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.]]>
There are several reports of hospitalizations due to brutal arrest tactics, such as this one showing a protestor tossed headfirst to the pavement from atop a pile of equipment. Police were using the pretext of protesters’ having covered their media gear with a tarp to claim they’d illegally erected a tent on city sidewalks.
Never mind that it wasn’t a tent, wasn’t on a sidewalk, and that every media professional in New York covers their gear when it rains without the police uttering a word, much less arresting them.
Other images clearly show the police causing injury by dragging protesters through the street, using intentionally painful holds, grinding faces into the sidewalk, etc. Apparently the media team for the Anonymous hackers organization were targeted for this special treatment.
For at least 48 hours, Yahoo blocked communications involving the occupation, and police are barricading streets & blocking shipments of water and food to the protesters.
The NYC chapter of CodePink has joined the protest, and promptly got arrested for “defacing” the NYC sidewalks with chalk.
Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, which has covered the story from the beginning, just published an op-ed, Why the Wall Street Occupation Makes Sense. She makes the right point about the mainstream media blackout: “If 2,000 Tea Party activists descended on Wall Street, you would probably have an equal number of reporters there covering them.”
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
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.]]>
This Sunday a fellow member of the University of Illinois Graduate Employees Organization, Zach Poppel, and I traveled to Madison to support the occupation of the Wisconsin Capitol. We went there in support not just of public workers in Wisconsin, but of the very idea of collective bargaining. Many of us also were there because we know graduate employees in Wisconsin, and know how higher education in Wisconsin will be decimated by these proposals. The University of Wisconsin would find it much harder to retain faculty if its professors have to surrender their hard-fought gains in collective bargaining (currently faculty on the Eau Claire and Superior campuses are unionized, and the LaCrosse campus recently voted for unionization as well). Similar proposals for gutting unions are being pursued elsewhere–Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky. Moreover, in an underreported proposal, Governor Walker is seeking to separate the Madison campus from the rest of the UW system, essentially privatizing the campus by raising tuition to private university levels.
We saw this as everyone’s fight. We had both been energized by the previous day’s experiences—Zach had organized the Springfield rally, which had several dozen GEO participants, and I had gone to Madison with several dozen other GEO members. In Urbana we had a simultaneous rally that drew about 150 people. From our union alone, over 100 people have traveled to Madison since the protests began. Zach and I both wanted to build on that energy.
By the time of the departure, we knew that it was uncertain whether we would be able to get into the building, and therefore we were ready to support our colleagues inside who may have faced potential arrest. GEO staffer Amy Livingston and History steward Anna Kurhajec had arrived last night, and Officer-at-Large Leighton Christiansen came with another labor group this morning.
By the time we parked, walked to the capitol, and got into the line for entrance, it was about 3:20, and the police had promised to close the doors promptly at 4:00. The line was moving slowly (police were allowing one person in for every two that left), but we knew that Leighton was inside. Sometime around 3:45 we resigned ourselves to the fact that we probably wouldn’t get in, though we stayed in line. Shortly before 4:00, we got word that Amy and Anna had been among the last people to make it in after waiting about two hours. When the doors closed at 4:00, the outside crowd chanted “Let Us In” for 15 more minutes.
You all can see what happened on the inside on TV feeds and on Youtube videos. On the outside, we saw an energetic protest that still had the spirit of Saturday’s rally. Despite the bitter cold, people were in good spirits. We kept hearing conflicting reports about the status of the people inside. Earlier in the day we had heard promises that there would be no arrests; later on it seemed like arrests were a likelihood. While still waiting in line, I had scrawled the GEO’s Kerry Pimblott’s telephone number on my arm with a permanent marker in case of arrest—a surreal experience for someone who’s never even had a speeding ticket. I had to explain what was going on to my parents, who couldn’t understand why I would “jeopardize” my future career as a scholar and educator. But to me, what we were doing in Madison was essential to secure the career I want to build, to protect the conditions for teaching and learning.
Once the doors were closed, of course we were worried about our people inside. We received a blessing from GEO headquarters to leave if we wanted, that other people could come up to bail them out, but Zach and I were both firmly resolved that we wanted to bail them out. It would get them out much faster than if someone new had to drive up from Champaign. And to be honest, I think both of us felt disappointed that we weren’t able to be in the Capitol, and we wanted to be there to help the people who were. The plan was for us to be their first phone call if they were arrested. There were ACLU representatives available to bail people out, but they would be responsible for all the protesters. The difference between us bailing them out and the ACLU bailing them out could have meant a difference of several hours or more in jail time for Amy and Anna. (The labor group Leighton had gone up with was prepared to post his bail if necessary).
