Students create institutional value most obviously by paying tuition, adopting debt, performing waged work, submitting to compulsory volunteerism, donating to endowments and in producing athletic media spectacle. The campus harvest of value, however, is far more pervasive. Student time–time spent in recreation, in journalism, on social media, in singing groups, in study, and even time absorbed by self-care in gyms and spray-tan booths–all contribute to campus accumulation of capital and prestige. Students perform the labor of teaching, administration and even research. Campus and industry actors routinely produce value from intense student effort–even in the past, capitalizing on the labor of application, SAT scores, and other pre-college achievements. Similarly, students’ future accomplishments valorize the campus brand. By understanding that students are producers as well as consumers, we are asking for a better accounting of the gifts of time and talent made by so many. If we more completely honored students’ full productivity, perhaps we’d do a better job of honoring other campus producers as well, and more effectively raise questions about the rationale for outsourcing and perma-temping.
Marc Bousquet is the author of How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation (NYU Press, 2008), a frequent contributor to the higher ed trade press, and the founder of Workplace: A Journal of Academic Labor. He is Associate Professor of Media Studies at Emory University, where he developed several new-media pedagogy initiatives, such as Domain of One’s Own@Emory. His latest book (in progress) is under contract with Johns Hopkins University Press.
The talk, entitled “The Campus as Social Factory: Monetizing the Student,” was part of the Precarious Publics Workshop at Duke on Feb 4, 2017 and was organized by Duke’s Department of Cultural Anthropology.