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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous coverage:

What UC-Davis Pays for Top Talent
Campus Occupations Intensify
Occupying the Catholic Church
Teach-in at Washington Square
Crackdown at OccupyBoston
Why I Occupy
All the News Fit For Bankers

Bankers Chuckle (Must-See Footage of the Week)
Occupiers Issue First Statement (And it’s Bigger News than Radiohead Rumor)
Mass Arrests on Wall Street
Protests Spread to Both Coasts
Police Violence Escalates: Day 5
Wall Street Occupation, Day 3
What Are You Doing for the Next 2 Months?
Occupy and Escalate
Big Brother on Campus
California Is Burning
Will Occupation Become a Movement?
Grad Students Spearhead Wisconsin Capitol Occupation
The Occupation Will Be Televised
The Occupation Cookbook

related:
More Drivel from the NYT
Citizens Smarter than NYT and Washington Post, Again
Education Policy Summit or Puppet Show?
Parents and Teachers, the Alienated Democratic Base
Dianetics For Higher Ed?
We Are All Roman Porn Stars Now
The Churchill Case Goes To Trial

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous coverage:
Campus Occupations Intensify
Occupying the Catholic Church
Teach-in at Washington Square
Crackdown at OccupyBoston
Why I Occupy
All the News Fit For Bankers

Bankers Chuckle (Must-See Footage of the Week)
Occupiers Issue First Statement (And it’s Bigger News than Radiohead Rumor)
Mass Arrests on Wall Street
Protests Spread to Both Coasts
Police Violence Escalates: Day 5
Wall Street Occupation, Day 3
What Are You Doing for the Next 2 Months?
Occupy and Escalate
Big Brother on Campus
California Is Burning
Will Occupation Become a Movement?
Grad Students Spearhead Wisconsin Capitol Occupation
The Occupation Will Be Televised
The Occupation Cookbook

related:
More Drivel from the NYT
Citizens Smarter than NYT and Washington Post, Again
Education Policy Summit or Puppet Show?
Parents and Teachers, the Alienated Democratic Base
Dianetics For Higher Ed?

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

November 9, 2011 may prove to have been another turning point in the relationships between the occupation movement and university campuses.

Students have played a leading role in the occupations at Wall Street and around the US, not to mention the occupation of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the Spanish indignado movement, plus the ongoing student struggles against austerity in the UK and Italy. In fact, the ‘occupy everything’ meme first gained purchase on this side of the Atlantic via building occupations at the New School and NYU in New York and across the UC and Cal State systems in 2008 and 2009.

However, Wednesday’s U.S. student actions are on a grander scale than earlier events. They may represent the first major sustained campus occupations in the post-Tahrir, Occupy Wall Street era.

California is Burning Again
Some 3000-4000 occupiers were assembled at U.C. Berkeley’s storied Sproul Plaza when police began beating nonviolent protesters. The assault sent one English PhD student to the hospital.

Police detained 39 people, including a junior professor in the English department. Upon release, the professor reported that police told her the university chancellor had told university police to keep arrestees’ personal property – including her lecture notes – from them for 5 days.

The dichotomy between the degree of force in the police response to a nonviolent crowd of student occupiers at Berkeley and the complete lack of arrests during Wednesday night’s pro-Paterno riots at Penn State have already provoked some thoughtful commentary.

Tents up at Harvard
Though far smaller than the crowd at Berkeley, the successful occupation of Harvard Yard by a large group of students is also significant.

Harvard Yard is usually open to the public. Since the 9th, it has been closed to all but those with Harvard IDs. Even these have only been granted sporadic access, according to the vagaries of the counterinsurgency strategies of the university and the police.

A crowd of over three hundred took to the streets of Cambridge Wednesday night. The group comprised students, campus food service and custodial workers, and supporters for the Boston occupation in Dewey Square. Reaching consensus at a large impromptu general assembly (GA), they marched to the yard and circled it, trying to get through the gates.

Stymied, they held another GA, spilling into the busy thoroughfare of Massachusetts Avenue.

A small but rowdy group of hostile Harvard undergraduates stole a bullhorn from occupiers. From an elevated position and behind the ironwork fencing the campus, they tried to disrupt the GA process, hurling invectives and at least one projectile at those below.

Ultimately, a strategic decision was made by the GA to split into camps of those with and without Harvard IDs. The former camp were able to gain access to the yard and set up around 20 tents near a statue of university founder John Harvard. Those with no institutional relationship to Harvard continued to march until tents were up.

Both the actions at Berkeley and those in Cambridge come six years to the day after the beginning of the longest job action in the history of the academic labor movement in the US, the 2005-2006 strike by NYU teaching and research assistants.

Like the grad unionists, campus occupiere interrogate universities in a number of ways.

The statement released by Harvard occupiers raises concerns with professors’ conflicts of interest similar to the way the film Inside Job exposes the complicity of business school professors in the financial crisis of 2008. It connects the history of living wage campaigns on campus to the increasingly central question of debt as a universalized aspect of class formation within particular fractions of the middle and working classes.

Universities are never static or passive spaces under siege from outside capitalist aggressors but instead are themselves persistent sites of exploitation and super-exploitation, as Marc Bousquet has documented. Increasingly university labor turmoil is visible as part and parcel of what even mainstream liberal journalists are at last calling #classwar.

Elaborating Solidarity
The Harvard Occupiers have foregrounded both the predicaments of campus service workers (members, mostly, of Unite HERE Local 26 and SEIU Local 615) and the impact Harvard’s investments have on workers beyond the university’s walls.

