November 9, 2011 may prove to have been another turning point in the relationships between the occupation movement and university campuses.
Students have played a leading role in the occupations at Wall Street and around the US, not to mention the occupation of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the Spanish indignado movement, plus the ongoing student struggles against austerity in the UK and Italy. In fact, the ‘occupy everything’ meme first gained purchase on this side of the Atlantic via building occupations at the New School and NYU in New York and across the UC and Cal State systems in 2008 and 2009.
However, Wednesday’s U.S. student actions are on a grander scale than earlier events. They may represent the first major sustained campus occupations in the post-Tahrir, Occupy Wall Street era.
California is Burning Again
Some 3000-4000 occupiers were assembled at U.C. Berkeley’s storied Sproul Plaza when police began beating nonviolent protesters. The assault sent one English PhD student to the hospital.
Police detained 39 people, including a junior professor in the English department. Upon release, the professor reported that police told her the university chancellor had told university police to keep arrestees’ personal property – including her lecture notes – from them for 5 days.
The dichotomy between the degree of force in the police response to a nonviolent crowd of student occupiers at Berkeley and the complete lack of arrests during Wednesday night’s pro-Paterno riots at Penn State have already provoked some thoughtful commentary.
Tents up at Harvard
Though far smaller than the crowd at Berkeley, the successful occupation of Harvard Yard by a large group of students is also significant.
Harvard Yard is usually open to the public. Since the 9th, it has been closed to all but those with Harvard IDs. Even these have only been granted sporadic access, according to the vagaries of the counterinsurgency strategies of the university and the police.
A crowd of over three hundred took to the streets of Cambridge Wednesday night. The group comprised students, campus food service and custodial workers, and supporters for the Boston occupation in Dewey Square. Reaching consensus at a large impromptu general assembly (GA), they marched to the yard and circled it, trying to get through the gates.
Stymied, they held another GA, spilling into the busy thoroughfare of Massachusetts Avenue.
A small but rowdy group of hostile Harvard undergraduates stole a bullhorn from occupiers. From an elevated position and behind the ironwork fencing the campus, they tried to disrupt the GA process, hurling invectives and at least one projectile at those below.
Ultimately, a strategic decision was made by the GA to split into camps of those with and without Harvard IDs. The former camp were able to gain access to the yard and set up around 20 tents near a statue of university founder John Harvard. Those with no institutional relationship to Harvard continued to march until tents were up.
Both the actions at Berkeley and those in Cambridge come six years to the day after the beginning of the longest job action in the history of the academic labor movement in the US, the 2005-2006 strike by NYU teaching and research assistants.
Like the grad unionists, campus occupiere interrogate universities in a number of ways.
The statement released by Harvard occupiers raises concerns with professors’ conflicts of interest similar to the way the film Inside Job exposes the complicity of business school professors in the financial crisis of 2008. It connects the history of living wage campaigns on campus to the increasingly central question of debt as a universalized aspect of class formation within particular fractions of the middle and working classes.
Universities are never static or passive spaces under siege from outside capitalist aggressors but instead are themselves persistent sites of exploitation and super-exploitation, as Marc Bousquet has documented. Increasingly university labor turmoil is visible as part and parcel of what even mainstream liberal journalists are at last calling #classwar.
The Harvard Occupiers have foregrounded both the predicaments of campus service workers (members, mostly, of Unite HERE Local 26 and SEIU Local 615) and the impact Harvard’s investments have on workers beyond the university’s walls.
The Harvard occupiers’ commitment to these issues was in evidence Wednesday night in a manner that artfully linked both together by a former member of the Hyatt housekeeping staff. Together with all of her co-workers, she had been summarily fired in late 2009 and replaced with subcontracted workers making far less.
Now an organizer with the Boston hotel workers’ union, the fired staffer spoke in Spanish about a union-busting hotel investment corporation in which Harvard and many other universities have parked some of their endowment. (Harvard’s portfolio reached 32 billion dollars earlier this year, almost fully recovered from the significant losses it sustained during the financial crisis.)
Campus workers testify to the multiplicity of ways in which universities are implicated in the racialized and gendered political economy of service labor. Nothing symbolized this on Wednesday night more profoundly than when, early in the evening, the Harvard students and their service worker allies were fenced off from each other by the iron gates that surround the yard.
The movement overcame the fence, however. As janitors and cafeteria workers poured into the streets, chanting in Spanish, the whole mass of occupiers joined them, including the students. Occupy Harvard prioritizes service labor in the creation of a “university for the 99%”. The students recognize that recognizing the exploitation and marginalization of service work and workers is central to a broader liberatory project. By contrast, their opponents, the small group of vocal (sometimes violent) anti-occupation students, with their sense of privilege and entitlement, invite comparison to the pro-Paterno rioters at Penn State.
Cal students have called for a general strike on Tuesday, the 15th.
In New York, a formidable all-student assembly has arisen thanks in part to veterans of the GSOC campaign at NYU as well as the histories of student organizing and rebellion at CUNY campuses and the New School. They too will strike on Thursday, the 17th.
The pace of activity seems to be accelerating, and indeed, sitting in the GA by Harvard’s law school on Wednesday night I could not help but be struck by how much more radical the atmosphere seemed than at the height of the global justice movement a decade ago. For the first time I believe there is potential for real change, or something even greater that the clichéd term ‘real change’ is entirely insufficient to describe.
Occupying the Catholic Church
Teach-in at Washington Square
Crackdown at OccupyBoston
Why I Occupy
All the News Fit For Bankers
Bankers Chuckle (Must-See Footage of the Week)
Occupiers Issue First Statement (And it’s Bigger News than Radiohead Rumor)
Mass Arrests on Wall Street
Protests Spread to Both Coasts
Police Violence Escalates: Day 5
Wall Street Occupation, Day 3
What Are You Doing for the Next 2 Months?
