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How The University Works » undergraduate labor http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress Mon, 21 Nov 2011 00:40:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.15 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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Don’t Follow Leaders: Why Faculty Like Me Support Unions http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/283 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/283#comments Wed, 23 Mar 2011 19:14:39 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/283 Twenty years of schoolin’
And they put you on the day shift
Look out kid
They keep it all hid
–Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues

On March 22, a prominent group of education bloggers agreed to provide statements loosely organized on the theme of “why faculty like me support unions.” Unexpectedly Stanley Fish, a career-long opponent of faculty unionism, joined them. “I recently flipped,” he confessed,”and what flipped me, pure and simple, was Wisconsin.” In particular, it turns out, it was reading new Brainstorm colleague Naomi Schaefer’s Riley’s assault on faculty bargaining rights in that newspaper you find under your door in cheap motel rooms:

What Riley fears is that if colleges and universities were unionized, teachers with far out, discomforting ideas couldn’t be fired. It’s hard to imagine a better argument for unions (and also for tenure)…. Riley makes no bones about it. Letting the unions get a foothold “could . . . make the environment more left leaning.” The message is clear: keep those unions out so that we can more easily get rid of the lefties.

There are layers of irony in Fish’s conversion on the road to Damascus, but it’s hard to argue with his reasoning: one of the lessons of Wisconsin is that academic unionism is one of the few effective bulwarks against ideological cleansing.

Framed as a dialogue between Walter Benn Michaels and himself, the piece is particularly worth reading for Michaels’ withering replies to Riley’s psychic channeling of Ayn Rand. After circulating the usual unfounded canard of faculty laziness, Riley quotes the chief executive of SUNY Buffalo comparing unionization to “belonging to a herd.” In reply, Michaels observes that his own department is amidst a union card drive and ranked in the top 20 nationally:

It’s the hard-working ones who want the union most. Why? Because we think that the people who actually do the teaching and the research should have more of a say in how the teaching and the research gets done. [S]ince when does having a voice in what happens in your own workplace count as belonging to the herd? The president of Buffalo, despite the fact that Buffalo is itself unionized, apparently thinks that rugged individualism consists in shutting up and doing what management tells you to do.

As you’d expect from someone who describes his view as the product of a “flip,” Fish’s contributions to the dialogue lack nuance and context: it’s hard to imagine that Fish has suddenly discovered that most faculty are a lunch bucket crowd, some of whom qualified for food stamps on the wages he paid them while whacking down a monster salary as dean.

In Fish world, faculty unions used to wear a black hat; now they wear a white one, and his realization came about because of what he saw on tv: a dastardly governor twirling his mustaches and tieing a virginal faculty to the railroad tracks. Only the white-hatted union can save the innocent now!

The reality, as anyone who has actually spent any time in the academic labor movement can tell you, is very different: faculty unions have many flaws–and nearly all of them are the flaws of the membership themselves.

The lessons of Wisconsin and Ohio, at least in part, underscore just how seriously faculty and their unions have blundered–how we as a profession have been selfish, foolish, mean-spirited and short-sighted. All the ways, in short, that we haven’t been any better than Stanley Fish but rather, quite a bit like him, or at least striving to be like him, cheerfully shooting hoops and piloting his Jag down the freeway while the academy burned.

Our Unions Are Not Heroic (Because We Aren’t)

So why do I support faculty unions despite their many imperfections? You could say that I’m a critical supporter of American unions generally: they reflect our virtues–too often expressed at the eleventh hour–as well as our flaws. Our unions are often the final barrier against unsafe roads and hospitals, ersatz education and filth in our food. Unions represent all of us, not just those who pay dues into them. A democratic society cannot exist without vigorous democracy in the workplace.

On the other hand, union memberships have failed to live up to their own ideals for most of my adult life–thirty years now. Faced with the difficult challenges of a politically reactionary era–such as hostile regulation, outsourcing, forced volunteerism, and perma-temping–union memberships in every walk of American life have taken the path of least resistance, securing the benefits of older workers and selling out the young.

The members of education unions have been no exception. Faculty represented by the big education unions have turned a blind eye to the hyper-exploitation of student labor, the conversion of jobs to part-time and volunteer positions, the outsourcing of staff and the hostile regulation environment governing collective bargaining in private schools.

But blaming “unions” for the failings of their membership is like blaming the hammer for smashing your thumb. It’s not the hammer’s fault if it’s idle while you’re sitting in front of your television instead of helping mend your neighbor’s fence.

I support unionism the way a carpenter supports tool use. Unions can be misused or neglected by their members, but they’re indispensable to the job of democratizing and diversifying our workplaces, maintaining professional integrity and autonomy, and sustaining high standards in teaching and research.

