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How The University Works » what i’m reading http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress Mon, 21 Nov 2011 00:40:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.14 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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Mass Arrests Swell Crowd on Wall Street http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/298 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/298#comments Sun, 25 Sep 2011 20:01:15 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/298 On Saturday afternoon, using the illegal crowd-control tactic called kettling, police riot squads swept the sidewalks near Union Square with orange construction nets. In the same way that ocean trawlers capture indiscriminately, officers penned hundreds of peacefully marching Occupy Wall Street protesters together with bystanders, pedestrians, reporters, and neighborhood residents. Witnesses called police targeting of detainees “random.” Freelance photographers snapped this photo of a handcuffed PBS correspondent clearly displaying press credentials on a lanyard around his neck. At least eighty of those detained were eventually arrested. Large crowds joined the protesters Sunday as reports of the arrests circulated.

Detained Women Assaulted and Maced
Citizen photographers captured graphic images of unprovoked police violence, including this disturbing 40-second clip of a police supervisor walking up to five captive women snapping photos and screaming “Oh my God,” pepper-spraying them in the eyes, and then darting away. The apparent justification? It seems the officer didn’t like them voicing their horror while the squad under his supervision tackled, beat, and dragged a pedestrian attempting to escape the net. One nonresisting woman, seated on the pavement, was yanked to her feet by the hair. Another woman was arrested for photographing the violence.

“I saw them take a woman by the neck and throw her to the concrete,” one witness told the ABC local affiliate, which broadcast graphic images of bloodied protesters shot with a smuggled cell phone inside a police van. “We are at One Police Plaza,” the detainee told ABC. “There’s sixteen of us in the back of a van and we’re sweating. There’s a man back here who needs medical attention. He’s bleeding from his head.”

Indiscriminate Detention; Arrests Without Charge
Many detainees were simply on their way from the nearby farmer’s market or the Strand bookstore–or en route to one of the five subway lines intersecting in the area.

Eventually at least eighty of the kettled pedestrians–apparently those who really “looked like” protesters?–were held in sweltering police vans on into the evening. Others were charged with “obstructing government administration” for chanting “let them go.” Reports suggest most were kept for at least four hours without food, water, sanitation, ventilation, or medical treatment.

These events follow Friday’s hilariously inaccurate and biased reports by The New York Times. (Which as most readers know, I’ve found, ahem, unreliable on issues affecting young people other than Yale undergraduates).

Seriously you’ll get more honest coverage at the NY Daily News, not to mention the Guardian. You can get updates at the Occupy Wall Street website and anonymous, or find allied actions in your area at OccupyTogether.

For my money, in addition to the Guardian, you’ll find some of the very best reporting and analysis by freelancer Nathan Schneider of Waging Nonviolence. Also see decent television coverage by, naturally, Olbermann and Moore.

xposted: chronicle of higher education

previous coverage
protests spread to both coasts
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

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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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Every Day is Labor Day http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/292 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/292#comments Mon, 05 Sep 2011 18:34:28 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/292 Do yourself a favor and give five minutes of any of your 250 or so labor days this year to El Empleo (“Employment”), an extraordinary award-winning 2008 animation by Argentine illustrators Santiago Grasso and Patricio Gabriel Plaza.

You won’t need any help interpreting the film’s conceit, which makes visible the complex web of relationships in capitalist production: of workers to consumers, employers, and each other; between wage workers and those who transport, educate, and feed them, etc.

Enjoying that computer? A young Chinese woman poisoned herself and her future children while assembling it. Proud of your college degree? A male administrator got rich while degrading nontenurable women faculty to produce it, and a whole bunch of other folks who didn’t have your advantages have been labeled “failures” to legitimate your success.

Further study: Marx’s concept of reification, the way that human relations are mystified in market society, so that “a definite social relation between men…assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things.”

h/t Ali Zaidi
x-posted: Chronicle of Higher Education

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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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Farewell, Kindle. Buh-bye, iPad http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/286 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/286#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2011 16:08:36 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/286 Yesterday’s U.S. launch of the ASUS Transformer tablet with a detachable clamshell keyboard sold out in minutes on every major online retailer (hours if you were clever and out-thought the tech crowd by actually showing up in the flesh).

Why so popular? ‘Cause Asus clued in to the fact that we produce content with our computers, not just consume it, and addressed that insight with a stable mobile-computing design that everyone else will scramble to imitate.

The Transformer is a $399 full-internet touch tablet, running Flash, and employs the sun-beating IPS (in-plane switching) screen technology. In seconds it “transforms” into a netbook, snapping onto a lightweight keyboard ($149).