Occupy and Escalate
Big Brother on Campus
California Is Burning
Will Occupation Become a Movement?
Grad Students Spearhead Wisconsin Capitol Occupation
The Occupation Will Be Televised
The Occupation Cookbook
More Drivel from the NYT
Citizens Smarter than NYT and Washington Post, Again
Education Policy Summit or Puppet Show?
Parents and Teachers, the Alienated Democratic Base
Dianetics For Higher Ed?
Zach Schwartz-Weinstein’s dissertation looks at service work and service workers at U.S. universities from the mid-20th century to the present. His broader interests include affective, immaterial, service, and emotional labor, cognitive capitalism, flexible accumulation and neoliberalism, knowledge production, migration, labor and working class history, and 20th-century U.S. cultural history. He organizes with GSOC-UAW, the union for graduate teaching and research assistants at NYU.]]>
The Wall Street occupiers end their first week with a vow to remain over the long term, disrupted an art auction in support of locked-out Sotheby’s workers, and were featured in a Stephen Colbert segment Thursday night. Stanley Aronowitz will speak to the protesters Friday at 5pm (EST). Previous speakers have included Michael Moore and Roseanne Barr.
Book Bloc March Sparks Occupation
Last night’s occupation developed spontaneously out of a march led by the Book Bloc, pictured above, protesting draconian cuts and tuition hikes while “corporations and the wealthiest individuals — including many UC Regents — continue to rake in increasing bonuses and profits, partly by speculating on our indebtedness.”
After at least two altercations with police involving injuries and arrests, protesters dispersed about 10 pm Thursday, but promised to regroup Friday afternoon.
Apparently, police across California public campuses are gearing up for an intensified year of more determined student occupations, staging SWAT-style anti-occupation drills at UC-Irvine. Be sure to keep reading until you get to the police imitation of the protesters (“We want free stuff!”).
police violence escalates: day five
wall street occupation day three
occupy and escalate
big brother on campus
california is burning
will occupation become a movement?
grad students spearhead wisconsin capitol occupation
the occupation will be televised
the occupation cookbook
xposted: chronicle of higher education
Zuccotti Park in the Lower Manhattan financial district has been occupied by a politically diverse group for the last three days, with participation of up to several thousand at a time. Protesters have renamed the space “Liberty Park,” to brand it as an American counterpoint to Cairo’s Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square, and it has played host to general assemblies of thousands of people, hundreds of whom have slept in the park for the last two nights.
They hope to begin a sustained occupation to, in the words of two of the authors of the original call to action, “escalate the possibility of a full-fledged global uprising against business as usual.”
Taking cues not only from the so-called Arab Spring revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Iran, and Syria, but also the Spanish indignados, and anti-cuts protestors in the UK, Greece, France, and Italy, as many as 5,000 protestors converged on Wall Street this past Saturday. A march Monday morning resulted in seven arrests.
That many of these protesters are or have been students should surprise few. Yet rather than dismiss their actions as youthful idealism, it’s important to understand the role students have played in the struggle against contemporary austerity politics.
Though the language of austerity measures is often promissory, gesturing towards an alternatingly apocalyptic future (which we must sacrifice now to avoid) or a bucolic future (which awaits us after austerity ‘rights the ship,’) many cuts have targeted youth, mortgaging that future or rendering it altogether absent.
The news last year that student debt has surpassed credit card debt as the largest source of consumer debt in the United States is a function of rising costs of attending higher education, cuts to state and federal financial aid, and the growth of for-profit private industry around the student loan bubble.
This summer’s debt-ceiling compromise included an end to subsidized loans for graduate students, and in a year, it will mean that graduate and professional students will have to pay back their undergraduate student loans while in grad school, a difficult proposition for many.
This occupation is not the first on U.S. soil in recent years, and it is unlikely to be the last.
Whether and how it can attract the levels of support and involvement that similar occupations have elsewhere is an open question, but even NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg sees in the present crisis the possibility of escalating student rebellions.
Washington Post photo gallery
International Business Times article (“several thousand protesters showed up in New York’s financial district”) photo gallery
Guardian op-ed (“The call to occupy Wall Street resonates around the world”)
DailyKos: Chris Bowers
xposted: chronicle of higher education
Zach Schwartz-Weinstein’s dissertation looks at service work and service workers at U.S. universities from the mid-twentieth century to the present. His broader interests include affective, immaterial, service, and emotional labor, cognitive capitalism, flexible accumulation and neoliberalism, knowledge production, migration, labor and working class history, and 20th century U.S. cultural history. He organizes with GSOC-UAW, the union for graduate teaching and research assistants at NYU.]]>
On Saturday September 17th, movement organizers hope to funnel 20,000 protestors into Manhattan’s financial district, set up kitchens and tents, and occupy Wall Street for the next several months. Proclaiming we are the 99 percent, many of the 7,500 persons who have indicated an intention to participate are the highly educated working poor, under-employed with graduate degrees, or even fully-employed but unable to meet their education bills like this woman (see her blog and related stories),who writes, “I have a masters degree & a full-time job in my field—and I have started selling my body to pay off my debt.”After a Sept 1 test run resulted in nine arrests, Adbusters and Alexa O’Brien of US Day of Rage expect a vigorous police response, including intelligence gathering via the same social media tools that the organizers are employing, undercover participation in the event, provocation, and civil rights violations.
The Mass Defense Committee of the National Lawyers Guild will provide a corps of trained observers in lime green hats and advises participants to ink legal contact information on wrists or ankles.
Want to participate? There will be co-ordinated actions in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and Austin, and a related mass demonstration October 6 in Washington DC. You can follow on Twitter and support the effort by sending donations to the food committee.
