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.]]>
Nonetheless he notes an interesting source for some doozy “last gasps” of lazy-prof stereotypes–faculty themselves. Gose speculates that the prof-on-prof stereotypers are trying to do the profession a favor, in the front line of faculty “policing their own” and targeting “perceived slackers,” etc.
The photograph and first third of the article are devoted to the emotional and contradictory views of Prof. John Hare, chair of English at Montgomery College, Maryland. According to Gose, Hare “became furious” at a distinguished scholar he doesn’t know, Florence Babb, the Vada Allen Yeomans Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Florida and former president of the Association for Feminist Anthropology, then serving as graduate coordinator for the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research. Recruited with the named professorship to Florida from the University of Iowa in 2005, her scholarship and service to the profession has been massive: multiple stints as department or program chair, numerous editorial boards, etc.
The trigger for Hare’s rage? Prof. Babb contested the university’s attempt to violate the contractual terms of its appointment letter in recruiting her and unilaterally downgrade the 2-course release associated with her service obligation in the Center to zero. Arbitrators eventually settled on reducing it to a one-course release, citing the figleaf of fiscal exigency.
One way of parsing Hare’s emotion is to see him as the chair of a teaching-intensive department himself trading in stereotypes about faculty with research-intensive appointments. Babb, by any reasonable estimation, works pretty hard, so Gose allows Hare to qualify his position pretty carefully.
It seems that Hare’s problem with Babb doesn’t depend on the factual question of whether she’s actually a slacker or not. It’s that she’s willing to look like one, fueling “public perceptions” that he claims harm all of us.
But the article itself says that these public perceptions are way down, so Hare’s own account of his rage just doesn’t make much sense.
What does? Is it the resentment of someone on a teaching-intensive appointment?
I wonder, but I don’t think so. By his own frequently contradictory account, Hare–like most folks with his kind of appointment–loves his job. Most of the folks I know on teaching-intensive appointment feel fortunate, like Hare, not to be subjected to the constant pressure of publishing, and to be paid for spending a lot of time with students on topics that interest them.
And as many irate commenters on the piece substantiated, it’s a fact that many jobs “in industry” are far easier than faculty appointments, especially research jobs, which tend to be radically underpaid for the difficulty of the work–it’s not the “ease” of the position, but the challenges and the self-directedness that accounts for the willingness of many to work twice as hard for half the pay.
Given what the most successful people in other fields earn these days and the kind of accomplishment it takes to earn the rank, it’s fairly hard to argue that distinguished research faculty in Babb’s bracket– earning $90,000 to $100,000 a year–are either overpaid or underworked.
In fact, as I’ve written before: plenty of undistinguished civil servants, firefighters and military officers have retirement compensation higher than the salaries earned for 60-hour weeks by extremely accomplished teachers and/or researchers in the humanities!
So what explains Hare’s irrational, data-free anger at Babb? Especially when the supposedly benighted “public” is increasingly able to do the relevant math?
The Gendering of Professional Service
One dimension of Babb’s situation that didn’t factor into Hare’s position or come out in Gose’s otherwise well-reported piece is the role of gender in who the University of Florida demanded “pitch in” and make “sacrifices” during the fiscal crisis.
It appears that Babb is the only female distinguished professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, and the only one actually forced to teach more. According to one source and multiple commenters on press reports of the case, of the many male faculty with her load and rank, many earning more, only one man was even asked to teach additional courses and, being eligible to do so–apparently as expected–chose to retire instead.
I was happy to see the comments on the Chronicle article overflowing with faculty, including the intrepid Bill Pannapacker, hastening to question Hare’s suitability as “our” spokesperson. Pannapacker targets Hare’s implication in the ideology of teaching for love, a topic I’ve written about several times before.
It’s too often assumed that “teaching for love” is a win-win situation: some people are happy with psychic rewards instead of pay, which saves a few bucks that institutions or legislators can then spend on other important projects. What’s the harm?
