Despite clear evidence that Duncan’s methods had failed to improve Chicago Public Schools by the only measure he overwhelmingly targeted (test scores), reporters from the corporate media tripped all over themselves to lavish friendly coverage on Duncan’s efforts to bring the same tactics to bear on a national scale. Taking advantage of state revenue shortages, Duncan took command of a massive fiscal war chest and turned it into a reality legislation show called Race to the Top.
“Want a piece of my billions?” Duncan asked the states, shaking his money bag. “Fight for it, winners take all! Whichever five or ten state legislatures enact law coming closest to my cruel, unproven vision of test-driven education, well, you folks can ride out the money storm in relative comfort. The rest of you, with your pie-in-the-sky ideas from John Dewey, you can rot in fiscal hell–no cash for the disobedient!”
Poll: Parents Won’t Be Fooled Again
Despite 18 months of press love, yesterday’s Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll shows Americans completing a resoundingly negative report card on Obama’s education initiatives, with a mere 34 percent giving the president a “B” or better, and 59% giving him a C, D, or F.
These numbers are significantly lower than his overall approval rating (currently near his lowest, at 42% favorable, 51% unfavorable). They represent consistent, bipartisan drops from the previous year, and come after sweeping legislative “victories” by the administration in dozens of states.
With similar clarity, the public overwhelming rejected point by point the aggressive, market-ideological thuggery comprising Duncan’s arsenal of “school reform” tactics: paying students for grades, mass firings, using punitive funding schemes, etc.
So far the main result of Obama and Duncan’s adventures in school reform is that now a startling 80% of respondents believe the federal government should play no role in school accountability.
In stark contradiction of the administration’s views, respondents shared the beliefs of most teachers and their unions, that the largest problem with schools is a shortfall in funding, that the major issue with teacher competence is support for retraining and keeping up to date, and that the primary purpose of evaluating teachers is helping them to improve teaching (rather than assessing eligibility for merit pay or providing evidence for dismissal). Only a small number of Americans (19%, down from 25% in 2000) agree with the administration that teaching pay should be “very closely tied” to students’ academic achievement (though a clear and growing majority feel that it should be “somewhat” closely tied, whatever that means).
It turns out that most Americans like the public schools they know most about, the ones their children attend–and they like those schools a lot.
Seventy-seven percent of public school parents give an A or B to the school their oldest child attends, the highest such figure since Gallup first posed the question, in 1985.
However, respondents rate other schools in their area–the ones they only read press reports about–lower, or just over half favorably.
Most interestingly: respondents rated public schools in the nation as a whole–schools they only know about from national corporate media–very poorly, with just 18% giving an A or a B.
Even in this context–with widespread concern about the schools for other people’s children–respondents actively rejected the draconian close-the-school, fire-them-all approach. Gallup’s discussion of the poll concludes: Overwhelmingly, Americans favor keeping a poorly performing school in their community open with existing teachers and principals, while providing comprehensive outside support. This finding is consistent across political affiliation, age, level of education, region of the country, and other demographics.
From the point of view of actual electoral politics: well, I’d watch out if I was Arne Duncan. The teachers’ unions may not be able to hold out on Obama in the next national elections, but they can sure choose to let a few Democrats dangle in the cool breeze of public disapproval. Especially in those forty or so states dubbed “losers” by Duncan’s Race to the Top chicanery.
And how better to signal a change of direction than to ask Duncan to fall on his basketball? In fact, displeased Dems have already trimmed a few hundred million from Duncan’s war chest, a legislative shot across the executive bow.
I’d say Duncan’s days of spanking the states are soon over–either that, or he’ll spend a lot of time eating love-the-teacher crow through the next national election campaign.
All the news fit for education corporations?
Closer to home, I guess I’d like to see a few more of us start to question the objectivity of The New York Times and Washington Post, both corporations with increasingly large hopes that profits from their education ventures will prop up sagging journalism revenues. The Post, which owns Kaplan and shocked readers by blatantly pushing Kaplan’s legislative agenda in print and in person is already an education corporation that owns a newspaper as a sideline.
The Times is only aspiring to that level, but as they say of the number-two organization in any field, that just means they’re trying harder.]]>
When yours truly pointed this out across the Dem blogosphere, the responses ranged from the Insane Hero Worshipper position (Obama is my God and you shall have no other Gods before him!) to the Wisdom of the Political Insider, who argued that absurd as candidate Obama’s fake health plan appeared, after the election the political process would take over, and we’d get something better, perhaps even single payer. In other words: President Obama would not be wedded to the health care industry just because Candidate Obama let them get to third base at the drive-in.
That political process is happening now. Two-thirds of all Americans favor single payer. A massive national coalition supports that preference, comprising in addition to hundreds of student and citizen organizations, physicians, labor, and even a few legislators .
Nonetheless single-payer is all but off the table, with Kennedy and Baucus picking up where Obama left off at the drive-in, and The One’s mouthpiece yammering red, white, and blue nonsense. “What we need is an American solution to an American problem,” Kathleen Sebelius gabbled to NPR the other day.
FAIR blames the corporate media quarantine for consistently ignoring single-payer, or mentioning it only to describe it as impossible or unlikely. Bill Moyers agrees, saying that Obama’s White House and Congress “have kept the lid on.”
What can you do? Sign up with socialist Bernie Sanders, for starters.]]>
While acknowledging that what she dubs a vocal minority of undergraduate borrowers have “very real” problems with the system of college financing, Wilson asserts that students in loan trouble are “more often” the victims of their own bad choices, especially those “determined to attend their dream college, no matter the cost.”
The hero of Wilson’s piece is a 2007 graduate of a Roman Catholic college who lives rent-free with her mother, foregoing “for now” such unrealistic expectations as her eventual plan to “live in an apartment in Boston with a friend.”
This young woman’s story, Wilson claims, is emblematic of a “silent majority” of borrowers paying off car-loan-sized debt “without much complaint.” For those who need more convincing, Wilson helpfully provides three more tales — all of young, married, well-employed couples with children making small middle-class sacrifices to pay down their debt. It’s all very Ozzie and Harriet, in low-cost-of-living locales like Iowa and West Virgina — the most coastal of the couples lives a 40-minute commute from Philadelphia.