Brag alert: last fall, I predicted this design would be the “industry standard in a couple of years.” Lenovo has a similar model coming out this summer, and it seems clear that most manufacturers will have to follow.

Especially clever is the extra eight hours offered by the second battery built into the keyboard. Early reviews offer some modest complaints, mostly about camera quality. For most Windows users or smartphone owners, the Android Honeycomb operating system will feel intuitive, do everything you expect from a Windows netbook, and produce content compatible with your desk machine.

With the events in Japan, current backorders may not get fulfilled until June. Which will be good for all of those manufacturers stuck with tablet-only configurations. Watch for prices of machines that can’t accept a clamshell keyboard to tumble into the sub $300 range, but students, teachers, and parents should resist the temptation to buy.

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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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Killing the Kindle (and the iPad too) http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/273 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/273#comments Tue, 23 Nov 2010 21:14:30 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/273

Just when you thought that everyone was going to buy a CB radio/pet rock/mood ring/Betamax/eight-track, you had the courage of your convictions and held off. Good for you.You probably also haven’t yet tied your mobile media consumption to either Apple or Amazon. Double good for you–waiting a year has paid off. Now you can buy a lightweight mobile media viewer/tablet PC that is also a full netbook computer.

For the same price as the iPad (about $550) Dell’s just released the device that is the likely leader of the pack, the Inspiron Duo. It’s a nifty flip-screen netbook that they’re calling a tablet/netbook hybrid, but which one day they’ll just call “a personal computer.”

I think the Dell product is close to a stable design for the notebook. In a couple of years the industry standard will have better batteries, more advanced docking and a detachable clamshell keyboard, but this version will work just as well for you completing your presentation on an airplane as entertaining your toddler in a car seat.

It’s also a far better choice for the college student writing papers, streaming lectures, and playing Halo on the go.

Leisure reading plus everyday computing

For the past year, I’ve done most of my leisure reading on a netbook, making use of a variety of different e-reader formats and sometimes using screen orientation software that turns the netbook screen into vertical orientation. I turn off the wireless connection, dim the screen to its lowest level, enlarge and customize the font, and often reverse the type (to white on black). Very soothing, and no need for a lamp when H. is trying to sleep.

The Dell tablet will handle the reading function nicely. It’s a touch heavier than either the Kindle or the Ipad, but lighter than either of the netbooks I already use for e-reading and occasional screening of missed episodes of Sons of Anarchy.

On my desk sits a large, heavy “media laptop,” but for all my other computing/media consumption at home, in the office, or on the road, I’ve long switched to the netbook, first a nice little Asus that I left on top of my car while latching my son into his car seat, then my current HP mini. Both run eight hours or longer on a single charge. Right now the Dell item runs about half as long, but I imagine the next iteration will offer more.

It’s true that currently that the Kindle and iPad beat this particular Dell offering in a few ways: they’re lighter, run longer on a charge and better adapt to extreme viewing angles.

But as a media creation device–anything requiring a keypad, from writing papers to editing a powerpoint–both are all but useless. What their purveyors fail to understand is that for most professionals and students reading and writing (media consumption and production, if you prefer) are intertwined at every level, from annotation to original or collaborative composition. That’s why netbooks have succeeded and most tablets have failed.

Furthermore: giving the Apple store so much prominence in your media consumption is plain foolhardy, especially when it comes to very young children.

Your toddler will want one too

As I’ve previously written, our son Emile has had his own touch-screen computer since he was fourteen months old, a large, expensive HP all-in-one which gives us access to the very large and important world of early learning activities such as poissonrouge and starfall.com.

We play these games together, as we would any other play-based learning activity, and for less than an hour a day (initially only fifteen minutes). They’ve been just one component of a broad spectrum of parent-intensive play-based learning, but a very important one. The touch screen makes a world of difference: children acquire the pointing reflex around ten months, and with the ability to point follows the capability of interacting with a screen and parent.

At some point I’ll write more about Emile’s “zero to three” learning experiences, which have been enormously successful by both traditional and progressive measures. He’s currently just two years and nine months, so maybe I’ll write when he turns three. You can read all of my caveats on the subject in the earlier pieces, but I’ll just reiterate here that we play with him: the learning is embedded in, and incidental to, play.

Based on our experience and the very substantial research about early learning, I’d recommend a Windows-based touch netbook to any toddler with a parent who understands the difference between play-based learning (as at poissonrouge or starfall) and the pointless mind-numbing drill of flashcards, “hooked on,” etc.