The Harvard occupiers’ commitment to these issues was in evidence Wednesday night in a manner that artfully linked both together by a former member of the Hyatt housekeeping staff. Together with all of her co-workers, she had been summarily fired in late 2009 and replaced with subcontracted workers making far less.

Now an organizer with the Boston hotel workers’ union, the fired staffer spoke in Spanish about a union-busting hotel investment corporation in which Harvard and many other universities have parked some of their endowment. (Harvard’s portfolio reached 32 billion dollars earlier this year, almost fully recovered from the significant losses it sustained during the financial crisis.)

Campus workers testify to the multiplicity of ways in which universities are implicated in the racialized and gendered political economy of service labor. Nothing symbolized this on Wednesday night more profoundly than when, early in the evening, the Harvard students and their service worker allies were fenced off from each other by the iron gates that surround the yard.

The movement overcame the fence, however. As janitors and cafeteria workers poured into the streets, chanting in Spanish, the whole mass of occupiers joined them, including the students. Occupy Harvard prioritizes service labor in the creation of a “university for the 99%”. The students recognize that recognizing the exploitation and marginalization of service work and workers is central to a broader liberatory project. By contrast, their opponents, the small group of vocal (sometimes violent) anti-occupation students, with their sense of privilege and entitlement, invite comparison to the pro-Paterno rioters at Penn State.

Cal students have called for a general strike on Tuesday, the 15th.

In New York, a formidable all-student assembly has arisen thanks in part to veterans of the GSOC campaign at NYU as well as the histories of student organizing and rebellion at CUNY campuses and the New School. They too will strike on Thursday, the 17th.

The pace of activity seems to be accelerating, and indeed, sitting in the GA by Harvard’s law school on Wednesday night I could not help but be struck by how much more radical the atmosphere seemed than at the height of the global justice movement a decade ago. For the first time I believe there is potential for real change, or something even greater that the clichéd term ‘real change’ is entirely insufficient to describe.

Previous coverage:
Occupying the Catholic Church
Teach-in at Washington Square
Crackdown at OccupyBoston
Why I Occupy
All the News Fit For Bankers

Bankers Chuckle (Must-See Footage of the Week)
Occupiers Issue First Statement (And it’s Bigger News than Radiohead Rumor)
Mass Arrests on Wall Street
Protests Spread to Both Coasts
Police Violence Escalates: Day 5
Wall Street Occupation, Day 3
What Are You Doing for the Next 2 Months?
Occupy and Escalate
Big Brother on Campus
California Is Burning
Will Occupation Become a Movement?
Grad Students Spearhead Wisconsin Capitol Occupation
The Occupation Will Be Televised
The Occupation Cookbook

related:
More Drivel from the NYT
Citizens Smarter than NYT and Washington Post, Again
Education Policy Summit or Puppet Show?
Parents and Teachers, the Alienated Democratic Base
Dianetics For Higher Ed?

Zach Schwartz-Weinstein’s dissertation looks at service work and service workers at U.S. universities from the mid-20th century to the present. His broader interests include affective, immaterial, service, and emotional labor, cognitive capitalism, flexible accumulation and neoliberalism, knowledge production, migration, labor and working class history, and 20th-century U.S. cultural history. He organizes with GSOC-UAW, the union for graduate teaching and research assistants at NYU.

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Occupation Season Begins; Colbert, Aronowitz on Wall Street http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/297 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/297#comments Fri, 23 Sep 2011 15:58:54 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/297 “Protest season began with a bang at UC Berkeley as hundreds of chanting, fist-pumping students angry about tuition hikes charged into Tolman Hall during a raucous protest and building occupation Thursday, ” reports Nanette Asimov for the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Wall Street occupiers end their first week with a vow to remain over the long term, disrupted an art auction in support of locked-out Sotheby’s workers, and were featured in a Stephen Colbert segment Thursday night. Stanley Aronowitz will speak to the protesters Friday at 5pm (EST). Previous speakers have included Michael Moore and Roseanne Barr.

Book Bloc March Sparks Occupation
Last night’s occupation developed spontaneously out of a march led by the Book Bloc, pictured above, protesting draconian cuts and tuition hikes while “corporations and the wealthiest individuals — including many UC Regents — continue to rake in increasing bonuses and profits, partly by speculating on our indebtedness.”

After at least two altercations with police involving injuries and arrests, protesters dispersed about 10 pm Thursday, but promised to regroup Friday afternoon.

Apparently, police across California public campuses are gearing up for an intensified year of more determined student occupations, staging SWAT-style anti-occupation drills at UC-Irvine. Be sure to keep reading until you get to the police imitation of the protesters (“We want free stuff!”).

previous coverage
police violence escalates: day five
wall street occupation day three
occupy and escalate
big brother on campus
california is burning
will occupation become a movement?
grad students spearhead wisconsin capitol occupation
the occupation will be televised
the occupation cookbook
xposted: chronicle of higher education

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It’s the Inequality, Stupid http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/293 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/293#comments Wed, 07 Sep 2011 20:03:55 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/293 So I’m supposed to be finishing my entry, “Labor,” for the second edition of Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler’s widely adopted Keywords for American Cultural Studies. Yay, I’m in the volume, but also totally depressing.

I mean, it’s a class war out there and labor’s lost every battle since I started shaving. And by “labor,” I don’t mean some cartoon of a hard hat, broom pushing, or stoop labor. I mean the folks reading this column. Pretty much everybody, actually: If you work in order to live, or scrub the toilet/feed the appetites of a wage worker, you’re labor.