If successful, it will be the boldest project of the occupation movement on U.S. soil since the grad-student-led occupation of the Wisconsin capitol and the 2010 campus takeover and general strike in Puerto Rico.
h/t: Paul Farrell
xposted: Chronicle of Higher Education
I mean, it’s a class war out there and labor’s lost every battle since I started shaving. And by “labor,” I don’t mean some cartoon of a hard hat, broom pushing, or stoop labor. I mean the folks reading this column. Pretty much everybody, actually: If you work in order to live, or scrub the toilet/feed the appetites of a wage worker, you’re labor.
Then today I find out that Wilma Liebman, one of the few people in the academy or anywhere, to give a hoot about academic labor, is ending her long service to the National Labor Relations Board because an army of trolls in wingtips has been coming after her, as she puts it, “with a baseball bat.” One way to go with this is to dump some more on Obama, who always backs up the ballplaying buddy that represents his worst appointment, but consistently left dangling the principled, thoughtful woman that was by far his best.
Of course it isn’t just the president; it’s us, as the always-scathing Bill Maher points out in his brilliant assault on the magical thinking represented by our love affair with “reality” television shows in which “one of our richest 1% drops in on the wage slaves for a week and finds out that living on $185 a week in America really blows, and so then they anecdotally solve the wealth gap problem by showering everyone with cash.”
Sad, but true: It takes a comedian to tell the gut-wrenching truth about the dominance of the top 1% since Reagan’s inauguration:
Say 100 Americans get together and order a 100 slice pizza, the pizza arrives, they open the box, and the first guy takes 80 slices. And if someone suggests “Why don’t you just take 79 slices?” [He says] THAT’S SOCIALISM!
It’s just a “stupid idea,” Maher says, to believe that the rich would “share with us if only they got to walk a mile in our cheap plastic shoes.” Instead, he says, we’ve got to wrench the baseball bats out of their hands and use it on them:
We have this fantasy that our interests and the interests of the super rich are the same, like somehow the rich will eventually get so full that they’ll explode, and the candy will rain down on the rest of us, like they’re some sort of pinata of benevolence. But here’s the thing about a pinata, it doesn’t open on it’s own, you have to beat it with a stick.
Liebman and the apostles of greed who have driven her into retirement understand correctly that the National Labor Relations Act is one such stick. She said that her role as chair of the NLRB was to “further the policy of this statute, which is to further the practice of collective bargaining, obviously collective bargaining freely chosen.”
There’s convincing analysis that unionization substantially reduces inequality. And the many evils of skyrocketing inequality are addressed by Slate’s Timothy Noah and Michael Moore (includes a critical assessment that mostly supports him) and many others. Joseph Stiglitz points out that the quality of life and self-interest of the rich is harmed by the savage inequalities we see today. Even billionaires like Warren Buffett admit it’s time to stop coddling the super-rich.
“If you increase workers’ purchasing power, that can create a stronger, more sustainable economy,” Liebman told The New York Times. “Some say collective bargaining is antithetical to the economy. I don’t buy that at all. This was a statute that worked. It created the middle class. It created good jobs.”
Goodbye, Wilma. Most of us have no idea what it costs to stand up for workplace dignity in this brave new banana republic. Thanks for paying that price with dignity, passion, and intelligence.
xposted: Chronicle of Higher Education]]>
Kudos to the students, who revolted en masse after paying a labor contractor $3,000 to $6,000 apiece to get $8.25/hour summer warehouse jobs in sweltering central Pennsylvania, and also to the U.S. labor associations to whom they appealed, Jobs With Justice and the National Guestworkers Alliance. Clearly, positive consumer associations with the Hershey brand helped students and their allies to package the sleazy arrangement as newsworthy (“It’s no Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory,” etc etc), but the only real news in the story is that this particular group of hyper-exploited students organized themselves. Which is great. However, since they’re guest workers and the slow-news, this chocolate-ain’t-sweet angle will grow stale in days, they’ll be out of the headlines long before the State Department deports them and slaps the wrist of the contractor who provided them.
Then we can all go back to pretending that this isn’t the norm for millions of “guest workers” and college students in the U.S. Don’t get me wrong: the Hershey’s arrangement stinks to high heaven, but it’s not the glaring exception to the way the U.S. treats its 50 million working poor of any description, guest workers and college students alike; it’s pretty much the rule.
Nor for that matter is it the biggest scandal in chocolate production. Far from it: Hershey’s and other major manufacturers are routinely complicit in sourcing cocoa from plantations that employ very young children, including victims of human trafficking. In fact, Hershey is currently the particular target of the International Labor Rights Forum campaign for fair trade in cocoa.
How “normal” is the Hershey deal? It seems to fall within the pretty shabby standard range for international students on J-1 visas (just one of the many visas through which the U.S. provides cheap guest workers to American employers). There are many global labor contractors vying to supply guest workers to U.S. employers on the various visas. In almost all cases, the often enormous fees paid to the contractor are borne entirely by the worker, not the employer—meaning they “pay to work” in violation of U.S. labor law (but that’s like pointing out that fighting is explicitly forbidden by the National Hockey League).
The J-1 covers several kinds of permission to work, including nanny labor, but the global “summer work and travel program,” run by the U.S. State Department under the cloying rhetoric of education and international friendship, is limited to persons who are enrolled in college in their home country. As with other forms of student labor, exploitative educational work experience, training/internship programs and the like, the J-1 has expanded explosively in the last decade, rising from around 20,000 in the mid-nineties to over 150,000 in recent years.
Even the “summer” part is misleading, since that means “summer” in the home country; the program actually supplies a year-round revolving pool of self-financing cheap workers to American employers. Employers actually receive tax breaks, though usually the real advantage is the highly compliant workforce—the Hershey revolt is, essentially, unheard of in a worker population that can be deported for complaining.