The crowd was lively and many were in constant contact with people inside. At one point we formed a human chain around the building. Protesters made a commitment to stay until either everyone was out of the building (one way or another) or until the police had announced there woule be no arrests. Driveways, entrances, and exits were blocked. Some of the people inside chose to leave voluntarily upon police requests, and were cheered by the crowd outside as they left the building. Others (several hundred) stayed inside, understanding that they were risking their own liberty to do so.
As the temperatures dropped, people climbed up to the second floor to get a sight of the people inside. We also held a candlelight vigil. Chants and drumming continued. Of course, as basically an unplanned event, it was a much smaller crowd than the massive Saturday rally, but it still maintained tremendous energy. For me, the most thrilling part was hearing the car horns of supporters driving the streets around the capitol. Throughout the day there had been constant supportive car honks. At some point, though, they fell into a regular pattern: a call-and-response chorus version of the favorite union chant, “This is what democracy looks like,” which was surprisingly well-coordinated. This kept up for well more than an hour, as each successive wave of commuters picked up on the game and kept it going. This will be one of my favorite memories.
Though none of us could get in the building, we were heartened to see food and supplies go in, as well as additional press. By 7:00 we had received word that everyone inside had been guaranteed they would be able to spend the night peacefully and would not be arrested. Leighton, Amy, and Anna are still inside as I write, along with hundreds of other protesters.
Once the outside protest dispersed and we knew Leighton, Amy, and Anna would not need bail, we headed home. Stopping to warm up at a local bar, we overheard the news that Sen. Dale Schulz had switched his vote on the bill. We now need only two additional senators to kill Scott Walker’s budget bill and allow the Wisconsin 14 to come home. When this was announced in the bar, there were cheers throughout. Talking to our people inside, I was glad that they also had learned about Sen. Schultz’s switch and there was cheering inside.
One thing you notice in Madison is that just about every local business has a window sign supporting public sector union rights. Many of the people I saw both days had signs proclaiming that they were “private sector workers,” “small business owners,” “non-union members,” and “taxpayers”—the groups Walker claims to represent—who were coming out to support their union brothers’ and sisters’ rights.
Right now, Walker is thoroughly despised in Madison. Over both days I was there I saw one right-wing counter-protestor, against approximately 120,000-150,000 of us. What I did see was a massive group of people (and their dogs), diverse in their race, ethnicity, age, economic background, sexual identity, religion, and even in their professed politics (it was surprising how many “conservatives” believe in union rights). All of them have had enough of Gov. Walker, after he’s been in office less than two months. An incredible proliferation of clever signs lambastes Walker and his multi-billionaire benefactors, the Koch brothers—punning and the double entendre are very alive in the Badger state.
But there is a serious tone as well. People here profess their disgust for Walker’s willingness, caught on tape, to plant agents provocateur in the crowd to try to cause violence and discredit the movement. What kind of governor, the Madison Chief of Police asked, would consider risking the safety of law enforcement officers and protesters, including their children, for his political gain? http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/news/116828353.html. And Walker ultimately backed down from the idea only because he decided it would hurt him politically.
It was also a crowd that connected the dots to larger social issues, and demonstrated precisely the kind of critical self-awareness that Left intellectuals often claim to be unable to find in the American working and middle classes. These were not people marching, as the Right charges, just to protect their own benefits. The people marching understood the connections between war spending, corporate welfare, and tax cuts on the one hand, and cuts in education, health care, and social programs on the other. They understood the absurdity of a governor who claims to have to crush unions in order to plug a $140 million deficit, right after he signed $140 million in corporate giveaways and tax breaks. They understand that the divisions between skilled and unskilled, middle and working class, union and nonunion, and private and public sector, are meant to divide working people against one another. Many of their signs emphasized the value of education, and a number took shots at Governor Walker over his own lack of a college degree. Their signs made reference to both the good (LaFollette, Feingold) and bad (McCarthy) elements of Wisconsin political tradition. These were people who believe in the public good and the public sphere, and are trying in every way they can to recreate it.
However much he likes to talk about the silent majority who supports him, I have seen almost no evidence that anyone likes or supports Walker, let alone a majority. He literally cannot be seated in a restaurant in Madison. Walker went to one of Madison’s premier fine-dining restaurants, and the owners refused to serve him. Of course, his support is higher in more rural areas than in liberal enclaves like Madison and Milwaukee, but even outside the cities he is opposed by solid majorities. Statewide, his approval rating is below 50%, an astonishing number for a governor who only won his first term in November. The polls I’ve seen have shown supermajorities (over 60%) of both Wisconsin citizens and the American public as a whole against Walker’s proposals. And that’s after a steady drumbeat in both the right-wing and mainstream media, claiming that public workers’ wages and benefits are responsible for our economic situation. On the bus I took Saturday were people from Green Bay, Stoughton, and Beloit. The caricature of the protesters as mostly urban liberals would have been absurd to anyone who spent even five minutes among the crowd.
