In a surprise move today, President Obama fired all 5,000 Department of Education staff members, including Secretary Arne Duncan. “Education is a failed Cabinet office,” he said. “We needed a clean sweep.”

Spokespersons for the administration said the president was forced to act by a little-known federal law mandating the radical progressive de-funding of any office or department that fails to meet performance goals, whether or not they had sufficient funding to begin with.

“With less and less funding every year,” sources observed, “it was just a matter of time” before a more draconian provision was triggered, requiring every staffer in the office to be fired, regardless of personal performance.

President Obama acknowledged the injustice of the law, observing that the law’s provision permitting him to rehire only half of the mass-terminated staffers was “five times more severe” than the “most notorious example of arbitrary punishment, the Roman practice of decimation,” under which one of every ten soldiers in a “failing” unit was punished.

He also noted that it was probably unconstitutional to make a law firing individuals who had performed well but that the configuration of the Supreme Court meant that “only a fool would let those jokers have a crack at” any issue one cared about.

“We’ll have to hire a bunch of kids from Administrators for America,” the President complained. “They don’t know squat about administering, and just want something to boost their law-school application. Plus they bolster the ridiculous idea that just anyone can administer without training or support.”

School-reform observers were pleased, however, that the law allowed Obama a graceful exit from his ill-conceived association with Duncan, the product of a highly ideological partnership between Harvard’s business and education schools.

Duncan term is over

As the self-styled chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools, Duncan turned curriculum and management over to corporate interests, turned schools into military recruitment centers, and set easier standards to inflate claims of “learning outcomes improvement” under his draconian reign. Most observers agreed that he was an eager mouthpiece for corporate interests in the city.

Nearly all nonpartisan evidence-based analysis suggests that Duncan’s ideological eagerness to “close failing schools” and shuttle students into charter or for-profit institutions yielded no actual academic benefit–changes of up or down about 1% that were statistically indistinguishable from no change at all.

Nonetheless Duncan unapologetically continued to promote this failed policy at the national level, with Obama’s full support.

“I knew all that,” admitted Mr. Obama, “but I wanted Arne on the team.”

Spokespeople later confirmed that by “team” the President meant the White House basketball squad. They later released a statement apologizing for the President’s desire to spice up his daily two hours of exercise with “the kind of hoops you can only get with a six-foot-five-inch player with a good corner shot on the court” over the needs of millions of students.

Confronted by the twitter feeds of several departing senior staffers who compared the president’s turning education policy over to a ballplayer-slash-corporate-stooge to Caligula galloping his horse on the Senate floor, the President’s spokesperson said, “They got all that on 144 characters?”

There’s no word yet on who the President might tap to replace Duncan, but one source highly placed in the administration was eager to comment on the irony of the administration’s support for draconian punishment of faculty in public schools, like the recent mass firings in Rhode Island.

“The President wants you to know,” said the source, “that he was just funning with you on that, sort of an April-fool’s joke. He just didn’t think anyone would believe he was enough of a jerk to actually support the firing of teachers who were demonstrably excellent at their jobs but believed in working with students who struggled.

“That policy doesn’t even make sense–it tells every good teacher in a school with struggling students that they should promptly quit and get hired on at a school where the students are already doing well.

“It would be likely telling the best teachers in rural and urban schools to cut and run for the suburbs.

“Believe me,” the source concluded,”The Prez was just April-funning you on that Rhode Island deal. Now that Duncan is gone, we hope that’s crystal clear. By next year we’ll have a real education plan, don’t worry.”

A new survey conducted for AFT adds confusion to the already muddled debate about the majority of faculty serving outside the tenure system. Ultimately the union is interested in a particular problem–organizing–for which in many states part-time status represents a legal boundary for the construction of bargaining units.

This legalistic definition of the group, and the “who’s the market for our services” orientation makes perfect sense for AFT. But it’s not a particularly good standpoint for analysis.

The problem is that the study focusses on part-time faculty to the exclusion of all the other major categories of non-track faculty, including full-time nontenurable, graduate students, post-docs, staff, etc.

This narrow focus skews the perception of what faculty serving nontenurably “want.” We already know, for instance, that nearly 100% of those in full-time nontenurable positions prefer full-time work. Likewise we know that most disciplines most graduate employees and postdocs want full-time tenurable positions.

As a result, the survey’s suggestion that “only” half of all part-time faculty would prefer full-time work misses the mark. What this really means is something more like seventy-five percent of all faculty (those teaching perhaps ninety percent of all classes) prefer full-time work.

The story being reported out of the survey is the part that isn’t news: The roughly 1/4 of all faculty who are moonlighting and teaching a course or two for love are happy with a psychic wage. (“I teach at the u,” over golf or mah-jong, delivers status compensation with both friends and professional associates in one’s primary profession.)

Asking this question of these people is a a little bit like surveying folks in a burger joint and “discovering” that they eat meat. Of course those who are teaching avocationally are mostly satisfied with working part-time.

When read critically, the survey means something very different: It has discovered that roughly half of the people in the burger joint are actually vegetarians! And even quite a few of the meat eaters think the fare could be improved.

That’s the interesting result–that half of all part-timers are trying to get something that isn’t on the menu. And most of the scholarship suggests that we’d all be a lot healthier if what they wanted (full academic citizenship) was available to them.

In short, at least half of all part-timers are more like all other teachers than the other part-timers with an avocational relationship to the job.

While useful for a union that needs to understand the complex “market” for part-time representation, this survey could have been a  lot more helpful by clearly separating the avocational faculty from those who espouse college teaching as a profession.

Better surveys

We need to ask tougher questions of this kind of data. Here are just three for starters:

Q. Is there anything wrong with converting college teaching to lightly paid volunteerism?

A. In addition to consequences for students, it would seem to contribute to the race, class and gender segmentation of the workforce, as I’ve previously remarked in posts on Obama, on a better AFT report, and in my credo (We Work) for minnesota review.  Police departments are often far more ethnically diverse than English departments, despite decades of elaborate affirmative hiring efforts.

Women are commonly disproportionately shunted into part-time and nontenurable positions. It’s hardly an accident that since 1970, when women began to stream into higher education teaching, that tenure began to be steadily reconceived as a privilege for research-intensive faculty.

When teaching-intensive positions were held overwhelmingly by men, they were mostly tenurable. Now that they are held disproportionately by women in many fields, most teaching-intensive positions are not tenurable.

This line of analysis ultimately pushes uncomfortable questions: not who is teaching, but who should be teaching?

Q. How many classes are the satisfied faculty teaching vs. the unsatisfied?

A. It would appear that the unsatisfied teach more classes than the satisfied, often at multiple institutions. The conditions with which they are dissatisfied have a larger impact.

Q. What unites the dissatisfaction of the dissatisfied part-timers with other faculty, grad students, and post-docs?

A. The demand for more security, better pay, due process, a fair return on educational attainment, more equitable participation in professional decision-making, et cetera.

In between the satisfied fraction of the tenured and the satisfied fraction of the moonlighers are the majority of all faculty–teaching the highest proportion of students, including the most at-risk students–with profound, frequently shared dissatisfactions about conditions that most analysis shows has an impact on student retention and success.



Eric Lee’s Labour Start clearinghouse for global labor news has just announced nominees for its first-ever award, Labor Video of the Year. Two of the five finalists are inspired by working conditions in higher ed. I think both are among the three likeliest to win.

My top choice is the clever, often hilarious series of 30-second spots produced for the three-month strike by the union representing 50% of the teaching faculty at Canada’s York University, CUPE 3903.

Eventually ended by an extraordinary legislative intervention, this legal job action was strongly supported by undergraduates and tenure-stream faculty, who joined the picket lines of contingent faculty and grad students at this leading research institution.

Featuring extremely high production values and great writing, the videos use just a few frames to effectively communicate the hypocrisy of the administration, and the explotation of contingent faculty and graduate students.

A close runner-up is The Janitor, tracking the daily experiences of campus custodial staff–many of whom are also current or former students.

In my view the strongest competition to both entries is provided by a snarky Australian effort, What Have the Unions Ever Done For Us? (Answer: duh, pretty much everything you take for granted in terms of the workplace, from sick leave to the eight-hour day.)

If you’re interested, LS offers a comprehensive bibliography of labor video. You can view and vote on all of the videos in this year’s competition yourself.

Other Left-Labor News

Don’t miss this year’s amazing line-up at Left Forum this weekend in NYC, including plenty of discussion of California events, and featured remarks by Piven, Jackson, Ollman, and Chomsky, among hundreds of others.

AAUP members, please be sure to vote in this year’s officer elections. Cary Nelson is up for re-election, and for the first time non-geographical at-large candidates are up for election to the national Council, representing a lot of new blood for the organization. (I was, ahem, on the nominating commitee, so I know.)

California update

As I wrote in advance of the national day of action on March 4, those events were just the second act. The real question is what will happen when the West Coast schools begin their third quarter in early April. At UC Irvine, the possibilities are foreshadowed by a call for an M4 sequel, or a wave of occupations and other bold direct actions (like the blockade of freeway 1-880) on Tuesday, May 4, the 40th anniversary of the Kent State killings. I’ll write more about these events as the time nears.

By the way, if you are among the modest handful disappointed by my having to cancel out of the UC-Irvine Humanities Center colloquium last month, I’ll be up the road at UCLA on Monday afternoon, May 3, doing a tag-team event with Chris Newfield for Robert Brenner’s Center for Social Theory and Comparative History. The topic, unsurprisingly: “The Future of Public Higher Education in California.”

What’s worse than David Horowitz’s brand of right-wing drivel giving yellow journalism a bad name? A ghost-authored Horowitz sequel, padded with over 150 witless, tendentious summaries of courses that the compilers erroneously imagine will frighten middle America into hauling the faculty up the nearest telephone pole.

The current issue of American Book Review highlights their Top 40 Bad Books.  Heading the list for me is One-Party Classroom: How Radical Professors at America’s Top Colleges Indoctrinate Students and Undermine our Democracy, by David Horowitz and Jacob Laksin.  Since I often can’t make time to review excellent books, I don’t usually waste pixels on bad ones. But one has to make an exception for the epic badness of Horowitz’s failed hit job.