But a labor market arranged around working for love–rather than fair compensation–is actually one of the most sexist, racist and economically discriminatory arrangements possible. From a class point of view, as I emphasize in Gose’s piece and elsewhere: by making the professoriate an economically irrational choice, you stop sorting for the most talented people and begin to sort for the people who can afford to discount their wages. That cuts out most people, period, making the best jobs in the academy largely a preserve for persons with fortunate economic backgrounds or circumstances. And via the wealth gap, that primary economic discrimination has direct consequences for the racial composition of the faculty. By making it too hard to get a job, too arduous an apprenticeship, too poor of a return on education investment: only the wealthier among us are able to “irrationally choose” to accept psychic wages–and the wealthier among us are disproportionately white, just for starters. All of this has tremendous, documented consequences for the achievement and persistence of students from less advantaged economic circumstances and ethnicities poorly represented among the faculty.
As for gender, the rendering of faculty positions to the extreme of economic irrationality (six courses a year for $15,000, eg) assigns them disproportionately to women, especially persons–whether male or female–married to professionals and managers. The other, primary wage earner supports the economically irrational partner, a person teaching for what used to be called pin money. This structural feminizing of the job was traditionally associated with converting the positions formerly held by men (such as secretarial positions, once a high-status job) to those held increasingly by women, as Michelle Masse explains in a 2008 interview and is just one of the ways that she says higher ed forms a “pyramid scheme” especially for women faculty.
Broadly speaking across many disciplines and institution types women still tend to disproportionately hold low-paying, low-status, insecure teaching-only or teaching-intensive jobs while men continue to disproportionately hold high-paying, high-status, secure research-intensive and top administrative positions.
In an important new book, Over Ten Million Served: Gendered Service in Language and Literature Workplaces Masse and Katie Hogan take the conversation about gender and the distribution of academic rewards & responsiblities beyond the relatively well-understood territory of research and teaching to service labor. (Disclosure: the book includes a chapter adapted from HTUW.)
The book surveys the complexity of academic service, from the manifold senses of a calling (ranging from communitarian, sociable, and professional impulses to an opportunity to rebel or transform the academy) to close connections with the rise of a service economy, to specifically feminized forms of exploitation–ie, doing the university’s “housework,” or an undercompensated labor of care that in many circumstances falls harder on women. Women faculty face larger career penalties for not seeming to “care sufficiently” for the institution, and their research contributions are correspondingly discounted–I think analysis of the comments on Babb’s case at the Chron and other media outlets strongly supports this view!
Among the countless insights that Masse and Hogan develop in the collection is the emergence of a complex and contradictory “service unconscious” among feminized faculty, male and female (ie, such as the angry and confused John Hare):
We know that our [willingness to serve] sometimes damages us and supports organizational structures we don’t want to reinforce. And yet we nonetheless persevere in these behaviors and articulate their value for the best of all possible reasons: the ways in which ‘helping’ and ‘serving’ please us and fulfill our deepest-held beliefs about the importance of existence in a community and the need to achieve change and support for our colleagues and students. We know that service and sacrifice are often necessary to bring about more just workplaces, but much of the service we are pressed into is not about creating just and fair workplaces…
Hogan’s analysis alone is worth the price of the book. She contends that academic women, and men in feminized sectors, are expected to be “superserviceable,” ie to williingly do labor not recognized as such. Across vast swathes of the academy, faculty have service-intensive appointments (especially involving labor of care for students or the institution) in which the nature of their service is not even recognized.
Using data from significant assessments of the labor performed by women in both nontenurable and tenured positions, Hogan documents the unspoken demands of the academic service economy. In a final twist, she argues that the same is true for the intellectual output of persons in feminized positions, especially feminism itself–ie, that feminist research and teaching is meant to be especially “serviceable” as well.]]>
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.]]>
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.]]>
Eric Lee’s Labour Start clearinghouse for global labor news has just announced nominees for its first-ever award, Labor Video of the Year. Two of the five finalists are inspired by working conditions in higher ed. I think both are among the three likeliest to win.
My top choice is the clever, often hilarious series of 30-second spots produced for the three-month strike by the union representing 50% of the teaching faculty at Canada’s York University, CUPE 3903.
Eventually ended by an extraordinary legislative intervention, this legal job action was strongly supported by undergraduates and tenure-stream faculty, who joined the picket lines of contingent faculty and grad students at this leading research institution.
Featuring extremely high production values and great writing, the videos use just a few frames to effectively communicate the hypocrisy of the administration, and the explotation of contingent faculty and graduate students.
A close runner-up is The Janitor, tracking the daily experiences of campus custodial staff–many of whom are also current or former students.