My overall impression, like the Saturday protest the day before, was of incredible peace and harmony. (Fox News, the only national media outlet that has maintained consistent coverage, has claimed to see “hate” and “vitriol” in the eyes of the protesters, and that our goal is to shut down and harass the media. Nothing I saw in any way comports with that absurd characterization.) I have never seen this many people assembled (for any reason—not just a political rally) without any unpleasantness or violence. People speak plainly and from the heart, in their posters and in their words, about how this bill will affect their lives, how it will take away things they’ve won, not only through their individual effort but through generations of workers who have sacrificed to build their unions.
The symbolism of reclaiming the Capitol for the people against the special interests and Gov. Walker’s attack on democratic union rights was very powerful. Wisconsin’s State Capitol is a beautiful, neo-classical white marble structure, the kind of architecture that was built, at the time of the U.S.’s founding, as a kind of living expression of the idea of the public good. From the outside, you can see signs in the windows of Democratic Assemblymen/women and Senators’ offices, cheering on the protesters. Sometimes these legislators or their aides would open up their windows and wave. From the inside, the spectacular Rotunda has taken on a new kind of beauty with the thousands of signs, fliers, and banners that have transformed it into a true site of civic engagement.
I was able to get in on Saturday, along with many other GEO members, and the reborn Capitol must to be seen to be believed. The cameras don’t do it justice. On Saturday a massive, loud yet somehow completely orderly crowd alternated between cheering and drumming passionately on the one hand, and on the other, listening carefully and attentively to a stream of dozens open-mic speakers who talked poignantly about how the bill would affect their lives. I had the chance to briefly speak to the thousands of people in the crowd and found it simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. The most rousing speech I heard was a passionate and eloquent appeal by a Wisconsin preschool teacher who wondered, “Why should I have to beg this man to build the life I’ve earned?” Periodically parades would march through the center of the crowd—I saw a firefighters’ parade, and a massive parade by the Chicago Teachers’ Union, a union with new, radicalized leadership and a strong commitment to progressive labor and educational policies.
The energy is tremendous. But they will need to keep it up in the next few days and weeks, in order to win over more Republican Senators and finally kill the bill. I hope to make it back up to Madison (my third trip this week) to spend a night with the brave workers of Wisconsin (spearheaded, I should say, by the unbelievable UW grad local, the Teaching Assistants’ Association). Others will as well. I will say, for those who haven’t yet been to Madison, it is an experience you will never forget.
Two weeks ago I remember telling someone that “Wisconsin is coming to all of America next.” At the time, this sounded ominous and threatening. Now, it has become transformed into something hopeful. I’d like to think that the energy, passion, selflessness, and civic engagement that Wisconsin has shown the world can become a model for all of us. Wisconsin is coming to all of America next, but not in the way Scott Walker intended.
Does anyone know how to get permanent marker writing off your skin?
Michael Verderame is a Ph.D. candidate in the English department of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), where he studies nineteenth-century British literature with a focus on literature and the environment. He is a member and activist in the Graduate Employees Organization, an AFT-affiliated union representing over 2000 teaching and graduate assistants at UIUC.
Monday afternoon update: We heard that the windows of the Capitol are being welded shut in an effort to force the protesters out. Law enforcement is not allowing new people in. There are claims that new protesters will not be allowed in unless protesters inside comply with certain (unspecified) law enforcement requests, although it’s unclear what those requests are. About 100 of the protesters remain. According to reports, Walker has shifted operational control from the Madison Police, who strongly support the protesters, to the State Troopers’ Office, whose superintendent is a political appointee of Governor Walker’s (and also, amazingly, the father of both the state Assembly speaker and the Senate majority leader). A disappointed Democratic Assemblywoman Kelda Helen Roys tweeted that seven corporate lobbysists were let in even as protesters are being excluded. The ACLU has filed a suit to force the state to readmit protesters. We’ve also learned that over the night a number of people, including Anna and Amy, left overnight based on the promise they would be allowed back in at 8 a.m.) Anna and Amy are currently trying to get back in.
Nonetheless, spirits are high throughout the country. My own union, the Graduate Employees Organization, an affiliate of the AFT/IFT has been holding a 24-7 vigil ever since the protests began to support the public workers in Madison. We have hosted rallies, film screenings, lectures, teach-ins, and concerts. Members are spending every night in the basement of the YMCA, with sleeping bags and pillows. We have also hosted three local rallies in support of the 39 heroic Indiana Democratic legislators, who are staying in Urbana, just like the Wisconsin 14, in protest of anti-union and anti-education legislation. One of them came to the University to speak to undergraduate and graduate students about the issues in Indiana, and received rousing applause.
It is difficult, but we are winning. One Republican senator has already switched; as we keep the pressure up, I believe more will follow. And the lessons of Wisconsin will carry over into the rest of the country as this fight continues.]]>
And right you are. But since I’m a rich and powerful chunk of media capital with a stake in the answer, I don’t care what you think, and I’m free to compound the injury by holding a false “debate” on a question that unfairly asks one side to argue for its existence.