Most dishonest, however, is the rhetoric of “cultural exchange” and “education” associated with the program, which provide innocuous-sounding cover for the profiteering of skeevy labor contractors. Traditionally, the program appeals to American employers with dirty or unpleasant work with already-high employee turnover (Alaskan fish processing, housekeeping, dishwashing, laundry, table bussing, fast-food service, groundskeeping, warehouse and other general labor). Placing international students in these positions with a fixed employment term helps keep wages low; most of the students who have this “cultural exchange” end up feeling disillusioned. The reality of the experience is that there is no culture or education at all; the contractors acquire cheap workers and dump them in shabby housing near their employers (often collecting a second profit on extortionate rent), and that’s it. The “nonprofit” contractor in this case is tied to an international education and travel management group that has a web of revenue-producing education, exchange, and travel schemes, some specializing in English education for the hospitality industry.
Guest workers are vulnerable to bullying, extortion, human trafficking and wage theft. A 2010 Associated Press investigation made headlines with stories of international college students on J-1 visas forced to work in strip clubs and live 30 students to a 3-bedroom house. Interviewing 70 students from 16 countries, the report found most were disappointed and many were angry. A handful were angry at gangsterism, like the mobsters who pushed some women into stripping, or at Dickensian vileness, like the gift-shop owner who charged his employees room and board, but made them eat on the floor in his home.
Most of the students interviewed by AP, however, were not angry at these exceptional instances of maltreatment, but at the low wages, unpaid overtime, and the lack of leisure, educational and cultural opportunities for the working poor in the United States. Just like the single parents that they toiled alongside (such as those chronicled by Barbara Ehrenreich), they were enraged that they were forced into eating at soup kitchens or accepting charity while they were employed in the richest nation in the world.
In other words: the students who come on J-1 visas do get a cultural exchange, and an education, just not what they expected. They learned what it is like to be an American in the bottom quartile, or among the majority of American college students who can’t persist to a degree through the maze of debt, overwork, and underpayment that we bizarrely consider the “normal” lot of a student.
As I’ve written before, U.S. high schools and colleges are often deeply complicit in these sorts of arrangements, profiting directly from low-wage student labor and serving as a labor contractor, both directly and indirectly, to local employers. Usually with nary a detractor. Indeed, coverage of any labor arrangement with the word “education” attached to it, by any old excuse whatever, typically amounts to craven cheerleading.
Think I’m exaggerating? Read my 2008 account of the dropout-factory partnership between UPS, the University of Louisville, and the Teamsters that has put tens of thousands of Kentucky students in circumstances similar to the Hershey deal. Then use a search engine and see if you can find a single press report that is less than glowing about that sleazy deal. There are similar scams operated by shipping companies and campuses in every cargo hub in the country—has there been any improvement in even one?
Hey, Hershey’s workers: I’m sorry you got an education in the real America of working poverty. I hope you get a refund.
But beyond the propaganda and your individual struggle, what’s the lesson in this story?
It’s simple, really. First, we should stop treating students, international or domestic, like the working poor. Rather than exploit college students as cheap labor, an intelligent plan for the economy would, a la the G.I. Bill, pay students to stay out of the labor market.
Second, while we’re at it, why don’t we stop treating the working poor this way?]]>
When planning her own recent humorous chapter book, Brainstorm colleague Naomi Schaefer Riley (no relation to Roscoe) apparently didn’t get the memo that the “lazy professor” stereotype has been consigned to the cultural dustbin since, roughly, her own graduation from kindergarten. As you might surmise from the title (The Faculty Lounges–har har–And Other Reasons You Won’t Get the College Education You Paid For), the book relies on silly, outmoded stereotypes, arguments from anecdote and bluster from the likes of John Silber instead of evidence.
At one time or another in what too often reads like an audition for Fox News higher education
attack dog analyst, Riley deals every bromide in the deck, usually from the bottom: while accepting conservative foundation support for her own propaganda, she goes far out of her way to caricature Ford Foundation grants in support of academic freedom as a”gravy train” for left academics (would that it were so!)
Just like the beginning chapter books my son favors, Riley’s book features one cartoon illustration per chapter, usually reprinted from stock cartoon banks. None of them have anything to do with the issues; they just underscore the irrelevance of her stereotypes (“Your wife hasn’t broken the law, professor–she can leave you even if you do have tenure!”) Ha, ha, chuckle, zzzzzz.
That’s too bad, because Riley is bright and analytical, and sometimes grasps real problems with the tenure system, which is more than I can say of many contemporary observers on my own side of the political aisle.
She’s right, for instance, to note that the tenure system as we know it today is deeply flawed:
Supposed to produce courage and security, it breeds cowardice and anxiety, check. Supposed to unite the faculty, it now serves as a marker of apartheid between the academy’s minority “haves” and majority “have-nots,”check.
Supposed to encompass peer accountability for all professional activities it too often rewards those who neglect their students, family, and the profession, check.
Supposedly the pipeline for equality in the professions, the tenure system funnels academic and professional women into subordinate positions, check.
Supposed to guarantee reasonable economic return on education (you know, so that English professors can expect lifetime earnings not too much lower than good legal secretaries), tenure has become a generational lifeboat for greybeards selfishly uninterested in the crisis of young faculty, check.
All of these concerns, which plenty of tenure’s defenders are all too happy to gloss over, add up to an argument against tenure from the labor front.
Contingent-faculty activists like Joe Berry have long observed that tenure is reserved for a shrinking labor aristocracy–the group of persons who do front-line supervision of transient labor, and who provide the talent pool for upper administration. From the perspective of actual, informed unionists like Berry, tenure has frequently served as an engine of inequality.
