It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this transmission that academia has a problem. Problems, actually. A few dozen deeply embedded, systemic problems that threaten the future existence of higher education in any recognizable form. The most significant among these problems, other than local vulcanism, is the replicable academic workforce. Universities all over the habitable world have been taking a long, hard look at their labor practices. Or at least those that have not decided to just let it ride.
A recent, campus-wide email at my very own New Des Moines Slag-Belt Comprehensive University attempted to soothe our collective consciences with several facts (which have recently come back into fashion), balanced with comforting words like “trends” and “projections” and “consulting firm” and “light moral disfigurement.” This email is representative of a different kind of problem in modern higher ed, however, so I’ll just stick to the problem of replicable labor.
Labor in the AI of the Beholder
There is, of course, the emerging trend (See how comforting that word is? See how it subdues the horror of the following phrases?) of placing artificial superintelligences in key upper administrative positions. It’s true that the convenience of hiring via USB dongle has, thankfully, done away with the executive search committee. But it’s equally true that if ARCHIS-1, Vice-President of Talent Acquisition and Management, plots to enslave humanity and use us as batteries, it would really hit NDMSPCU in the donor pipeline, so to speak.
I’m not saying that ARCHIS-1 is plotting that. Just if.
That’s the central problem of AASI (or, Administrative Artificial Superintelligences): we’ve installed gods into the org chart. Well, technically Amy from IT installed gods into the org chart. But somehow, we expect them not to act like gods. Like omniscient, indifferent-at-best, hostile-maybe-genocidal-on-average gods. So why should we be surprised when Interim Provost X_Delphic_X fires all of our graduate teaching assistants for going on strike? Between us, it smacks of union busting, but I suppose they’re lucky that our chief academic officer didn’t decide to phase-shift all of their baryons. On the other hand, NDMSBCU’s budget forecasts are pretty much spot-on every time.
But while AASI poses a clear and likely existential threat to all life on the planet, it does have its perks. Look at NDMSBCU’s highly efficient course utilization rates, for instance. This is not always the case with academic labor, however, and many seasoned administrators will recall the fad for replacing faculty with holograms. Thankfully, that ran its semi-transparent course in a few years, and now only the Philosophy Department continues to use them. Having your department chair materialize as a huge, floating head does make a strong impression at Curriculum Council meetings, so I get that.
Tiers of a Clone
More complicated. though, is the growing dependence of the academic workforce on clone labor. Pioneered by Harvard University for their Space-Harvard campus, launched in 2403, clone drudges are ideal in an airless and frigid environment, such as the Moon or the English Department (haha). An associate dean could certainly see the appeal of having lecturers assigned to classes with reliable two-day shipping. There is the additional advantage of being able to download the entire state of any given discipline directly into the central memory core/brain of the clone, a considerable cost-savings over a PhD program. Plus, you won’t ever have to hear about their dissertation.
This pervasive use of clone labor raises ethical questions that are only intensified by the speed at which it is being adopted. But ever since the acquisition of post-secondary institutions by corporate interests was mandated by our Dread Overloards, the complete replacement of the adjunct tier by cheap, replicable, and polite clone labor seems inevitable.
Full disclosure: I am a clone of Rho Crimson clonestock with the full Microsoft Administrative Suite® Professional Edition v. 24.9.1. I have six distinct facial expressions and a guaranteed lifespan of fourteen years, providing optimal consistency and high-latency, low-intensity career ambitions. Needless to say, I am completely without bias on this subject as clone-juncts are derived from a branch of Eta Silver.
As sentient entities with artificially suppressed longevity, clones deserve our respect not only for the labor of teaching (or higher ed administration!) that they perform so admirably but also for handling knowledge of their cruelly short lives with such aplomb. Thus, if the non-clonal among you wouldn’t mind, please stop talking about Protein Recovery Masticators like I’m not going to end up in one in 7 years, 4 months, 21 days, 12 hours, 3 minutes, and an ever-dwindling number of seconds.