In my view the strongest competition to both entries is provided by a snarky Australian effort, What Have the Unions Ever Done For Us? (Answer: duh, pretty much everything you take for granted in terms of the workplace, from sick leave to the eight-hour day.)
If you’re interested, LS offers a comprehensive bibliography of labor video. You can view and vote on all of the videos in this year’s competition yourself.
Other Left-Labor News
Don’t miss this year’s amazing line-up at Left Forum this weekend in NYC, including plenty of discussion of California events, and featured remarks by Piven, Jackson, Ollman, and Chomsky, among hundreds of others.
AAUP members, please be sure to vote in this year’s officer elections. Cary Nelson is up for re-election, and for the first time non-geographical at-large candidates are up for election to the national Council, representing a lot of new blood for the organization. (I was, ahem, on the nominating commitee, so I know.)
As I wrote in advance of the national day of action on March 4, those events were just the second act. The real question is what will happen when the West Coast schools begin their third quarter in early April. At UC Irvine, the possibilities are foreshadowed by a call for an M4 sequel, or a wave of occupations and other bold direct actions (like the blockade of freeway 1-880) on Tuesday, May 4, the 40th anniversary of the Kent State killings. I’ll write more about these events as the time nears.
By the way, if you are among the modest handful disappointed by my having to cancel out of the UC-Irvine Humanities Center colloquium last month, I’ll be up the road at UCLA on Monday afternoon, May 3, doing a tag-team event with Chris Newfield for Robert Brenner’s Center for Social Theory and Comparative History. The topic, unsurprisingly: “The Future of Public Higher Education in California.”]]>
The piece turns around an apparent contradiction: half the policy analysis decries a “shortage” of US scientists and engineers, and the other half claims an “oversupply” of persons with doctorates in science.
That doesn’t make sense–except when you understand that both camps are wrong.
There is no shortage of US-trained scientists and engineers and there’s no oversupply of persons with doctorates in science or any other field.
What’s really happening is restructuring of the labor market from a “market in jobs” to a market in contingent appointments. Throughout the economy, we have substituted student and other temporary labor for faculty and other more secure workers.
The name for this restructuring is casualization, the making-temporary (and cheap, and controllable) of work that used to be secure (and more expensive, and more difficult to manage). This restructuring has been in place since 1970, when roughly 3/4 of faculty were tenured or in the tenure stream.
Today, 1/4 of faculty are tenured or in the tenure stream. Less if you address pervasive undercounting of nontenurable faculty, teaching by staff employees and graduate students. The trend line points steeply down.
All of the under- or un- employed scientists with doctorates could be employed overnight if more science, and more science education, was done by persons holding the PhD. Instead, we do science and science education with persons who are studying for the PhD, or who gave up on studying for the PhD simply because they can work cheaper than persons who actually hold the doctorate.
If the percentage of faculty working in the tenure stream were anywhere near what it was at the high point of US scientific and technical dominance, we’d actually have a vast, sucking undersupply of persons with the PhD. Hell, just one large state system could absorb most of the so-called surplus doctorates in a few years–and as I’ve already noted, taking students out of the workforce and working toward full employment for faculty would be an actual stimulus plan.
Junk Analysis, False Solutions
If the problem is casualization, why is all the policy noise whirling about in the”shortage/oversupply” contradiction? Why is almost 100% of the conversation invested in claims that are equally but oppositely bogus–irreconcilable yet inseparable, glued together like oppositely-charged particles?
Because both wrong answers are useful to those whose interests are served by casualization.
University managers, employers like Bill Microserfs Gates, grantwriters at the pinnacle of the winner-take-all science pyramid, politicians looking to hijack curricula and hand them to corporations–all of these constituencies and many others find that their different agendas are served by either or both of these fictions. (Correspondingly, they have a substantial interest in mystifying what’s really going on)
The Scientific American is particularly good about the first half of the equation. It targets the transparent fiction endorsed by Bill Gates that the United States doesn’t produce enough scientific, engineering and technical talent.
Gates makes that claim because he likes to hire cheaply and contingently, creating huge rewards for loyal core employees, reserving the secure jobs as golden lures to keep the temps working unpaid overtime. (Ironically he borrowed the Microserfs model for his “campus” from higher education.)