At least the first book in this series, The Professors, gave the “101 Most Dangerous Academics in America” something to brag about in their red-diaper parent-participation preschools (whilst plotting Trotskyite mayhem from behind piled bookshelves).

This cheesy compilation is too lazy even to attack faculty scholarship. It’s little more than a list of syllabi with a shrill “I see Marxism!” appended to each–150 times.  The somnolence it produces is hard to describe.

Evidently they should have credited Google as the third author.

The Horowitz staffers tasked with compiling this stinker simply trolled online campus catalogs to yield course descriptions employing such “democracy-undermining” terms as justice, inequality, race, and feminism. Then the staffers wrote lame descriptions characterizing the syllabi as part of a plot to deprive plutocrats of their hard-earned profits.

Once I got the concept, I briefly held the flickering hope that I could read it ironically–as in, “hey, what a bunch of good classes I wish I’d been able to take in college.”

Wrong. The relentless, narrow-minded prose immediately disappeared my hopes of snarky thoughtcrime.

Even if you’re sympathetic to its politics, the concrete brutalism of this compilation’s formal properties will crush your spirit in a few pages–like reading a year’s worth of your daily horoscopes straight through, or a cookbook cover to cover.

I know, I know. I’m well-known for holding such anti-democratic views as that we should all have enough to eat, health care, and free education. So don’t take my word for it. Peruse a chapter over at the Random House website. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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)

In a draft article published to its website today, Scientific American blasts some of the junk analysis bedeviling mainstream higher ed coverage and what passes for policy “thought” about academic labor. “The real crisis in American science education,” the article concludes, “is a distorted job market’s inability to provide [young scientists] careers worthy of their abilities.” Bingo.

The piece turns around an apparent contradiction: half the policy analysis decries a “shortage” of US scientists and engineers, and the other half claims an “oversupply” of persons with doctorates in science.

That doesn’t make sense–except when you understand that both camps are wrong.

There is no shortage of US-trained scientists and engineers and there’s no oversupply of persons with doctorates in science or any other field.

What’s really happening is restructuring of the labor market from a “market in jobs” to a market in contingent appointments. Throughout the economy, we have substituted student and other temporary labor for faculty and other more secure workers.

The name for this restructuring is casualization, the making-temporary (and cheap, and controllable) of work that used to be secure (and more expensive, and more difficult to manage). This restructuring has been in place since 1970, when roughly 3/4 of faculty were tenured or in the tenure stream.

Today, 1/4 of faculty are tenured or in the tenure stream. Less if you address pervasive undercounting of nontenurable faculty, teaching by staff employees and graduate students. The trend line points steeply down.

All of the under- or un- employed scientists with doctorates could be employed overnight if more science, and more science education, was done by persons holding the PhD.  Instead, we do science and science education with persons who are studying for the PhD, or who gave up on studying for the PhD simply because they can work cheaper than persons who actually hold the doctorate.

If the percentage of faculty working in the tenure stream were anywhere near what it was at the high point of US scientific and technical dominance, we’d actually have a vast, sucking undersupply of persons with the PhD. Hell, just one large state system could absorb most of the so-called surplus doctorates in a few years–and as I’ve already noted, taking students out of the workforce and working toward full employment for faculty would be an actual stimulus plan.

Junk Analysis, False Solutions

If the problem is casualization, why is all the policy noise whirling about in the”shortage/oversupply” contradiction? Why is almost 100% of the conversation invested in claims that are equally but oppositely bogus–irreconcilable yet inseparable, glued together like oppositely-charged particles?

Because both wrong answers are useful to those whose interests are served by casualization.

University managers, employers like Bill Microserfs Gates, grantwriters at the pinnacle of the winner-take-all science pyramid, politicians looking to hijack curricula and hand them to corporations–all of these constituencies and many others find that their different agendas are served by either or both of these fictions. (Correspondingly, they have a substantial interest in mystifying what’s really going on)

The Scientific American is particularly good about the first half of the equation. It targets the transparent fiction endorsed by Bill Gates that the United States doesn’t produce enough scientific, engineering and technical talent.

Gates makes that claim because he likes to hire cheaply and contingently, creating huge rewards for loyal core employees, reserving the secure jobs as golden lures to keep the temps working unpaid overtime. (Ironically he borrowed the Microserfs model for his “campus” from higher education.)

With the claim that he can’t find US talent, he wins the right to employ on H-1B visas, importing cheaper labor from offshore. Not only do the imports work more cheaply, they lower the price of non-imported labor.

Politicians support Gates because he pays them handsomely for their loyalty. Or because they support other employers who also want to import labor, or who benefit from the lowered wages that result.

Gates also gets the support of those who want to diminish further the role of teachers and faculty in curricula, and hand schools over to Wal-mart and other corporations.

The piece is less strong on the second half of the equation, the “oversupply of PhDs” fiction, largely because it is so focussed on debunking Gates that at times it uses the claims of oversupply uncritically–as a usefully clear, blunt rebuttal to him and his near-universal political support.

The usefulness of the “oversupply” claim, as I’ve made clear many times, is that it obscures restructuring: work that used to be done by persons with the PhD is now being done by students and staff and adjunct lecturers. Even undergraduates. There’s zero “undersupply” of persons with doctorates if that work is given back to them.

But the piece still makes a good start on this point.  Without explicitly referencing casualization, at several points it complains about the failed structure of the science labor market–as “gone seriously awry,” failing to provide real jobs, etc.

One path forward for the article would be to address a core question such as: Well, is a PhD really only for researchers at R1 schools?

Or is a PhD for those with teaching-intensive positions as well?–as used to be the case.

The combination of speed-up of the tenured minority and casualization of the majority who teach has tended to a growing assumption that the PhD (and tenure) are really associated only with those on a major research track.

But that isn’t the case now, nor was it well back into the last century: tenure and doctoral study were also for those with teaching-intensive appointments.

Failing to address that question, the article lists some of the ineffectual junk responses to restructuring that disciplinary association staffers have been pushing for decades: oh, the excess doctorates should be trained for alternate careers! Or: they should be warned that graduate education is like trying to make a career out of acting or playing the guitar! The problem of a winner-take-all society or winner-take-all science isn’t going to be resolved, as one of their economists recommends, by making tenure function even more like a “jackpot” than it already does.

Still, a nice start.

I Haven’t Forgotten the MLA

Which reminds me: after I deal with some other obligations (reviews of recent books by Cary Nelson and David Horowitz, and covering the March 4 National Day of Action to Defend Education, etc), I’ll get back to our friends at the MLA.

As I see it, the MLA’s many stages of denial regarding the restructuring of academic labor go something like this:

There is No Problem (1989); There is A Problem But It’s Not Our Job (1995); Shut Up About the Problem!(1996-2000); There’s an Easy Solution to the Problem–Just Be A Screenwriter! (1997-present); The Problem’s Not as Bad As They Say (2007); Let’s Pray For a Literature-Lovin’ Miracle–Or Test Them For Literary Compliance (with our religious friends at the Teagle Foundation, 2008); We’ve Been Working Hard at this Problem for Three Decades, plus Cary Nelson and Marc Bousquet Don’t Exist! (2010).

But that’s kind of a personal perspective. I’ll work on it and get back to you.

Journalism Starting to Get It

The NY Times–which is profiting from the collapse of other newspapers and also trying to make money on a sleazy distance-learning scheme–continues to publish drivel about the radical transformation of the academic workforce.  And the other mainstream higher-ed press (um, you know who you are) continue to give way too much space to disciplinary association staffers producing hackneyed faux analysis.

But other journalistic coverage is getting better in recent years, in part because journalists are being squeezed in the same way, as portrayed especially well by The Wire. Even Michael Connelly’s latest thriller features a one-time investigative journalist bumped from the LA Times for an intern.

Across the country media outlets and journalism programs now use undergraduates and m.a. students to replace working journalists, using an endless supply of feel-good rubrics from “reviving community reporting” and service learning to “internship opportunities.”

But in reality, just like graduate student teachers, their apprenticeships are the only job in their field that most of these student journalists will ever have. When they graduate, most of the jobs they’ve trained for will already have been cannibalized into other “student learning opportunities.”

Related posts:

Occupy the AHA!
At the AHA: Huh?

Who’s a ‘Historian’ to the AHA?
History ‘Job Czar’ Shuts Down PhD Production
(Oversupply Continues for Two Decades)

Slow dissolve: Manhattan, fifteen years ago. I walk a few blocks from my place on Third Street– next to an anarchist squat, across from the NuYorican Poets Cafe–to the headquarters of the Modern Language Association (MLA), then in Astor Place.

I explain the agenda of the Graduate Student Caucus (GSC) to the director of the association, Phyllis Franklin. We want MLA to educate the public about the majority contingent workforce.

Inspired by a California law that set 75% as a minimum standard for classes that should be taught by a full-time stable faculty, even in its community colleges, we want MLA to establish educationally sound full-time/part-time ratios in the disciplines it represents.

We want the association to lobby for those standards with accreditation agencies and to urge the other big state governments like New York and Texas to follow California’s lead.

We want MLA to help California fulfill the promise of that law by lobbying for federal money to help fully fund it.

We want graduate-student representation on the governing committees of the association.

In short, we want MLA to stop promoting “alternate careers” for PhD holders, and to get busy doing the political work necessary to rebuild professorial jobs out of what’s been converted to shabby part-time work.

Franklin just stares at me. “But all of that is AAUP’s job,” she finally says.

Jump cut to grainy historical footage: a decade farther back, 1984. The MLA has traditionally been directed for a short term by a distinguished tenured faculty person, but the Executive Council now feels that the staffing crisis in the humanities–of which it has been aware since 1970–requires a full-time staffer at the helm.

A significant element in hiring Franklin for the job of director is the desire to have someone willing to devote their career to addressing the professional crisis represented by the accelerating permatemping of the faculty. Franklin represents herself as eagerly willing to do so.

Next: We Occupy the MLA

Related posts:

Occupy the AHA!
At the AHA: Huh?