There’s no question in my mind that the feelings and good intentions that have led millions of parents to buy useless and perhaps harmful “Baby Einstein” videos would be far better served by parentally-involved play with a touch screen and the right kind of early learning.

Both drilling your child and using video as a babysitter are harmful. And neither of them bears any relation whatsoever to thoughtful, play-based, parentally-involved interactive learning facilitated by a touch screen.

Most of these early-learning games are flash-based applications that Apple does not support, primarily to maximize revenue to its media sales operation. While there are some early-learning apps written for the iPhone and iPad, they are far more limited. The arrival of the Dell and several other netbook tablets is a big boost for your toddler.

Buying for myself, I’ll wait until battery life meets the netbook standard of eight hours or more. But buying for Emile–I’ll buy what’s available when he needs it. His first summer in Quebec we left his thousand-dollar monster thirty-pound HP all-in-one behind, and regretted it; the next summer we packed it into a suitcase and brought it with us, and were glad we did.

Come May, we’re buying this Dell for him unless there’s a better option.

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Cushy For Whom? http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/263 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/263#comments Tue, 10 Aug 2010 17:29:55 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/263 An interesting piece in last week’s Chronicle, Goodbye to those Overpaid Professors in their Cushy Jobs, attempts a possibly premature farewell to a stereotype, the enduring myth that “college professors lead easy lives.”  According to reporter Ben Gose, once-rampant complaints about the imaginary prof on a three-day workweek are now hard to find.

Nonetheless he notes an interesting source for some doozy “last gasps” of lazy-prof stereotypes–faculty themselves. Gose speculates that the prof-on-prof stereotypers are trying to do the profession a favor, in the front line of faculty “policing their own” and targeting “perceived slackers,” etc.

The photograph and first third of the article are devoted to the emotional and contradictory views of Prof. John Hare, chair of English at Montgomery College, Maryland. According to Gose, Hare “became furious” at a distinguished scholar he doesn’t know, Florence Babb, the Vada Allen Yeomans Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Florida and former president of the Association for Feminist Anthropology, then serving as graduate coordinator for the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research. Recruited with the named professorship to Florida from the University of Iowa in 2005, her scholarship and service to the profession has been massive: multiple stints as department or program chair, numerous editorial boards, etc.

The trigger for Hare’s rage? Prof. Babb contested the university’s attempt to violate the contractual terms of its appointment letter in recruiting her and unilaterally downgrade the 2-course release associated with her service obligation in the Center to zero. Arbitrators eventually settled on reducing it to a one-course release, citing the figleaf of fiscal exigency.

One way of parsing Hare’s emotion is to see him as the chair of a teaching-intensive department himself trading in stereotypes about faculty with research-intensive appointments. Babb, by any reasonable estimation, works pretty hard, so Gose allows Hare to qualify his position pretty carefully.

It seems that Hare’s problem with Babb doesn’t depend on the factual question of whether she’s actually a slacker or not. It’s that she’s willing to look like one, fueling “public perceptions” that he claims harm all of us.

But the article itself says that these public perceptions are way down, so Hare’s own account of his rage just doesn’t make much sense.

What does? Is it the resentment of someone on a teaching-intensive appointment?

I wonder, but I don’t think so. By his own frequently contradictory account, Hare–like most folks with his kind of appointment–loves his job. Most of the folks I know on teaching-intensive appointment feel fortunate, like Hare, not to be subjected to the constant pressure of publishing, and to be paid for spending a lot of time with students on topics that interest them.

And as many irate commenters on the piece substantiated, it’s a fact that many jobs “in industry” are far easier than faculty appointments, especially research jobs, which tend to be radically underpaid for the difficulty of the work–it’s not the “ease” of the position, but the challenges and the self-directedness that accounts for the willingness of many to work twice as hard for half the pay.

Given what the most successful people in other fields earn these days and the kind of accomplishment it takes to earn the rank, it’s fairly hard to argue that distinguished research faculty in Babb’s bracket– earning $90,000 to $100,000 a year–are either overpaid or underworked.

In fact, as I’ve written before: plenty of undistinguished civil servants, firefighters and military officers have retirement compensation higher than the salaries earned for 60-hour weeks by extremely accomplished teachers and/or researchers in the humanities!

So what explains Hare’s irrational, data-free anger at Babb? Especially when the supposedly benighted “public” is increasingly able to do the relevant math?

The Gendering of Professional Service

One dimension of Babb’s situation that didn’t factor into Hare’s position or come out in Gose’s otherwise well-reported piece is the role of gender in who the University of Florida demanded “pitch in” and make “sacrifices” during the fiscal crisis.