With the claim that he can’t find US talent, he wins the right to employ on H-1B visas, importing cheaper labor from offshore. Not only do the imports work more cheaply, they lower the price of non-imported labor.
Politicians support Gates because he pays them handsomely for their loyalty. Or because they support other employers who also want to import labor, or who benefit from the lowered wages that result.
Gates also gets the support of those who want to diminish further the role of teachers and faculty in curricula, and hand schools over to Wal-mart and other corporations.
The piece is less strong on the second half of the equation, the “oversupply of PhDs” fiction, largely because it is so focussed on debunking Gates that at times it uses the claims of oversupply uncritically–as a usefully clear, blunt rebuttal to him and his near-universal political support.
The usefulness of the “oversupply” claim, as I’ve made clear many times, is that it obscures restructuring: work that used to be done by persons with the PhD is now being done by students and staff and adjunct lecturers. Even undergraduates. There’s zero “undersupply” of persons with doctorates if that work is given back to them.
But the piece still makes a good start on this point. Without explicitly referencing casualization, at several points it complains about the failed structure of the science labor market–as “gone seriously awry,” failing to provide real jobs, etc.
One path forward for the article would be to address a core question such as: Well, is a PhD really only for researchers at R1 schools?
Or is a PhD for those with teaching-intensive positions as well?–as used to be the case.
The combination of speed-up of the tenured minority and casualization of the majority who teach has tended to a growing assumption that the PhD (and tenure) are really associated only with those on a major research track.
But that isn’t the case now, nor was it well back into the last century: tenure and doctoral study were also for those with teaching-intensive appointments.
Failing to address that question, the article lists some of the ineffectual junk responses to restructuring that disciplinary association staffers have been pushing for decades: oh, the excess doctorates should be trained for alternate careers! Or: they should be warned that graduate education is like trying to make a career out of acting or playing the guitar! The problem of a winner-take-all society or winner-take-all science isn’t going to be resolved, as one of their economists recommends, by making tenure function even more like a “jackpot” than it already does.
Still, a nice start.
I Haven’t Forgotten the MLA
Which reminds me: after I deal with some other obligations (reviews of recent books by Cary Nelson and David Horowitz, and covering the March 4 National Day of Action to Defend Education, etc), I’ll get back to our friends at the MLA.
As I see it, the MLA’s many stages of denial regarding the restructuring of academic labor go something like this:
There is No Problem (1989); There is A Problem But It’s Not Our Job (1995); Shut Up About the Problem!(1996-2000); There’s an Easy Solution to the Problem–Just Be A Screenwriter! (1997-present); The Problem’s Not as Bad As They Say (2007); Let’s Pray For a Literature-Lovin’ Miracle–Or Test Them For Literary Compliance (with our religious friends at the Teagle Foundation, 2008); We’ve Been Working Hard at this Problem for Three Decades, plus Cary Nelson and Marc Bousquet Don’t Exist! (2010).
But that’s kind of a personal perspective. I’ll work on it and get back to you.
Journalism Starting to Get It
The NY Times–which is profiting from the collapse of other newspapers and also trying to make money on a sleazy distance-learning scheme–continues to publish drivel about the radical transformation of the academic workforce. And the other mainstream higher-ed press (um, you know who you are) continue to give way too much space to disciplinary association staffers producing hackneyed faux analysis.
But other journalistic coverage is getting better in recent years, in part because journalists are being squeezed in the same way, as portrayed especially well by The Wire. Even Michael Connelly’s latest thriller features a one-time investigative journalist bumped from the LA Times for an intern.
Across the country media outlets and journalism programs now use undergraduates and m.a. students to replace working journalists, using an endless supply of feel-good rubrics from “reviving community reporting” and service learning to “internship opportunities.”
But in reality, just like graduate student teachers, their apprenticeships are the only job in their field that most of these student journalists will ever have. When they graduate, most of the jobs they’ve trained for will already have been cannibalized into other “student learning opportunities.”
Occupy the AHA!
At the AHA: Huh?
Who’s a ‘Historian’ to the AHA?
History ‘Job Czar’ Shuts Down PhD Production
(Oversupply Continues for Two Decades)
I explain the agenda of the Graduate Student Caucus (GSC) to the director of the association, Phyllis Franklin. We want MLA to educate the public about the majority contingent workforce.