Then today I find out that Wilma Liebman, one of the few people in the academy or anywhere, to give a hoot about academic labor, is ending her long service to the National Labor Relations Board because an army of trolls in wingtips has been coming after her, as she puts it, “with a baseball bat.” One way to go with this is to dump some more on Obama, who always backs up the ballplaying buddy that represents his worst appointment, but consistently left dangling the principled, thoughtful woman that was by far his best.

Of course it isn’t just the president; it’s us, as the always-scathing Bill Maher points out in his brilliant assault on the magical thinking represented by our love affair with “reality” television shows in which “one of our richest 1% drops in on the wage slaves for a week and finds out that living on $185 a week in America really blows, and so then they anecdotally solve the wealth gap problem by showering everyone with cash.”

Sad, but true: It takes a comedian to tell the gut-wrenching truth about the dominance of the top 1% since Reagan’s inauguration:

Say 100 Americans get together and order a 100 slice pizza, the pizza arrives, they open the box, and the first guy takes 80 slices. And if someone suggests “Why don’t you just take 79 slices?” [He says] THAT’S SOCIALISM!

It’s just a “stupid idea,” Maher says, to believe that the rich would “share with us if only they got to walk a mile in our cheap plastic shoes.” Instead, he says, we’ve got to wrench the baseball bats out of their hands and use it on them:

We have this fantasy that our interests and the interests of the super rich are the same, like somehow the rich will eventually get so full that they’ll explode, and the candy will rain down on the rest of us, like they’re some sort of pinata of benevolence. But here’s the thing about a pinata, it doesn’t open on it’s own, you have to beat it with a stick.

Liebman and the apostles of greed who have driven her into retirement understand correctly that the National Labor Relations Act is one such stick. She said that her role as chair of the NLRB was to “further the policy of this statute, which is to further the practice of collective bargaining, obviously collective bargaining freely chosen.”

There’s convincing analysis that unionization substantially reduces inequality. And the many evils of skyrocketing inequality are addressed by Slate’s Timothy Noah and Michael Moore (includes a critical assessment that mostly supports him) and many others. Joseph Stiglitz points out that the quality of life and self-interest of the rich is harmed by the savage inequalities we see today. Even billionaires like Warren Buffett admit it’s time to stop coddling the super-rich.

“If you increase workers’ purchasing power, that can create a stronger, more sustainable economy,” Liebman told The New York Times. “Some say collective bargaining is antithetical to the economy. I don’t buy that at all. This was a statute that worked. It created the middle class. It created good jobs.”

Goodbye, Wilma. Most of us have no idea what it costs to stand up for workplace dignity in this brave new banana republic. Thanks for paying that price with dignity, passion, and intelligence.

xposted: Chronicle of Higher Education

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

Kudos to the students, who revolted en masse after paying a labor contractor $3,000 to $6,000 apiece to get $8.25/hour summer warehouse jobs in sweltering central Pennsylvania, and also to the U.S. labor associations to whom they appealed, Jobs With Justice and the National Guestworkers Alliance. Clearly, positive consumer associations with the Hershey brand helped students and their allies to package the sleazy arrangement as newsworthy (“It’s no Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory,” etc etc), but the only real news in the story is that this particular group of hyper-exploited students organized themselves. Which is great. However, since they’re guest workers and the slow-news, this chocolate-ain’t-sweet angle will grow stale in days, they’ll be out of the headlines long before the State Department deports them and slaps the wrist of the contractor who provided them.

Then we can all go back to pretending that this isn’t the norm for millions of “guest workers” and college students in the U.S. Don’t get me wrong: the Hershey’s arrangement stinks to high heaven, but it’s not the glaring exception to the way the U.S. treats its 50 million working poor of any description, guest workers and college students alike; it’s pretty much the rule.

Nor for that matter is it the biggest scandal in chocolate production. Far from it: Hershey’s and other major manufacturers are routinely complicit in sourcing cocoa from plantations that employ very young children, including victims of human trafficking. In fact, Hershey is currently the particular target of the International Labor Rights Forum campaign for fair trade in cocoa.

How “normal” is the Hershey deal? It seems to fall within the pretty shabby standard range for international students on J-1 visas (just one of the many visas through which the U.S. provides cheap guest workers to American employers). There are many global labor contractors vying to supply guest workers to U.S. employers on the various visas. In almost all cases, the often enormous fees paid to the contractor are borne entirely by the worker, not the employer—meaning they “pay to work” in violation of U.S. labor law (but that’s like pointing out that fighting is explicitly forbidden by the National Hockey League).

The J-1 covers several kinds of permission to work, including nanny labor, but the global “summer work and travel program,” run by the U.S. State Department under the cloying rhetoric of education and international friendship, is limited to persons who are enrolled in college in their home country. As with other forms of student labor, exploitative educational work experience, training/internship programs and the like, the J-1 has expanded explosively in the last decade, rising from around 20,000 in the mid-nineties to over 150,000 in recent years.

Even the “summer” part is misleading, since that means “summer” in the home country; the program actually supplies a year-round revolving pool of self-financing cheap workers to American employers. Employers actually receive tax breaks, though usually the real advantage is the highly compliant workforce—the Hershey revolt is, essentially, unheard of in a worker population that can be deported for complaining.

