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How The University Works » higher ed in the news http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress Mon, 21 Nov 2011 00:40:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.15 Sympathy For Eichmann? http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/302 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/302#comments Mon, 21 Nov 2011 00:40:41 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/302 With “Why I Feel Bad For the Pepper-Spraying Policeman, Lt. John Pike,” Atlantic magazine senior editor Alexis Madrigal provides a useful discussion of the criminalization of protest and related militarization of police response. Madrigal is quite right that we’re missing the point if we pretend that Pike is an “independent bad actor” and “vilify” him as an individual without analyzing the flawed system of protest policing in which Pike operates. However, Madrigal makes a serious blunder in framing the piece.

Madrigal’s intention for the frame was to offer a provocative meditation on the way that the management of disorder dehumanizes police officers as well as the police–the sort of thing any reasonably well-read grad student should be able to churn out (cf Foucault, Fanon, etc):

I am sure that he is a man like me, and he didn’t become a cop to shoot history majors with pepper spray. But the current policing paradigm requires that students get shot in the eyes with a chemical weapon if they resist, however peaceably. Someone has to do it.

And while the kids may cough up blood and writhe in pain, what happens to the man who does it is in some ways much, much worse.

We get the point, as far it goes: Most victims of police brutality recover, but the policeman remains a brute. The ruling class doesn’t do its own dirty work; it pays the weakest of us very well to be its police (and university administrators, corporate lawyers, etc).

The last line of Madrigal’s piece is a direct homage to James Baldwin (who wrote those words about the moral ugliness of Alabama troopers using cattle prods on civil rights marchers). Channeling the novelist, Madrigal positions Pike in an educated liberal’s cartoon of the working class, a child-like Christ-figure and fool, a lumbering innocent “man like me” (except nowhere near as clever), dumbly shouldering the sins of his masters.

There are several problems with this glib, recycled framing observation. It neatly targets the magazine’s readership–the morally-conflicted members of the professional-managerial class and educators (inhabiting the upper and lower half of the top income quintile, respectively), which is to say, “us.”

It makes us feel feel better about our own complicities: I serve the system in some ways too but I’d never do what that guy does!

It produces smug condescension. We have a few moral scars ourselves, but overall we feel glad that we’re not morally deformed on Pike’s scale. We feel wise to have exchanged a degree of possible monetary rewards for affective compensation instead. The framing material is one step away from the consumable irony of the Colbert Report, which has a vast, enthusiastic viewership among those whose ideology it purportedly skewers. Like Colbert’s material, Madrigal’s frame makes it pretty easy to consume the piece in ways all too close to the one he claims to critique.

In short, Madrigal misses the point about the banality of Lt. John Pike. Hannah Arendt’s study of Eichmann (and scores of social psychologists and clinical researchers) have helped us to understand that everyday brutality (the “banality of evil”) is furthered by ordinary, unimaginative careerists obeying both orders and law out of a strong sense of duty. All Eichmanns are little Eichmanns; there’s no master villain to blame. Eichmann is responsible for his own sins and those sins are precisely his ordinariness, his obedience, and conventionality. Eichmann isn’t innocent in the system; he’s complicit.

We are Eichmann. Arendt wasn’t trying to get us to “feel bad for” Eichmann, but to see his evil in our ordinary selves, recoil, and change. The discovery that Lt. John Pike is a nice fellow to watch the game with and a good scratcher of puppy ears isn’t meant to lift his moral responsibility–or ours. His and our failure to refuse the system is the system.

Madrigal’s note erases personal, moral agency on both margins of his caricature. The lieutenant–and a few tens of million like him–have not resisted the inner Eichmann. They have chosen obedience and the warm praise of their masters, and the material rewards of their complicity.

By contrast the objects of Pike and his masters’ brutality have chosen the brave, difficult, path of refusal.

But by brave and difficult, I don’t mean exceptional. At most of the forks in our road, most of us choose the brave and difficult path. Every day, hundreds of millions of us refuse invitations to be Eichmann. We refuse to be exploiters and thugs, or their attorneys and lower managers. That’s why democracy works better than hierarchy, and that, among imperfect social organizations, more democratic generally works better than less democratic.

Of course, many of us having made many better choices than Pike doesn’t make us perfect. Far from it. We have accepted a whole lot of Eichmann in our own lives. We could choose a lot more democracy than at present–particularly in our workplaces and schools.

The lesson of Lt. Pike is not that he’s the victim of a lousy policy (“just the end point” of a system of which he “is a casualty too,”as Madrigal says). The lesson is that even within a flawed system he could and should have chosen better. So can we all.

So no, you don’t pretend that the legion of Eichmanns are master villains. But you don’t make excuses for them, either. You try them for their crimes–and you hunt down the little Eichmann in your own soul.

Update Sunday 7pm: Pike and one other UC-D officer have been suspended, and UC system president Yudof will conduct an immediate review of police protocols on the individual campuses.

If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and watch this incredible footage of a shocked and chagrined UC-Davis chancellor walking through a long, seated double file of silently reproachful students.