The current crises in Wisconsin and Ohio have many lessons for faculty in higher education and their unions. I’ll just put forward five for now:

1. Tenure must unite the faculty, not divide it. The single most corrosive faculty myth to emerge since 1970 is the ludicrous notion that tenure is a merit badge for faculty with research-intensive appointments. The biggest reason higher education unions are powerless is that we’ve allowed administrations to cast the overwhelming majority of faculty on teaching-intensive appointments out of the tenure system: “Oh, they’re not real professors, they teach in a less prestigious university/just undergraduates/in the lower division/community colleges.”

Compare this pathetic, near-total collapse of professional identity, much less of solidarity, to the response of police and fire unions in Wisconsin, who defied the governor to support other public employees not even in their own professions–even when he exempted their unions from the axe.

2. Maximize the movement, not the revenue. Organizing graduate students and nontenurable educators would have made perfect sense in terms of sustaining a labor movement in education. But education union staff operating unapologetically under “revenue maximizing” principles have been slow to invest in the movement’s future, scoffing at the paltry “return on investment” of organizing folks already so poorly paid. (Which explains the inroads made by UAW, AFSCME, and SEIU among the nontenurable.)

Ditto for private schools affected by Yeshiva: the big unions have made a few challenges to this decision–all in all, a weak and sleazy piece of judicial activism that only passed 5-4 because of swing voter Stevens, who apparently hadn’t yet had enough of what he later called “on the job training.”

Today, Ohio public-campus faculty are facing Senate Bill 5, a bitter plateful of the fruit of the major unions’ failure to confront Yeshiva. Having shrugged off the decision when it applied only to private campuses, the unions are in a far weaker position to contest the application of its principles to public faculty in any U.S. state–ginning up already not just in Ohio and Wisconsin, but Alaska, Florida, and beyond.

Things could have been very different. Addressing the hostile regulation environment of private campuses is similar to the situation of organizing in right-to-work states: it would have required much more effort and involved much smaller economic returns, but it would have paid off in solidarity, sustaining a broad-based union culture in the academy, which in turn could have led to a legislative solution… which would have prevented the present specter, of a domino effect, with “monkey see, monkey do” application in one state legislature after another.

3. “It’s a great job if you can afford it” and “I don’t do it for the money” are racist, sexist sentiments. I’ve written about this many times before. Even in Wisconsin and Ohio, the police unions are more diverse than the faculty unions–because the extreme wage discount unfairly segments the academic workforce by race, class and gender. Only a small number of persons, disproportionately white, can afford the extreme economic irrationality of most forms of higher education teaching appointments. Defending irrational compensation schemes on the grounds that persons who start out on third base economically are “doing what they love” is really defending a system that denies everyone else a fair shot at doing something they love. The struggle to make academic compensation fair is a struggle to enormously enlarge the academic talent pool: way too many black and brown intellectuals are working at the DMV, fighting wars, and walking a beat instead of teaching at the state university. Too many teaching positions are filled by persons who can afford to work for the status compensation of saying “I work at the U.,” rather than the most qualified.

Every time someone with wealth, parental or spousal backing, and/or high household income brays about how they’d do the job for free, they put another brick in the wall in front of those who don’t have those advantages.

4. There is no democracy without active, embodied participation. Emma Goldman shocked the feminists of her day by saying that they shouldn’t prioritize winning the vote, that voting can provide the satisfying feeling of political participation without the substance. The struggle in Wisconsin has made clear to faculty that our politics can never be just teaching and writing, but has to be made real with boots on the ground and bodies in the street. If every professor’s coffee-shop oration and blog comment were instead a knock on the door in the effort to recall the power-grabbing state senators, the battle would already be won.

5. Leadership comes from below. It’s hardly accidental that Walter Benn Michaels’ grad students unionized a decade before he did. The cutting edge of education unionism always has been, and remains, the working-class intellectualism of ordinary schoolteachers and parents. In the far less accomplished sector of higher ed, the best thinking can often be found among graduate students and nontenurable faculty, who represent nearly eighty percent of the teaching force.

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The “Race To Nowhere” is Everywhere http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/272 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/272#comments Mon, 15 Nov 2010 18:36:00 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/272 “Waiting For Superman (WFS) portrays our schools as undemanding; Race to Nowhere says the opposite — that we are killing our kids, figuratively and sometimes literally,” observes John Merrow of PBS. “Hours of homework produce unbearable stress; stress produces cheating, cramming to pass tests and then forgetting everything; that false learning then means remediation when they get to college; and, on rare occasions, students kill themselves.”

Filmmaker Vicki Abeles is no propagandist, so the film isn’t as slick as the glib, dishonest work of Davis Guggenheim.