Nor is it generally the goal of contingent-faculty unionists to win entrance into the stressful, irrational tenure crapshoot which is far from the gold standard of job security that most faculty imagine (ask anyone who’s had a department restructured or eliminated, or had an administrator declare a fake fiscal crisis).
Therefore, many contingent faculty, and left-labor faculty of any appointment type, share Riley’s sense that tenure should be abolished. (Either that, or like me and the AAUP, they feel that a reformed, teaching-centric tenure system should be the norm of faculty experience, as it was in 1972, when the professoriate was largely populated by well-off white men.)
Riley’s at her best and most revealing when she talks about how the tenured (like her father) treat contingent faculty, like her mother. At times the book is honestly reported–Riley admits that tenure isn’t the reason college is expensive–quite the contrary, it saves on salary–and that tenure is a minority experience.
I think if Riley’s analysis had taken the form of a long essay on the extremely important theme of how the tenure system marginalizes women teaching faculty, a topic scandalously under-addressed by liberals and academic feminists alike, it almost could have been one of those occasional offerings from the right that joins with the left in challenging some of the sacred cows of the liberal mainstream. (See chapter 4, “The Academic Underclass,” which appropriately excoriates “the hypocrisy of academics who claim concern for society’s marginalized while ignoring the [gendered and racialized] underclass in their midst.”)
If you subtract the ideological claptrap from Riley’s book, you have a perfectly reasonable call to invest in undergraduate teaching. However, in adding enough vitriol and borrowed observations to make a book, Riley goes awry in two basic ways, the scary and the lame.
Under the heading of scary, I have to point out that every once in a while, Riley’s mask of reasonability slips. In chapter 2, she wonders aloud, a la David Horowitz, Don’t some radical faculty members deserve to be run off campus?
A little later we learn the identities of the radicals to be run off, when she channels the radio talk shows for this sweeping non sequitur: “Whether it’s women’s studies or black studies or queer studies, the entire premise of the discipline often rests on a political agenda…. there [is] a growing sense that projects that are not strictly academic are not deserving of academic protections.”
The scary part is that we and her actual target audience know what she’s saying even though she isn’t saying anything–what is the meaning of the nonsense phrase “the entire premise of the discipline”? This is all too much like Limbaugh, rolling empty longish words off the tongue in order to manufacture a sense of cogitation and portent.
Under the heading of lame, I have to place the one argument she really makes with any vigor, that so much of higher education is “vocational” that there’s no controversy in those fields, hence no need for academic freedom. “These are all fields with fairly definitive answers,” Riley says in total ignorance of the fields she cites–like nutrition, family sciences, security, and sports history. “Faculty members don’t really need the freedom to ask controversial questions in discussing them,” she says, with unearned confidence.
It’s hard to believe that someone with two academic parents made this argument or, having made it, kept it in the manuscript–as its great gotcha! centerpiece, no less. When Gary Rhoades pointed out to Riley that nutrition faculty, just for example, engaged in plenty of controversy, she amateurishly dismisses the point rather than checking to see whether, in fact, there aren’t some fairly intense controversies in the field. Hint: there are, as in every one of the other fields she names.
But what of the obviously roiling controversies in other “vocational” fields, like legal, business, and medical education? Riley has nothing to say.
Riley is similarly cavalier with the evidence regarding faculty and teaching. There are literally thousands of studies evaluating faculty teaching, but instead of addressing any of them, Riley uses a few administrators as quote farms in support of her preconceived thesis and dials up the Limbaugh: “Tenure means they can simply neglect their students!”
At other points the just-published work is already out of date, touting the Garcetti decision, which has been successfully challenged, or Stanley Fish’s positions since recanted.
Frequently it’s just juvenile, as with the cartoons or snarkily describing the academy as a “profession” only in skeptical quotation marks.
Sometimes it’s just inept, as when she relies on John Silber’s “analysis” of tenure to make her case that it isn’t necessary to protect academic freedom–when, notoriously, it was only tenure that protected the late, beloved and irreplaceable Howard Zinn from Silber’s relentless efforts to drive him from the campus.
Much of the rest is cribbed from usual suspects like ACTA and Richard Vedder, or retread David Horowitz–Oh my gosh, the Berkeley writing classes sometimes cover controversial content!
A couple of points under the heading of full disclosure: Riley interviewed me for this book, and I make several appearances in the one chapter I thought worthy of her talents. She treats me as far less of a caricature than she might have, and I wish I had kinder things to say about the project.
Additionally, my spouse and I are, like Riley’s parents, and as many as a third of all faculty, navigating the often-breathtaking challenges of a dual-career academic couple in a system that is particularly cruel to academic women.
I share Riley’s disquiet with academic hypocrisy. On top of still rampant sexism and sex discrimination in academic employment, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like the viciousness with which many academic “feminists” with tenure treat some of their “sisters” off-track.
As I read Riley’s book–which I had to buy because her publisher declined to send me a review copy–I thought often of my son, and his sunny disposition. I hope that we can find a way to insulate his good nature and deeply, deeply inquiring mind from the academic shabbiness, hypocrisy and dishonesty that Riley chronicles best from her personal experience.]]>
As general secretary, the organization’s top staff position, Rhoades had a darned difficult job during a once-in-a-half-century crisis and organizational re-definition.
On his watch, AAUP’s own staff unionized (with the full support of the elected leadership). Rhoades successfully managed the transition into the period covered by that first contract.
The organization completed a complex three-way partition that clarified the relationships between its three roles as a foundation, professional association, and labor union. Perhaps most critical of all, AAUP replaced a disastrous membership accounting operation that routinely lost track of pretty much anyone who didn’t write in and demand that someone collect their dues.
Democracy Is Messy
Of course, Gary didn’t do any of these things alone. Most of them were projects under way by staff and elected leaders when he arrived, but any one of these challenges could have torpedoed a term in office for even the most brilliant administrator.