Who’s a ‘Historian’ to the AHA?
History ‘Job Czar’ Shuts Down PhD Production
(Oversupply Continues for Two Decades)

A guest post by Henry Giroux

In 1977 I took my first job in higher education at Boston University. One reason I went there was because Howard Zinn was teaching there at the time. As a high school teacher, Howard’s book, “Vietnam: the Logic of Withdrawal,” published in 1968, had a profound effect on me. Not only was it infused with a passion and sense of commitment that I admired as a high school teacher and tried to internalize as part of my own pedagogy, but it captured something about the passion, sense of commitment and respect for solidarity that came out of Howard’s working-class background. It offered me a language, history and politics that allowed me to engage critically and articulate my opposition to the war that was raging at the time.

I grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, and rarely met or read any working-class intellectuals. After reading James Baldwin, hearing William Kunstler and Stanley Aronowitz give talks, I caught a glimpse of what it meant to occupy such a fragile, contradictory and often scorned location. But reading Howard gave me the theoretical tools to understand more clearly how the mix of biography, cultural capital and class location could be finely honed into a viable and laudable politics.

Later, as I got to know Howard personally, I was able to fill in the details about his working-class background and his intellectual development. We had grown up in similar neighborhoods, shared a similar cultural capital and we both probably learned more from the streets than we had ever learned in formal schooling. There was something about Howard’s fearlessness, his courage, his willingness to risk not just his academic position, but also his life, that marked him as special – untainted by the often corrupting privileges of class entitlement.

Before I arrived in Boston to begin teaching at Boston University, Howard was a mythic figure for me and I was anxious to meet him in real life. How I first encountered him was perfectly suited to the myth. While walking to my first class, as I was nearing the university, filled with the trepidation of teaching a classroom of students, I caught my first glimpse of Howard. He was standing on a box with a bullhorn in front of the Martin Luther King memorial giving a talk calling for opposition to Silber’s attempt to undermine any democratic or progressive function of the university. The image so perfectly matched my own understanding of Howard that I remember thinking to myself, this has to be the perfect introduction to such a heroic figure.

Soon afterwards, I wrote him a note and rather sheepishly asked if we could meet. He got back to me in a day; we went out to lunch soon afterwards, and a friendship developed that lasted over 30 years. While teaching at Boston University, I often accompanied Howard when he went to high schools to talk about his published work or his plays. I sat in on many of his lectures and even taught one of his graduate courses. He loved talking to students and they were equally attracted to him. His pedagogy was dynamic, directive, focused, laced with humor and always open to dialog and interpretation. He was a magnificent teacher, who shredded all notions of the classroom as a place that was as uninteresting as it was often irrelevant to larger social concerns. He urged his students not just to learn from history, but to use it as a resource to sharpen their intellectual prowess and hone their civic responsibilities.

Howard refused to separate what he taught in the university classroom, or any forum for that matter, from the most important problems and issues facing the larger society. But he never demanded that students follow his own actions; he simply provided a model of what a combination of knowledge, teaching and social commitment meant. Central to Howard’s pedagogy was the belief that teaching students how to critically understand a text or any other form of knowledge was not enough. They also had to engage such knowledge as part of a broader engagement with matters of civic agency and social responsibility. How they did that was up to them, but, most importantly, they had to link what they learned to a self-reflective understanding of their own responsibility as engaged individuals and social actors.

He offered students a range of options. He wasn’t interested in molding students in the manner of Pygmalion, but in giving them the widest possible set of choices and knowledge necessary for them to view what they learned as an act of freedom and empowerment. There is a certain poetry in his pedagogical style and scholarship and it is captured in his belief that one can take a position without standing still. He captured this sentiment well in a comment he made in his autobiography, “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.” He wrote:

“From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than ‘objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble.”

In fact, Howard was under constant attack by John Silber, then president of Boston University, because of his scholarship and teaching. One expression of that attack took the form of freezing Howard’s salary for years.

Howard loved watching independent and Hollywood films and he and I and Roz [Howard’s wife] saw many films together while I was in Boston. I remember how we quarreled over “Last Tango in Paris.” I loved the film, but he disagreed. But Howard disagreed in a way that was persuasive and instructive. He listened, stood his ground, and, if he was wrong, often said something like, “O.K., you got a point,” always accompanied by that broad and wonderful smile.

What was so moving and unmistakable about Howard was his humility, his willingness to listen, his refusal of all orthodoxies and his sense of respect for others. I remember once when he was leading a faculty strike at BU in the late 1970s and I mentioned to him that too few people had shown up. He looked at me and made it very clear that what should be acknowledged is that some people did show up and that was a beginning. He rightly put me in my place that day – a lesson I never forgot.

Howard was no soppy optimist, but someone who believed that human beings, in the face of injustice and with the necessary knowledge, were willing to resist, organize and collectively struggle. Howard led the committee organized to fight my firing by Silber. We lost that battle, but Howard was a source of deep comfort and friendship for me during a time when I had given up hope. I later learned that Silber, the notorious right-wing enemy of Howard and anyone else on the left, had included me on a top-ten list of blacklisted academics at BU. Hearing that I shared that list with Howard was a proud moment for me. But Howard occupied a special place in Silber’s list of enemies, and he once falsely accused Howard of arson, a charge he was later forced to retract once the charge was leaked to the press.

Howard was one of the few intellectuals I have met who took education seriously. He embraced it as both necessary for creating an informed citizenry and because he rightly felt it was crucial to the very nature of politics and human dignity. He was a deeply committed scholar and intellectual for whom the line between politics and life, teaching and civic commitment collapsed into each other.

Howard never allowed himself to be seduced either by threats, the seductions of fame or the need to tone down his position for the standard bearers of the new illiteracy that now populates the mainstream media. As an intellectual for the public, he was a model of dignity, engagement and civic commitment. He believed that addressing human suffering and social issues mattered, and he never flinched from that belief. His commitment to justice and the voices of those expunged from the official narratives of power are evident in such works as his monumental and best-known book, “A People’s History of the United States,” but it was also evident in many of his other works, talks, interviews and the wide scope of public interventions that marked his long and productive life. Howard provided a model of what it meant to be an engaged scholar, who was deeply committed to sustaining public values and a civic life in ways that linked theory, history and politics to the everyday needs and language that informed everyday life. He never hid behind a firewall of jargon, refused to substitute irony for civic courage and disdained the assumption that working-class and oppressed people were incapable of governing themselves.

Unlike so many public relations intellectuals today, I never heard him interview himself while talking to others. Everything he talked about often pointed to larger social issues, and all the while, he completely rejected any vestige of political and moral purity. His lack of rigidity coupled with his warmness and humor often threw people off, especially those on the left and right who seem to pride themselves on their often zombie-like stoicism. But, then again, Howard was not a child of privilege. He had a working-class sensibility, though hardly romanticized, and sympathy for the less privileged in society along with those whose voices had been kept out of the official narratives as well as a deeply felt commitment to solidarity, justice, dialogue and hope. And it was precisely this great sense of dignity and generosity in his politics and life that often moved people who shared his company privately or publicly. A few days before his death, he sent me an email commenting on something I had written for Truthout about zombie politics. (It astonishes me that this will have been the last correspondence. Even at my age, the encouragement and support of this man, this towering figure in my life, meant such a great deal.) His response captures something so enduring and moving about his spirit. He wrote:

“Henry, we are in a situation where mild rebuke, even critiques we consider ‘radical’ are not sufficient. (Frederick Douglass’ speech on the Fourth of July in 1852, thunderously angry, comes close to what is needed). Raising the temperature of our language, our indignation, is what you are doing and what is needed. I recall that Sartre, close to death, was asked: ‘What do you regret?’ He answered: ‘I wasn’t radical enough.'”

I suspect that Howard would have said the same thing about himself. And maybe no one can ever be radical enough, but Howard came close to that ideal in his work, life and politics. Howard’s death is especially poignant for me because I think the formative culture that produced intellectuals like him is gone. He leaves an enormous gap in the lives of many thousands of people who knew him and were touched by the reality of the embodied and deeply felt politics he offered to all of us. I will miss him, his emails, his work, his smile and his endearing presence. Of course, he would frown on such a sentiment, and with a smile would more than likely say, “do more than mourn, organize.” Of course, he would be right, but maybe we can do both.

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the Global Television Network Chair in Communication Studies at McMaster University. He is on the advisory board of Truthout and the author, most recently, of Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability? (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2009).

Ebooks are here to stay, but how will you read them?

As sales suggest, dedicated reading devices–Kindles, Nooks, etc–have begun to meet the expectations of leisure readers and business travelers. (Those expectations have been changing as well, after the socialization represented by a quarter-century of reading on screen.)

Providing fast, inexpensive and even free access to many titles, portability, adjustable type, searchable text, and a growing list of other functions, these devices meet many readers’ needs on both airplanes and nightstands.

But these dedicated devices just aren’t ready for the prime time of academic and professional use. Limitations and glitches in their annotation functions, difficulties with copying text, and even the need to mimic the paperback book experience present real issues for the scholar, student, lawyer and engineer.

Also, rather than remedy these defects: the teams developing next generations of these devices are focussed on other issues–larger screens, color display, the ability to do email, surf the web and upload other documents and media.

Where are these devices going? It seems pretty clear. Larger, a touch heavier, more functional–their competition is driving them all in the direction of becoming netbooks, the lower end of which retail in the same $200 to $300 price range that the dedicated devices are getting, but which already offer tons more functionality.

Which raises a pretty good question.

Why not just buy a netbook?

Both Amazon and Barnes and Noble offer free downloadable e-reader software that gets you access to their e-book lines, generally much lower than paperback retail. Many titles aren’t available in both–Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture isn’t offered at Barnes and Noble, for example, but Amazon doesn’t begin to match their rival’s huge line of free classic texts (all of Emile Zola!).

With the netbook you just download both free e-readers and access both lines for the price of one piece of hardware.

These e-reader programs have all the defects of the dedicated readers with respect to annotation and copying, but you can have another program running for notes (and a better keyboard).

Even for night-table reading, I find the netbook e-reader a wonderful experience: no need to disturb anyone else with a light, and supreme choice even after putting your son back to bed at 3 am. Advanced into your bifocal years? No problem–just boost that type size. Are you a speed reader? It’s easy to narrow the width of the page to accommodate those who take big gulps of text at at time.  A $300 netbook has brilliantly backlit screens and lasts nine hours on one charge.