It spends too much time on the issues of wealthy children competing for college admission and occasionally conflates those issues with those of other students, especially the much larger group of young people for whom “overscheduling” means wage labor pulling lattes and serving pizzas to her own children. It fails to fully capture the ways that lawmakers and for-profit education-management corporations drive education policy.

She pushes too hard on one (good) thesis–that students have too much homework from an early age–and the big picture into which it fits isn’t always crisp.

Nonetheless you should see this film, and anyone who sees WFS should be required to watch it. With just one email you can arrange to have it shown on your campus. Why not talk to your students about the film and the issues it raises? Just for starters: ritalin abuse, stress and cheating; cynical community service (and service as hyper-exploitation); the failure of content-driven pedagogy associated with high-stakes testing (and the reliably-documented “memory dump” two weeks later).

I saw the film in Cupertino, a community infamous for cramming, with tutorial services on every block, and talked with parents who, like the Oakland filmmaker, worried about their own children (up to two hours of homework a night in kindergarten).

No Exit

Then I talked to someone I’ll call Terri N., one of our babysitters, who we pay fifteen to seventeen dollars an hour. She’s a pre-med biology student attending a local private university and works three jobs during the school year and as many hours she can get summers. She works at a sports bar, averaging twelve dollars an hour or less including her tips. She works as a science tutor and peer health educator for eleven bucks an hour. Summers she’ll work sixty hours a week; “more if I can get it.” There’s no time for partying, dating, seeing movies.

What is she spending the money on, besides tuition? To pay for what she sees as gilt-edged service learning, an immersion trip with a self-titled “global medical brigade.”

“I’m actually working to pay for volunteering,” she says. “It’s definitely good experience and probably a fun trip. But the truth is you have to do it. Everyone does it now. These are the things you have to do to get in. If you’re the one that doesn’t, you’re the one who’s not getting in.”

Turns out Terri went through the same thing in high school. Not from a wealthy family, she worked twenty-five hours a week in order to pay for her clothes, books and a similar immersion trip, gilding her college application.

And here’s the thing. Terri’s one of the “winners” in this crazy system. She’s not burned out. Her family is supportive, stable and just well enough off to pay a lot of her bills. She’ll make it in to a decent school, come close enough to the employment she imagines for herself, make a good salary, pay off her loans, probably manage to have kids if she wants them.

Most people don’t have Terri’s abilities, support, and emotional stability. A system that with tremendous sacrifice barely works for someone like Terri is failing most other young people–not because it demands too little of them, but because it demands way, way too much.

Fixing this problem is not rocket science. It just requires some honesty. We are exploiting and super-exploiting young people. We herd them into a system that manufactures desperation and then hand them hamster wheels with sickly hypocritical grins on our faces. The best of them tell us to piss off, find a better path or destroy themselves in the searching. The next best run in circles just to make our shopping, our research leaves, and our foreign policy as cheap as possible. Only a handful ever stop pacing the wheel.

Many things may get more expensive, from education to fast food. But we need to stop displacing adult wage labor with students and volunteers, especially volunteerism of the extorted variety.

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Learning to Remember: After March 4 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/245 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/245#comments Wed, 03 Mar 2010 00:24:03 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/245

I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand
for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me.
I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted.
I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and
makes me work and give up what I have. And I

It began with a handful of direct actions and refusals–bold occupations, sit-ins, a one-day strike and walkout, and a manifesto that fired the imaginations of students planetwide.

Today it is a mass movement, with marches and pickets across the country scheduled for Thursday’s National Day of Action. The hope and the stories will keep coming all weekend. If you jump a bus for Sacramento, you might get a seat next to Etienne Balibar. If you try to enter the UC Santa Cruz campus–the epicenter of the movement–thousands of students and workers will be picketing every gate. Over a hundred major actions are scheduled.

But Tuesday morning, March 8 will begin the next news cycle. Where will the movement be then?

It might look a little bit like this video. Give it ten seconds. I’m pretty sure you’ll watch it to the end.

While there seems to be endless conversation about the violence of smashing windows and the damage to the movement done by spontaneous action, there is a notable absence of discussion about the violence of class division in American society and its relationship with higher education.

Is the movement so fragile that a smashed window destroys it–yet broken bodies don’t bring it to boiling point? We are told that the streets must be policed in order to be safe–that no one will join us–that people who would have supported the cause are now frightened to participate. Yet what we see is laughter, dancing and a freedom that is not possible to describe in the language of everyday capitalism. How, we must ask, is a movement that collapses under the weight of overturned trash cans going to withstand the presence of millions of people challenging their relationship to the economy?

As I listened to this young voice, I could not help but think: “This is Carl Sandburg with a video camera.”


I AM the people–the mob–the crowd–the mass.