Most dishonest, however, is the rhetoric of “cultural exchange” and “education” associated with the program, which provide innocuous-sounding cover for the profiteering of skeevy labor contractors. Traditionally, the program appeals to American employers with dirty or unpleasant work with already-high employee turnover (Alaskan fish processing, housekeeping, dishwashing, laundry, table bussing, fast-food service, groundskeeping, warehouse and other general labor). Placing international students in these positions with a fixed employment term helps keep wages low; most of the students who have this “cultural exchange” end up feeling disillusioned. The reality of the experience is that there is no culture or education at all; the contractors acquire cheap workers and dump them in shabby housing near their employers (often collecting a second profit on extortionate rent), and that’s it. The “nonprofit” contractor in this case is tied to an international education and travel management group that has a web of revenue-producing education, exchange, and travel schemes, some specializing in English education for the hospitality industry.

Guest workers are vulnerable to bullying, extortion, human trafficking and wage theft. A 2010 Associated Press investigation made headlines with stories of international college students on J-1 visas forced to work in strip clubs and live 30 students to a 3-bedroom house. Interviewing 70 students from 16 countries, the report found most were disappointed and many were angry. A handful were angry at gangsterism, like the mobsters who pushed some women into stripping, or at Dickensian vileness, like the gift-shop owner who charged his employees room and board, but made them eat on the floor in his home.

Most of the students interviewed by AP, however, were not angry at these exceptional instances of maltreatment, but at the low wages, unpaid overtime, and the lack of leisure, educational and cultural opportunities for the working poor in the United States. Just like the single parents that they toiled alongside (such as those chronicled by Barbara Ehrenreich), they were enraged that they were forced into eating at soup kitchens or accepting charity while they were employed in the richest nation in the world.

In other words: the students who come on J-1 visas do get a cultural exchange, and an education, just not what they expected. They learned what it is like to be an American in the bottom quartile, or among the majority of American college students who can’t persist to a degree through the maze of debt, overwork, and underpayment that we bizarrely consider the “normal” lot of a student.

As I’ve written before, U.S. high schools and colleges are often deeply complicit in these sorts of arrangements, profiting directly from low-wage student labor and serving as a labor contractor, both directly and indirectly, to local employers. Usually with nary a detractor. Indeed, coverage of any labor arrangement with the word “education” attached to it, by any old excuse whatever, typically amounts to craven cheerleading.

Think I’m exaggerating? Read my 2008 account of the dropout-factory partnership between UPS, the University of Louisville, and the Teamsters that has put tens of thousands of Kentucky students in circumstances similar to the Hershey deal. Then use a search engine and see if you can find a single press report that is less than glowing about that sleazy deal. There are similar scams operated by shipping companies and campuses in every cargo hub in the country—has there been any improvement in even one?

Hey, Hershey’s workers: I’m sorry you got an education in the real America of working poverty. I hope you get a refund.

But beyond the propaganda and your individual struggle, what’s the lesson in this story?

It’s simple, really. First, we should stop treating students, international or domestic, like the working poor. Rather than exploit college students as cheap labor, an intelligent plan for the economy would, a la the G.I. Bill, pay students to stay out of the labor market.

Second, while we’re at it, why don’t we stop treating the working poor this way?

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

When planning her own recent humorous chapter book, Brainstorm colleague Naomi Schaefer Riley (no relation to Roscoe) apparently didn’t get the memo that the “lazy professor” stereotype has been consigned to the cultural dustbin since, roughly, her own graduation from kindergarten. As you might surmise from the title (The Faculty Lounges–har har–And Other Reasons You Won’t Get the College Education You Paid For), the book relies on silly, outmoded stereotypes, arguments from anecdote and bluster from the likes of John Silber instead of evidence.

At one time or another in what too often reads like an audition for Fox News higher education attack dog analyst, Riley deals every bromide in the deck, usually from the bottom: while accepting conservative foundation support for her own propaganda, she goes far out of her way to caricature Ford Foundation grants in support of academic freedom as a”gravy train” for left academics (would that it were so!)

Just like the beginning chapter books my son favors, Riley’s book features one cartoon illustration per chapter, usually reprinted from stock cartoon banks. None of them have anything to do with the issues; they just underscore the irrelevance of her stereotypes (“Your wife hasn’t broken the law, professor–she can leave you even if you do have tenure!”) Ha, ha, chuckle, zzzzzz.

That’s too bad, because Riley is bright and analytical, and sometimes grasps real problems with the tenure system, which is more than I can say of many contemporary observers on my own side of the political aisle.

She’s right, for instance, to note that the tenure system as we know it today is deeply flawed:

Supposed to produce courage and security, it breeds cowardice and anxiety, check. Supposed to unite the faculty, it now serves as a marker of apartheid between the academy’s minority “haves” and majority “have-nots,”check.

Supposed to encompass peer accountability for all professional activities it too often rewards those who neglect their students, family, and the profession, check.

Supposedly the pipeline for equality in the professions, the tenure system funnels academic and professional women into subordinate positions, check.

Supposed to guarantee reasonable economic return on education (you know, so that English professors can expect lifetime earnings not too much lower than good legal secretaries), tenure has become a generational lifeboat for greybeards selfishly uninterested in the crisis of young faculty, check.

All of these concerns, which plenty of tenure’s defenders are all too happy to gloss over, add up to an argument against tenure from the labor front.

Contingent-faculty activists like Joe Berry have long observed that tenure is reserved for a shrinking labor aristocracy–the group of persons who do front-line supervision of transient labor, and who provide the talent pool for upper administration. From the perspective of actual, informed unionists like Berry, tenure has frequently served as an engine of inequality.

Nor is it generally the goal of contingent-faculty unionists to win entrance into the stressful, irrational tenure crapshoot which is far from the gold standard of job security that most faculty imagine (ask anyone who’s had a department restructured or eliminated, or had an administrator declare a fake fiscal crisis).