I’m not diminishing the achievements of the codex as a technology, or the marvelous production & distribution associated with these intricate arrangements of wood pulp and chemical ink. I’ve built more bookshelves than most of my colleagues in the humanities and have never sold a book–not one!– or given one away without replacing the title. I have both e-copies and paper copies of certain books, and use the paper for the heavy-annotation work.

But if you are going to tote around a bunch of media in electronic form for professional and leisure use–and you’d prefer just one or two devices, the netbook seems a smarter addition to your phone than the Kindle or its cousins.

Another thing: academic and professional reading increasingly doesn’t need to emulate the codex experience with hypertext and embedded multimedia. The netbook works for that; Kindle doesn’t.

Of course, pretty soon the Kindle will be a brand of netbook, and this will be a moot point.

Just as with paper, the future of electronic reading will offer many options. The one I’d say is potentially the most interesting and promising of all–Plastic Logic’s one-pound, 8 1/2×11 Que, is based on a technology that could lead to computers as light and flexible as a plastic file folder.

Scheduled to ship this spring, this product is clearly at least a couple of years away from serious implementation–offers to review it didn’t get a response, even of the “we’ll get back to you in a month” variety (which tells you what kind of customer service you can expect when your piece of plastic forgets your business docs!).

The stark contrast between recent imaginative actions by students and the decades of poor data, bad analysis, and foot-dragging by most academic institutions suggests a possibility. Could AAUP and the disciplinary associations could become the next target for the more radical students?

For today’s grads, socially conscious unionism no longer represents the left wing of political possibility. Instead it’s a launching pad from which they can surpass the limits to the imagination of a previous generation.

Take the AAUP. I believe we represent low-hanging fruit for the rising generation of students and contingent faculty. We are a democratic association with simple procedures. Occupying the slate with insurgent graduate student candidates can be accomplished using a simple petition process. A few thousand votes-the graduate employees on two or three campuses-could shape the AAUP’s governing Council in a year or two.

The same is true at most disciplinary associations, as we proved with the Modern Language Association Graduate Student Caucus more than a decade ago. From that series of actions dates major improvements in data gathering and analysis, the formation of the Coalition of the Academic Workforce, the minimum wage for contingent faculty, and a legacy of workplace activism in the organization’s Delegate Assembly, (not to mention the morphing of last-generation GSC activist Bill Pannapacker into Chronicle columnist “Thomas H. Benton.”)

Like the AAUP, disciplinary associations have a bullhorn regarding the profession and real purchase on the public sphere. They have staff and resources-often greater resources than the AAUP-as well as contacts with the press and politicians: the associations substantially leverage their own resources with nets of relationships with the richest campuses and wealthiest foundations.

What I am suggesting is that by joining and studying the petition process for officer candidates, a relatively small number of graduate students could begin a peaceful “occupation” of all the institutions of the profession-especially if they coordinated with students, staff, contingent faculty, and fellow travelers in the tenure stream.

What would happen if the submerged 80 percent of the profession-graduate student employees and contingent faculty-occupied the governing positions of the AAUP and of disciplinary organizations like the American Historical Association, the American Philosophical Association, and the American Psychological Association?

What if they similarly occupied the governments of college towns-Ithaca, Bloomington, and Ann Arbor? What issues would they engage?

Where would they direct the funds? How would they employ staff time? What improprieties would they commit in public?

I, for one, would like to know.

–adapted and excerpted from Occupy and Escalate, Academe (Jan-Feb 2010).

Occupation Science

East coasters may not realize that the California quarter system means that the very eventful fall term was only ten weeks of drama: we have twice that still to run on our academic calendar.

Students appear to be still forming a response to police escalation and having their civil disobedience labeled arson and terrorism by the administration and the more credulous journalists and think-tank flacks.*

Watch for escalation as the occupations continue to move beyond the UC system into the Cal States and community colleges, and a major coalition with K-12 faculty and staff, which will sponsor a March 4 strike and day of action.

Eli Meyerhoff has organized a conference on the emerging global occupation movement. Featuring Morgan Adamson, Chris Newfield, Andrew Ross, David Downing, and Silvia Federici together with veterans from occupations in Austria, Germany, Italy, Greece, Britain and California, Beneath the University, the Commons will be held at the U of Minnesota April 8-11.

Also of interest: Reclamations, the somewhat Berkeley-centric journal devoted to the occupation movement. The best source for updates remains the OccupyCa website.

Post AHA Link Round-up

Quite a bit of favorable response, including fan mail,  kind reviews, and even an “I heart Marc Bousquet” (blush) over at the academic jobs wiki. So thanks for that. Folks interested in learning more regarding the critique of job-market theory can download the book’s intro (pdf).

I’m moving on to a new project on the Obama-Duncan partnership, so will try not to get sucked into under-informed blog spats on these issues in the future, as I have way too many times in the past couple of years.

But if you like that sort of thing, you can check out the 150 comments spawned by historian Claire B. Potter’s post on these issues over at Tenured, Not So Radical. I haven’t read most of the 60+ comments there or the 80+ over at Historiann’s effort to defend Potter.  I gather that Potter made some suggestions, at least a couple of them of the I-can-fix-the-profession-from-the-watercooler variety (like, let’s not admit folks until they’re older and grad students should have administrative experience). This sort of thing isn’t Mark C. Taylor territory, of course–it’s just under-informed. By under-informed, I do not mean a failure to read my stuff–there’s a whole slew of folks to have read.

Seems some commenters got mad, hoping for more thoughtful analysis from a self-advertised tenured radical– after all it was for a book on academic labor that Cary Nelson first borrowed that phrase from icky Roger Kimball (once my t.a. at Yale, perhaps Potter’s too, actually). Then Potter got a bit hot and started talking about grad students taking personal responsibility for their choices, veering into “Dean Dad” territory (the man’s been over-compensating for years, with his “I used to read Foucault” routine.) Plus there were other commenters who liked talking about grad students as whiny inept choosers in the market of life. Then Historiann picked up on it and, seems like, more of the same.

Read it yourself, if you like, but my impression is that the 150-comment slugfest didn’t get much of anywhere.

Better to read the most recent Academe,  or a few pages by me, Gary Rhoades, Joe Berry, Sheila Slaughter, Frank Donaghue, or Cary Nelson (whose latest is getting good reviews all over the place–even made Stanley Fish take back a few of his choicer ejaculations).

Hell, just a read a moderately conscientious review of a book by any of these folks. I’ve had enough of watercooler wisdom, and the arguments it supports, for a lifetime.

There are real questions here–who should be teaching, with what qualifications? What effect has restructuring had on student learning? Why are history departments less diverse than police departments? (Short answer: because there are real social costs to turning the professoriate into an irrational economic choice. There’s a long answer too.)

I guess what I’d say in response to Potter in particular is meta-critical: the question isn’t what grad programs can do about the “job market,” which is in any event increasingly epiphenomenal to a labor market in contingency, serving the function of managing, reproducing, and legitimating the majority contingent workforce.

The question is what should tenure-stream faculty be doing with the various institutions to which they belong to address the aggressive re-structuring of academic labor?

The second question–the right question–implicates all of us. We are all responsible for struggling against the return of the professoriate to those who can already afford extreme discounting of wages, and for the segmentation of the university workforce it creates: white faculty, brown staff, women disproproportionately in insecure positions, etc.

Whereas the supply-side job-market false heuristic says that the situation can/should be managed by directors of graduate programs. That leaves people who aren’t themselves at grad programs “producing PhDs” free to feel not particularly responsible to address massive structural changes in the profession, and to offer watercooler wisdom.

Luke Menand weighs in

This is how I feel about Luke Menand’s ideas as well–he’s been shopping the three-to-five year PhD idea to anyone who would listen for over a decade now, and has gotten NPR to flack it for him recently. I’ve argued this one out on email with about five people in the past couple of months, and gave it the consideration it deserved fifteen years ago as a grad student.

It’s not that the short degree is the worst idea in the world. I feel the same way about it as about closing programs that are doing a bad job of preparing future scholars, or reducing over-publication pressure.

Like those other Ideas that Won’t Go Away, in itself it’s an okay idea, and a good conversation to have: it’s just that it’s not necessarily going to have much of an impact on Real Issues like permatemping or managerial intrusion into curricula (with tt research faculty who “know better” as the leading edge of that intrusion).

However, if conversion to tenure ever became common a 3-year degree–especially for already experienced teachers–would be brilliantly useful.

Absent that particular utility, though, it strikes me the 3-year degree will benefit those at schools where they already get jobs without publishing–Dukies, eg–and hurt those where part of the 8 or 10 years is publishing your first three peer-reviewed articles/getting a book contract. So it’s not an unalloyed good.

Nor does it answer a bunch of basic questions: when would new faculty learn to teach, and on whom? Who would do the teaching the grads are doing now?

And if the PhD is a nonteaching luxury good like a Mercedes, then who can afford to take it? Even if totally free and affirmatively recruited: when are the interests that lead to the intention to study for such a degree formed, and in what kind of schools? Oh, it seems Historiann has scooped me once more.

Read more:

Part 1 At the AHA: Huh?
Part 2 Who’s a ‘Historian’ to the AHA?
Part 3 History ‘Job Czar’ Shuts Down PhD Production
(Oversupply Continues for Two Decades)

*On the bad coverage of the occupation movement: I’ve spoken with a couple of folks regarding Kevin Carey’s sorta aggressively false characterizations of the movement–eg, that protesters “periodically surrounded, stoned, and tried to set on fire” a university official’s home–en route to persistent misrepresentation of their analysis, background, and motivations.

I’ll try to make time to collect some of these responses for a later post. Carey, one of Brainstorm’s two voices for “school reform,” has at least twice defended Yudof from what he saw as unfair or biased coverage, a concern shared by many of the substantial contingent of administration-oriented staff at the Chronicle, which has used mocking headlines to describe the student actions. My own view, of course, is that Yudof gets paid 8 bills a year to take a few shots from the press, and doesn’t need much defending. Students are entitled to have their reputations handled more carefully. At least by my reading of journalistic ethics and established practice (not to mention US libel law).