Also this interview with one of Pike’s victims in BoingBoing: “I received a lot of pepper spray in my throat. I vomited twice, right away, then spent the next hour or two dry heaving. Someone said they saw him spray down my throat intentionally. Another girl near me who has asthma had an attack triggered by the pepper spray, and she was taken to the hospital.”

Previous coverage:

What UC-Davis Pays for Top Talent
Campus Occupations Intensify
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

related:
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?
We Are All Roman Porn Stars Now
The Churchill Case Goes To Trial

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What UC-Davis Pays for Top Talent http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/301 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/301#comments Sun, 20 Nov 2011 04:20:11 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/301 Lt John Pike pepper-sprays peaceful sit-in.By now, you’ve seen the video of UC-Davis police lieutenant John Pike pepper-spraying a peaceful sit-in. You’ve seen his strutting little-man-in-a-big-body sadism, giving his beefy little canister a nonchalant waggle before strolling down the line of nonviolent protesters, aiming the toxic stream into their faces from a few feet away. You might even have signed the petition urging the resignation of the thugs who authorized this performance. Now, courtesy of the always trenchant Vijay Prashad, you can learn what California taxpayers pay for this level of police professionalism: $110,000 a year. Yep. You heard me. Nearly twice what they pay a new assistant professor in the humanities, and three times what they pay many full-time nontenurable lecturers.

Since the Chronicle is a family paper, I’m biting my tongue so hard it’s bleeding but, honestly, only profanity really does this justice.

Look, people. I’ve been observing for years that RETIREMENT PAY for cops and military officers is commonly higher than the SALARIES paid to tenured liberal arts faculty:

I once shocked a colleague by responding to one of those newspaper stories about a prof “caught” mowing his lawn on a Wednesday afternoon by saying that many tenured faculty were morally entitled to think of their salaries after tenure as something similar to a pension. After all, in some fields, many folks will not receive tenure until they’ve been working for low wages for twenty years or more: a dozen years to get the degree, another three to four years serving contingently—and then, finally, a “probationary” appointment lasting seven years at wages commonly lower than those of a similarly-experienced bartender.

In the humanities, the journey to tenure is often a quarter of a century and rarely less than fifteen years: if you didn’t go to a top-five or top-ten graduate school in your field, you probably taught several classes a year as a graduate student, usually while researching, publishing, and doing substantial service to the profession—writing book reviews, supervising other faculty and students, serving on committees, etc. Call it, charitably, a mean of twenty years in some fields. Averaging the probationary years, contingent/post-doc years, and graduate student years together, you get an average annual take in contemporary dollars of $25,000 or less. The low wage is only the beginning of the story. There’s the structural racism of the wealth gap, to which I’ll return, and the heartbreak and structural sexism for families trying to negotiate childrearing during that brutal two decades. In most fields, most of those who begin doctoral study with the intention of an academic career fall away long before grasping the brass ring.

From We Work, appearing in Heather Steffen & Jeffrey J. Williams, Something to Declare: A Collection of Critical Credos, Columbia University Press, forthcoming.

Previous coverage:
Campus Occupations Intensify
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

related:
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?

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Campus Occupations Reaching Critical Mass? http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/300 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/300#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2011 16:51:20 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/300 a guest post by Zach Schwartz-Weinstein

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.

Elaborating Solidarity
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.

Previous coverage:
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

related:
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.

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Hershey: Bad, But Typical http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/291 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/291#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2011 12:07:48 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/291 The real scandal of Hershey’s exploitation of hundreds of international student workers is that it isn’t actually news.

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?

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Giggling at Stereotypes http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/290 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/290#comments Tue, 12 Jul 2011 13:57:55 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/290 When we added humorous chapter books (eg Roscoe Riley) to my three-year-old’s story time, we were appalled to find that one of them featured one of the cruder and, we thought, outmoded Asian stereotypes–the New Kid from the Black Lagoon, it turns out, is not the scary blue-skinned alien from Mars that the other kids imagined, but simply Xu Ping, whose family has flown all the way from Beijing to start–you guessed it, a Chinese restaurant. How reassuring.

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.

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For AAUP, Beginning of An Era http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/288 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/288#comments Wed, 08 Jun 2011 14:56:30 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/288 Nearly three years after his hitch began, Gary Rhoades leaves the AAUP much stronger than he found it. He forged strong relationships between the national elected leadership and the big collective bargaining chapters. He was an especially successful ambassador to AFT and NEA. He made a series of small but important spending reforms. He led several critical organizing drives.

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.

Now What?
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.

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No Justice, No Peace: Educators Occupy the Airwaves http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/287 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/287#comments Mon, 16 May 2011 19:20:17 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/287 Peace is not the absence of tension but the presence of justice. Without justice there will be no peace. –Martin Luther King, Jr.

May 17 is the 57th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, and educators across the country are on the march once again.

At 1 pm EST you can catch the live broadcast from the National Press Club for the launch of the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education. Here in California, where teachers and activists occupied the state capitol last week, you can join a watching party on any Cal State campus. A massive coalition of educators has come together to place united political will behind a set of core principles for the coming decades.