Inspired by a California law that set 75% as a minimum standard for classes that should be taught by a full-time stable faculty, even in its community colleges, we want MLA to establish educationally sound full-time/part-time ratios in the disciplines it represents.
We want the association to lobby for those standards with accreditation agencies and to urge the other big state governments like New York and Texas to follow California’s lead.
We want MLA to help California fulfill the promise of that law by lobbying for federal money to help fully fund it.
We want graduate-student representation on the governing committees of the association.
In short, we want MLA to stop promoting “alternate careers” for PhD holders, and to get busy doing the political work necessary to rebuild professorial jobs out of what’s been converted to shabby part-time work.
Franklin just stares at me. “But all of that is AAUP’s job,” she finally says.
Jump cut to grainy historical footage: a decade farther back, 1984. The MLA has traditionally been directed for a short term by a distinguished tenured faculty person, but the Executive Council now feels that the staffing crisis in the humanities–of which it has been aware since 1970–requires a full-time staffer at the helm.
A significant element in hiring Franklin for the job of director is the desire to have someone willing to devote their career to addressing the professional crisis represented by the accelerating permatemping of the faculty. Franklin represents herself as eagerly willing to do so.
Next: We Occupy the MLA
Occupy the AHA!
At the AHA: Huh?
Who’s a ‘Historian’ to the AHA?
History ‘Job Czar’ Shuts Down PhD Production
(Oversupply Continues for Two Decades)
For today’s grads, socially conscious unionism no longer represents the left wing of political possibility. Instead it’s a launching pad from which they can surpass the limits to the imagination of a previous generation.
Take the AAUP. I believe we represent low-hanging fruit for the rising generation of students and contingent faculty. We are a democratic association with simple procedures. Occupying the slate with insurgent graduate student candidates can be accomplished using a simple petition process. A few thousand votes-the graduate employees on two or three campuses-could shape the AAUP’s governing Council in a year or two.
The same is true at most disciplinary associations, as we proved with the Modern Language Association Graduate Student Caucus more than a decade ago. From that series of actions dates major improvements in data gathering and analysis, the formation of the Coalition of the Academic Workforce, the minimum wage for contingent faculty, and a legacy of workplace activism in the organization’s Delegate Assembly, (not to mention the morphing of last-generation GSC activist Bill Pannapacker into Chronicle columnist “Thomas H. Benton.”)
Like the AAUP, disciplinary associations have a bullhorn regarding the profession and real purchase on the public sphere. They have staff and resources-often greater resources than the AAUP-as well as contacts with the press and politicians: the associations substantially leverage their own resources with nets of relationships with the richest campuses and wealthiest foundations.
What I am suggesting is that by joining and studying the petition process for officer candidates, a relatively small number of graduate students could begin a peaceful “occupation” of all the institutions of the profession-especially if they coordinated with students, staff, contingent faculty, and fellow travelers in the tenure stream.
What would happen if the submerged 80 percent of the profession-graduate student employees and contingent faculty-occupied the governing positions of the AAUP and of disciplinary organizations like the American Historical Association, the American Philosophical Association, and the American Psychological Association?
What if they similarly occupied the governments of college towns-Ithaca, Bloomington, and Ann Arbor? What issues would they engage?
Where would they direct the funds? How would they employ staff time? What improprieties would they commit in public?
I, for one, would like to know.
–adapted and excerpted from Occupy and Escalate, Academe (Jan-Feb 2010).
East coasters may not realize that the California quarter system means that the very eventful fall term was only ten weeks of drama: we have twice that still to run on our academic calendar.
Students appear to be still forming a response to police escalation and having their civil disobedience labeled arson and terrorism by the administration and the more credulous journalists and think-tank flacks.*
Watch for escalation as the occupations continue to move beyond the UC system into the Cal States and community colleges, and a major coalition with K-12 faculty and staff, which will sponsor a March 4 strike and day of action.
Eli Meyerhoff has organized a conference on the emerging global occupation movement. Featuring Morgan Adamson, Chris Newfield, Andrew Ross, David Downing, and Silvia Federici together with veterans from occupations in Austria, Germany, Italy, Greece, Britain and California, Beneath the University, the Commons will be held at the U of Minnesota April 8-11.
Also of interest: Reclamations, the somewhat Berkeley-centric journal devoted to the occupation movement. The best source for updates remains the OccupyCa website.