Therefore, many contingent faculty, and left-labor faculty of any appointment type, share Riley’s sense that tenure should be abolished. (Either that, or like me and the AAUP, they feel that a reformed, teaching-centric tenure system should be the norm of faculty experience, as it was in 1972, when the professoriate was largely populated by well-off white men.)

Riley’s at her best and most revealing when she talks about how the tenured (like her father) treat contingent faculty, like her mother. At times the book is honestly reported–Riley admits that tenure isn’t the reason college is expensive–quite the contrary, it saves on salary–and that tenure is a minority experience.

I think if Riley’s analysis had taken the form of a long essay on the extremely important theme of how the tenure system marginalizes women teaching faculty, a topic scandalously under-addressed by liberals and academic feminists alike, it almost could have been one of those occasional offerings from the right that joins with the left in challenging some of the sacred cows of the liberal mainstream. (See chapter 4, “The Academic Underclass,” which appropriately excoriates “the hypocrisy of academics who claim concern for society’s marginalized while ignoring the [gendered and racialized] underclass in their midst.”)

If you subtract the ideological claptrap from Riley’s book, you have a perfectly reasonable call to invest in undergraduate teaching. However, in adding enough vitriol and borrowed observations to make a book, Riley goes awry in two basic ways, the scary and the lame.

Under the heading of scary, I have to point out that every once in a while, Riley’s mask of reasonability slips. In chapter 2, she wonders aloud, a la David Horowitz, Don’t some radical faculty members deserve to be run off campus?

A little later we learn the identities of the radicals to be run off, when she channels the radio talk shows for this sweeping non sequitur: “Whether it’s women’s studies or black studies or queer studies, the entire premise of the discipline often rests on a political agenda…. there [is] a growing sense that projects that are not strictly academic are not deserving of academic protections.”

The scary part is that we and her actual target audience know what she’s saying even though she isn’t saying anything–what is the meaning of the nonsense phrase “the entire premise of the discipline”? This is all too much like Limbaugh, rolling empty longish words off the tongue in order to manufacture a sense of cogitation and portent.

Under the heading of lame, I have to place the one argument she really makes with any vigor, that so much of higher education is “vocational” that there’s no controversy in those fields, hence no need for academic freedom. “These are all fields with fairly definitive answers,” Riley says in total ignorance of the fields she cites–like nutrition, family sciences, security, and sports history. “Faculty members don’t really need the freedom to ask controversial questions in discussing them,” she says, with unearned confidence.

It’s hard to believe that someone with two academic parents made this argument or, having made it, kept it in the manuscript–as its great gotcha! centerpiece, no less. When Gary Rhoades pointed out to Riley that nutrition faculty, just for example, engaged in plenty of controversy, she amateurishly dismisses the point rather than checking to see whether, in fact, there aren’t some fairly intense controversies in the field. Hint: there are, as in every one of the other fields she names.

But what of the obviously roiling controversies in other “vocational” fields, like legal, business, and medical education? Riley has nothing to say.

Riley is similarly cavalier with the evidence regarding faculty and teaching. There are literally thousands of studies evaluating faculty teaching, but instead of addressing any of them, Riley uses a few administrators as quote farms in support of her preconceived thesis and dials up the Limbaugh: “Tenure means they can simply neglect their students!”

At other points the just-published work is already out of date, touting the Garcetti decision, which has been successfully challenged, or Stanley Fish’s positions since recanted.

Frequently it’s just juvenile, as with the cartoons or snarkily describing the academy as a “profession” only in skeptical quotation marks.

Sometimes it’s just inept, as when she relies on John Silber’s “analysis” of tenure to make her case that it isn’t necessary to protect academic freedom–when, notoriously, it was only tenure that protected the late, beloved and irreplaceable Howard Zinn from Silber’s relentless efforts to drive him from the campus.

Much of the rest is cribbed from usual suspects like ACTA and Richard Vedder, or retread David Horowitz–Oh my gosh, the Berkeley writing classes sometimes cover controversial content!

A couple of points under the heading of full disclosure: Riley interviewed me for this book, and I make several appearances in the one chapter I thought worthy of her talents. She treats me as far less of a caricature than she might have, and I wish I had kinder things to say about the project.

Additionally, my spouse and I are, like Riley’s parents, and as many as a third of all faculty, navigating the often-breathtaking challenges of a dual-career academic couple in a system that is particularly cruel to academic women.

I share Riley’s disquiet with academic hypocrisy. On top of still rampant sexism and sex discrimination in academic employment, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like the viciousness with which many academic “feminists” with tenure treat some of their “sisters” off-track.

As I read Riley’s book–which I had to buy because her publisher declined to send me a review copy–I thought often of my son, and his sunny disposition. I hope that we can find a way to insulate his good nature and deeply, deeply inquiring mind from the academic shabbiness, hypocrisy and dishonesty that Riley chronicles best from her personal experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We Are All Roman Porn Stars Now http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/281 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/281#comments Tue, 15 Feb 2011 18:39:38 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/281 Most Chronicle readers probably aren’t among the 3 million or so that Neilsen can measure watching the Spartacus prequel miniseries Gods of the Arena, which premiered in January at the number one position among cable shows in its time slot. Episode 5 plays Friday, 2/18 (Starz, but the best way to catch up is in your Netflix streaming queue). I don’t particularly recommend that you watch the series–catch up on The Wire, Nurse Jackie, or Breaking Bad first–but it’s worth trying to understand how it’s managed to hold its audience.

