industry later on.

(Instructors and researchers who are now H-1Bs at UC are not covered by this strike.)

At UC-D, the strike has particularly affected the English Dept. Yesterday the department petitioned our campus Committee on Courses (of which I am a member) for permission to handle the strike by giving grades to the undergraduate students enrolled in English composition course on the basis of what they have done so far —only about 70% of the work. Our committee voted (with the committee chair and I dissenting) to excuse the English Dept from assigning and grading the remaining 30% of the work (term paper, final exam). (This was the administration's recommendation, and though UC operates under a "shared governance" policy and this was supposed to be a faculty decision, faculty committees tend to go along with whatever the administration wants.)

In other words, you can see that universities are willing to take rather drastic actions in order to preserve their access to this supply of cheap labor.

Moreover, this makes it all the more important to have a lot of foreign students in the graduate programs, for two reasons:

First, most American undergraduates in computer science won't even consider going to grad school for a $13,000 TA salary, when they are getting offers of $45-55K from industry. Second, the foreign students, for obvious reasons, are very unlikely to be willing to go on strike.

Recall Eric Weinstein's discovery of internal National Science Foundation documents in which some NSF officials called for high levels of foreign students in U.S. graduate programs. Those officials explicitly stated that (a) their goal in this was to hold down salaries made by Ph.D.s, and (b) that they realized that that would result in lack of interest in Ph.D. programs by American students, while foreign students would still enroll because of the nonmonetary incentive of an eventual green card. (I vaguely recall hearing somewhere that Richard Atkinson, now UC President and the one who refuses to allow the TAs to organize, had been highly supportive of the NSF position at the time, when he was Chancellor at UC San Diego.)

The second enclosure concerns last Tuesday's edition of Talk of the Nation on NPR, which dealt with university overproduction of Ph.D.s. Some of the discussants were university administrators who quite frankly said that universities have strong disincentives (as I explained above) to scale back Ph.D. programs, even though the job market doesn't warrant producing so many Ph.D.s.

I only had a chance to listen to a small part of it, but it is on the Web, at < http://programs.npr.org/archives/totn/ >. I am enclosing below the comments made about the program by a member of this e-mail list, who has a fairly recent Ph.D. in electrical engineering but was unable to find work in that field.


----- Forwarded message from ***** -----

From: ****
To: Norm Matloff
Subject: H-1B affects Grad Students also?
Date: Thu, 3 Dec 1998 12:42:27 -0800


In the San Jose Mercury News today (3-Dec-98) there is a relevant story. It is by Murray Frymer, who writes an "At Large" column of community interest things. Today he wrote about the strike by graduate teaching assistants at the UC schools —something which you may be familiar with directly, perhaps?

From the thought-provoking points which he raised in his column, it appears that having a large number of grad students available has a similar effect to that we've been concerned about in the software industry. Here are some quotes:

  • "... colleges are so enamored of using cheap grad students to teach their curriculum, there has been a severe cutback in the hiring of tenure-track faculty"

His point is that the grad students are aiming at being tenured faculty, but cannot because the positions are not there to fill.

  • "... graduate students must hire on as temporary instructors, a year-to-year insecurity, which comes with lower pay and the need to move from campus to campus where openings exist. In other words, migrant labor."

And so, having new foreign grad students come in could have the same effect we are concerned about in the software industry: lowering wages, and competing for jobs.

----- Forwarded message from **** -----

Date: 04 Dec 98 14:40:09 -0800
From: *****
Subject: Re:NPR's Talk of the Nation, Dec. 1, Hour 1
To: "matloff@cs.ucdavis.edu"


I listened to the talk on NPR a few days ago, and I took some notes. The show was excellent, including the comments made by callers. I wish every academic in the nation would hear it. The program was almost a total indictment of the universities. (If universities were car dealers, the government would have shut them down a long time ago for false advertising).

The problems cited:

  1. Universities are irresponsible in not telling potential graduate students about their prospects upon graduation. Some universities among the very selective elite brag about high percentages who land research positions, but for a large number of schools, that is simply not the case (as I can personally attest to). Universities also brag about the success of their other graduates in "alternative careers", but these careers often produce bitterness and lack of satisfaction. The Ph.D. is often "overkill" for these jobs, and the lost income and personal sacrifice associated with a Ph.D. program is a heavy price to pay for an unrewarding career. Universities continue to churn out graduates in spite of these problems, though some faculty feel a responsibility to turn down students rather than continuing the glut. Still, other faculty remain oblivious to the realities of today's job market.
  2. Universities have done little to absorb the excess numbers of Ph.D.'s. The number of permanent/ tenure track faculty has declined 5% while the number of administrative jobs has climbed significantly. Wages for faculty remain low as a result of too many people pursuing too few positions. Also, universities are increasingly hiring adjunct faculty to fill any needs rather than tenure track faculty.
  3. Other miscellaneous comments touched on the exploitation of graduate students as cheap labor, the hurdles faced by engineering professors whose primary measure of success is research dollars generated, and the loss of talented people whose ideas may never be developed because of the lack of money or opportunities after they graduate. Also, the previously forecasted need for new professors at the turn of the century may never come to pass because many faculty near or even past retirement age continue to teach.
    See original at < http://psyche.uthct.edu/nes/wwwboard/messages/246.html >.
    MFS note: Dr. Matloff's, "Debunking the Myth of a Desperate Software Labor Shortage" is available on this website here.


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