Do you know that all the great work of the world is
done through me?

I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the
world’s food and clothes.

I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons
come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And
then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.

I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand
for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me.
I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted.
I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and
makes me work and give up what I have. And I

Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red
drops for history to remember. Then–I forget.

When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the
People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer
forget who robbed me last year, who played me for
a fool–then there will be no speaker in all the world
say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a
sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.
The mob–the crowd–the mass–will arrive then.

Flyers and posters
Pamphlets and powerpoints
Planning on getting arrested? (ACLU pdf)
California occupation movement blog
New York occupation movement blog
United States Student Association

Notes on the European occupations (pdf)
Most important conference of the decade
on the occupation movement: Minneapolis, April 8-11

related posts
California is Burning
Occupation Movement Sweeps California
Berkeley Standoff via Microblog
Students Occupy UC President’s Office
UC Davis Occupiers Force Negotiations
Occupy the AHA!
Occupy and Escalate (AAUP)
Inside the Barricades (AAUP)

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Who’s A Historian to the AHA? http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/238 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/238#comments Thu, 07 Jan 2010 20:04:42 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/238 My piece questioning the supply-side bent to the American Historical Association’s 2010 job report has gotten thoughtful replies by historiann, Alan Baumler, Jonathan Rees, Ellen Schrecker, Sandy Thatcher and others, both here and at Brainstorm.

I really appreciate these thoughts, and want to emphasize how much I respect Townsend’s work for AHA over the years, including his parsing of the data on many fronts-especially “privilege,” which I believe informs his diss as well- or I’d probably have come on a bit stronger on the supply-side orientation.

It seems one part of the problem is the relationship of history faculty at smaller schools and community colleges to the discipline, and to the AHA as a disciplinary organization. As Alan wrote in response to my discussion of the many faculty literally off the AHA’s chart:

Ph.D programs don’t want that. They judge themselves by the number of dissertations completed and the number of good jobs their grads get. If a grad student finishes and gets a job at a no-name school, leaves with an A.B.D and gets a job with the State Department or gets eaten by wolves it’s all the same to most programs; they don’t count.

Isn’t that a fairly unhealthy (not to mention undemocratic, elitist, etc) basis for reproducing one’s profession?

Perhaps fixing this attitude-if it really is as widespread as Alan suggests-is far more urgent, and would do more to improve the working lives of historians, than ill-fated adventures in supply-side pseudoeconomics.

I also take Jonathan’s point (track back to his home blog), that eliminating certain programs might do the profession good. That’s probably true in some ways in most fields–at least insofar as there are programs that might be doing a poor job of preparing future scholars–but I wonder if that’s not a different sort of conversation to have?

Closing programs doing a bad job of preparing future historians isn’t going to answer real questions (should community college faculty hold the PhD?) or seriously alter hiring patterns (who hires badly-prepared faculty anyway?).

The Supply-Reduction Fantasy

I think Jonathan’s saying that reducing supply is more doable than addressing casualization (as Alan hints also) and would at least do no harm.

But I’m not actually sure about either prong of that observation. Including the assumption it wouldn’t be harmful.

Wouldn’t restricting supply (even if possible practically and ethically) do at minimum the harm of answering in advance certain real questions (“nope, community colleges and small schools don’t need ‘real’ historians”) and bypass others (“what should teaching and learning at those schools be like anyway?)?

So for starters I’d like to see AHA giving good, tough activist answers to those sorts of questions, not knuckling under to the managerial dominant of the status quo by naturalizing “demand” (which is just an abstraction of a struggle between real persons and groups, a struggle being won by administrations and the interests they represent).

Regarding the effectiveness of supply side interventions: Well, just imagine the shrinkage of grad programs.

Who would do the work that grad students were doing? On what terms? Would they be more qualified or less? At some institutions administrations will want to replace grad student discussion leaders with undergrads. What would be a proper replacement for the grad student discussion leader? A teaching-intensive faculty member? In that context are teaching-intensive faculty “historians” to the AHA? Ditto small colleges and community colleges?

In the end, any actual shrinkage of doctoral programs leads you right back to the tough questions that “job market theory” initially bypasses–because those doctoral programs are that size for a reason: the students are working!

And supply-side shrinkage would have at best modest effects on other, simultaneous managerial initiatives-increasing class size, teaching by nonfaculty, deprofessionalization and permatemping, automation of instruction, standardization and managerial control of curricula, etc.

As I document at length in HTUW, contemporary campus management doesn’t “want” persons holding the PhD to teach; they need a very modest number of persons with the PhD to legitimate the presence of a boatload of cheap teachers. During the whole period that supply-side analysis dominated the discourse of the professon with claims about “PhD overproduction,” the percentage of folks teaching with the PhD has steadily dropped.