Certainly some of its viewers, as you might expect, tune in for the objectified porn-star bodies of the actors. But they stay because they identify with the characters in the story. I think it’s worth trying to understand this identification, in large part because it seems to be an identification with a mode of exploitation similar to our own.

With balletic violence, gorgeous CGI, and lovingly detailed mature sequences, this Sam Raimi production doesn’t at first seem calculated for the status-conscious intellectual (ie, the sort of person that exchanges prestige for salary). That said, one of the show’s persistent themes is the personal cost of pursuing psychic rewards–such as celebrity, or the esteem of one’s colleagues. The show invites identification with the gladiators on the supposition that the audience is also imprisoned by their own pursuit of affective compensation, of which our own teaching for love (and consequent super-discounted wage) is a leading example, not to mention our complicity in the super-discounting of the wages of others.

Dalton Trumbo, Meet Larry Flynt
Consistently winning its cable time slot in the 18-49 demographic, the show’s success suggests what even our friends at The New York Times (NYT) have to acknowledge appears to be a growing appetite for stories of class warfare. Of course this use of the term “class warfare” erroneously assigns it only to class struggle from below (as if the arduous labor of Palin, McCain, Boehner, Beck and O’Reilly to roll back medical care, education, and workplace rights isn’t the class war of the rich on the rest of us!) What the NYT reviewer means is to hint that recent trends in cultural consumption might indicate a growing will of the other 98% to fight back.

There are two paths into this version of Spartacus that any reasonably competent cultural-studies person might pursue: genealogical relationships, especially those with earlier versions of Spartacus, and transitive relationships with parallel iconography, like the masterless samurai of Kurosawa, Leone, Eastwood, etc.

The first approach would be largely a project of mourning–ie, exploring all the ways this latest iteration of Spartacus measures a retreat from the Left cultural imaginary tapped into by the blacklisted dream team of Dalton Trumbo and grand old Howard Fast. For decades a bestselling writer of openly anticapitalist fiction, Fast was imprisoned for resisting HUAC and forced to self-publish the 1951 novel on which the Kubrick/Douglas/Trumbo film is based. (Apparently Kirk Douglas produced the film largely out of pique after losing the title role in Ben Hur to Charlton Heston, but still deserves enormous credit for having the courage to employ these writers, and helping to break the blacklist.)

The contrast between the 1960 film and the present is especially obvious in the variant handling of the line, “I am Spartacus.” In the earlier production, the line comprised a climactic appeal to solidarity, shouted for Kubrick and Douglas’s sound crew by the crowd at a Michigan State vs Notre Dame football game.

In a nice turn, the contemporary version reimagines the line as a second-act complication, indicating submission: “I am Spartacus” in this version indicates the Thracian’s acceptance of his slave name, a la Kunta Kinte in the most famous scene in the mini-series Roots. Drawing this parallel to the more defiant and hopeful imagination of the mid-1970s (now thirty-five years in the past) is, however, similarly unflattering to the present.

The second analysis would recover part of the first–finding in this cynical Spartacus a free-ranging rebellion. He inhabits a modestly domesticated variant of the masterless samurai/Pale Rider trope, protesting “I burn for no cause but my own,” but grudgingly making an exception to that rule.

A figure for the salaryman who puts on the office costume–but rides his hog weekends– motivated by a goodfella’s desire to protect spouse and home turf, today’s Spartacus provisionally accepts the fraternity of the ludus and even more provisionally the dominion of Batiatus, an ambitious Capuan fight promoter reminiscent of Tony Soprano.

That the fight promoters are the next tv gangsters-as-lower-management is abundantly clear in Season 2, Episode 2, in which Batiatus is stomped in a butcher’s shop; the scene references a similarly-located assault in The Sopranos and attempts to top it with a long-running and full-frontal urination on the victim.

Both of these lines of analysis could be extended usefully, and doubtless will be, but I think they aren’t enough, not least because they bypass the repeated, clear references to gladiators as the adult film stars of their time.

The mapping of gladiation by way of the contemporary cultural space of porn is literal, with repeated scenes of gladiators sexually performing for an audience of citizens, who sometimes offer direction (a la interactive porn sites), zoom in for closeups of the action, etc. (I don’t bring up pornography in order to get into a moral debate. If I have a moral position on pornography, it’s probably something akin to class struggle: potentially the likeliest, best outcome of porn’s cultural victory is self-abolition: Can the universally explicit be visible as pornographic?) Certainly there are serious complaints to be made about the series in this department: for instance, it can legitimately be read as trivializing the contemporary traffic in women by its representation of male gladiators as sex toys for the Real Housewives of Capua. In any event, if you want to argue porn’s morality, take it up with the extremely thoughtful Jane Juffer or, say, the million-strong Netmums demographic–mostly British, mostly women under fifty, mostly with kids–75% of whom say they consume it.

The Grammar of Super-Exploitation

What interests me about Spartacus and the grammar of adult film is the question of delivering work without a wage, for an extreme wage discount, or over and above the requirements of a wage. In the technical sense, most wage work (excepting the hyper-compensated type) is simple exploitation: you produce more value than you receive back in wages, often a lot more, and that value goes to someone of the Real Housewives class, who buys jewels and a good conscience by making occasional donations to charity.

By contrast, working without a wage–or for a discounted wage–or for psychic compensation–or delivering additional work off the clock–generally involves some form of super-exploitation. The cutting edge of management practice is finding ways to maximize the employee’s donation above and beyond the wage: checking office email at 11 pm and 6am, taking calls on weekends and on vacation, working through lunch, etc. One of the vectors for this is making workplaces “creative” and “fun,” as Andrew Ross has analyzed; another is faux professionalism; another is providing elaborate nonwage recognitions, a la the military, church and education bureaucracies. Internships are both straight-up extortion (“can’t get a job without one”) and status awards (“I won the competition for the position!”)