It appears that Babb is the only female distinguished professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, and the only one actually forced to teach more. According to one source and multiple commenters on press reports of the case, of the many male faculty with her load and rank, many earning more, only one man was even asked to teach additional courses and, being eligible to do so–apparently as expected–chose to retire instead.

I was happy to see the comments on the Chronicle article overflowing with faculty, including the intrepid Bill Pannapacker, hastening to question Hare’s suitability as “our” spokesperson. Pannapacker targets Hare’s implication in the ideology of teaching for love, a topic I’ve written about several times before.

It’s too often assumed that “teaching for love” is a win-win situation: some people are happy with psychic rewards instead of pay, which saves a few bucks that institutions or legislators can then spend on other important projects. What’s the harm?

But a labor market arranged around working for love–rather than fair compensation–is actually one of the most sexist, racist and economically discriminatory arrangements possible. From a class point of view, as I emphasize in Gose’s piece and elsewhere: by making the professoriate an economically irrational choice, you stop sorting for the most talented people and begin to sort for the people who can afford to discount their wages. That cuts out most people, period, making the best jobs in the academy largely a preserve for persons with fortunate economic backgrounds or circumstances.  And via the wealth gap, that primary economic discrimination has direct consequences for the racial composition of the faculty. By making it too hard to get a job, too arduous an apprenticeship, too poor of a return on education investment: only the wealthier among us are able to “irrationally choose” to accept psychic wages–and the wealthier among us are disproportionately white, just for starters. All of this has tremendous, documented consequences for the achievement and persistence of students from less advantaged economic circumstances and ethnicities poorly represented among the faculty.

As for gender, the rendering of faculty positions to the extreme of economic irrationality (six courses a year for $15,000, eg)  assigns them disproportionately to women, especially persons–whether male or female–married to professionals and managers. The other, primary wage earner supports the economically irrational partner, a person teaching for what used to be called pin money. This structural feminizing of the job was traditionally associated with converting the positions formerly held by men (such as secretarial positions, once a high-status job) to those held increasingly by women, as Michelle Masse explains in a 2008 interview and is just one of the ways that she says higher ed forms a “pyramid scheme” especially for women faculty.

Broadly speaking across many disciplines and institution types women still tend to disproportionately hold low-paying, low-status, insecure teaching-only or teaching-intensive jobs while men continue to disproportionately hold high-paying, high-status, secure research-intensive and top administrative positions.

In an important new book, Over Ten Million Served: Gendered Service in Language and Literature Workplaces Masse and Katie Hogan take the conversation about gender and the distribution of academic rewards & responsiblities beyond the relatively well-understood territory of research and teaching to service labor. (Disclosure: the book includes a chapter adapted from HTUW.)

The book surveys the complexity of academic service, from the manifold senses of a calling (ranging from  communitarian, sociable, and professional impulses to an opportunity to rebel or transform the academy) to close connections with the rise of a service economy, to specifically feminized forms of exploitation–ie, doing the university’s “housework,” or an undercompensated labor of care that in many circumstances falls harder on women. Women faculty face larger career penalties for not seeming to “care sufficiently” for the institution, and their research contributions are correspondingly discounted–I think analysis of the comments on Babb’s case at the Chron and other media outlets strongly supports this view!

Among the countless insights that Masse and Hogan develop in the collection is the emergence of a complex and contradictory “service unconscious” among feminized faculty, male and female (ie, such as the angry and confused John Hare):

We know that our [willingness to serve] sometimes damages us and supports organizational structures we don’t want to reinforce. And yet we nonetheless persevere in these behaviors and articulate their value for the best of all possible reasons: the ways in which ‘helping’ and ‘serving’ please us and fulfill our deepest-held beliefs about the importance of existence in a community and the need to achieve change and support for our colleagues and students. We know that service and sacrifice are often necessary to bring about more just workplaces, but much of the service we are pressed into is not about creating just and fair workplaces…

Hogan’s analysis alone is worth the price of the book. She contends that academic women, and men in feminized sectors, are expected to be “superserviceable,” ie to williingly do labor not recognized as such. Across vast swathes of the academy, faculty have service-intensive appointments (especially involving labor of care for students or the institution) in which the nature of their service is not even recognized.

Using data from significant assessments of the labor performed by women in both nontenurable and tenured positions, Hogan documents the unspoken demands of the academic service economy. In a final twist, she argues that the same is true for the intellectual output of persons in feminized positions, especially feminism itself–ie, that feminist research and teaching is meant to be especially “serviceable” as well.

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