Supply side analysis falsely simplifies a complex historical struggle between real persons and groups, and-fancifully, unsupportably-imagines that the holder of a PhD is selling a commodity highly desired in an employment marketplace. (And further simplistically assumes that price can always be affected by supply, confuses price and value, etc etc).

What actually affects historians’ lives is their working conditions-how much teaching they do, at what salaries, with what recognition by colleagues, etc etc.

The “market for PhDs” is not the main shaper of those things: they can and should be struggled for directly.

Imagining that all of those issues are explained by, and can be addressed within, a “job market” is intellectually lazy and an indefensible position for a professional association. (See pp 15-27 here for more analysis in this vein.).

IMHO, the real struggle for the AHA is to inclusively shape the working conditions of “all historians,” not play speculator in an imaginary “job market.”

Micro-analysis vs Job-market Theory

Ellen Schrecker very kindly weighs in with comradely concerns (we’re on the AAUP council and Academe advisory boards together), and points out the utility of Townsend’s data-gathering on trends regarding specializations (a point also made by Alan on my home blog).

I agree with both Alan and Ellen that this data gathering and micro-analysis is extremely valuable; my concern is with scaling this up to big-picture analysis of historical transformation (by way of analogizing workplace struggle to “markets”).

Demand-side Solutions to the Publishing Glut?

In the most original response, Sandy Thatcher at Penn State UP and former prez of “the other” AAUP (Association of American University Presses), asks me kinda rhetorically, but still usefully and interestingly, whether I support a “demand-side” solution to the “crisis in scholarly communication”:

demand-side solution for faculty publishing, too, by expanding the number of publishing outlets or increasing the output of those already existing. Of course, that would only exacerbate the chief problem that university presses have faced in the last couple of decades, viz., decreasing demand for their output by libraries. The whole history of university press publishing has been one of market failure, i.e., inadequate demand for the supply of academic writings. Increasing the number of tenure-track jobs will pose greater burdens on the already stressed system so long as P&T committees continue to insist on publication of the monograph as the “gold standard”–and not just one monograph now for tenure, but at some universities two. The analysis needs to go beyond expanding jobs for tenure-track faculty; it needs to deal with the crisis in scholarly communication that such an increase would exacerbate.

This deserves a post or ten of its own. I’ll just make a few points and think about coming back to this later. Like Townsend, I think a lot about digital publication of academic writing, and have taught it to students almost annually for almost fifteen years. From that perspective I’ll indulge in some futurology.

My belief is that historians in particular will move to a standard of digital academic publication–in the form of hypertext. What other form of writing allows historians to present archival material and other forms of data at virtually any length and medium the scholar feels appropriate, while navigating and presenting the existing secondary literature, while presenting their own scholarship in both linear and nonlinear forms? Some historians will write well natively to this medium; others will require specialist assistants; and there will be plenty of digitally-published books, chapters, and articles.

Closer to contemporary reality, and the concerns of presses: the printed book is still a fetish object for the academic gerontocracy, but the kindle, the nook, the sony reader and the plastic-paper people are changing that ground under our feet. A peer-reviewed digitally-published print-on-demandable monograph is just fine. Sandy’s question probably needs to be re-framed as “What role will presses play in digital publication?”  After all, peer review and digital publication doesn’t require the press at all–and others have already long noted the outsourcing of high stakes tenure decisions to university press acquisitions editor (a practice to which many faculty will cheerfully say, “good riddance!”)

And while questions of business models and who reviews the digital academic monograph are being sorted out, we can guess at some of what might happen by looking at the world of digital journal publication, where there’s plenty of re-structuring. Some of the good solutions are in fact demand-side: lots of good new all-digital journals, started up outside of traditional distribution networks, do vastly better work than many of the lumbering paper-slaughterers out there.

I completely agree with Sandy that the question of speed-up–too much publishing, unnecessary publishing–is very important.

We need to address that, but not necessarily from the point of view of the special problems of university presses trying to figure out their business models.

We need to address that question from the point of view of students and faculty–above all, to revalue shared governance and teaching, and remember that tenure is not a merit badge for research faculty, but a guarantee of the professional rights and responsibilities of teaching-intensive faculty.

To bring this back to where we started–I think the professional circumstances and needs of teaching-intensive history faculty–on and off the tenure track–is a question that the discipline of history can look at a bit more carefully than heretofore.

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Pay to Work? GEO Says No! http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/228 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/228#comments Tue, 17 Nov 2009 02:42:39 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/228

Does your idea of public higher education include values like fairness and diversity? Yeah, me too. Ditto for the several hundred grad students drumming in the rain in Illinois today, after their union struck to defend tuition waivers.Get updates and join their 2,500 fans on the GEO Facebook page.