The best parallel for this kind of job is a deanship, but most deans I know couldn’t come within a hundred miles of handling it. Deans rely on blunt vertical power to get things done.
The AAUP is a grassroots democratic organization. The elected leadership is packed with smart folks richly endowed with ego. The staff are generally the same—most of them academics with a wise and catlike aversion to being led. And the representatives of the big collective bargaining chapters are rarely shy about their positions. Of course those are just the internal challenges—when everything is working well.
Add restructuring and the fact that perma-temping has driven the profession to the brink of collapse, and it quickly becomes clear that in the past three years the job needed some combination of Cesar Chavez, a tax attorney, and Karl Rove.
Forget about managing without ruffling feathers—I don’t know anyone who could have managed the job, period. It takes the skill set that most presidents and CEO’s hire publicists to pretend they have, when really they’re just thugs in suits.
So Gary’s job required him to rely on many others from the paid staff and elected leadership. This large cast of characters doesn’t always work as a dream team. They sometimes disagree quite sharply, but they always overcome ego and make the partnership work.
Most critical to this ongoing team effort is the leadership of Cary Nelson. As often as Gary took up some of the presidential duties of ambassadorship during times of unprecedented crisis for the profession, Cary stepped in to pick up slack in the home office during the organizational maze of restructuring. It wasn’t always what either expected from their jobs, or what they wanted as individuals. But it got AAUP through the roughest patch in its history since the early 1970s.
This week, AAUP’s governing council will vote on a measure that assigns some responsibilities to Martin Snyder, the next most senior staffer and himself a former university president, and some to Cary Nelson.
That will work really well while the organization debates whether to restructure the general-secretary position, which some feel has grown too challenging for one person to fill.
Personally I don’t think so. Sure, in the past three to six years I think it was an impossible job for a squadron of talented people. Without a lot of people throwing their careers and family time into the breach, AAUP might not have survived.
The job needs some clarification and support. But Martin Snyder can do most of it easily, and while Martin Snyders aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, I’m confident AAUP will find one to launch the organization out of repair mode.
The Next Decade
AAUP’s next general secretary and president will have opportunities beyond those that Gary Rhoades and Cary Nelson have had—to look beyond survival toward a renewed, activist agenda. (This is in no way to diminish all of the fierce activism Cary in particular has managed while piloting the mothership into safe harbor over the past six years!)
Looking to the future, though, what should AAUP ask from its next leaders?
I can think of five things, just for starters. OK, I can think of 50, but I’ll keep it to five.
1. Organize the majority faculty. AAUP can do a lot more to support the voices of the nearly 80 percent of faculty outside the tenure stream. Overlooked in the breathless coverage of the single-term tenures of the last two occupants of the general-secretary job is the fact that AAUP is hiring into several organizing positions, including the director of organizing and services. That represents a major opportunity for AAUP to move in the right direction.
2. Organize religious and for-profit campuses. There’s been some talk of targeting faculty at the for-profits, but let’s not forget that a Democratic president means a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that actually does its job. Meaning that thugs in clerical garb are finally getting spanked for their rampant hypocrisy (“social justice everywhere except on our campus!”). Heads up: I’ll be starting a series on hypocrisy on campuses affiliated with religious orders.
3. Continue restructuring. As a professional association, AAUP is burdened with an early-20th-century structure of face-to-face chapters and state conferences. The structure presumes behaviors, values, and communications practices not really in evidence in the contemporary professoriate. I’ve got nothing against having a campus chapter—I’m working to build ours right now—or against a state conference, for that matter. But the organization has to be lighter on its feet, less reliant on the health of local chapters, and have a greater ability to dart in quickly on urgent matters. With the help of social media and a more realistic attitude toward the faculty animal, AAUP needs to acknowledge that many members are more willing and able to send checks than attend a lot of meetings. We aren’t all eating two meals a day at the faculty club: we need to have membership models that accommodate our changing relationship to campus life.
4. Fully digitize communication and membership. It will not surprise some readers that I’m on the board at Academe, and have been asked to be a candidate for editor several times. Every time I say, “Not unless we can stop printing and mailing the damn thing!” No kidding: the amount of money saved would pay for four full-time organizers, or three full-time organizers and a brilliant content-management system, with, you know, social-media functions and stuff. As for membership, we’ve made huge strides. But we have farther to go: Maddeningly, while planning our fall organizing drive, I got sent a paper membership form to use. Why? Because we still can’t collect California conference dues and/or chapter dues electronically. Seriously, who really thinks you can maintain an organization that doesn’t permit fully clickable payment of membership? Again, I personally love our new staffer in charge of fixing this. She has the most thankless job in the organization, and no money to do what she knows needs to be done. But: argh!
5. Capture every graduate student as a free member. I’ve been in AAUP leadership for six or eight years, and one of the reasons I’m glad to be cycling out this year is that I’m tired of ranting about this every year. It’s not rocket science: Just give every new grad student a free membership. (“But our membership program doesn’t work!” “We can’t afford to send Academe to them all!” Again: argh, so stop printing Academe and spend the money on organizers and good membership software.) Why do it? Well, three full generations of scholars have cycled in since 1970 with the majority of them not seeing AAUP functioning on their campus or in connection with their kind of appointment since their own careers began. Most faculty don’t bother to join until they or a friend get into trouble, and then, after they pop in the first check of their lives, they imagine AAUP will send in a flight of black helicopters filled with employment lawyers to save their jobs. We need to acknowledge that the professoriate has not only been deprofessionalized (as Gary Rhoades made his career by observing), but that whole generations have stopped even trying to struggle against administrative dominance. Giving every grad student a free membership is giving them a chance to rebuild something that most of their “mentors” have cheerfully cannibalized.]]>
Despite the timing, this is not an April Fool’s post. During remarks at a heavily-promoted town hall on the Univision network intended to entice Hispanic voters, Obama careened wildly off-message, slamming the misuse of standardized tests and the culture of test preparation promoted by his own Secretary of Education, sitting nearby.