Enter The New York Times and its latest bungled attempt at analyzing higher ed, which just riffs on a piece reported by Robin Wilson for the Chronicle. As if framing a loaded question weren’t enough, they stack the deck, a couple of different ways. In the more obvious manipulation of the lineup, opponents of tenure outnumber proponents 3-2.
More importantly: in a debate about the “demise” of tenure,” the debate’s framers don’t include any voices of persons who are living the circumstances they purport to examine: the life of career faculty, full time or part time, with a teaching-intensive load and a nontenurable contract. One participant is on a nontenurable research contract–for a Harvard outfit that does management consulting for higher-ed administration, natch. But that’s like dressing up the testimony of someone who’s always driven a Rolls as the honest voice of straphangers–the near-volunteer faculty on freaking food stamps, like Monica, Andy, and many others.
As it turns out, 95% of the sense made in this debate is contained in the 40% assigned to the pro-tenure folks. AAUP president Cary Nelson patiently explains the centrality of tenure for academic freedom, and USC’s Adrianna Kezar, points to the real debate we should be having–about the high cost of nontenurable hiring in higher education, especially for the majority of faculty whose appointments are teaching-intensive, and the students they try to serve in the unsavory conditions management has created.
In the Opinion of L. Ron Hubbard…
Excepting a couple of minor points by the nontenurable researcher/management consultant, the anti-tenure side had little to offer beyond witless praise for The Market. Remember the the Planet of the Apes sequel where the surviving mutant humans live in a cave and worship the Holy Bomb that destroyed them?
It’s like that, including the gallows flavor to the campy humor, once you rip off the masks of the robed ritualistas:
Batting first for the NYT education-capitalist home team is Richard Vedder, perennial flack for the neo-cons at the American Enterprise Institute. His line here, that tenure “reduces intellectual diversity,” is just warmed-over David Horowitz, long debunked by any serious study. The fact is that more academics fear for their academic freedom today than in the McCarthy era–because they lack access to tenure, not the other way around.
Playing new kid in the lineup is Mark C. Taylor, a distance education entrepreneur with books and interests ranging from religion and organization theory to management and–I am not making this up–stealing dirt from the graves of famous persons.
Taylor’s data-free ruminations bear as much connection to the actual world of higher education as Scientology does to particle physics. He’s the fellow that bemoaned per-course salaries “as low as” five grand (!) and basically acts as if you could still arm-chair analyze the academic labor system, which is nearly 80% contingent, as if it were a “market” in tenure-track jobs.
Taylor’s retread analysis is straight outta 1972: “If you were a CEO,” he begins, and races downhill from there. Dunno, Mark: If I was the CEO of my neighborhood… If I was the CEO of my marriage… If I was the CEO of this poker game… If I was the CEO of your church… If I was the CEO of the planet… If my dad were my CEO… If I were the CEO of this one-night stand… If I was the CEO of this classroom… If I was the CEO of this audience at this Green Day concert…
Gosh, Mark. Seems like some social organizations and relationships shouldn’t have CEOs at all.
Wait, there’s more. Taylor goes on to, like, use math and stuff because it sounds good when you’re talking about money. He figures out the lifetime cost of paying tenured faculty and boggles, claiming that funding this commitment “would require” four million in endowment now and thirty million thirty years from now. Et voila! Clearly, then, paying faculty anything at all is impossible! QE freaking D, lads and ladies.
Of course the fact that most faculty aren’t paid out of endowments at all but, like, from tuition and appropriations and grants and stuff, does create some stumbles among the seraphim in Taylor’s elegant pin-top choreography.
I did say that the anti-tenure side contributed 5% of the sense out of the 60% of the space allotted to them.
That modicum goes to Cathy Trower of Harvard’s COACHE, like the handbag, with an elegant E for education.
Her project is like a higher-ed stepchild version, less mean and less well-funded, of Harvard’s toxic b-school/ed-school partnership–you know, the folks that brought you Arne Duncan.
Unlike her comrades, Trower actually thinks about tenure and correctly advocates for a less rigid understanding of it. Somewhat overdramatically, she proposes blowing up the tenure system and starting over with a new constitutional convention:
Some features of a newly imagined faculty workplace might include variable probationary periods, with extensions for parenthood, rather than a fixed seven-year up-or-out provision for tenure; a tenure track for faculty members focused on teaching; a non-tenure track that affords a meaningful role in shared governance; interdisciplinary centers with authority to be the locus of tenure; broader definitions of scholarship and acceptable outlets and media to “publish” research….