Okay, let’s imagine the impossible of total supply-side control. Clamp off admissions to EVERY doctoral program in history immediately and what happens?

They all keep pumping out new PhDs at contemporary levels for ten years. Scratch that. They actually pump out higher levels, because fewer of those enrolled will drop out, believing that they have better chances. So that keeps the “supply” at status quo rates for, say, thirteen to fifteen years. Then of course there’s all the underemployed circling the drain. They’re good for at least another five years’ supply.

Another thing. Young people being so clever, they’ll find ways around that job czar and the gerontocracy, enrolling–as so many already do–in American Studies, cultural studies, women’s and ethnic studies. So while history is choking off “supply,” the “competition” will continue merrily.

So even after total lockdown on admissions, this “oversupply” will continue for two decades at minimum. When could “production” start again? After a decade? At what level?

One more thing. Since we’re still staying hands-off on the demand side–what administrators want is what administrators want, and what can us chickens do about that?–that “demand” will continue to be restructured downward on a dozen fronts: dumping humanities from curricula, more casualization, automated courseware, etc.

So I remain confused, if not downright skeptical. To those of you scoffing at how impractical it is to try and attack the problem where it lives–on the demand side, with aggressive administrator restructuring of demand, I want to say this: Really? You think this is the practical alternative?

Here are some demand-side questions, all of them far more practical, doable, and approachable than the Wiley E. Coyote-style fantasy of clambering atop a giant people pipeline and shutting ‘er down.

1. How much teaching should graduate students do per year, for how many years en route to a degree? At what rate should they be paid?

2. On what basis should teaching-intensive faculty in history earn tenure? If monograph publication isn’t the gold standard for professional activity, what forms of “doing history” should count? What size should their classes be? How many should they teach in relation to participation in governance and “doing history”? What degrees should they hold?

3. What’s the limit to standardization, automation, and “scaling up” schemes? Historians and many other faculty, especially academostars, are susceptible to the idea that the nation really only needs a handful of doctorally-degreed specialist stars in each field, and we can “scale up” their teaching infinitely by streaming their lectures (plus enlarging the army of cheap teachers/volunteers leading discussion sections).

4. When faculty are employed on a “temporary” basis, when is temporary an honest descriptor and when is it a loincloth for exploitation? Shouldn’t “temporary” faculty be paid more than nontemporary faculty (to contribute to self-funding of benefits, inconvenience, etc) What are the academic rights, including academic freedom in the classroom, and to teaching their own syllabi, of “temporary” faculty when they’re truly temporary? What are their rights in that respect when they’re really permanent but being treated as temporary?

Since we’re all so fond of imaginary “basic economics” at one stroke, wouldn’t removing the incentive for exploitation (super-cheap wages for grads and contingent faculty) solve the problem now masquerading as an “oversupply”?

Part 1 At the AHA: Huh?
Part 2 Who’s a ‘Historian’ to the AHA?

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.

A funny thing happened on the way to the AHA this year — American Historical Association staffer Robert B. Townsend issued his annual report on tenure-track employment in the field. Unsurprisingly, he concluded that holders of freshly minted doctorates face grim prospects. What raised my eyebrows — and those of many others doing scholarship in academic labor — was his insistence that the labor market for faculty in history is a matter of an “oversupply” of persons holding doctorates, and that the profession needs to control “the supply side of the market,” i.e., “cut the number of students” in doctoral programs.

This is the sort of thing that used to get said all the time by disciplinary-association staffers — as what I call part of a “second wave” of thinking about academic labor, emerging out of discredited supply-side thought dating back to the Reagan administration. Thanks to the third wave of thought arising from graduate students and contingent faculty in the academic labor movement, you just don’t hear so much of this sort of thing anymore. In most fields, it’s pretty well understood that the real issue is an undersupply of tenure-track jobs, i.e., that the issue needs to be addressed from the “demand side.” There’s no real oversupply of folks holding the Ph.D. because what’s happened is an aggressive, intentional restructuring of demand by administrators — in many fields, work that used to be done by persons holding the Ph.D. and on the tenure track is now done by persons without the terminal degree and contingently. Increasingly, even undergraduates are playing a role in this restructured “demand” for faculty work, participating in the instruction of other undergraduates.

In this context, it was a bit unsettling to read Townsend’s 2010 analysis:

The near perpetual sense of crisis in history employment over the past 20 years had very little to do with a diminishing number of jobs, or even the growing use of part-time and contingent faculty. … The primary problem today, as it was a decade ago, seems to lie on the supply side of the market — in the number of doctoral students being trained, and in the skills and expectations those students develop in the course of their training.

Red flag, bull, etc.

Now, before I unpack this I want to say several nice things about Townsend. As a long-term staffer at the AHA, over the last couple of decades he’s produced over a hundred useful articles, reports, and analyses on the employment prospects of persons holding the Ph.D. in history. He is also himself the holder of a newly-minted Ph.D. in history from George Mason (2009), where they do fantastic work in the digital humanities (another topic on which Townsend has also written prolifically and well), thanks to Townsend’s late thesis advisor, the brilliant Roy Rosenzweig. The thesis (not yet listed in DAI or the GMU library) is on the early professionalization of history, and apparently overlaps a bit with his staff work. He’s especially to be congratulated for his continuing presentation of disquieting data on the low proportion of women and ethnic minorities amongst historians and history majors, and on the role of privileged backgrounds in shaping interest in history, including careers in the field. Many of the concerns that Rob has expressed in print as a staffer are the same concerns that have shaped my own career, and if he’s job-hunting with that new Ph.D., I’d be thrilled to see him land a job and raise the same questions from a faculty position.

I also want to offer some caveats: Circumstances differ from field to field, and I willingly acknowledge that my own perspective on academic labor is shaped by my more intimate understanding of working conditions in English. I sometimes make erroneous assumptions on the basis of that more intimate understanding. History is different, perhaps very different, and I’ve made no special study of it — and really would like a chance to see Townsend’s dissertation (hint). History is a smallish field, hence more volatile, and has recently seen growth in the undergraduate major and hiring.

Caveats and compliments out of the way, I want to say, though:

I’m confused. I wish some really smart folks  in history — who I happen to know think about these issues — would help me out. Historiann? Jonathan Rees? (Both folks I’d love to see added to Ye Olde Brainstorm’s lineup, btw.)

I think I get what Townsend is driving at. Is it something like this? “In our particular discipline, history, we’ve had a bunch of relatively good years in recent memory, and whatever’s going on out there with casualization in other disciplines, our issue is more straightforward: We wouldn’t have all this stress if we shrunk our doctoral programs.” That would be the “obvious solution,” as Townsend puts it.

As I look at Townsend’s good work for AHA over the years, I believe I see the data driving his conclusion that what history needs is a good supply-side fix.

Looking at his graph of job ads vs new doctorates, 1970-present, a couple of things stand out: 1) in two periods of about a half-decade each, there were more job ads than doctorates awarded, and 2) the raw number of job ads, flirting with 700 annually in the 1970s, were more like 1,000 a year between 2000 and 2010. So one first-pass reading might be that there’s a market in jobs that has boom periods and bust periods, and — with rising interest in the history major, there has been growth in hiring for faculty. This leads Townsend to relative peace of mind about contingency, at least within history, and to further represent nontenurable appointments as “threshold” positions, way-stations to eventual stable employment (though he does note that some folks stay in the threshold, give up, drop out before running this gauntlet, etc.).

But it does seem there’s still a bunch of dots needing to be connected.

For starters, most disciplines have added raw numbers of tenure track lines in the past 15 years, English and sociology being notable exceptions. The percentage of faculty teaching nontenurably, however has soared. Rising raw numbers of job ads isn’t particularly meaningful.

So I’d like to know: What percentage of the history job ads were for nontenurable and senior positions in 1970 versus 2010? What percentage of the faculty in history were teaching nontenurably in 1970 versus today? What percentage of undergraduate sections are taught by graduate students and nontenurable faculty today vs. then? How many folks with doctorates pass through “threshold” positions into stable employment — after how long? How do those considerations relate to the disproportionate whiteness, masculinity, and privilege in tenure-track employment, interest in the field, etc? For that matter, how does AHA account for the labor of graduate students? They too are contingent faculty, when responsible for direct instruction, and also in leveraging the labor of tenure-stream faculty, when serving as teaching “assistants,” permitting larger and larger lecture enrollments, etc. (Related question: Is a lecture course ever too big? If the only function of the tenured is to deliver lectures and supervise subordinates who conduct discussions, why can’t we “scale up,” as our school-reform friends urge us, and have half of the lectures delivered by video? Why not 80 percent delivered by video?)

Which gets me to my second question: Why is the number of jobs “just enough” in this analysis, and the number of historians too many?

One major risk of supply-side analysis is the naturalization of demand — what the market wants is what the market wants.

But is that how professions, and professional associations like the AHA ought to be thinking about professional work? A traditional characteristic of professions is regulating who is qualified to do the work of the profession. And in this case, the word “market” is a heavily loaded abstraction for an actual group: administrators. The “market” is what administrators permit faculty to hire. But what administrators want (or allow) isn’t neutral, or connected to student needs, preferences, etc. in any natural or obvious way; it’s enormously activist, and intentional movement, with the overt intention of changing the faculty workplace. Perhaps a more useful analytical frame is one that captures the struggle between faculty and administrators.

In the end, even if all the history grad programs affiliated with AHA made someone on the AHA staff into a jobs czar — Stalin of the profession! — and allowed her to say how many each could graduate, would that  fix the problem?

If AHA shrunk graduate-student assistantships, what would keep administrations from hiring talented undergraduates or volunteer history enthusiasts lead the discussion sections? Don’t you still have to answer the tough questions: Who should teach, on what terms?

It’s well understood by most folks doing serious work on academic labor that regardless of how one analyzes the problem, most “supply-side” solutions are doomed to fail so long as administrators have so much control over the contours of demand that they can put staff, permatemps, and students — including undergraduates — to work at activities that were formerly done by persons holding doctorates.

Also, overall the AHA data seem gappy. The AHA 2004-05 analysis couldn’t account for the employment of two-thirds of persons with history Ph.D.’s over the preceding 15 years!