Wilson defends the one-dimensionality of her sidebars as a necessary corrective — a “stark contrast” — to the several thousand stories of student loan woe told by the nearly 200,000 members of a new Facebook group, Cancel Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy, or at The Project on Student Debt, or Generation Debt, or Student Loan Justice, among others.
Wilson seems particularly disturbed that the gullible folks at CNN, _USA Today,_ and The New York Times appear to have been taken in by these complaints (not to mention three or four years of scandal and public outcry). There’s “confusion” about the issue, Wilson says, because many people, like the founder of the Facebook page, are counting graduate-school debt.
So — to help us out with our confusion — Wilson artificially separates out the grad-school debt and then invites us to share her pose of mystification that so many people appear to be complaining angrily about what amounts to a new-car loan.
Among the many inconvenient facts that Wilson leaves out is that present trends suggest that 40 to 50 percent of all persons with bachelor’s degrees in 2009 will eventually go on to graduate or professional school.* Those debts can be enormous, and when one acknowledges the real chances that any individual with a B.A. will go on to grad school the “lifetime of debt” is indeed more “likely.”
(Even if we accepted Wilson’s rhetorical carving-off of undergraduate debt from other debt — and further accepted her definition of borrowers with real problems as in the range of 8 or 10 percent — that would still be many millions of people affected by the student loans carried by someone in their family — a spouse, parent, or child.)
Wilson ignores that students also carry thousands of dollars in credit-card debt, often with the complicity of the campus.
Their parents are also borrowing more, and in some cases parents out of the workforce are going back to work primarily to help pay for tuition. (Fifteen percent of graduating seniors have parents that take PLUS loans; the average is approaching $20,000).
Students are working more too, and most of those who are employed are working longer hours than is compatible with academic success and persistence.
Equally relevant is the trajectory of debt — that many more people are borrowing, and borrowing much more; the average debts has recently doubled under Bush-era policies and without policy change may well double again.
Students with lower incomes borrow more and work more, and have less success. Does taking on larger and larger undergraduate debt provide a barrier to graduate school for persons of disadvantaged backgrounds?
The piece could have considered the consequences of education debt for those who don’t persist, or don’t go in the first place. It could have considered the rising default rate (or the lousy way we’ve been calculating default rates), or the different default rates for different kinds of schools, like the especially high default rates in the for-profit sector.
But even if we accept the focus on those who get degrees and find employment, and ignore what for many is the inevitability of grad-school debt, what about those in the current graduating class — who aren’t finding jobs with employers planning on hiring 20 percent fewer college grads and offering lower salaries to 20 percent of those they do hire? Even recent grads from good schools with econ degrees are going on food stamps. Hard stats on this are going to take a while, but one of the good indicators is this one from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (hat tip to Anya Kamenetz):
ACE’s 2009 Student Survey shows that just 19.7 percent of 2009 graduates who applied for a job actually have one. In comparison, 51 percent of those graduating in 2007 and 26 percent of those graduating in 2008 who had applied for a job had one in hand by the time of graduation.
For that matter, it would have been worthwhile to consider how the so-called going-to-college bonus in wages is:
1) more of a going-to-grad-school bonus, and
2) not so much a bonus as a penalty.
Yup, a penalty — for staying out of college. Since the 1970s, the gap between those with a sheepskin and those without has grown, but not because the wages of the B.A.-educated have risen.
Far from it. They’ve just stagnated less than the wages of those without a B.A., whose wages have been driven down in the era of Reagan, Clinton, and the Bushes.
Absent from the piece are the voices of the indebted or their spokespeople, like Kamenetz, Tamara Draut, or Jeffrey Williams.
Also absent is any consideration of most of the core contemporary policy issues about student loans. Even _USA Today_ — under the subhead Helping Gamblers, Not Students — managed to explore the policy universe of student loans more thoughtfully, raising the issue of bankruptcy reform.
Loans aren’t the only thing that are broken about higher education, but an article like this one (“No problems here!”) does the conversation little good. Robin Wilson is entitled to her opinion, but this front-page lead story wasn’t presented as an editorial — and it lends credibility to Cat Warren’s concerns about fair coverage. I don’t mean to be a grouch here, and I know I’ve been a little tough on the higher-education press lately, but _The Chron_ loses credibility when it gets out-thought on student loan issues by _USA Today._
*Educational Attainment in the United States, 25 years and over: 2008, US Census (excel file)]]>
I answered most of the responses in the comments portion of the original post, such as where to find the data.
Among the excellent responses, I felt one deserved a post of its own. It went something like this: “well, if demand for education is rising, and tuition is soaring, where does the money go, if not to the faculty?”
For that, I promised to reprint this post from before I joined Brainstorm.
Who Benefits From the Tuition Gold Rush?
The logic of the HMO increasingly rules higher education. Management closely rations professor time. Thirty-five years ago, nearly 75% of all college teachers were tenurable. Only a quarter worked on an adjunct, part-time or nontenurable basis.
Today, those proportions are reversed.
If you’re enrolled in four college classes right now, you have a pretty good chance that one of the four will be taught by someone who has earned a doctorate, and whose teaching, scholarship and service to the profession has undergone the intensive peer scrutiny associated with the tenure system.
In your other three classes, you are likely to be taught by someone who has started a degree but not finished it, was hired by a manager not professional peers, may never publish in the field he is teaching, or who got into the pool of persons being considered for the job because they were willing to work for wages around the official poverty line.
In almost all courses in most disciplines using nontenurable or adjunct faculty, a person with a recently-earned Ph.D. was available, and would gladly have taught your other three courses. But they could not afford to pay their loans and house themselves on the wage being offered.
Higher education employers can only pay those wages in the knowledge that their employees are subsidized in a variety of ways. In the case of student employees, the massive debt load subsidizes the wage. For poorly paid contingent faculty, who are women by a substantial majority*, the strategies vary, but include consumer debt, reliance on another job or the income from a domestic partner.
Like Walmart employees, the majority female contingent academic workforce relies on a patchwork of other sources of income, including such forms of public assistance as food stamps and unemployment compensation.