In response to Luis Ayala, a student who questioned the staggering quantity of frequently redundant standardized tests for which his teachers have to prepare him every year, Obama suggested that students in public schools should experience standardized testing in the way his daughters do at an exclusive Washington DC prep school:
[T]just recently took a standardized test. But it wasn’t a high-stakes test. It wasn’t a test where they had to panic. I mean, they didn’t even really know that they were going to take it ahead of time. They didn’t study for it, they just went ahead and took it. And it was a tool to diagnose where they were strong, where they were weak, and what the teachers needed to emphasize.
Too often what we’ve been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools. And so what we’ve said is let’s find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let’s apply it in a less pressured-packed atmosphere; let’s figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let’s make sure that that’s not the only way we’re judging whether a school is doing well.
Because there are other criteria: What’s the attendance rate? How are young people performing in terms of basic competency on projects? There are other ways of us measuring whether students are doing well or not.
So what I want to do is—one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you’re not learning about the world; you’re not learning about different cultures, you’re not learning about science, you’re not learning about math. All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam.
Fortunately for Duncan, Obama pre-empted the news cycle with a speech on Libya, so these remarks received almost no coverage from the teacher-hating mass media. The parent-and-teacher blogosphere, however, has been picking up on this moment. One particularly astute commentary by Julianne Hing notes the extraordinary extent to which Obama contradicts himself:
Under Obama’s education policy proposals, an entire school’s teaching staff can be fired, schools can be shut down, and new charter schools brought in, if test scores don’t improve adequately. A number of recent scandals involving potential test tampering and impropriety suggest that the charter schools and traditional public schools alike are feeling immense pressure to show yearly gains in test scores.
Hing goes on to ask whether Obama is intentionally punking his own Ed Sec as part of routine politics:
Obama’s great at co-opting his critics’ arguments even if he doesn’t take to heart their policy suggestions. It’s an excellent strategy for cornering his critics and closing off the political space that critics of standardized tests have carved out for themselves in the often confounding education debate.
Just as pointedly, Cody asks whether Obama is a) trying to mislead voters or b) unfamiliar with his own Sec Ed’s policy. “Is President Obama aware,” Cody writes, that Race to the Top and Arne Duncan are rapidly multiplying the number and frequency of such tests, raising the stakes for both students and fauclty, and require states to tie teacher pay closely to test scores? “If ever there was a recipe for teaching to the test, this it!” he writes:
President Obama, I loved the way you described the role of assessment. It should be occasional, not punitive, and used to help diagnose where students need help. What Sasha and Malia are getting is wonderful. Is there a way we could get your Department of Education’s policies to align with your personal vision?
The Department of Education might easily have ignored the blogosphere, given the friendly silence on these remarks observed by the major news outlets.
Somewhat surprisingly, however, Duncan’s minions have swooped down on at least some of these opinionators, ham-handedly demanding a “correction” from Cody, claiming that he somehow “misinterpreted” the Prez. Cody peppered them with a few queries and awaits their reply–stay tuned!]]>
On March 22, a prominent group of education bloggers agreed to provide statements loosely organized on the theme of “why faculty like me support unions.” Unexpectedly Stanley Fish, a career-long opponent of faculty unionism, joined them. “I recently flipped,” he confessed,”and what flipped me, pure and simple, was Wisconsin.” In particular, it turns out, it was reading new Brainstorm colleague Naomi Schaefer’s Riley’s assault on faculty bargaining rights in that newspaper you find under your door in cheap motel rooms:
What Riley fears is that if colleges and universities were unionized, teachers with far out, discomforting ideas couldn’t be fired. It’s hard to imagine a better argument for unions (and also for tenure)…. Riley makes no bones about it. Letting the unions get a foothold “could . . . make the environment more left leaning.” The message is clear: keep those unions out so that we can more easily get rid of the lefties.
There are layers of irony in Fish’s conversion on the road to Damascus, but it’s hard to argue with his reasoning: one of the lessons of Wisconsin is that academic unionism is one of the few effective bulwarks against ideological cleansing.
Framed as a dialogue between Walter Benn Michaels and himself, the piece is particularly worth reading for Michaels’ withering replies to Riley’s psychic channeling of Ayn Rand. After circulating the usual unfounded canard of faculty laziness, Riley quotes the chief executive of SUNY Buffalo comparing unionization to “belonging to a herd.” In reply, Michaels observes that his own department is amidst a union card drive and ranked in the top 20 nationally:
It’s the hard-working ones who want the union most. Why? Because we think that the people who actually do the teaching and the research should have more of a say in how the teaching and the research gets done. [S]ince when does having a voice in what happens in your own workplace count as belonging to the herd? The president of Buffalo, despite the fact that Buffalo is itself unionized, apparently thinks that rugged individualism consists in shutting up and doing what management tells you to do.
As you’d expect from someone who describes his view as the product of a “flip,” Fish’s contributions to the dialogue lack nuance and context: it’s hard to imagine that Fish has suddenly discovered that most faculty are a lunch bucket crowd, some of whom qualified for food stamps on the wages he paid them while whacking down a monster salary as dean.
In Fish world, faculty unions used to wear a black hat; now they wear a white one, and his realization came about because of what he saw on tv: a dastardly governor twirling his mustaches and tieing a virginal faculty to the railroad tracks. Only the white-hatted union can save the innocent now!
The reality, as anyone who has actually spent any time in the academic labor movement can tell you, is very different: faculty unions have many flaws–and nearly all of them are the flaws of the membership themselves.
