"These grad students ... [campaigning for a union at Harvard University] 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." "Review & Outlook, "Harvard's Les Miserables: Labor exploitation becomes a rallying cry in the academic Third World," in The Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2015. Here is the opinion piece.
It isn't just JDs whose supply way outstrips demand. But law school is what gets sustained focus in the media, ranging from The New York Times to Abovethelaw.com. That could be because before the glut things appeared so rosy. Starting salaries in BigLaw in major metro areas like Manhattan had hit $160,000. Then the 2007 crash left unemployed and underemployed newbie JDs and former junior associates with six-figure loan debt from law school which they are still struggling with.
Yet, the glut of Ph.D.s has been around since the early 1970s, at least in some fields like that humanities. Back then, we doctoral students in literature and language at the University of Michigan were probably the first official Lost Generation in Higher Education.
The graduate students who are teaching fellows at Harvard consider unionizing a useful tactic for somehow dealing with this professional mess. Common economic sense, though, tells us that being part of a union when a student doesn't accomplish much in (a) landing one of those scarce real jobs and (b) being able to hold onto it.
Currently, as the WSJ opinion points out, NYU is atypical as a private university in recognizing a grad-student union. Research should be done if that has helped the NYU Ph.D.s find and keep employment post-graduation.
Thanks to this piece in such an influential publication as WSJ, now the Ph.D. glut will compete with the JD over-supply in media as well as hearings in Congress. It's interesting to speculate if either kind of glut will make its way into Campaign 2016.