Most of these notions, of course, are very sensible, and versions of them are in place all over the country. No need to lug jerrycans of petrol to the bonfire. It’s not until we get to Trower’s stealthy last two suggestions (“tenure for a defined period of time; and the option to earn salary premiums while forgoing tenure entirely”) that we see that the NYT was perfectly fair to run her piece under the headlines “How to Start Over” and “Get Rid of (Tenure).” Trower conveniently left these out of the version she published two years ago in AAUP’s Academe.
Most Tenured Faculty ARE on a Teaching Track
If Trower were better informed about what’s actually going on, she’d be aware that all of her reasonable suggestions have distinguished histories as well as plenty of contemporary reality. Rendered most invisible by Trower’s crowing from the business-administration battlements is the suggestion that we need to invent a “tenure track for faculty members focused on teaching.”
In 1970, the overwhelming majority of tenured faculty were on teaching-intensive appointments. Even today, after four decades of hiring teaching-intensive appointments nontenurably (full-time and part-time), tenured teaching-intensive faculty out-number tenured research-intensive faculty as much as two to one.
The idea that “tenured” equates to teaching 6 hours a week or fewer is just silly propaganda. And I for one am sick of liberal bastions like Harvard and the NYT passing off propaganda as scholarship.
Including propaganda that has numbers in it: for crying out loud, my math-avoidant friends, the whole meaning of the expression that “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics” is that any paid mouthpiece, windbag or liar can claim to be “data-driven.”
I mean, Cathy, let’s be real here.
MANAGEMENT has spent the last four decades actively dismantling a long-existing “tenure track for faculty members focussed on teaching.” Now you lean out from the windows of your Lear jet to shout that we need to hold a constitutional convention to invent it?
You folks at Harvard oughta know that “data-driven” should mean something more than running a bunch of surveys. It should mean some reasonable attempt at a connection with the facts.
Regular readers know I’ve been pointing out the epic badness of the New York Times’ reporting on higher education for some time now. For what it’s worth, I have it on good authority that more than one academic journal is interested in taking a closer look at media bias in higher education coverage.
Of course this is a little like saying I know several clever Davids prepared to flip the bird at slow-witted Goliath. On the other hand, one of them might prove to own a slingshot.]]>
Earlier this week he more convincingly took on the student evaluation of teaching and specifically, a Texas proposal to hold tenured faculty “more accountable” by giving faculty bonuses of up to $10,000 for earning high customer assessments of specified learning outcomes.
Fish makes two arguments against the proposal. He squanders pixels bolstering his weaker point, that students aren’t necessarily in a position to judge whether Fish-as-teacher-phallus has, ugh, “planted seeds that later grew into mighty trees of understanding.”
Far better is his second point:
Students tend to like everything neatly laid out; they want to know exactly where they are; they don’t welcome the introduction of multiple perspectives, especially when no master perspective reconciles them; they want the answers. But sometimes (although not always) effective teaching involves the deliberate inducing of confusion, the withholding of clarity, the refusal to provide answers; sometimes a class or an entire semester is spent being taken down various garden paths leading to dead ends that require inquiry to begin all over again, with the same discombobulating result; sometimes your expectations have been systematically disappointed….
Needless to say, that kind of teaching is unlikely to receive high marks on a questionnaire that rewards the linear delivery of information and penalizes a pedagogy that probes, discomforts and fails to provide closure. Student evaluations, by their very nature, can only recognize, and by recognizing encourage, assembly-line teaching that delivers a nicely packaged product that can be assessed as easily and immediately as one assesses the quality of a hamburger.
This part rings mostly true for me. No question, Fish is clearly wrong to generalize so broadly about students and evaluation instruments. As students enter majors and graduate programs, they are of course far more likely to welcome the sort of intellectual adventure that he describes.
And it’s just plain out of touch with the subject he is purporting to address to claim that all kinds of student evaluation are “by their very nature” (huh? philosopher much?) of the sort that can “only recognize” teaching-as-information-delivery. Nonetheless, that’s the kind administrators mostly impose so his point is valid despite the unwarranted generalization.
That said, I personally like getting student evaluations of my teaching, even the lame sort that predominate and which Fish is critiquing here. I learn things even from bad instruments poorly used by persons with little knowledge of the field or who display imperfect judgement, and so on.
My concern is with the way these instruments are misused–by activist administrators and politicians, aided and abetted by paid policy flacks. The managerial literature cheerfully describes all this as the “assessment movement” to consolidate their control of “institutional mission.”
Faculty themselves, even with tenure, learn all too quickly to teach to the instrument.
Example: long after receiving tenure (twice!) I once got mid-range scores in response to a question asking students to assess whether their capacity for critical thought improved. The next term I included a twenty-minute exercise studying different definitions of critical thought the week before they took the survey: my scores jumped to the top of the range, with no other change in the syllabus.
I use that example because it’s double-sided. On the one hand, it shows how a modest change can essentially manipulate the results or, more to the point, manipulate the students providing the results.