Post AHA Link Round-up
Quite a bit of favorable response, including fan mail, kind reviews, and even an “I heart Marc Bousquet” (blush) over at the academic jobs wiki. So thanks for that. Folks interested in learning more regarding the critique of job-market theory can download the book’s intro (pdf).
I’m moving on to a new project on the Obama-Duncan partnership, so will try not to get sucked into under-informed blog spats on these issues in the future, as I have way too many times in the past couple of years.
But if you like that sort of thing, you can check out the 150 comments spawned by historian Claire B. Potter’s post on these issues over at Tenured, Not So Radical. I haven’t read most of the 60+ comments there or the 80+ over at Historiann’s effort to defend Potter. I gather that Potter made some suggestions, at least a couple of them of the I-can-fix-the-profession-from-the-watercooler variety (like, let’s not admit folks until they’re older and grad students should have administrative experience). This sort of thing isn’t Mark C. Taylor territory, of course–it’s just under-informed. By under-informed, I do not mean a failure to read my stuff–there’s a whole slew of folks to have read.
Seems some commenters got mad, hoping for more thoughtful analysis from a self-advertised tenured radical– after all it was for a book on academic labor that Cary Nelson first borrowed that phrase from icky Roger Kimball (once my t.a. at Yale, perhaps Potter’s too, actually). Then Potter got a bit hot and started talking about grad students taking personal responsibility for their choices, veering into “Dean Dad” territory (the man’s been over-compensating for years, with his “I used to read Foucault” routine.) Plus there were other commenters who liked talking about grad students as whiny inept choosers in the market of life. Then Historiann picked up on it and, seems like, more of the same.
Read it yourself, if you like, but my impression is that the 150-comment slugfest didn’t get much of anywhere.
Better to read the most recent Academe, or a few pages by me, Gary Rhoades, Joe Berry, Sheila Slaughter, Frank Donaghue, or Cary Nelson (whose latest is getting good reviews all over the place–even made Stanley Fish take back a few of his choicer ejaculations).
Hell, just a read a moderately conscientious review of a book by any of these folks. I’ve had enough of watercooler wisdom, and the arguments it supports, for a lifetime.
There are real questions here–who should be teaching, with what qualifications? What effect has restructuring had on student learning? Why are history departments less diverse than police departments? (Short answer: because there are real social costs to turning the professoriate into an irrational economic choice. There’s a long answer too.)
I guess what I’d say in response to Potter in particular is meta-critical: the question isn’t what grad programs can do about the “job market,” which is in any event increasingly epiphenomenal to a labor market in contingency, serving the function of managing, reproducing, and legitimating the majority contingent workforce.
The question is what should tenure-stream faculty be doing with the various institutions to which they belong to address the aggressive re-structuring of academic labor?
The second question–the right question–implicates all of us. We are all responsible for struggling against the return of the professoriate to those who can already afford extreme discounting of wages, and for the segmentation of the university workforce it creates: white faculty, brown staff, women disproproportionately in insecure positions, etc.
Whereas the supply-side job-market false heuristic says that the situation can/should be managed by directors of graduate programs. That leaves people who aren’t themselves at grad programs “producing PhDs” free to feel not particularly responsible to address massive structural changes in the profession, and to offer watercooler wisdom.
Luke Menand weighs in
This is how I feel about Luke Menand’s ideas as well–he’s been shopping the three-to-five year PhD idea to anyone who would listen for over a decade now, and has gotten NPR to flack it for him recently. I’ve argued this one out on email with about five people in the past couple of months, and gave it the consideration it deserved fifteen years ago as a grad student.
It’s not that the short degree is the worst idea in the world. I feel the same way about it as about closing programs that are doing a bad job of preparing future scholars, or reducing over-publication pressure.
Like those other Ideas that Won’t Go Away, in itself it’s an okay idea, and a good conversation to have: it’s just that it’s not necessarily going to have much of an impact on Real Issues like permatemping or managerial intrusion into curricula (with tt research faculty who “know better” as the leading edge of that intrusion).
However, if conversion to tenure ever became common a 3-year degree–especially for already experienced teachers–would be brilliantly useful.
Absent that particular utility, though, it strikes me the 3-year degree will benefit those at schools where they already get jobs without publishing–Dukies, eg–and hurt those where part of the 8 or 10 years is publishing your first three peer-reviewed articles/getting a book contract. So it’s not an unalloyed good.