Charging tuition to working graduate students is essentially a pay-to-work scheme that would represent an educational death sentence for many grad students, as Robert Naiman at Huffpost puts it.

Noting that the administration’s refusal to bargain tuition security would fall most heavily on “out-of-state, minority, and foriegn graduate students,” AAUP president Cary Nelson walked the line with GEO this morning.

“The diversity that is the lifeblood of the campus is at stake,” he said.

California Students Demand: “Let us Study!”In advance of Wednesday’s walkout and strike at several University of California campuses–and kicking off the “Education is not for Sale” Global Week of Action (hat tip to Eli Meyerhoff again)–about 250 students rallied and then occupied the science library this weekend at UC Santa Cruz (video; watch to the end to see students keep pouring in).

This could be an interesting week, folks.

Couple things of note: the walk-out poster’s imperative to “escalate,” drawn from the language of the more radical UC Santa Cruz occupiers.

Plus all that dancing and drumming.

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The Audacity of Audacity http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/224 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/224#comments Thu, 05 Nov 2009 17:09:30 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/224
The 2000 students sitting in at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts ignited occupations at a handful of neighboring buildings and campuses, then leapt across Austria and into Germany (where already last summer a quarter million students, faculty, teachers, and parents struck to fight various sleazy American-model* initiatives being pushed by the aptly-named “Bologna Process”).

Californians are mad as hell too. Over 600 militants from every sector of California public education–K-12, CSU, UC, the community colleges–met last week to plan a rolling series of actions in a statewide mobilization.

The first statewide event is a planned massive, open-ended and systemwide UC strike beginning November 18, the day that California regents vote on a 30% increase in tuition and faculty/staff furloughs. The planners vow to stay out if the regents vote to support Yudof’s proposals. Future mobilizations will include all education sectors–stay tuned.

Left vs. Left: Debating the Occupations

Speaking of California militance, there’s an interesting discussion of one of the UCSC occupation manifestos over at the AK Press blog, featuring its authors and some of the New School occupiers. They’re in dialogue with Brian Holmes, who sparked the conversation by saying, essentially, students can’t be workers.

AK’s Charles Weigl does a fantastic job of capturing the differences between Holmes and the student-movement intellectuals by posing three nicely-turned questions:

1) Whaddya mean the management class is being proletarianized!?! Isn’t this somehow an insult/misrecognition regarding the REAL proletariat?

2) Does addressing the university student as the potential revolutionary subject get us closer to revolution? How? How not?

3) What would a non-reformist goal for a university be, if one exists?

Hint: The students are right and Holmes, an otherwise smart guy, is wrong on this one.

Come back to the United States, Brian, and smell what happens to the majority of students who are spat out as nondegreed failures, not to mention the decade or more that the “successful” students among the 80% working an average of 30 hours a week spend earning low wages and acquiring debt.

Sure, the university does reproductive labor.


But today’s university needs to be understood as a direct employer and as a site of massive accumulation, not just as a womb for the PMC.

I’m jumping on a red-eye (again), but will get into this conversation next week.  If you can’t wait, download the free pdfs of HTUW’s Intro and/or ch 4, Extreme Work Study.

My reply in a nutshell, for those who can do their own unpacking?

The professional-managerial-class (PMC) isn’t being uniformly proletarianized: some traditional professions (especially teaching) are.

At the same time, some managers are being hyper-professionalized–through the ascendance of the business curriculum, and the way management theory supplants so much intellectual discourse. In connection with this, many workers are being treated as management (Yeshiva–faculty and nurses who don’t supervise anyone–food service supervisors denied overtime, etc) or indoctrinated in cultures of self-management (Randy Martin, others).

Furthermore, the “proletarianization” of a profession doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s been turned over to the actual proletariat.  Poorly waged work with little professional autonomy can be performed by the philanthropic class.

Take the example of higher-education teaching, where deprofessionalization has meant that persons who need a reasonable return on education (ie, they work to live) increasingly leave faculty work to those who have another source of income.  This means that campus employers sort for persons who can subsidize themselves, or find a corporate sponsor.

Even from a straight-up liberal perspective, this has major harms, advantaging corporate-driven curiousity–see Washburn.

Similarly, turning college teaching (back) into philanthropy functions as a significant economic discrimination that, in the U.S. also works to segment campus labor by gender, ethnicity, and age. In turn, this affects student learning, and the nature and quality of research.

*By “American model” they mean the sort of junk education-as-job-training that Obama and Duncan have been cheerfully pushing from pre-school to PhD: privatization, standardization, and control by high-stakes assessment.