On the other hand this modest change, motivated by a base consideration, was also a real one: it marked a moment where I took seriously the importance of reflection in the learning process.
By asking students to reflect on what had happened to their thinking in the class, they were not only more likely to appreciate the teaching, they were more likely to appreciate, value–and retain–the change itself.
So the stupid instrument, my vanity, and a modest change resulted in better learning.
While that instance of teaching to the instrument worked out more or less fine, most responsible studies are pretty clear that teaching to the instrument is generally harmful.
For instance, one Fish commenter quoted a reliably-constructed study that concluded “professors who excel at promoting contemporaneous student achievement teach in ways that improve their student evaluations but harm the follow-on achievement of their students in more advanced classes.”
In other words: teaching to get high customer assessments produces intellectual junk food: the focus group says “yum!” but it’s all bad news after that. This is consistent with study after study on “teaching to the test” in K-12: the more tightly that management and politicians grip the handful of sand that is teaching and learning, the less they grasp.
Most of the commenters don’t address the motivation for the Texas proposal, which is to standardize and marketize the curriculum along the lines supported by the current administration. An easily assessable form of learning-as-information-download is an easily commodified form of learning: “Log in to Pixel University, where you get the exact same education as Yalies!” It’s also more easily controlled by a political bureaucracy, along the lines of K-12. Both Republicans and Democrats are actively supporting for-profit “education providers,” and the leading edge of their contribution is redefining knowledge as information delivery.
So what’s best about Fish’s effort here is the emphasis upon the nature of learning itself, which is easily distinguishable from information download.
The most difficult lesson for my first-year students to learn–the most frustrating, the one with the longest-term impact–is the construction of a review of scholarly literature, toward posing a research question unanswered by that literature. I ask them to zero in on a “bright spot” in the literature, where conflicting views are unresolved, or a “blank spot,” a question that hasn’t been posed. I try to help them to think of a modest but original way that they might advance the conversation.
The lesson takes them on a journey of the sort that Fish describes, full of frustrations and ventures into the failings of academic prose, dead ends and discombobulations. What they learn is that any act of knowledge origination emerges from a vast multivocal conversation and is framed by the professional modesty of the actual researcher. They are often amazed by the narrow frame of actual research questions, the extent of qualifications and hesitations, and the ways that knowledge is produced by error. They are often confused by the extent of collaboration, the fact that questions aren’t constructed in binary terms, the fact that questions are constructed, and by the amount of time spent acknowledging the diverse views and paths explored by one’s professional colleagues.
As Fish points out, students come to us trained to see “the master perspective” (of history-as-objective-fact, eg, rather than history-as-historiography, the writing of Helen Keller, Jack London and Einstein’s socialism into, or out of, the conversation). Or at most they see two perspectives, the binary the either/or of right and wrong, or for and against, good and evil, etc. I tell them that easy clarifications–such as “are you for or against” such and such a proposition– are usually trick questions, that making knowledge and the act of learning entail entering into a hive of confusion, ambiguity, and error.
They don’t always like this lesson, which is deeply experiential: they have to try to read difficult things, ask for help, wait in line to get journals delivered to them. But they are always glad to have had it, and it clearly yields real results in subsequent classes.
Can this sort of lesson and journey be assessed? Yes, but not so easily by the sort of instruments we use for the purpose. We do need better instruments. For instance, measurement per se is not intrinsically useful: you might say losing 20 lbs at Pixel U is the same as losing 20 lbs at Swankfield–until you learn that at one school you lost the weight by exercising, and at the other they amputated a limb.
More than better instruments, though, we need better attitudes toward these instruments. We could start with a critical understanding of why administrations and politicians support the kind of assessments they do, and not the many better alternatives.
Above all: we need to be able to offer a clear, cogent justification of education as learning and distinguish between learning and download.]]>
The latest chapter (pdf) in the cautious series by Audrey Jaeger and Kevin Eagan focuses on the critical first year in four-year institutions, following up previous efforts on community colleges and the lower division more broadly. Their conclusion: a merely “average” degree of contingency in faculty appointments and working conditions at four-year institutions affects year-to-year student retention by as much as 30 percent:
Students with average levels of exposure to full-time, nontenure-track, “other”
contingent, and graduate assistant faculty may be as much as 30 percent less likely
to persist, compared to their peers who have only full-time faculty.
Noting that at all of the institutions they studied but one, “more than 50 percent of the credits taken by students during their first year were led by a contingent faculty member,” Jaeger and Eagan dryly conclude, “given these findings, employment status of faculty deserves further discussion.”
Studying several years of data from a state system, they carefully document a close correlation with the degree of contingency in faculty appointment and retention.
In the baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral-extensive institutions studied, they found consistent decreases in the likelihood of sophomore-year retention ranging from 2 to 7 percent for every 10-percent increase in contact hours with faculty on contingent appointment.