It is perfectly common for contingent university faculty to work as grocery clerks and restaurant servers, earning higher salaries at those positions, or to have been retired from such former occupations as bus driving, steelwork, and auto assembly, enjoying from those better-compensated professions a sufficient pension to enable them to serve a “second career” as college faculty.
The system of cheap teaching doesn’t sort for the best teachers. It sorts for persons who are in a financial position to accept compensation below the living wage. As a result of management’s irresponsible staffing practices, more students drop out, take longer to graduate, and fail to acquire essential literacies, often spending tens of thousands of dollars on a credential that has little merit in the eyes of employers.
The real “Profscam” isn’t the imaginary one depicted in Charles Sykes’ fanciful 1988 book, which concocted the image of a lazy tenured faculty voluntarily absenting themselves from teaching.
Instead the “prof scam” turns out to be a shell game conducted by management, who keep a tenurable stratum around for marketing purposes and to generate funded research, but who are spread so thin with respect to undergraduate teaching that even the most privileged undergraduates spend most of their education with para faculty working in increasingly unprofessional circumstances.
As the union activists of the nontenurable will tell you, the problem is not with the intellectual quality, talent, or commitment of the individual persons working on a non professorial basis; it’s the degraded circumstances in which higher education management compels them to work, teaching too many students in too many classes too quickly, without security, status, or an office; working from standardized syllabi; outsourced tutorial, remedial, and even grading services, providing no time for research and professional development.
Working in McDonald’s “kitchen,” even the talent of Wolfgang Puck is pressed into service of the QuarterPounder.
Despite the tens of billions “saved” on faculty wages by substituting a throwaway workforce for professionals scrutinized by the tenure system, managed higher education grows ever more expensive.
Tuition soared 38% between 2000 and 2005, out pacing nearly every other economic indicator.
Where does the money from stratospheric tuition and slashed faculty salaries go? At for-profit institutions, the answer is obvious: it goes into shareholder pockets. Lacking even the veneer of a tenurable stratum, the dollars squeezed from a 100% casual faculty joined tax money and tuition from the country’s poorest families in enriching the shareholders of education vendors. But in nonprofit education, which only “pretends” to “act like” a corporation, where have the billions gone?
At first glance, there are no shareholders and no dividends.
However, the uses to which the university has been put do benefit corporate shareholders. These include shouldering the cost of job training, generation of patentable intellectual property, provision of sports spectacle, vending goods and services to captive student markets, and the conversion of student aid into a cheap or even free labor pool. So one sizable trail to follow is the relationship between the financial transactions of non-profits and the ballooning dividends enjoyed by the shareholder class.
The shareholders of private corporations aren’t the only beneficiaries of faculty proletarianization and the tuition gold rush.
Because public non-profits have been receiving steadily lower direct subsidies from federal and state sources, there has been a general belief that higher tuition and staff exploitation has all somehow been accomplished by sharp-eyed, tight-fighted managers with at least one version of public wellbeing in mind, if only within the narrow framework of “reduced spending.” But that belief is open to question, since managers have been spending fairly freely in a number of areas.
One area in which nonprofit education management has been freely spending is on themselves.
Over three decades, the number of administrators has skyrocketed in close correspondence to the ever-growing population of the undercompensated. Especially at the upper levels, administrative pay has soared as well, also in close relation to the shrinking compensation of other campus workers. In a couple of decades, administrative work has morphed from an occasional service component in a professorial life to a “desirable career path” in its own right (Lazerson et al, A72).
Nonprofits support arts and sciences deans, chairs, associate deans, and program heads comfortably in six figures. Salaries rise into the mid six figures for many medical, engineering, business, and legal administrators. University presidents have begun to earn seven figures, close on the heels of their basketball coaches, who can earn $3 million annually and are often the highest-paid public employees in their state. In thirty years of managed higher education, the typical faculty member has become a female nontenurable part-timer earning a few thousand dollars a year without health benefits. The typical administrator is male, enjoys tenure, a six-figure income, little or no teaching, generous vacations and great health care.
There are lots of other areas in which nonprofit administrators have spent even more. With the support of activist legislatures, they’ve especially enjoyed playing venture capitalist with campus resources and tax dollars by engaging in “corporate partnerships” that generally yield financial benefit to the corporate partner but not the campus (Washburn).
More prosaically, they’ve engaged in what most observers call an “arms race” of spending on the expansion of facilities and physical plant. And as Murray Sperber and others have documented, they’ve spent recklessly on sports activities that–despite in some cases millions in broadcast revenue–generally lose huge sums of money.
The commercialization of college sport has raised the bar for participation so high that students who’d like to play can’t afford the time required for practice. Students who’d like to watch can’t afford the ticket prices.
Traditionally, the phenomenon known as “cross-subsidy,” the support of one program by revenue generated by another program, primarily meant a modest surplus provided by the higher tuition and lower salaries associated with undergraduate education, used in support of research activity that was unlikely to find an outside funding agent.
Under managed higher education, cross-subsidy has eroded undergraduate learning throughout the curriculum while becoming a gold mine for all kinds of activities satisfying the entrepreneurial urges, vanity, and hobby horses of administrators:
Digitizing the curriculum! Building the best pool/golf course/stadium in the state! Bringing more souls to God! Winning the all-conference championship!
Why have those who control nonprofit colleges and universities so readily fallen into the idea that the institution should act like a profit-seeking corporation? At least part of our answer must be that it offers individuals in that position some compelling gratifications, both material and emotional.
This is an age of executive license. In addition to a decent salary and splendid benefits, George Bush enjoys the privilege of declaring war on Afghanistan and Iraq. College administrators commonly enjoy larger salaries and comparable benefits, and have the privilege of declaring war on their sports rivals, or on illiteracy, teen pregnancy, or industrial pollution.
It feels good to be president.
As a “decision maker,” one can often arrange to strike a blow on behalf of at least some of one’s values.
What must be swept under the rug is that the ability to do these things is founded on their willingness to continuously squeeze the compensation of nearly all other campus workers.