Wow. When I went looking at the method, which involved searching history departments in the AHA directory, though, I didn’t see any discussion of community colleges. Which led me to look at the directory, which doesn’t seem to list too many community colleges (unless I was using it wrong). And a lot of other departments don’t seem to maintain membership.

So, again, hard question kinda passed by: If AHA is truly “the professional association for all historians,” as the slogan has it, why aren’t you counting all the folks working in community colleges with their Ph.D.’s? Are they “historians”? Could community colleges use more folks with Ph.D.’s teaching? (Perhaps with some rethinking of the doctoral training?) If the answer is yes, then why talk about shrinking “production” of doctorates when you could be talking about the community college as a center for public history?

Even if Townsend is right that history is different from some other disciplines, I’d like to know just how different, and to have a lot more information before I could get on board with this analysis. This is just a blog post, trying to get some thought started, without a detailed review of Townsend’s overall work (again, which I’d be happy to do), but it strikes me that this report is running some risks — of minimizing the constructedness and gappiness of the data, naturalizing the “market” as force in history as opposed to seeing it as actual relations between persons in organized groups (faculty associations, administrative bureaucracies and college associations, etc.); simplifying a complex labor system by selectively looking at some sectors (tenure-track jobs) and ignoring others…

Update: part 2, Who’s a ‘Historian’ to the AHA? and part 3, History ‘Job Czar Shuts Down PhD Production (“Oversupply” Continues for Two Decades).  All of this with more commentary x-posted to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Brainstorm group blog, where I’m currently the token left-of-liberal and academic-labor person.

See Townsend’s latest report and the 2004-05 analysis, as well as my introduction (pdf) to How the University Works (NYU, 2008), which analyzes the failings of “job-market theory.” (The final chapter of the book addresses how job-market theory shaped the professional-association discourse over at the Modern Language Association.)”

Bérubé How many submissions did you receive for The Institution of Literature?
Williams 385, not counting the nine essays you submitted, eight of which sucked, if you don’t mind my saying so.
Bérubé Not at all. I totally respect your opinion when it comes to essays of mine that suck.
Williams Well, they did. As did many of the 65 essays I accepted, 38 of which I had to rewrite.
Lyon That sounds like a lot.
Williams Yeah. I take editing seriously.
Bérubé Well, how much rewriting did you do? We’re talking line edits, right?
Williams Fuck no. I rewrote those motherfuckers from scratch.
Bérubé Really? What did their authors say about that?
Williams I didn’t ask them. Why?
Bérubé Well, because most of the time, when editors make substantial changes to a manuscript, they run them by the authors, that’s why.
Williams Fuck that. If I ran things by people, do you know long it would take me to produce an issue?
Bérubé No, how long?
Williams Too fucking long, that’s how long. There’s no way I have time to send editorial suggestions back to people who’ll only sit on them for four or five months and then get back to me with a bunch of bullshit complaints about what I’ve cut. Besides, do you think that guys like Leitch and Kumar give a shit either way? It’s not like they’re going to notice. Hell, I stuck three paragraphs from the Grundrisse into your first essay and you didn’t say a fucking word.
Bérubé Wait, wait. That whole bit about how “the question of the relation between this production-determining distribution, and production, belongs evidently within production itself”? That wasn’t mine?

–excerpted from Michael Bérubé and Janet Lyon, The Early Years: An Interview with Jeffrey J. Williams

In this fanciful interview composed for the minnesota review roast issue celebrating Williams’ eighteen-year run as editor, Lyon and Bérubé capture the true picture of Williams talking out of school about the task of editing the journal that Paul Buhle called “the standard-bearer for dissenting views on American literature and culture,” read by his students at Brown with “near-religious fervor,” outlasting “nearly all of the journals of its type founded in the 1960s and 70s.”

Profane, forthright, daring and stylish, Williams made editing an academic journal into a platform for public intellectualism to an extent unmatched by anyone of his generation: during Williams’ tenure, mr garnered more mentions in the Chronicle of Higher Education than any other academic journal.

For a warm and frequently hilarious farewell–patched together in just under two weeks from call for papers to shipped print job–wizard managing editor Heather Steffen compiled a mock entry in Jeff’s day planner, a flowchart of his acceptance guidelines for fiction, 4 top ten lists, a mad lib, 4 mock interviews, a previously unpublished actual interview, and 21 funny and touching short notes from grad students to luminaries. You can read the full Lyon & Berube performance, browse the table of contents or download the whole thing (pdf). You can find Steffen’s email address on the contents page if you’d like her to mail you a bound copy.

Kudos to all of the participants for their wit and grace, and special thanks to Steffen for pulling this together in the aftermath of shipping the last scholarly number of the journal under Williams’ aegis, the Feral Issue, which she coedited.

After Four Serious Bids, Journal Moves to Virginia Tech

As previously reported in this space, Williams gave up the journal rather than capitulate when the “quality managers” at Carnegie Mellon demanded that he double his grad students’ workload at minnesota review or else give up his summer pay–a “performance funding” parlor trick intended to transfer piles of loose change from the already-gasping humanities to gimmicks like the Data Truck and scary initiatives like automating the curriculum with standardized course modules (no troubling keeping up with the discipline!) and robotic grading and computerized “feedback” (“I can’t let you do that, Johnny.”)

You know–the kind of “scaling up” and “innovation” that school reform cheerleaders scribbling about college “leaders,” students, and community stakeholders without ever mentioning the faculty, even as an afterthought–“learning,” if that’s what you call it, straight from the mind of the dear leader to the student brain, uncomplicated by scholarship or faculty thought, hurray!

Despite the pressure on humanities faculty everywhere in the past couple of years, Williams received four credible fully-funded proposals from editors at public universities, all meeting or exceeding the reasonable funding standards Williams set for a journal of this stature.  Congratulations to the journal’s new hosts at Virginia Tech, especially incoming editor Janelle Watson and her assistant Grace Mike.

And warm thanks to Williams for eighteen years on the job, and for going out with grace, courage, and principle.

January 28-29,“Can Obama Learn? In its First Year, the Administration Fails Education.” Public Lecture and Workshop, Northern Arizona University.

February 11-12 Plenary, “Robots on Campus: Why We’re Panicked by the Machine Grading of Student Writing.” Networks and Enclaves: Open Access and Work in the 21st Century. University of California, Irvine.

June 11 Keynote, “System Crash: Risk, Crisis, Literature.” Simon Fraser University English Graduate Conference.

June 12-13 AAUP Annual Conference on the State of Higher Education.Washington DC.

June 14-20, MLG Institute for Culture and Society, Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

August 13-15, Coalition for Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL) Biennial Meeting, Quebec City, Quebec.

November 2010, AAUP Council, Washington DC.

January 2011, Modern Language Association, Los Angeles CA.

In a second occupation at Mrak Hall, student activists forced the administration to negotiate, make several concessions, and enter into discussion about their demands. See the full story, complete with a scan of the agreement signed by UC administrator Janet Gong.All thanks to the disobedient!

Several hundred students gathered at the Oakland courthouse Monday to protest the filing of felony burglary charges against protesters last week, then began an impromptu march over to the University of California’s Office of the President (UCOP), the building from which Mark Yudof directs the entire UC system.

  • About 70 members of the crowd pushed past police and gained entry by a rear door of the building, according to at least one report, including photographs taken from a cell phone.
  • During the ensuing sit-in, students demanded to meet with Yudof, and eventually were met by two staffers who apparently admitted earning salaries of between 250,000 and 350,000 dollars.

  • “The most important thing was the occupation of the building itself and the students’ defiant mood,” wrote one participant. “They were not going to be stopped by a few cops.”
  • Follow the occupation news here and here.

    Follow the Berkeley standoff via microblog. Also see this video of a unionized campus worker addressing several hundred UCSC students during the third day of the current occupation. Best updates on California occupations here; best strike and breaking media from UPTE; and all other UC news at Newfield et al’s place here.

    Update 5pm PST: Berkeley police turned off the campus wireless and sent in the SWAT team: the last transmission was the microblogger recording SWAT smashing the hinges off the doors. Image of the cops bursting in can be found here. Latest: reports of 40 UC-B students arrested, 1 seriously injured.

    Update 530 pm: it appears that UC Davis is reoccupied, with as many as 100 students occupying Dutton Hall. No blog source yet, but follow this DailyKos diary and this microblog aggregation.

    For those keeping journalistic score: the NY Times, LA Times and CNN utterly whupped the trade press on covering the occupations. Best image, LA Times. Second best image: SFChronicle.

    To the disobedient ones: thank you.

    Okay, can’t resist. More updates. If you missed it–you gotta read this beautiful account of the occupation of (Clark) Kerr Hall, the UCSC administration building, Reflections on an Arrow in Flight:

    tonight around 200 people are occupying the largest administrative building at ucsc. the chancellor’s office is denied to him as education will be denied to thousands of youth in california, as the uc and csu approved 32% tuition hikes earlier today in so cal. (police were exceptionally violent at the ucla protest, where regents were trapped inside the building for a time. lots of pictures of them tasing and beating the fuck out of people. pigs also got pretty brutal at the solidarity demo in nyc and 45 people were arrested occupying an admin building at uc davis. the ucla occupation dissolved today due to threat of police attack.)

    but wait how did this happen? weeks ago we said “don’t even bother talking about kerr hall, it’s a pipe dream”. the only way to make the impossible possible is by building action through action. today there was a general assembly at occupied kresge where 3-400 people decided “let’s go occupy something!” really, it was that simple. we marched around campus for about 20-30 minutes chanting. hahn and the bookstore were both on lockdown. then suddenly we were descending on kerr hall. they locked the doors inside as the swarm approached. we started runnning. someone finds an open window and a door is propped open from inside.

    then there are 300 people running through kerr hall, chanting, screaming, pounding on the walls. such a tremendous feeling of collective-being. into the stairwell, but the doors are locked; someone hops in an elevator and then we are pouring up into the second floor, where the main entrance lobby and the chancellor’s office both are. HOLY FUCK! we just occupied kerr hall!! um… what do we do now?!