Disaggregating appointment categories, they found that the more contingent the appointment, the stronger the association with negative student outcomes.
Credit hours led by faculty on full-time nontenurable appointment outperformed those led by graduate student instructors and both outperformed sections led by faculty on part-time appointment.
But “greater levels of contingent faculty instruction, despite whether these faculty
are working full time or part time, typically have a negative effect on student persistence,” they emphasize.
Working Conditions Matter
At the two doctoral-intensive institutions they studied, Jaeger and Eagan found modest positive correlation between retention and exposure to graduate student and faculty on contingent appointments. This finding contradicted what they learned at the other institution in this study and in their own previous work.
This unusual finding led them to examine the working conditions of faculty serving contingently at those two institutions. Finding greater support, funding for faculty development and integration, they hypothesize that supporting part-time faculty better might have an impact.
As in their other published studies, Jaeger and Eagan interpret their results to mean that the conditions of contingency are the culprit, not the faculty. They observe that there may well be less harm in appointing faculty on a part-time basis in upper division and graduate study.
Research-Intensive Faculty Share the Blame
The shrinking minority of research faculty have developed a culture of contempt for general education. Regular readers know that AAUP conspicuously declined to sign on the latest report by the “Coalition on the Academic Workforce” in large part because this report, scripted by the staff at disciplinary associations, essentially abandoned the first two years of college instruction.
Disciplinary associations are dominated by research-intensive faculty who have been making this bargain with administrators for the past 40 years: “Keep our tenure lines in the major and grad program, and we’ll supervise students and lecturers teaching gen ed.”
Probably the number-one reason AAUP declined to sign the CAW report is the disciplinary associations’ insistence on recommending that “tenure lines should be sufficient to cover courses in the upper-division undergraduate and graduate curricula and to ensure an appropriate presence of tenured and tenure-track faculty members in the lower division.”
As my committee at AAUP analyzed it, CAW’s waffle regarding “an appropriate presence” in the lower division aimed to serve the self-interest of a tiny fraction of the faculty at the expense of students and most other faculty.
The CAW report and the minority faculty it represents flies in the face of research by Paul Umbach, Jaeger and Eagan, and many others. The recommendations are exactly the reverse of Jaeger and Eagan’s, who find great impact from contingency in the early years and less in the upper division and graduate study.
So long as privilege continues to flow to the disciplines, the CAW is cheerfully willing to underwrite the steady casualization of the majority faculty teaching the majority of students, i.e. community colleges and the first two years everywhere.
Responsible policy makers, researchers like Jaeger and Eagan, and many administrators, however, acknowledge that the lower division and general ed are the area where the US system of higher education already is the most dysfunctional by most measures of student success.
The Buck Stops With Administrators
Administrators ultimately make resource allocation decisions that shape first-year teaching.
Many administrators would willingly see more experienced tenure-stream faculty in the first-year classroom and grumpily point to the unwillingness of research-intensive faculty to appear there.
However, administrators are the ones who have steadily whittled away at a career path that this research suggests is one of the most important in the academy: the teaching-intensive tenure track.
While no faculty appointments should be teaching only—it is the teaching-only nature of most contingent appointments that accounts for much of the negative impact—appointments that are teaching intensive should be an important component of every faculty.
Much reduced from their high point in 1970, appointments to the teaching-intensive tenure track nonetheless remain widespread, especially at the M.A. and B.A.-granting institutions where the difference between their student outcomes and those of faculty on contingent appointments are most obvious.
At 9-plus teaching hours per week, with full campus citizenship and full obligations to professional development—which might include appropriately modest expectations for research activity—faculty on these appointments work hard for bartenders’ wages, but deliver real results for students.
Over the decades, administrations have lost literally millions of students by replacing appointments that enable teaching-intensive campus citizens with those that give faculty little choice except to be teaching-only freeway flyers.
As I and many others have noted, administrators have actively chosen to disinvest in faculty, spending instead on sports, infrastructure, and venture capitalism.
Even in naked business terms: were the gains they achieved with these allocations really worth the loss of millions of “education customers”?
Considering the role tuition plays in most budgets, I doubt it.
The Figure of Writing and the Future of English Studies
Dismal Science Fiction
Who’s a “Historian” to the AHA?
Conversion to Tenure
Stabilizing Persons, Creating New Lines
Her perception of leftism among the faculty leads her to think that our values “should result in something much more egalitarian.” So, she asks, how is it that higher ed sustains “one of the most abusive labor markets in the world”?
Good question. One answer, of course, is that the faculty aren’t “leftists” at all, but American liberals, whose commitments to equality are relatively clear in matters of ethnicity and gender, but hopelessly confused when it comes to class and workplace issues generally.
Arguably most of the policy failures by contemporary liberals in matters of ethnicity and gender can be traced back to their blind spot regarding issues of class, labor, and the workplace.