The university under managerial domination is an accumulation machine. If in nonprofits it accumulates in some form other than dividends, there’s all the more surplus for administrators, trustees, local politicians, and a handful of influential faculty to spend on a discretionary basis.
*While women and men are about equal in numbers in pt ntt positions, women outnumber men in ft ntt lines, the fastest growing appointment category. The statistically significant subcategory of well-paid contingent faculty tend to be men. The more poorly paid, insecure and lower the status, the more likely contingent faculty are to be women. Women are over-represented in contingent positions relative to tt positions almost everywhere, and women with children are 2x as likely to serve contingently than men with children.]]>
This week, lawmakers will meet to forge a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the stimulus bill. The likely consequence will be something similar to the Senate version, which targeted education funds for aggressive reductions—chopping an average almost $1 billion per state in funds that would largely have gone to help meet payroll for teachers.
In the absence of the state aid, hundreds of thousands of education jobs could be lost.
Boy, is that going in the wrong direction. As I’ve been grumpily pointing out since before the election (in company with the likes of Paul Krugman), we aren’t in New Deal territory yet. Far, far from it: as Krugman emphasizes, the New Deal itself was hardly enough of a commitment to public works to do the trick.
The correct historical parallel for Obama’s current stimulus efforts remains to be seen. It could easily be Hoover, who tried to be all bipartisan and moderate and compromising in his very insufficient stimulus efforts. And as a recent Chronicle contributor notes, even FDR, who campaigned against Hoover’s deficit spending and finance-industry bailouts, didn’t begin to accomplish much of anything until late in his first term, as growing militance from below demanded a much larger vision.
What is actually needed?
If things get worse, as seems likely, and if—as seems possible—education labor gets its act together, what is actually needed will become clear: full employment for educators and restrictions on student labor.
As anyone who’s attended a faculty meeting in the past two decades will have observed: higher education is a lead “innovator” of the lousy forms of employment that have gutted the economy—permatemping of the faculty, outsourcing the staff, and myriad ways of extracting un- and under- compensated labor from students: internships, assistantships, financial aid, partnerships with local employers, service learning, etc, etc, etc. Thanks to quality management, it’s Nickel and Dimed everywhere you look–but especially on campus.
On campus and throughout the economy, un- and under- compensated student labor has been aggressively substituted for permanent waged positions with benefits. That’s millions of real jobs, cut into pieces and parceled out as low-wage positions for students, many of whom take on between two and five “part-time” positions annually in order not to get whacked upside the head with debt.
Eighty percent of college students work an average of 30 hours a week, triple the figure most studies say is appropriate for optimal learning. This inappropriate workload bears directly on absurdly low persistence and graduation rates.
It also bears on the immiseration of the American workforce, on campus and off.
Graduate students can’t get jobs as faculty after studying for a dozen years—because all of the positions they have “prepared” for are being filled by other students, or former students working on a part-time basis.
Similarly, undergraduates are now doing journalism as service learning—replacing paid positions for staff reporters—and many will find that the jobs they want upon graduation have been converted to “internship opportunities.”
Stabilize the faculty now!
There are several hundred thousand educators working part time or contingently filling permanent staffing needs who would prefer to working full-time and securely. Most of them are employed at a discount, and many of them do not have the terminal degrees in their fields. There is high turnover among these educators, because the pay is generally poor, status is low, and there is no rational path for recognition or promotion, no reward for better work, etc.
The tenure system is certainly imperfect. However, the lousily-credentialed, low-oversight, haphazard system of casual employment that managers have substituted for it is a sick joke. It will be the end of the world’s envy of American higher ed when the truth of it is appreciated. The majority permatemping of the faculty is a cancer on our last brag on the world stage.
Enormous resources are wasted in constantly hiring, re-hiring, training, evaluating, and supervising this quickly churning labor pool. Much of the ballooning corps of administrators exist to service this wasteful arrangement.
Now is the time for an FDR type to step forward and say, “We’ve screwed up. One reason we have community colleges with single-digit graduation rates and major metropolitan universities who can’t graduate 30% of their first-year students six years later is because we have been trying to teach them with a drive-by faculty.”
It might cost a few tens of billions, but federal aid could easily be dispensed with the aim of creating good full-time jobs out of the part-time work of higher education. In return, part-timers without the terminal degree could be financially encouraged to complete doctorates (yup, creating a market for more graduate education), creating a better-prepared, more up-to-date, stable, available, and motivated faculty.
Hundreds of thousands of jobs could be created—practically overnight.
Save our students while creating millions of jobs!
Tuition at public institutions should be made free, or at least nominal, and students who meet reasonable progress toward degrees should receive a living stipend, with strict limits on the number of hours worked—no more than ten hours per week—closely tied to future goals.
The tuition would cost several tens of billions, but less than $100 billion certainly, and the stipend could be another couple hundred billion.
What would we gain for that? Well, lots more students would be both educated and graduated. That’s a good thing.
And millions of them would be withdrawn from the low-wage labor market created by law and policy over the past several decades—Clinton helped just as much as Reagan; read Nickel and Dimed if you’re foolish enough to be nostaligic for a Clinton-style “good economy.”
That would create the need for millions of non-student workers, in positions that we could help re-imagine as quality jobs, not piecework.
There might have to be some assistance to the employers who have grown structurally reliant on youth labor, and regulation of the positions created, but it could be done. (Perhaps something to occupy the time of administrators displaced from their positions supporting permatemped faculty?)
Call it another trillion if you must—none of it for more building on college campuses: administrations have been gutting the faculty to build business centers, chapels, and stadiums for decades.
Millions of jobs, fast and cheap
Anyone who wants Obama to be the next FDR will have to recognize that higher ed has been an engine of so much that’s wrong with the “new economy,” especially the low-wage nightmare of students and teachers.
Let’s stabilize the crumbling faculty infrastructure and give college students something like the G.I. Bill. That’s a good three, four million jobs right there. Cheaper than any of the goofy spending we’ve already done.
That would be the real deal.]]>
Last week’s appointment of Wilma Liebman to chair the NLRB is extremely welcome news to graduate employees and other academic workers.