Gladiators experience the most primitive forms of super-exploitation (direct enslavement, imprisonment and degradation). All of these “primitive” forms of super-exploitation are alive and well in today’s global economy, from prison labor to the traffic in women. And some aspects of gladiator labor are realized cinematically as the kind of locked-in dormitory workplace associated with Chinese manufacturing.

But the primitive forms of super-exploitation don’t explain the Starz/Netflix demographic’s identification with the characters and situation. The viewer identification has much more to do with fact that the gladiators also experience the most advanced or progressive forms of super-exploitation associated with Western workers employed in some of the most sought-after positions in the global economy: While gladiators do receive some material compensation (better food, occasional prize money, etc) they are ultimately paid in the coin of emotion. This is where the mapping of gladiation onto the porn industry delivers the most insight. The gladiators are almost exactly analogous to today’s porn “stars,” who support one of the most lucrative industries on the planet–but who can make as little as a hundred dollars per filmed sex act, might work on just a couple of films in a “career” that lasts a few months. The cost of plastic surgery, physical training and so on easily outweighs the earnings of many, a fact known perfectly well to most of the men and women struggling to get into the industry. The idea that all of these persons are delusionally trying to win a lottery of high adult-film paychecks misses the point. For the most part, they understand that they are also being paid in a kind of reputation that they have chosen to seek (perhaps mistakenly) even if they don’t get rich.

This is the heart of the series’ appeal–its insight into a core question of our time: “if the rewards are so slim, why do it?” And the series captures the complexity and honesty of the answer: that most of us are deeply pro-social in our motivations, that we strive most vigorously for nonwage compensation…. and that these generally pro-social preferences represent our vulnerability to the economic predators of our time.

Given the number of fronts on which its politics are fairly regressive, the largest contribution the series makes to consciousness-raising is its consistent representation of affective compensation as a form of Monopoly money printed up by a cynical management. Indeed, the central characters’ struggle to reject the psychic wage–and management’s effort to seduce them into accepting it– is the substance of the series’ story line. It is not that the series opposes honor, reputation-seeking, or loyalty per se: it’s that the series understands these and other emotions are vectors through which economic predators snare their victims.

In this version of Spartacus the successful “lanista” and “doctore” (manager and trainer) are, first and foremost, managers of the arena’s workplace culture, providing the gladiators with rewards calculated to trigger the investment of their whole selves in their work: a sense of fraternity, accomplishment, professional reputation and public recognition.

The whole of Season 1’s interior action comprises the complication-filled but steadily rising acceptance of this manufactured workplace culture by Spartacus, who swiftly wins the title of “champion of Capua.”

His arc of acceptance is matched by a parallel, gradual disaffection with that same workplace culture by his chief rival Crixus, the immediate past champion. Just when Spartacus’s growing acceptance of a bargain with management is burst, abruptly returning him to his original state of implacable avenger, the evolving emotional life of Crixus carries us forward.

For Crixus, the transformation from true believer to revolutionary means abandoning most of the psychic rewards on which he’s built his identity–the recognition of fellow professionals, public celebrity, etc. It also means a painful repudiation of the belief that gladiation offers a professional, democratic, meritocratic venue, in which ability is inevitably recognized.

As we cheer along Crixus’s workplace epiphany, we are invited to have one of our own–to cast a critical eye on our own workplaces, and the management-engineered workplace cultures that enmesh us.

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Beyond Yeshiva: NLRB Tackles Both Church and State http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/280 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/280#comments Wed, 19 Jan 2011 18:02:23 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/280 You don’t know the name Elbert F. Tellem, but you will. Just last week, as the acting Director of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) District 2, Tellem issued a potentially historic decision green-lighting contingent-faculty unionization at Catholic-affiliated Manhattan College. In the process, he threaded his way through some of the most dishonest law in the country, throwing the NLRB’s support behind the human rights of faculty serving contingently at many religiously-affiliated institutions.

This is the front lines of academic labor struggle, pitting the moral force of the NLRB against a conservative, reactionary Federal court that refuses to enforce its rulings and the arrogant hypocrisy of wealthy, influential religiously-affiliated administrations.

Legal Fictions: Great Falls

The terrain of this struggle is far beyond the Yeshiva decision, which applies only to the minority of tenurable faculty (on the basis of the specious claim that they are managerial employees). Since ¾ of today’s faculty are graduate students or lecturers on casual appointment, they can hardly be described as managerial, and can’t be denied bargaining rights by way of Yeshiva.

Instead, today, private institutions with a religious affiliation rely on the claim that employees at “religious institutions” should be sweepingly excluded from National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protections. (As if being forced to bargain collectively with groundskeepers, secretaries and writing instructors might interfere with their “religious liberty,” an argument that could be made with the same merit about obeying traffic laws.)

While the NLRB has consistently distinguished between institutions with a substantial religious character and those with a religious affiliation, a 2002 D.C. Circuit Court opinion involving the University of Great Falls, a small Montana institution, radically undermined the Board’s authority, substituting a very loose religious-exemption test for the NLRB’s stricter standard.

Under Great Falls, courts may compel the NLRB to accept at face value the claims to a religious exemption of any institution that “presents itself to the public” as a religious institution.

Denying NLRB the power to distinguish between real and false claims to the exemption is a transparent assault on long-established employee rights and protections. Under the Great Falls ruling, essentially, any employer that claims the exemption may have it.