The great thing about education as job training is that it provides a rationale for the super-exploitation of the largest workforce on campus: students.  For Obama and Duncan “affordability” means more of what we’ve been doing for three decades: turning out students as disposable short-term teachers, short-term journalists, short-term office workers, short-term nurses and social-service labor–as long-term but replaceable workers in retail, package delivery, food service, day care, elder care, housekeeping, and maintenance.

And then, when the same student workers can’t find employment (much less those who dropped out, or those who didn’t go), wondering, “huh, where did all the jobs go?”

Gee, fellas, you turned the jobs into “financial aid,” or “service learning,” or “internships,” or just good old “working your way through–it’s good for ya.”  As I’ve written before, you want to create several million jobs overnight, at a reasonable cost? Just withdraw students from the workforce. For a bonus few hundred thousand jobs, you could guarantee full employment for teachers.

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Will Occupation Become A Movement? http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/220 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/220#comments Tue, 20 Oct 2009 17:18:55 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/220

With a 150-person sit-in at Berkeley and members of the two UCSC occupations beginning a southern tour of talks at several campuses near Los Angeles this week, the movement appears to be gathering steam. In the next 24 hours, occupiers will explain their strategy for movement building–“demand nothing, occupy everything” at UCLA, Irvine, and Cal State Fullerton.

The administration appears to be helping to set the stage for escalation by, according to witnesses and victim testimony on the movement blog, macing students without warning and heavy-handed efforts at police infiltration and espionage.

I interviewed a graduate student with knowledge of the events surrounding the second occupation at UC Santa Cruz last Thursday and Friday:

Q. I understand the group occupied a particular administrator’s office. Can you tell me how that decision came about?

The administrator in question is the Dean of Social Sciences, Sheldon Kamieniecki. The social sciences have been particularly threatened by the “necessary” budget cuts and restructurings, with proposed lay-offs that would destroy both the Community Studies and Latin American and Latino Studies programs. Among those who planned this action, the sense was that Dean Kamieniecki did not pursue alternatives, particularly in terms of keeping the jobs of lecturers vital to these programs, and accepted the cuts passed down in spite of massive student discontent. The decisions of the group are both political and tactical, if the two can be separated. As such, the space was chosen both because of Kamieniecki’s office and because its central location and physical layout made it possible to take the building and to bring a large number of students there to participate following an earlier potluck and discussion.

Q. Shortly after the occupation began, there was an incident with the campus police. What happened?

Three students, not involved in the occupation itself, were moving a picnic table in front of the building and were pepper-sprayed at very close range by the police. They were not told to cease and desist, they were not warned that they were about to be sprayed (for doing something that was not in any way physically threatening to an officer or any students in the area), and the one who was arrested was not read his Miranda rights. (He was later told that, “any pain you feel, you deserve.”) This violent response to the action is clearly unacceptable.

Q. Have any charges been filed?

Yes, the student who was arrested was charged with misdemeanor obstruction of justice. We expect that the university will try to pursue “disciplinary measures” of their own. We urge them strongly not to do so and to consider once more the gulf between how they valorize a radical past of protest and dissent and how they respond to students pursuing radical actions in the present. It is all too evident that the elevation of past protests as part of a storied history serves equally to denigrate the real attempts now to fight back as misguided anger and to claim and hold spaces as petty vandalism.

Q. Overall, the police response was different this time–is that correct? They were photographing persons gathered outside in support of the occupiers? Do you think this is a change of tactics by the administration?

Yes, that is correct. They were photographing and taking the information of persons gathered in support, not to mention the earlier brutality of outside supporters. The tactics are not necessarily different, but the severity of the response certainly is. It shows that the administration is worried about such events and about the possibility of a far wider radical movement emerging, one that incorporates greater numbers and a broader range of students, workers, and faculty. For this reason, they appear intent on making an example out of those who participate in these actions and on attempting to divide students by falsely portraying the actions.

Q. What motivated the end to the occupation?

The mistreatment and threat, physical and legal, to supporters outside motivated the end of the occupation. Those involved felt that it was not safe to those there in solidarity in this situation. To be clear, this is not how we wanted this action to go. But we remain committed to not putting students and supporters in harm’s way, a commitment the administration entirely to lack. We know that the situation has escalated, and we can only expect that their future responses will be escalated as well. We are not interested in human barricades and refuse to put bystanders and supporters at risk of violence. We are interested in seeing these spaces not simply as calculations of property that has to be protected at all costs, and we will claim them accordingly. Not small numbers of us who ask for the solidarity of others or who assume that we “represent” other students. Massive numbers of us who wish to express discontent in any way that we find productive and necessary. Occupation is one such way, but far from the only one.