The author of a scathing dissent to the Bush mob’s truculent Brown decision, Liebman adds serious credibility to hopeful interpretations of the Cabinet-level nomination of Hilda Solis.
Obama will not fix academic labor’s problems from above, but he will ensure that labor has the chance to exercise workplace rights. (Though the choice to practice workplace democracy, as those with experience will attest, is just the beginning of a long and arduous road!)
Liebman’s acceptance of the position is particularly heartening:
Democracy in the workplace is still basic to a democratic society, and collective bargaining is still basic to a fair economy. The statute we administer is the foundation of America’s commitment to human rights recognized around the world.
You can view my interviews with NYU and Chicago grad employees on this YouTuibe playlist. Graduate employee unionization in the U.S. is more advanced at public institutions, and organizing at private schools stalled for a while in the aftermath of the reversal of the NYU decision in the Brown case, but there has been a resurgence of militancy among grad employees at private institutions.
GSU and GSOC-UAW are at very different stages of the organizing process. The interview with members of Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago is a snapshot of an emerging union drive at a private institution. They reflect on the benefits of organizing, whether unionism is an end in itself, and on the nature, purpose, and extent of democracy in higher education.
The activists from GSOC-UAW at NYU are at an entirely different point in their experience. They reflect on a successful organizing drive and first contract, setbacks with the NLRB, a failed strike, the strategy of continuous organizing, the administration’s response, and other topics. Their struggle represents some of the greatest successes and also some of the greatest setbacks in graduate employee labor organizing so far, and as such is especially worthy of detailed study.
The folks of GSOC argue that politics, politicians, and legislation follow activism and self-organization. As they point out in the clip above (part 3 of 4) the TRACBRA legislation that would ensure bargaining rights for teaching and research assistants — that’s a gesture, a drop in the bucket. It’s important, but nowhere near as important as self-organization.
See part 1 of the GSOC-UAW video: A Union Cannot Stand Alone.
See part 2 of the GSOC-UAW video: A Culture of Continuous Organizing.
See part 3 of the GSOC-UAW video: Politics, Organizing and the NLRB
See part 4 of the GSOC-UAW video: Shame on You, NYU.
Also see the book edited by some of the folks interviewed here, The University Against Itself with Andrew Ross, and a special issue of Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor, edited by Christopher Carter, Beyond the Picket Line: Academic Organizing After the Long NYU Strike.
Carter has written an especially good assessment of the core point made by the GSOC folks in this video–the crucial role of campus alliances, in his just-released Rhetoric and Resistance in the Corporate Academy (Hampton, 2008). Chapter 4, “The Student as Organic Intellectual,” tracks the importance of undergraduate USAS activists in GSOC’s successful first round of bargaining.
Graduate Students United (at U. Chicago):
Part 1: Why Grad Employees Unionize
Part 2: Ballad of the Dissertators
Part 3: Pushback
Part 4: Unions and Academic Democracy
17th Annual Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions Conference
Hosted by GESO in New Haven, CT. July 31-August 3 2008
8th International Conference of the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor
Hosted by COCAL-California, San Diego State University. August 8-10, 2008
4th Annual Canadian Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions Conference
Hosted by GTA-Union at the University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario. August 7-9, 2008.
The market worshipers have marched out of the building; hurray! Wait–who’s that tall basketball-playing fellow getting ready to sit in the Education seat?
As superintendent of the Chicago public schools, Arne Duncan has given us a fair preview of his vision. It’s “a business-minded, market-driven model for education,” concludes Andy Kroll for the Nation Institute’s tomdispatch.com. “His style of management is distinctly top-down, corporate, and privatizing. It views teachers as expendable, unions as unnecessary, and students as customers.” Input from community leaders, faculty, and parents’ organizations “regularly fell on deaf ears.”
As Kroll points out, privatizing Chicago’s schools was the centerpiece of Duncan’s vigorously-resisted “Renaissance 2010″ proposals, pushing to close existing institutions and replace them with charter and “entrepreneurial” schools run by for-profit education-management organizations (EMOs).
Even in the runaway financial climate of the early millenium, the EMO sector radically outperformed most other industries in terms of fiscal return on investment. Not content to pay management for test scores, Duncan has just rolled out a program to pay students for grades–dropping a Jackson on students for every C and fifty bucks for every A.
While Duncan brags about raising test scores, critics point out these come at the expense of a stripped-down curriculum targeting the test rather than actual learning (and, not incidentally, in the context of lowered statewide testing standards, like paying bonuses for hitting the bulls-eye more often after moving the target closer).
Obama gives us a look at his own priorities for education when he praises Duncan’s “results” as skills development–giving children “what they need to compete with any worker in the world for any job.” Yay, John Dewey would be proud. Citizenship? Music? Wellness? You gotta be kidding. That would be in a co-operative world and what we have here is as much competition as possible– in the same old “quality” formula. Take money from the testing “losers” and give it to the testing “winners.”
What goes well with endless competition in every corner of your existence? Discipline.
Harsh discipline, in fact. The job that many of the 91% non-white “customers” of the Chicago Public Schools are being trained for is service in the U.S. military.
A big part of Arne Duncan’s “success” as chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools was in whacking down big grants from the Department of Defense to create the most militarized public school system in the country: five military academies and over fifty junior ROTC programs, most of them feeding primarily lower-income and minority youth into the nation’s war machine.
I came across Kroll’s piece courtesy of John Hess on ADJ-L. On the same forum faculty activist Joe Berry, after reading the piece, observed, “As a Chicago resident from 99-2007, all of this is true. His appointment, if not a disaster, is a bad omen at the least.”
Over at the New York Times, Stanley Fish gave former student Frank Donoghue’s “The Last Professors” a nice mention. It’s a bit surprising, though, that Fish claims to have needed _The Last Professors_ to inform him about the perma-temping of the academy.
As a former dean at a public institution using an extremely high percentage of adjunct and graduate student employees to “deliver instruction,” Fish oversaw budgets dictating the hiring of plenty of cheap teachers.
Indeed, Fish heard many detailed critiques of the academic labor system from unionizing graduate employees and from at least one brilliant, accomplished faculty activist of my acquaintance.