Nor does it answer a bunch of basic questions: when would new faculty learn to teach, and on whom? Who would do the teaching the grads are doing now?
And if the PhD is a nonteaching luxury good like a Mercedes, then who can afford to take it? Even if totally free and affirmatively recruited: when are the interests that lead to the intention to study for such a degree formed, and in what kind of schools? Oh, it seems Historiann has scooped me once more.
Part 1 At the AHA: Huh?
Part 2 Who’s a ‘Historian’ to the AHA?
Part 3 History ‘Job Czar’ Shuts Down PhD Production
(Oversupply Continues for Two Decades)
*On the bad coverage of the occupation movement: I’ve spoken with a couple of folks regarding Kevin Carey’s sorta aggressively false characterizations of the movement–eg, that protesters “periodically surrounded, stoned, and tried to set on fire” a university official’s home–en route to persistent misrepresentation of their analysis, background, and motivations.
I’ll try to make time to collect some of these responses for a later post. Carey, one of Brainstorm’s two voices for “school reform,” has at least twice defended Yudof from what he saw as unfair or biased coverage, a concern shared by many of the substantial contingent of administration-oriented staff at the Chronicle, which has used mocking headlines to describe the student actions. My own view, of course, is that Yudof gets paid 8 bills a year to take a few shots from the press, and doesn’t need much defending. Students are entitled to have their reputations handled more carefully. At least by my reading of journalistic ethics and established practice (not to mention US libel law).]]>
They all keep pumping out new PhDs at contemporary levels for ten years. Scratch that. They actually pump out higher levels, because fewer of those enrolled will drop out, believing that they have better chances. So that keeps the “supply” at status quo rates for, say, thirteen to fifteen years. Then of course there’s all the underemployed circling the drain. They’re good for at least another five years’ supply.
Another thing. Young people being so clever, they’ll find ways around that job czar and the gerontocracy, enrolling–as so many already do–in American Studies, cultural studies, women’s and ethnic studies. So while history is choking off “supply,” the “competition” will continue merrily.
So even after total lockdown on admissions, this “oversupply” will continue for two decades at minimum. When could “production” start again? After a decade? At what level?
One more thing. Since we’re still staying hands-off on the demand side–what administrators want is what administrators want, and what can us chickens do about that?–that “demand” will continue to be restructured downward on a dozen fronts: dumping humanities from curricula, more casualization, automated courseware, etc.
So I remain confused, if not downright skeptical. To those of you scoffing at how impractical it is to try and attack the problem where it lives–on the demand side, with aggressive administrator restructuring of demand, I want to say this: Really? You think this is the practical alternative?
Here are some demand-side questions, all of them far more practical, doable, and approachable than the Wiley E. Coyote-style fantasy of clambering atop a giant people pipeline and shutting ‘er down.
1. How much teaching should graduate students do per year, for how many years en route to a degree? At what rate should they be paid?
2. On what basis should teaching-intensive faculty in history earn tenure? If monograph publication isn’t the gold standard for professional activity, what forms of “doing history” should count? What size should their classes be? How many should they teach in relation to participation in governance and “doing history”? What degrees should they hold?
3. What’s the limit to standardization, automation, and “scaling up” schemes? Historians and many other faculty, especially academostars, are susceptible to the idea that the nation really only needs a handful of doctorally-degreed specialist stars in each field, and we can “scale up” their teaching infinitely by streaming their lectures (plus enlarging the army of cheap teachers/volunteers leading discussion sections).
4. When faculty are employed on a “temporary” basis, when is temporary an honest descriptor and when is it a loincloth for exploitation? Shouldn’t “temporary” faculty be paid more than nontemporary faculty (to contribute to self-funding of benefits, inconvenience, etc) What are the academic rights, including academic freedom in the classroom, and to teaching their own syllabi, of “temporary” faculty when they’re truly temporary? What are their rights in that respect when they’re really permanent but being treated as temporary?
Since we’re all so fond of imaginary “basic economics” at one stroke, wouldn’t removing the incentive for exploitation (super-cheap wages for grads and contingent faculty) solve the problem now masquerading as an “oversupply”?
Part 1 At the AHA: Huh?
Part 2 Who’s a ‘Historian’ to the AHA?