As I’ve noted before, to produce crashing silence in a lecture hall packed with doctorates, all you have to do is ask, “Why are police departments more diverse than English departments?”
Super-Exploitation and the Myth of Faculty Leftism
McArdle speculates that the material condition of the contingent faculty (“some of the worst-paid high-school graduates in the country”) has caused the “leftward drift” of academic politics: ie, that working in a tiered workplace has made typical academics adopt egalitarian values. She’s completely wrong about that, since it was exactly the other way around: the faculty’s non-leftism (their liberal comfort with inegalitarianism in economic and workplace matters) helped bring about the system of majority contingent appointments.
Nevertheless she makes a couple of very helpful observations.
She’s especially good at pointing out that the tenured are also victims of this system. She notes that even the fortunate ones on the tenure track are “virtual prisoners” of their administration until tenure (a point now reached for humanities faculty roughly two decades after entering grad school, or in one’s forties!):
And that’s before we start talking about the marriages strained, the personal lives stunted, because those lucky enough to get a tenure-track job have to move to a random location, often one not particularly suited to their spouses’ work ambitions or their own personal preferences . . . a location which, barring another job offer, they will have to spend the rest of their life in.
This leads to the best observation in McArdle’s piece: that many faculty are clueless about worker rights and experiences in nonacademic workplaces. In faculty lore, nonacademic workplaces represent “an endless well of exploitation where employees are virtual prisoners with no recourse in the face of horrific abuses.”
McArdle believes that most academics translate their own experiences and those of their colleagues enduring contingent appointment–of super-exploitation and “monolithic employer power”–and “naturally assume it must be even worse on the outside.”(emph. original)
She’s right on both of these points. Contrary to the assumptions of most observers, faculty in the tenure stream have seriously harmed themselves and the profession by their lazy complicity with the two-tiered system of majority contingent employment. And they foolishly excuse their complicity by assigning blame to any cause but their own failure of responsibility to the profession.
This insight–of professional laziness by the tenured, who are working hard on many things, but not at defending the profession–leads to one of the obvious, clear answers to the crisis of the professoriate.
We’re experiencing a failure of professional control over the terms of professional work, what actual labor economists call a “failed monopoly of professional labor.”
Traditional professions exchange strong (even “monopoly”) control over their terms of work for a public-service mission, an arrangement that has been undermined and all but abandoned under neoliberalism and its ideologies, including the bogus analytical lens of “job market theory.” Sadly, the most common response to McArdle’s piece was the triumphant crowing of the half-smart, sprinting forward with their cliched faux analysis featuring–you guessed it–an oversupply of persons with doctorates, etc etc: “It’s simple! Too few jobs, too many PhDs! It’s simple! It’s simple! Ha-ha! I win! Shut up, whiny girls with your whiny degrees that nobody sees on Sports Center! It’s simple!”
Of course I’ve debunked the inanity of the “overproduction of PhDs” thesis many times before. There is zero such “overproduction,” since what has happened is a restructuring of demand. Regular readers know that structured demand means that work formerly done by persons with doctorates is now done by persons with an m.a. or less. This revolutionary shift was accomplished intentionally, by university management, all without much opposition by the guild of tenured faculty. Like most other senior workers after 1970, the tenured collaborated in the creation of multi-tier workplaces… trading away the future of the young for their own comfort.
The persistence of “job market theory” despite its obvious inanity is partly due to its narcotizing effect on the guilty consciences of the tenured: “Oh, it’s not my failure to defend the profession, it’s The Market.”
This doped-up intellectual response carries through the whole standard hamster wheel of the conversation about academic employment: “Gollleeee, cousin Jim-Bob, I wonder if we should put down our jugs of corn liquor and issue one of them caveat emptors to the young folks? Wouldn’t want them messing up their graduate-education purchasing decisions! Don’t want to get offen my porch, though. Guess I’ll just share my wisdom regarding this here tough job market with any young folks who happen to stop by and ask.”
So American faculty aren’t leftists; they’re liberals, deeply influenced by market ideology and fantasies about meritocratic education outcomes (wonderfully unencumbered by data). They work in institutions that manufacture and legitimate steep economic inequalities that hamper the progress of other egalitarian commitments in ethnicity and gender.
But even liberals can run a profession–when they put their minds to it.
Maybe it’s about time we stopped gassing on fatuously with outdated Fordist analogies, as if we could capture professional responsibilities and realities by pretending graduate schools are factories. Or that professional working conditions and standards are set by “markets” rather than by managers.
Maybe we should ask ourselves, “What obligations do professionals have to the profession, to other professionals, and the society we serve?”
And: “Where are we obliged to act collectively and draw the line with management on these issues? Did we cross that line about thirty years ago?”
It certainly wouldn’t hurt if we asked our professional associations to think this way as well.]]>