And unlike Yeshiva, the ruling applies comprehensively–to part-time faculty, students, and non-teaching staff.

This sweeping and radical new barrier to organizing came into being in much the same way that Yeshiva did, with the determination of a conservative activist Circuit Court judge. Backed by Jesse Helms and appointed by Ronald Reagan to fill the seat vacated by Antonin Scalia’s elevation to the Supreme Court, and at this writing the chief justice of the D.C. Circuit, David Sentelle has been described by The New York Times as “one of the federal judiciary’s most extreme conservatives.”*

Sentelle’s vote was instrumental in overturning the convictions of Oliver North and John Poindexter. He replaced the moderate Robert Fiske with the right-wing ideologue Kenneth Starr as independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation. A long-term Republican party operative, even four years after his appointment to the federal bench, Sentelle was still publishing right-wing screeds against “leftist heretics” who he claimed sought to establish “a collectivist, egalitarian, materialistic, race-conscious, hyper-secular, and socially permissive state.”

Sentelle’s transparently activist opinion in Great Falls gutted the NLRB’s authority so far beyond reason that several attempts have been mounted as a test of the ruling.

The best of these before Manhattan College came forward in March 2009, during the first year of the Obama administration. Fully supported by the NLRB’s ruling that the school’s ties to the Presbyterian Church were too insubstantial to justify a religious exemption, the UAW-affiliated faculty of Carroll College, like the faculty of Yeshiva, simply came to Federal court seeking enforcement of the Board’s ruling in its case.

But who did the NLRB and the faculty union find waiting for them? A fellow named Thomas Griffith, who arrived at the D.C. Circuit Court directly from a five-year stint as general counsel and assistant to the president of Brigham Young University.

Unsurprisingly for the recent former general counsel of a religiously-affiliated university, Griffith’s 2009 opinion in the Carroll case bluntly applies the 2002 ruling advanced by his sitting chief: “Under Great Falls, Carroll is exempt from the NLRB’s jurisdiction. We thus need not address Carroll’s argument that its faculty members are managerial employees who fall outside the protection of the NLRA. We grant Carroll’s petition for review, vacate the decision and order of the NLRB, and deny the Board’s cross-petition for enforcement.”

*New York Times, August 17, 1994. Qtd in Joe Conason and Gene Lyons. The Hunting of the President. Macmillan, 2000, p131 (cited p 387).

Tellem’s Stand: Against the DC Circuit Court

With his decision in the Manhattan College case, Tellem is clear about the nature of the struggle: “The D.C. Circuit has refused to enforce Board cases asserting jurisdiction based on the Board’s test. Instead, the D.C. Circuit has set forth” its own test, which the NLRB “has not adopted.”

By highlighting the Circuit Court’s activist intervention and NLRB’s resistance–in a decision that will likely be contested in that same Circuit Court, with David Sentelle still sitting as its chief–Tellem is placing the court on notice that the NLRB will continue to affirm its constitutional right to jurisdiction.

Waiting for Tellem?

It’s not clear how the Manhattan College struggle will turn out.

What is clear is that decisions made by Tellem and the NLRB don’t make faculty self-organization possible.

It’s the other way around: Faculty self-organization makes it possible for Tellem to make decisions like this one. The Manhattan College faculty serving contingently have been fighting this battle for well over a decade and will keep fighting it.

When we face shabby rulings like Great Falls, does it make sense for us to assume that the decision proceeded from ultimately reasonable arguments advanced by truth-seekers? Are they arguments put forward in an adversarial system but refereed with a reasonable degree of impartiality and with the prospect of eventual accountability in higher courts?

Of course not. We need to see clearly that these are specious, intellectually dishonest arguments by activist reactionaries abusing the power of the bench to deny fundamental human rights.

We need to see clearly that these rulings are the product of a flawed, inherently political process that is likely to disadvantage both truth and justice for decades to come. Few observers would say, for instance, that the current Supreme Court is the place to test David Sentelle’s opinion in Great Falls.

But if the Supreme Court can’t help us, what should we do? If the United Auto Workers and American Federation of Teachers aren’t willing to spend any more of their resources fighting a reactionary judiciary, what should we do?

Ultimately what Yeshiva (1980), Great Falls (2002) and Carroll (2009) teach us is simple: what matters more than the law is the movement. The individuals who used (or abused) their power in these decisions were part of a social reaction to liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, including workplace democracy, feminism, and civil rights.

They aren’t lone wolves; they’re conservative activists bound in a net of common culture, values, and mutual support. They didn’t have law, precedent, or reason on their side; they simply imposed their reactionary will and made new law out of the power represented by their movement.

It would be tremendously foolish if we permitted any of these rulings to constrain us.

We can build a movement with the students, nurses, young lawyers, schoolteachers, and countless others affected by exploitative and super-exploitative patterns of employment.

We can overcome this dense lattice of hostile law. We can and must imitate the 1960s movement of public employees whose self-organization was illegal and yet also an unstoppable force for writing new law reflecting truth, justice, fairness, and democracy.

From the perspective of our individual campuses: Is Yeshiva relevant? Are Great Falls and Carroll?

Not to a movement, no—no more so than any of the thousands of municipal statutes once theoretically constraining the movement of schoolteachers and sanitation workers. The tightest straps on those schoolteachers and sanitation workers were never the law; they were emotional and intellectual and habitual—habits of deference to, and trust in, authority.

They burst free. We can too.

Partly adapted from a recent contribution to Expositions

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