Q. What should we look for next–at UCSC and across the state?

Look for the real and rapid expansion of protest across the state, as networks of committed activists merge with those who have not felt actively involved previously. Look for the broadening and innovation of tactics as we respond to the changing conditions and political climate. We should all look forward to, and prepare ourselves for, a far longer struggle, a struggle for which these actions, regardless of what one thinks of them, do not serve as inspirations but rather as concrete expressions of what is felt by countless others across the system and world.

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“This is Only the Beginning: We Left in Order to Escalate” http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/218 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/218#comments Tue, 06 Oct 2009 01:01:09 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/218

In lower Manhattan, students demonstrate in solidarity with protesters at UC Santa Cruz.

The Occupy California group peacefully ended their weeklong occupation of a UCSC facility last Thursday, but announced that they left “in order to escalate” their confrontation with the state and campus authorities.

During the event, messages of solidarity poured in from Britain, South Africa and Croatia, from campus bus drivers and the SDS, from San Francisco State, from Irvine, from Brandeis, Columbia, and the City University of New York.

California’s statewide Defend our Education coalition of K-12 educators, staff and faculty from the UC and Cal State system passed a formal unanimous resolution of support, as did numerous student groups across the U.S.

The largest solidarity demo took place in lower Manhattan, home to TakeBackNYU and the New School Reoccupied, where arrests, expulsions, and other disciplinary actions in response to widely-reported building occupations last year have left simmering resentment. A day after news of the occupation hit indymedia news sources, protesters from both lower-Manhattan campuses marched through Union Square behind posters and bedsheets spraypainted with their own take on the UCSC manifesto: “From Santa Cruz to NYC, We Want Fucking Everything!”

Over the weekend, I completed an interview with a spokesperson for the group:

Q. How did you come to the decision to end the occupation?

We decided to end the occupation because we felt that it was the right time. Our interest in occupying the space was both to put radical actions such as occupation back on the map and to raise awareness. These are emergency times for California and for public education as a whole. We wanted to help generate a sense of urgency, the necessity to act, and solidarity extending far beyond the occupations. We feel we’ve achieved this and move on to plan new actions and create the kind of wide support needed to truly deal with this situation

Q. I was really impressed by the support you received from students all over the globe. What do you think you accomplished?

It’s hard to tell what we’ve accomplished at this point: it is too close. But judging from the truly global solidarity we’ve received, we’re hoping that our occupation is recognized for what it was: a call to mass struggle, an insistence on the severity of the situation, and an inspiration to all those who have become fed up with what resistance to the destruction of public education has looked like. We want to show that occupations can and must be done, that you can reclaim spaces, that you can plan new modes of struggle and manifest the real discontent that seethes in the state now.

Q. It seems you pulled together a diverse coalition of undergraduates,workers, and graduate students. Were there some differences in vision at points, and how did you handle them?

We’re proud of the diversity of this group: it does not represent a single interest or faction. Rather, it developed a momentum and shape of its own, the result of long, heated conversations and careful planning. (Not to mention sharing a space for a week.) Indeed, there are certainly differences in vision, and the range of documents, states, flyers, and speeches has made that apparent. We have tried to walk a very narrow line between the expression of a general line of thinking and the diffusion of our different perspectives and goals. As for the success of that, it is too early to judge, but with every action and meeting, new perspectives and ways of articulating what is common to us all emerge.

Q. What was the role of sociability in the occupation?

This is quite important to us. As mentioned, sharing the space produced a close-knit group, drawing together many of those who otherwise would not meet. We have been accused of making the space “exclusive” because of not letting its normal business go on. To the contrary: the space became a remarkable open zone of mutual aid and intellectual discussion. While the stress of this occupation has rightly been on the university crisis, we are also committed to modes of living and working together that exceed the logic of division between workers, graduate students, undergraduate students, and the unemployed. In addition, we threw dance parties in the quarry plaza, open to anyone, to insist that the escalation of struggle is also a struggle to live better. Giving students an opportunity to dance in a zone of the university normally used only for commerce was important to us.

Q. Are you concerned about repercussions for participants?

With actions such as this, potential repercussions are always weighed carefully. All those participating were aware that such actions are illegal and could result in trouble from police or the university. However, the decision was made that this occupation was of tremendous importance. We stand at a time in which, we argue, normal modes of negotiating with the university for better wages and decent access to education have ceased to be effective without additional escalation to bring a sense of crisis to them. For this reason, these were risks we were willing to take.

Q. I can’t imagine this is the last bold action by students and public employees in California. What do you think is next?

What is next is the broadening of struggle and involvement in actions far beyond our group. This is a year that will not and cannot go back to normal: we cannot feel that “we did our best” and then sit back and watch as public education is dismantled. We urge all students, workers, and faculty members to get involved and to escalate resistance across the state. Another way of running the university is possible, and we have everything to lose if we do not act.

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