    how easily it is done, and how difficult. not to over-dramatize what is happening here, but it immediately brings to mind, for instance, what we’ve heard about mai 68 from theorie communiste. once we make the insurrectionary rupture – then what?? how to organize, how to spread?

    there are those who view our struggle as moral or philosophical rather than material or tactical. they are lost in abstractions. they think we all want “democracy” and “openness”, they think not in terms of communication but of appearance, and they feel that they have common ground with bureaucrats. well, let them have it. the strength of our movement, of our communization, if it takes strength, is in our material force and our ability to collectively impose what we want. not to dialogue democratically with those who own the means of our existence; not to recognize, acknowledge and thus reinforce their position but to render it irrelevant.

    to push the university struggle to its limits. obviously, it has limits and we are bearing down on them. splits “within the movement” will be clarified (perhaps as brutally as at berkeley, where, again, a certain “section” literally took it upon itself to police the “rest of” the movement, as far as collaborating with the actual police). we’ll see.

    the occupation at kerr hall compiled a very long list of demands. this happened because people with a megaphone decided that as soon as we had taken the floor the first thing to do was have a very long meeting where we decide on demands that we want to be satisfied before we would leave the building. demands are all well and good, there were many beautifully impossible demands issued. some of us however ditched this meeting because arguing about impossible demands is silly and pointless and most of all so if there is no occupation – ie no leverage to make them with. so we set about working on the practical details of inhabiting the space.

    anyway, obviously the demands are ungrantable. a crisis period means that this will be more and more common, for instance, wage struggles in europe and asia, boss napping in france and riots in bangladesh and china… if there is nothing to pay them, there is just nothing to pay them. at this point it is only the police – the state – who enforce class belonging and prevent forceful communization via rioting and looting. this is the direction in which existing contradictions must currently be pushed.

    there will be no business as usual tomorrow at kerr hall. there will be a union-organized rally at noon followed by an enrage-organized general assembly. the admin will begin threatening us that they need the building back on monday. instead of listening to their bullshit, we need to underline our demands. one of which was that school be canceled for a day; this could be monday. the admin obviously don’t know what to do about the fact that they keep losing control of parts of campus, other than wait it out. obviously this may change but we need to keep the initiative.

    they also like to portray themselves as being “on our side”, against the cuts. this is a chance to demand that they PROVE IT instead of just talking out their asses like we know they do. they can take our side against the regents. or they can catalyze further struggle. or whatever. again, the point is we want them to become irrelevant. the point is we will hit our limits soon and have some choices to make.

    anyway. two buildings are occupied right now. hella tight.

    can’t stop, won’t stop. push the contradictions. escalate.

    occupy the fucking shit out of everything.

    Arrests of 52 students at UC Davis and others at UCLA ended 1-day occupations at both places, and at San Francisco State, but a new occupation has begun at Berkeley, where the occupiers report that police beat and pepper-sprayed students to re-take the building’s first floor. Students appear to hold the second floor at this time. Two buildings remain occupied by hundreds of students at UC-Santa Cruz, which has been the epicenter of the California occupation movement.

    Since the first UCSC occupation featuring only a few dozen students earlier this term, their rhetoric and tactics have spread across the state: even the the more respectable “UC solidarity” movement uniting staff, faculty and students have taken up their mantra, to “escalate” the struggle.

    The expanded wave of occupiers, featuring a reported 200-300 students in the Kerr admin building and 500 students in the Kresge town hall, have articulated detailed demands: see below.

    Thanksgiving Without The People of the Corn

    I’ll be in London as a visiting scholar at Queen Mary University’s School of Business and Management over US Thanksgiving. You know, in a culture where you can actually talk about the failures of capitalism–even in a business school–and not have the droolies come rising out of the corn: the Market is God…must kill the dissenter… he has an Agenda different from Holy Reagan.. my cartoon of Adam Smith proves the Intelligent Design of capitalism….

    While I’m off the beat, the best source for occupation news is here. The mainstream press in California and CNN have noticed these events.

    Unfortunately, besides my work in the “ideas & opinion” portion of the paper–my tiny blogger stipend representing about 1/15 of a reporter’s salary–all the Chronicle of Higher ED has been able to muster is a California stringer doing a quickie voiceover of a video clip I embedded in this column (and referring, wierdly, to raising “New York City tuition”), and a brief mention of just one of the wave of occupations–at Berkeley, natch.

    “Would you like a happy ending with that?”

    Well, that’s not quite all.

    Senior “reporter” Paul Fain–or someone using his name– did take time out of his busy day massaging the egos of higher ed leadership to upload snotty comments on my last post at the Chronicle of Higher Education Review’s Brainstorm group blog, inaccurately accusing me of having a personal agenda, overblown rhetoric, and the like.

    I mean he makes me sound like I’m a blogger with left-wing tendencies filling the token left-of-liberal slot in an ideas & opinion segment of the paper.  Shocking! Gee, Paul, it must be a pretty slow news day at the leadership-ego massage parlor for you to jump on that headline.

    If Fain or the person using his name were actually following the story, he’d have known that anti-capitalist rhetoric is part of the global movement, as well as here in California, and that critique of capitalism has been on uptick everywhere in the mass media/entertainment complex. To the extent the first wave of occupiers spoke out, they were fairly bluntly anti-capitalist, without my help.

    And battling Yudof and Schwarzenegger, or corporate management of higher ed generally, hardly qualifies as a “personal agenda.”

    As anyone who has followed my columns knows, I’ve been curious as to where occupations would go, and have hardly taken for granted that they’d increase:  the trope of a “pillar of fire” refers not to an inferno, but to an enigmatic sign.

    My suggestion to Fain or the person borrowing his moniker is that Chron might want to get Fain off his cushy “beat” lecturing executives on how to manage the bad press generated by their greed and selfishness, and do some reporting.

    Or at least get the two-by-four out of your own eye before pointing to the ideological specks in others.

    UCSC Occupiers’ Demands

    1. Repeal the 32% fee increase
    2. Stop all current construction on campus
    3. UC funds and budget are made transparent
    4. Verbal and written commitment to Master Plan
    5. Total amnesty to all people occupying buildings and involved in student protest concerning budget cuts including: Doug G., and Brian Glasscock and Olivia Egan Rudolph
    6. Keep all resource centers open: engaging education, women’s resource center, and all other diversity centers
    7. Keep the campus child-care center open
    8. Repeal cuts to the Community Studies Field Program
    9. Re-funding the CMMU field studies coordinator positions
    10. Get verbal and written agreement from admins to shut-down campus for one day for the purpose of educating students on the budget cuts
    11. Said support for AB656
    12. Said commitment to work-study for all who are eligible
    13. Making UC Santa Cruz a safe campus for all undocumented (AB540) students and workers
    14. Keeping LALS professors Guillermo Delgado & Susan Jonas
    15. Repeal all furloughs to all campus employees, renege the 15% cut in labor time for custodians
    16. Stop the gutting of funding for fellowships and TAships and the re-instatement of TAs who lost their jobs due the budget cuts from this quarter
    17. Re-prioritizing funding so that essential student services i.e. the library get adequate funding to ensure regular library hours
    18. Censure Mark Yudof
    19. Un-arming UC police of all weapons including tasers
    20. NO SCPD police allowed on campus
    21. An apology from the regents and the state
    22. Creating a free and permanent organizing space on campus for student activists and organizers (first options: Kresge Town Hall)
    23. Due process for students:
    a. trial by peers
    b. constitutional rights for students tried under the UC judicial system
    24. Making rent affordable for Family Student Housing, ensuring that the price does not exceed that of operating costs

    Long Term:
    1. no student fees
    2. return to master plan
    3. abolition of regents’ positions
    4. abolition of all student debts
    5. tripling of funds from the state to public universities
    6. all eligible students get work-study
    7. highest UC salaries are tied proportionally to the lowest waged workers
    8. Impeach Mark Yudof
    9. Representation of students and faculty equal to UCOP/UC Regents
    10. All UCSC tuition fees stay at UCSC
    11. UC Money is only invested to education
    a. cut ties with Lockheed Martin, Los Alamos & Livermore National Labs

    Update: you’ve got to watch this video.

    Yesterday the UC Regents walked into a room packed with gasoline and nonchalantly lit their cigars–handing down tuition increases that will hike 2010 rates 44% over 2008, turning higher ed into a gated community for the offspring of California’s “Real Housewives” class. Their bet is the usual bet made by the comfortable: someone else will get scorched.

    Why wouldn’t they feel safe? We live in an upside-down world where bankers–not the capitalists, just their paid lackeys–get bonuses larger than the deficits of entire states, and the money pimps at the Wall Street Journal are saying, yeah, take it, citizens, take it, ha-ha! And say thank you, too!

    The misery of tens of millions in every sector of the public–in education, health, income security, could be swept away if we forced more bankers and executives to live like teachers and nurses for a year or two.

    California is Burning

    That pent-up misery is volatile, though, and starting to flow around the feet of the bankers. More and more of us are waking up to one thought: It’s the capitalism, stupid!

    For over a year now, students, faculty, and parents across the globe have been turning out by the hundreds of thousands to protest American-style “reforms.” You know: junk curricula, volunteer teaching, the return of indentured servitude, corporate domination of research, ruthless administrator control. The NYT serving up Stanley Fish (“Do your job, punk!”) as the face of higher ed.

    Today, American students, staff and faculty are protesting American-style education.  Led by staff strikes and student occupations, a pillar of fire is racing across the California desert toward the huge air-conditioned mausoleums of the trustee class.

    No question, it’s not yet an inferno.

    But last month’s occupations featuring a few dozen are now occupations of a few hundred: 500 students have set up barricades at UC Santa Cruz; hundreds more marched chanting through hallways at San Francisco State, taking over an administrative building.

    At least a thousand students and faculty will face off against riot police and join staff picketing the Regents in Los Angeles.

    Yesterday 14 students were arrested for chanting and singing “We Shall Overcome” during the regents’ theater piece (“we’re having a meeting here and trying to pretend that the outcome is in doubt!”)

    At 6 am this morning two or three dozen students stormed UCLA’s Campbell Hall, chaining the doors.