The lessons of Wisconsin and Ohio, at least in part, underscore just how seriously faculty and their unions have blundered–how we as a profession have been selfish, foolish, mean-spirited and short-sighted. All the ways, in short, that we haven’t been any better than Stanley Fish but rather, quite a bit like him, or at least striving to be like him, cheerfully shooting hoops and piloting his Jag down the freeway while the academy burned.
Our Unions Are Not Heroic (Because We Aren’t)
So why do I support faculty unions despite their many imperfections? You could say that I’m a critical supporter of American unions generally: they reflect our virtues–too often expressed at the eleventh hour–as well as our flaws. Our unions are often the final barrier against unsafe roads and hospitals, ersatz education and filth in our food. Unions represent all of us, not just those who pay dues into them. A democratic society cannot exist without vigorous democracy in the workplace.
On the other hand, union memberships have failed to live up to their own ideals for most of my adult life–thirty years now. Faced with the difficult challenges of a politically reactionary era–such as hostile regulation, outsourcing, forced volunteerism, and perma-temping–union memberships in every walk of American life have taken the path of least resistance, securing the benefits of older workers and selling out the young.
The members of education unions have been no exception. Faculty represented by the big education unions have turned a blind eye to the hyper-exploitation of student labor, the conversion of jobs to part-time and volunteer positions, the outsourcing of staff and the hostile regulation environment governing collective bargaining in private schools.
But blaming “unions” for the failings of their membership is like blaming the hammer for smashing your thumb. It’s not the hammer’s fault if it’s idle while you’re sitting in front of your television instead of helping mend your neighbor’s fence.
I support unionism the way a carpenter supports tool use. Unions can be misused or neglected by their members, but they’re indispensable to the job of democratizing and diversifying our workplaces, maintaining professional integrity and autonomy, and sustaining high standards in teaching and research.
The current crises in Wisconsin and Ohio have many lessons for faculty in higher education and their unions. I’ll just put forward five for now:
1. Tenure must unite the faculty, not divide it. The single most corrosive faculty myth to emerge since 1970 is the ludicrous notion that tenure is a merit badge for faculty with research-intensive appointments. The biggest reason higher education unions are powerless is that we’ve allowed administrations to cast the overwhelming majority of faculty on teaching-intensive appointments out of the tenure system: “Oh, they’re not real professors, they teach in a less prestigious university/just undergraduates/in the lower division/community colleges.”
Compare this pathetic, near-total collapse of professional identity, much less of solidarity, to the response of police and fire unions in Wisconsin, who defied the governor to support other public employees not even in their own professions–even when he exempted their unions from the axe.
2. Maximize the movement, not the revenue. Organizing graduate students and nontenurable educators would have made perfect sense in terms of sustaining a labor movement in education. But education union staff operating unapologetically under “revenue maximizing” principles have been slow to invest in the movement’s future, scoffing at the paltry “return on investment” of organizing folks already so poorly paid. (Which explains the inroads made by UAW, AFSCME, and SEIU among the nontenurable.)
Ditto for private schools affected by Yeshiva: the big unions have made a few challenges to this decision–all in all, a weak and sleazy piece of judicial activism that only passed 5-4 because of swing voter Stevens, who apparently hadn’t yet had enough of what he later called “on the job training.”
Today, Ohio public-campus faculty are facing Senate Bill 5, a bitter plateful of the fruit of the major unions’ failure to confront Yeshiva. Having shrugged off the decision when it applied only to private campuses, the unions are in a far weaker position to contest the application of its principles to public faculty in any U.S. state–ginning up already not just in Ohio and Wisconsin, but Alaska, Florida, and beyond.
Things could have been very different. Addressing the hostile regulation environment of private campuses is similar to the situation of organizing in right-to-work states: it would have required much more effort and involved much smaller economic returns, but it would have paid off in solidarity, sustaining a broad-based union culture in the academy, which in turn could have led to a legislative solution… which would have prevented the present specter, of a domino effect, with “monkey see, monkey do” application in one state legislature after another.
3. “It’s a great job if you can afford it” and “I don’t do it for the money” are racist, sexist sentiments. I’ve written about this many times before. Even in Wisconsin and Ohio, the police unions are more diverse than the faculty unions–because the extreme wage discount unfairly segments the academic workforce by race, class and gender. Only a small number of persons, disproportionately white, can afford the extreme economic irrationality of most forms of higher education teaching appointments. Defending irrational compensation schemes on the grounds that persons who start out on third base economically are “doing what they love” is really defending a system that denies everyone else a fair shot at doing something they love. The struggle to make academic compensation fair is a struggle to enormously enlarge the academic talent pool: way too many black and brown intellectuals are working at the DMV, fighting wars, and walking a beat instead of teaching at the state university. Too many teaching positions are filled by persons who can afford to work for the status compensation of saying “I work at the U.,” rather than the most qualified.
Every time someone with wealth, parental or spousal backing, and/or high household income brays about how they’d do the job for free, they put another brick in the wall in front of those who don’t have those advantages.
4. There is no democracy without active, embodied participation. Emma Goldman shocked the feminists of her day by saying that they shouldn’t prioritize winning the vote, that voting can provide the satisfying feeling of political participation without the substance. The struggle in Wisconsin has made clear to faculty that our politics can never be just teaching and writing, but has to be made real with boots on the ground and bodies in the street. If every professor’s coffee-shop oration and blog comment were instead a knock on the door in the effort to recall the power-grabbing state senators, the battle would already be won.
5. Leadership comes from below. It’s hardly accidental that Walter Benn Michaels’ grad students unionized a decade before he did. The cutting edge of education unionism always has been, and remains, the working-class intellectualism of ordinary schoolteachers and parents. In the far less accomplished sector of higher ed, the best thinking can often be found among graduate students and nontenurable faculty, who represent nearly eighty percent of the teaching force.]]>