His response? “Save the world on your own time.” If you’ve read Fish’s attack on “ideology”in education (something evidently only other people have), you know his charming mantra to faculty: “just do your job.”
Except for professionals, “doing one’s job” implies responsibilities to the profession, to other professionals, and the public. That is, as most faculty and other professionals agree, “saving the world” is part of the job description.
What Fish seems to have missed about Donoghue’s book is that he repeatedly, consistently, uncompromisingly holds the tenure-stream faculty responsible for falling down on the job as professionals in their silent acquiescence to the super-exploitation of faculty serving contingently and graduate students.
If Donoghue is right in his indictment, it suggests that Fish is the one who hasn’t been “doing his job” with respect to safeguarding the profession for future students and future colleagues.
Fish’s response to Donoghue’s claim that a whole profession is on the verge of extinction? “I have timed it just right,” Fish says of his career–“Just lucky, I guess.” Wow, what an eloquent and considered reflection on an individual’s relationship to, and responsibility for, the profession. Thanks, Stanley. Glad you enjoyed your ride.
As I wrote back in April 2008, the caveat I have with respect to Donoghue’s book regards the general probem of using “vanishing” tropes. As many have observed, the “vanishing Indian” didn’t actually disappear, but moved to degraded circumstances with a limited purchase on the public sphere. We might say the same for the faculty.
Since future higher education won’t be “professorless,” but filled with faculty — research professors of retail marketing, distinguished chairs in business ethics, but $1000-per-course lecturers in Homer — there will remain opportunities for resistance, for political action, especially by way of activist unions of the faculty serving contingently, including those faculty who serve contingently as graduate employees.
And–if you’re still parsing Obama’s cabinet choices–that’s the likely meaning of his far more welcome appointment of Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor. A leading proponent of the Employee Free Choice Act, and the only member of Congress to serve on the board of American Rights at Work, her appointment virtually guarantees that it will be much easier for workers–including higher education workers–to exercise their rights to workplace association and collective bargaining.
My reading of the cabinet choices is this: we aren’t going to get any higher-education full-employment act or other great “change” in the academic labor system from above during this administration. But we can organize to make change ourselves. Of course, by “ourselves” I mean the majority of faculty–the teachers serving contingently who have appeared while the traditional professoriate “vanishes.”
Sure, it would be nice if Obama fixed our problems from above. I personally made much more satisfactory recommendations for Education Secretary than Arne Duncan.*
But as I recall, the chant was “yes we can.”
*Just in case Arne Duncan leaves the cabinet, here are my recommendations for his replacement. I can’t, however vouch for their utility on the White House basketball team.
Jonathan Kozol. A Rhoades scholar who was fired from the Boston Public Schools for teaching a Langston Hughes poem, Kozol has for decades described the way that class war from above maintains savagely unequal public schools–what he’s recently called the “restoration of apartheid” in the U.S.
Angela Davis. Of course Bill Ayers was the obvious choice, but Davis is herself a veteran of the presidential trail–having shared the Communist party ticket with Gus Hall. These days she identifies as a democratic socialist–so she should fit right in, according to the McCain camp.
Barbara Ehrenreich. She was my top pick for secretary of labor, her or Stanley Aronowitz, but since Solis filled that job nicely, Ehrenreich will do splendidly in Education. Look for strict limits on youth labor and socialization of college tuition, a la Adolph Reed’s “Free Higher Education” proposal.
Zeke M. Vanderhoek. Not a household name, but he gets my vote. Obama, sadly, loves charter schools, and Vanderhoek started the one charter school I like–a Harlem school where the starting wage for teachers is $125,000. The principal’s wage? Just $90,000. You want to reduce costs in higher education–there’s all the budget planning you need.]]>
Here are five key pieces of legislation for The One to jump on–like, yesterday– if he wants future historians to give him the “FDR meets Lincoln” treatment he craves. As I’ve previously written, Obama doesn’t have the luxury of hedging his bets, robbing Peter to pay Paul the way Clinton did. He has to go all in and actually accomplish things.
First, he’s got to work for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. The Reagan-Bush mob has used the law and regulatory power dishonestly, as a bludgeon to deprive U.S. workers, including faculty and staff, of internationally-acknowledged rights to organize. 60 million Americans would join unions tomorrow–if there were real protections for human rights in the workplace.
Second, he’s got to stop fooling around with the tissue-paper health care “proposals” he had stuck to his shoes throughout the campaign. He needs to get behind something like Rep. John Conyers’ HR 676 Medicare for All single-payer plan. Watch the news in early January for the 20 (yep, 20) major labor organizations launching the “Labor for Single Payer” campaign.
Third, women on average lose half a million dollars over the course of a lifetime due to the gender wage gap–and that’s just comparing full-time to full-time. Add in the ways that “part-time” employees are ripped off–especially in higher ed–and it’s a boatload more. So it’s time to strengthen the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which passed the House last year, to include 100% equal pay for equal work for part-time employees and then get it past the Senate.
Fourth, as long as we’re on the MomsRising.org agenda, Obama had best pass unemployment modernization–and also strengthen that bill to include provisions specific to faculty serving contingently.
Fifth, back when higher education provided real opportunity and not free job training for corporations, it was free or nearly so. Every state that actually spends money on higher education has slashed that spending over that past four decades: time to put real Federal billions on the table as matching funds with one string for the states accepting it–make public higher education free, period. Cost: $25-40 billion federal, similar in the states–an amount that Adolph Reed presciently said in our interview over a year ago, “that Congress passes out as a tip in corporate welfare.”
Redistribute the wealth? You betcha. Special thanks to Maria Maisto of adj-l for links provided in this piece.]]>
With everyone else getting bailed out, higher education is at an absolutely critical juncture, with profound implications for academic actors at all institution types, and their ambitions to serve racial and economic justice.
On the one hand, yesterday’s major AFT report on the permatemping of the faculty urges the necessity of reversing course on academic staffing. That would imply a greater investment in higher education, almost certainly including substantial federal leadership and funding. Most of the public don’t have any idea how many of the faculty are untenured, and are shocked–not in the Casablanca sense–to learn how much they’re paid. When they are given the true picture, every ordinary taxpayer gets it: something’s wrong when faculty earn less than bartenders; nobody would trust an accountant earning less than a living wage, etc.