One interesting note is the normalization of direct action across the education community and among contemporary activists, who have begun to endorse ever-bolder tactics. While we haven’t seen any massive events on the scale of Wisconsin or with the potential impact of blocking an interstate, educators, parents, and students everywhere are putting their bodies in the fray.

Another cheering point is a slow turning of the compass needle in the conversation, away from the vicious anti-teacher hate propaganda dominating the airwaves in the autumn.

Few civil rights activists and educators in 1954 could have imagined the country’s first African-American president hiring a money-changer and thug like Arne Duncan to privatize and militarize schools that are still effectively segregated in many communities across the country.

I expect that instead they probably imagined someone like Obama fighting poverty and investing massively in schools, day care, adult literacy, and public jobs creation–converting our schools into incubators of democracy, palaces of industry and the arts, and epicenters of hope.

They’d have been all the more confident if they had known he’d be the child of two professors, an adjunct law prof himself who rubbed elbows with the likes of Bill Ayers, and a cosmopolitan who attended radical activist sermons every Sunday.

So much for the myth of progress.

More prosaically: I’m curious how all of this angry teacher and parent energy will affect Obama’s choices as we move into the 2012 election season. Will he dump Duncan in an effort to consolidate the base?

Or will he keep Duncan on to demonstrate his liberal-Republican street cred among independents?

If the latter, will he exchange him for an actual educator and thinker after the election in an effort to buff a tarnished legacy? We can hope.

Occupying the Airwaves

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Big Brother On Campus http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/285 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/285#comments Mon, 25 Apr 2011 19:49:14 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/285 For the third year in a row, U.S. student direct action continues to rise. The year’s best-known action was the amazing occupation of the Wisconsin state capitol. The most important all-but-uncovered action was the continuing fierce struggle at the University of Puerto Rico, held by riot police for more than six weeks. Two weeks ago, California State University activists coordinated protests across the CSU system, ending in simultaneous occupations at as many as eleven of the 23 campuses. Last week, in an apparently coordinated action, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) affiliated students occupied presidents’ offices at Tulane and Emory, demanding ethical employment practices (targeting Sodexho and other subcontractors). Student-led occupations and sit-ins are spreading to high schools, Department of Education events, oil rigs, and consulates. It’s not, say, France or England, but it’s a start.

Administrations have taken note, particularly in the University of California (UC) system, which was the epicenter of last year’s wave of events. Administrators or public-records requests at Berkeley, Davis, Santa Cruz and Irvine have confirmed “monitoring” of student activists by campus police, freelance investigators, or staffers. In some cases, undercover police officers or staff in “casual attire” have mingled with students to gather information on movement leaders and plans.

One of the more distressing developments is the recruitment of other students into this “monitoring” effort. At UC Davis, according to documents obtained under public-records request by activists, staff reporting to Chancellor Linda Katehi recruited “student leaders” to participate in “Activism Response Teams” with police and administrators. In security speak, the role of the students recruited onto the “response teams” was to “accompany” protesters and “update staff” about the events.

Campus activists have responded by publishing names and photographs of the administrators, officers, freelancers and students involved. They are in essence answering back the administration’s Big Brother with a “little brother” deployment of social media for countersurveillance, solidarity-building, and awareness.

To a modest degree this mirrors the plot of Little Brother (2008) an award-winning “young adult” novel published by BoingBoing columnist Cory Doctorow. Essentially accepting the premise that much of Orwell’s vision has come to pass, Doctorow explores American schools as a vector for authoritarianism and rebellion. Positing an intense government security crackdown in the Bay area, Doctorow describes the rise of a youth-hacker resistance movement, communicating through gaming consoles and bypassing government surveillance and infiltration of high-school social media.

In the novel, though, the student resistance becomes effective when it connects with Bay area anarchist, punk and feminist activists, establishing a coalition across a broad front of movements.

Ultimately, the real success of Little Brother isn’t in countersurveillance–it’s in movement building. Along with the ACLU, I’m sympathetic with the concern to discover, expose and counter the administration’s surveillance. Nonetheless, I wonder if it isn’t consuming energies best devoted to building coalitions? The occupation movement hasn’t been too active at the UC campuses this year.

So far the kind of truly broad front necessary to victory has developed primarily in Wisconsin and Puerto Rico, mostly in connection with public employee trade unions and, to a lesser extent, in the K-12 movement against test-based school reform. For next year’s campus occupation movement to reach its potential, I suspect a) it’ll have to start at full speed in September and b) it will have to spend less energy on the Little Brother of “stop snitching” and more on the Little Brother of solidarity.

Note: The Occupation Cookbook, with an introduction by yours truly, has just been released.

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Don’t Follow Leaders: Why Faculty Like Me Support Unions http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/283 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/283#comments Wed, 23 Mar 2011 19:14:39 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/283 Twenty years of schoolin’
And they put you on the day shift
Look out kid
They keep it all hid
–Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues

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.

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Grad Employees Spearhead Wisconsin Occupation http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/282 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/282#comments Tue, 01 Mar 2011 17:28:40 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/282 A guest post by Michael Verderame

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.

xposted: http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/
related posts:
http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/california-is-burning/8915
http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/occupy-the-aha/20563

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.

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