On the other hand, as education “leaders” across the country have already made clear, their intentions aren’t really to get together and demand a “bailout” or a “new New Deal for higher ed,” etc. Why not? Instead they seem all too ready with even more grandiose plans for austerity.
That’s because administrations have found four decades of austerity useful to establish greater “productivity” (more work for less pay) and more “responsiveness to mission,” which is to say, more control over curriculum, research, and every dimension of teaching, from class size to pedagogy.
They anticipate the coming years will be even more of an opportunity in this respect. In addition to massive world-historical spending on the military, police, and prison sectors, the diversion of public funds to the financial and industrial sector gives the rhetoric and tactics of austerity a needed shot in the arm: just when we were about to stop falling for the “oh, this year it’s austerity again” rhetoric and demand restoration of public funds to a public good, we have the whole government standing in front of flags with their empty pockets turned out.
Yeah, I’m saying what you think I’m saying.
Many administrators welcome austerity
It’s what they live for. It’s what they know how to do; it’s their whole culture, the reason for their existence, the justification for their salary and perks, the core criteria for their bonuses–the quality way, 5% or 10% cheaper (or 5-10% more entrepreneurial revenue) every year.
Ya gotta be a good earner or pay the price, as quality-manager Tony Soprano liked to say. Toyota plus yakuza, what we used to call “Japanese management theory,” but which now has the unique American flavor of super-casualization and astonishingly crude, hostile anti-labor legislation. (Because we have capital’s gangsters serving in both parties across the nation.)
Not to put too fine a point on it, they’re sweating the serfs in a pretty old-fashioned way: I don’t care how ya do it, ya gotta get me another ten percent next year, or you can “choose” whether you teach more classes or close your department. And they get direct seigneurial rewards–box seats at the jousting, the best cuts of the roast animal, jets and suites for their trysts.
Those of us on the ground in higher education will wonder how much more “productivity” is in fact possible, given that “leaders” have been taking advantage of the rhetoric of crisis for forty years to wring more “productivity”–faculty today teach more students more cheaply than at any point in the history of higher education.
Most of that cheapness has been established by the abuse of the apprentice system–substituting student labor for faculty labor, including increasingly undergraduate labor–or by abusing the notion of “flexibility” to establish a permanently “temporary” faculty working for peanuts. As I’ve been warning for fifteen years, the academy is moving toward realizing a sick ideal: reserving tenure for those who self-fund (by grants doled out by corporations) and those who administer a 100% casual labor force.
[I’ll save a full-fledged discussion of “technology” as a magic productivity bullet for another day, but David Noble and I agree, and most technology vendors admit, that courseware “productivity” gains are all about justifying larger class sizes, greater standardization, and the use of cheap nonfaculty, parafaculty, or student labor. There are good uses of classroom technology, and they all involve more, not less, faculty labor time. Where courseware does sometimes “improve teaching,” it’s generally because the teaching methods had already eroded to “information download” in the first place, typically in huge lecture halls followed by course-content testing.]
This is not a partisan political issue–as I’ve said before, Clinton and Gore via “quality in governance” are just as responsible for “increasing productivity” (but gutting education) by permatemping and extracting donated labor via “service,” “interns” (make your own joke here–I’m not in the mood today), and the like.
Republicans and Democrats share the wrong idea that squeezing the faculty has been to “control costs,” when in fact it’s just been to accumulate pots of either money (to spend on administrator perks, salaries, and sponsored projects or favored activities, especially big-time sports or, at religious institutions, social engineering) or capital (buildings, endowments, media infrastructure, investment in ventures and partnerships).
As a result of bipartisan belief in the fiction of benevolent austerity, the faculty infrastructure has crumbled. Most nontenurable faculty don’t do service; the remaining tenurable minority have seen their service loads double and triple, in addition to increased research expectations, larger classes, greater assessment burdens, longer terms in administration, and so on.
Even among the few tenurable faculty that won’t serve in some administrative capacity or as grant-getters, most have shouldered the permanent, career-long burden of participating in the perma-temp/apprenticeship system: admitting, training, supervising & evaluating grad student employees and/or hiring, training, and supervising the permanently temporary. The majority of both groups leave within a few years, creating a constant cycle of hire-train-supervise-evaluate, and then hire again.
Faculty senates have become in most cases all but toothless–administrations actively encourage and preserve them as a useful “garbage can” for faculty opinion, an “energy sink” for troublemakers, as any higher-ed organizational theorist will tell you. Many faculty unions just preserve the interests of the tenured minority at the expense of student and casual faculty labor. Shared governance is in disarray–at most institutions, the administration has near-total control of the faculty: certainly of the nontenurable majority, but also of the tenurable, because their numbers are so small, or because they are married to a vulnerable nontenurable person, or because they have become acculturated to act self-interestedly, chase corporate dollars, etc.
After four decades, the results of this near-total administrative control and a cheap, “highly productive” faculty workforce are clear: it stinks. Student success rates by any measure are a racist, class-specific national embarrassment. White men have the highest paying jobs in higher education; women work disproportionately in insecure positions and poorly paid fields, and higher education as “job training” reproduces similar trends in the larger economy.
Consequences for Diversifying the Faculty
Faculty identifying themselves as of Hispanic or African heritage comprise about 9% of the faculty, at a rate of about one-third of the percentage of persons similarly identifying themselves in the general population (less if one includes those identifying as multiracial).
This substantial disproportion is the more noteworthy considering that rectifying the disproportion has for some time represented an area of substantial agreement between most faculty and administrators, as well as substantial external actors in legislatures, foundations, corporate philanthropists, etc etc. , and that numerous initiatives have been in place to address it for decades.
Some of the reasons for this have to do with what Kozol dubs the “savage inequalities” of K-12 education and the larger society, including the wealth gap. Non-Hispanic white households are on average seven times wealthier than African-American and Hispanic households: impoverishing the public sphere, including education and higher education, disadvantages the poor and therefore disproportionately disadvantages African-Americans and Hispanics.
Higher-ed quality management has radically increased that disadvantage. By relying on the “psychic wage” to push actual compensation for faculty work lower and lower, so that the majority work for what used to be called pin money, with much of the same gendered implications, they’ve turned faculty work into an “irrational” economic decision–a luxury lifestyle choice that persons from wealthier circumstances are far more likely to make than those from modest circumstances.
Since non-Hispanic white households are wealthier, they’re on average more “free” to make this choice than others.
The unfreedom to choose faculty life runs all the way down a decades-long series of decisions about one’s education–where one goes to school and feels comfortable in school, where one majors and where one’s peers are majoring, whether one can choose graduate school and in what field, and how one feels about the way graduate school is funded, etc. It is a structural and cultural reality, with structural inequalities influencing cultural values, norms, and fields of individual perception and actual possibility.
As today’s Chronicle reports, stark disparity persists in the number of minority students earning doctorates despite three three decades of concerted federal, administrative, and foundation efforts. A Council of Graduate Schools study has concluded that diversifying doctoral programs rests on fundamentally improving “the academic climate for all of their students.”
The same is true for diversifying the faculty. No true diversification of the faculty can occur as long as the majority of teaching is done as lightly-paid volunteerism by those who can afford it as a lifestyle choice.
We cannot afford to let Obama take the austerity bait and “make college more affordable” by further eroding the faculty infrastructure, substituting online test modules and undergraduate tutors for faculty interaction. This will only compound the train wreck of the past four decades.
AFT is right. To diversify the faculty, improve learning outcomes and make higher education a place where the ethnically and economically subordinated can once more enjoy freedom, Obama must provide leadership on “reversing course” in academic staffing.
He can make college more affordable while reversing austerity in staffing by investing in it, and “incentivizing” states to invest in it, especially by demanding high ratios of full-time tenurable faculty–including tenure for those who primarily teach, and are vetted for good teaching by other good teachers by reasonable, sound holistic measures, not fake quickie metrics. He can provide leadership by demanding accountability from management.
Obama is a poker player. That’s a good thing–poker’s not gambling; it’s a game of political skill, nerve, daring, and ambition.
He has no choice but to call the bet handed him by the economic situation, but the right play is to raise the stakes, as FDR was eventually forced to do: “I call your several trillion and raise you a couple more!”
Having the courage to raise the stakes will separate Obama from Clinton for the history books in the way we hope and need. Clinton guarded his chips. Obama will have to go all in.]]>
But every year only one can win. This year’s award goes to the chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, Charlie Manning, for his new business model for higher ed in his Appalachian state. Over the past couple of decades, the great state of Tennessee has burned millions of education dollars on executive compensation, sports facilities, and miles of orange carpet–while leading the country in squeezing its faculty.
Of course the “new” business model isn’t new at all–it’s just Chuck Manning refusing to let a good crisis go to waste. It’s the same tired Toyota-management theory from the 80s, with wide-eyed managers and credulous politicians swapping bromides (crisis=danger + opportunity) of doubtful validity, linguistic or otherwise.
In the big picture of capital, Chuck Manning is just a low-level squeezer–the higher-ed equivalent of a regional manager for PepsiCo. The first half of the “opportunity” for higher-level squeezers and shareholders has already been realized, in the stabilization of finance-industry holdings and incomes. Chuck’s job is to realize the other half of the opportunity–squeezing a few more nickels and dimes out of his already-on-food-stamps faculty, and further watering down the thin gruel he passes off as “higher education.”
In the business curriculum, squeezing nickels and dimes until your workers are living on food stamps, loans, or gifts from relatives is called “long term productivity enhancement.” Manning’s ideas for good squeezing include:
+ Requiring students to take a certain number of online courses en route to their bachelor’s and associate’s degrees.
+ Turning online learning into an entirely automated experience “with no direct support from a faculty member except oversight of testing and grading,” and providing financial incentives for students to voluntarily accept teacherless education-as-testing.
+ Use even more adjuncts and convert the remaining tenure-stream faculty into their direct supervisors, “formalizing” that arrangement. (Can you hear me screaming “I told you so”?)
+Use “advanced students” to teach “beginning students” and build that requirement into curriculum and financial aid packages. (Again, I’m screaming. You should be screaming too.)
+Increase faculty workload, initiating a “students-taught” metric to supersede courseload, and “revise” summer compensation.
+Austerity for the poor–cutting athletics at community colleges, eg–but rewards for privatization and revenue-producing programs, etc etc.
Reading all this life-in-wartime austerity of fake correspondence learning, students as teachers, faculty as supervisors, and a standing army of temps, you’d think there was actual fat to be trimmed (other than in the administration).
But the reality is that if you’re really experienced and qualified, teaching 10 courses a year for Chuck Manning nets you about 15 grand without benefits, or less than you’d make at Wal-mart. That’s quite a bit less than half the $33, 960 that the extremely useful Living Wage Calculator says is necessary to support one adult and one child in Knox County.
This has been going on for quite some time, as the hero of our Faculty on Food Stamps video series, Andy Smith can tell you. Since starring in the series, Andy has learned another hard lesson about Chuck Manning: asking politely for a raise gets you a) strung along with months and years of “we’re considering that” and b) turned down flat when they run out of string.
When higher ed administration has left you jaded–when blood from a stone doesn’t thrill you any more–call Charlie Manning, this year’s Turkey at the Top. He’ll squeeze you a faculty smoothie and slip you a side of diploma mill, and do it with a smile.
PS–Next, I’ll tell you what I think Tennessee faculty and students ought to do, just IMHO, of course.
PPS–Oh, and Obama watchers? This kind of quality-management nickel-and-diming employees literally to death is the hallmark of the Clinton economy and Clinton-Gore approach to the public good. The next few weeks will tell if Obama thinks labor will fall for the quality scam again (doubtful), while he sells out our dreams, cozying up to folks like Manning and Michelle Rhee. You want to know what higher education will look like if Clinton-Gore principles are put to work? Just look at Charlie Manning’s work in Gore’s home state.]]>