    Give Thanks for the Disobedient

    This has actually been a season of swift victories for faculty and students–wherever we’ve seen truly organized and militant faculty, as with AAUP-Oakland in Michigan in October, or grad students, as at Illinois this week, the administration has quickly caved.

    Of course the administrators caved–the real power is where it’s always been, with the mass of us, if we can just keep ourselves together long enough to say “no” in one breath.

    The California situation is bigger and more complex.

    And the faculty with the loudest voices, those in the tenure stream at the UC campuses, aren’t unionized: most of them and many of their students have little experience with solidarity with other education groups, much less other labor sectors.

    They’re doing their best, but they can’t help themselves. So far it seems they want to save their idea of Berkeley and other public research universities–and just don’t care all that much about Cal State Fullerton,  third grade teachers in Modesto, or the nontenurable faculty they work with every day.

    Because, honestly, if they did care about other educators and workers, they’d have been out in the streets long ago! And not too many of them are in the streets right now.

    The biggest problem with this California movement is that the folks who are actually in the streets–staff, especially, but grad students, contingent faculty and undergraduates–are letting the tenured do the talking for them.

    I mean, these are decent folks doing the talking. Don’t get me wrong. Still, why not shut up and hand the mike to the militant, articulate, intellectual staff, for a change?

    As higher ed becomes a mass experience–as more and more workers in all sectors become highly educated, whether they learn in schools or on the job–it is harder and harder to pretend that higher ed is just about the reproduction of the Bush family’s privilege. Today, higher ed is a field of working-class struggle, and one of the reasons it’s still hard to see that is the hierarchical, undemocratic tendency represented by handing the mike to Judith Butler. Again, no offense to Butler and other mike holders. (After all, I’m holding one right now, aren’t I?)

    This might be a moment where the tenured might–just might–have unexpected humility thrust on them & achieve enough overnight wisdom to subordinate their Stanley-Fish-sized egos and take leadership from pipefitters, nurses, and food service workers.

    We’ll see.

    In the meanwhile, I’ll be giving thanks for the disobedient, those chaining themselves to doors and shutting down the absurdity of business-as-usual while thugs in suits hand over our future to yet another movie actor.

    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.

    Garcetti: Academic Freedom on its Last Gasp
    Everywhere you look, students and faculty are hitting the streets–digital music in their ears, cell phone cameras in hand, uploading their manifestos from occupied dean’s offices.

    It turns out civil disobedience doesn’t have to be boring.

    The membership of the grad student union at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign just overwhelmingly authorized their leadership to call a strike at will–winning the support of legislators, the undergraduate student senate and the faculty in a savvy media barrage couched in a series of rallies, including one slotted for Nov 12 on the site of the next trustees’ meeting.

    This is the same union with a long history of creative disruption in response to intransigent administrations, ultimately forcing the administration to bargain with them by an imaginative well-planned occupation of the administration building (also during a trustees’ meeting).

    Militants across the University of California are feverishly building support for a Nov. 18 faculty & student walkout and staff strike with dozens of creative events like tonight’s Bay area Night of Student Art and Protest. Just as I was typing this, my email beeped with an announcement of the UCLA students’ all-night crisisfest.

    Follow the news, get the data, and learn the truth  at UC Solidarity, Poverty at UC, and Remaking the University.

    Oh, yeah. And the cell-phone-camera and adrenaline-fueled pan-European university occupation movement has just jumped the channel to London, complete with mandatory Facebook group. (Hat tip to Eli Meyerhoff.)

    AAUP Gets Jiggy With It

    Even the “you’ll tear my print budget from my cold dead hands” contingent over at AAUP are taking to Youtube in an effort to combat the so-dumb-as-to-be-unbelievable Garcetti decision and its consequences for academic freedom.

    Of course Youtube is so 2005. This year’s movie tool is the text-to-movie app over at Xtranormal. (“If you can type, you can make a movie.”) Some student did one on Garcetti, in fact. (Not the best example of the genre, but a way cool app.)

    When it’s your turn to hit the streets, don’t hesitate to use other cool propaganda generators, like the one that made the cigarette-pack Garcetti above, or assisted creativity apps, such as the Bitstrips comic strip generator, used to develop the Allday University series (starring “Adjunct Alice”), which has racked up tens of thousands of views–likely far more than the all the videos in the AAUP series will get in a year.

    Festive Education, Anyone?

    So many of these applications can be used in teaching and learning across the curriculum, of course, not just propaganda.

    Just for starters: coming soon in this space, I promise–for months now I’ve been looking for a quiet week to spend some time writing about early learning, specifically my son’s experience of early learning software with a large, pricy touch-screen computer. It’s really cool stuff. It doesn’t replace books or (more important) time spent talking with parents or interacting with peers–far from it!–but our experience strongly suggests that it can make a huge difference in early language use.

    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.

    This is the text of an email blast sent out by AAUP to 370,000 faculty, announcing the release of a draft report on conversion to tenure, co-authored by me, and featuring several examples of different ways that different institutions have moved to stabilize their faculty. We’ve already received over 150 comments, most positive and most thoughtful: direct yours to Gwendolyn Bradley. We anticipate issuing a final report early this spring. Hint: don’t miss the special section on the AAUP website.

    The last four decades have seen a failure of the social contract in faculty employment.

    With more than two-thirds of faculty working outside the tenure stream or for wages that would embarass Wal-mart, the once-reliable regime of professional peer scrutiny in hiring, evaluation, and promotion has all but collapsed.

    The Profession Agrees
    In opposition to this trend, a powerful new consensus is emerging that it is time to stabilize the crumbling faculty infrastructure.

    Concerned legislatures and administrators have joined faculty associations in calling for dramatic reductions in the reliance on contingent appointments. But how shall we get there?

    Conversion to Tenure
    By far the best stabilization practices are those that include the rigorous professional peer scrutiny of the tenure system. Managerial plans for hiring and assessment rarely approach the level of scrutiny that faculty peers apply to themselves. There is no basis in AAUP policy for regarding those in teaching-intensive positions as second-class citizens or ineligible for tenure.

    A new draft report surveys several noteworthy forms of stabilization practiced or planned at a variety of institutions, highlighting those that feature conversion to tenure for faculty already employed at the institution.

    We invite your detailed comment. We have continued to research stabilization practices and will add further examples, comment, and analysis to the final report.

    We’ll share some of this continuing research and comments on the AAUP Web site. We’ve just posted a special section discussing two unique contract provisions negotiated by the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties: provision 11.G, which permits departments to convert persons to the tenure track, and provision 11.H, which permits conversion of lines.

    Marc Bousquet
    Mayra Besosa
    Co-Chairs, Committee on Contingent Faculty and the Profession

    Is your administration using “the economy” as an excuse to extort more work for less pay from an already over-burdened faculty?

    Buying Howard Bunsis a plane ticket to your campus might be the best investment you can make right now.

    Bunsis, a Michigan professor of accounting and treasurer of the AAUP, has been tracking administrator claims of fiscal crisis for several months. His conclusion, published in this issue of the Chronicle, is that at many campuses, there’s no financial crisis at all. At many schools, tuition and other revenue is up, or existing reserves could easily cushion the shortfall.

    Furthermore, Bunsis observes after detailed analysis of university financial data, where cuts have to be made, they don’t need to be made to the core education function–they can be made in athletics, construction, services, and other ventures.

    “We need administrations to start focusing on the core mission of our colleges and universities: educating our students,” Bunsis says.

    He’s been traveling the country, analyzing the financial data of universities and puncturing holes in the fake claims of crisis by administrators. In the powerpoint above, he demonstrates the clear financial health of one state system (Pennsylvania), and paints the big picture:

    +faculty pay is typically less than a quarter of spending;
    +faculty often earn less than schoolteachers; faculty earn less as a return on education than other professionals;
    +faculty quality, education quality, and affirmative hiring are all harmed by converting education work into philanthropy.

    Okay, that last part is from me.

    So check out his slides, especially those after #25, recording the steep decline in spending on instruction–what he urges you to understand as the instructional spending gap.

    Invite him to take a look at your administrators’ books. You might be surprised at the results.

    Speaking of An Instructional Spending Gap:
    It’s Campus Equity Week!

    From the point of view of the majority of faculty not even in the tenure stream, a “gap in instructional spending” is really

    + a gap in health insurance
    + a gap in feeding one’s kids
    + a gap in one’s ability to stay faculty at all
    + an amplification of the wealth gap’s effect on faculty diversity
    + a gap in the time and attention one can afford to devote to students (see Isaac Sweeney on “winging it,” below)
    + a gap between reality and administrator rhetoric on the subject of access, merit, equality, justice, etc. (see Sweeney again)

    There’s an eye-opening study of his own unionized campus by Peter Brown about the longest-running scandal in higher-ed, contingent faculty compensation. At SUNY New Paltz in 1970, there were only 100 adjuncts; today they are almost half the faculty and earn half the pay they did forty years ago. The sad thing is that these faculty are represented by a collective bargaining agent and are better off than many faculty serving contingently in say, the southeast–where they’re on food stamps.

    So the governor of Washington state, after a series of lawsuits forcing some gains for publicly employed contingent faculty started issuing annual proclamations one day during Campus Equity Week “Adjunct and Part-Time Faculty Recognition Day.” This year it’s Thursday.

    Woo-hoo. That and about half a million dollars per employee will make up for twenty years of extortionate employment practice.  Keith Hoeller’s response: yeah, well, show me the money.  Oh, and if you missed it, check out how the geniuses at Southwestern College marked Campus Equity Week–by suspending four faculty who showed up at a student rally protesting budget cuts, including the union president, natch. Hurray for the students who–like students across California–are fighting back.

    Nice work by Isaac Sweeney who tells it like it is for the majority of faculty serving contingently: your students suffer because your employers sort not for the best faculty, but for the cheapest faculty, and arrange not for the best learning conditions–but the cheapest learning conditions, so they can spend lavishly on themselves and their pet projects:

    I can wing it if I need to. And that’s a good thing, because I am often not prepared for class. Sometimes, I admit, I haven’t even read my own assigned reading for the day. It’s not that I don’t want to; it’s just that I had to take on those extra two courses at the community college and finish up the freelance article so I could pay the mortgage for the month. Winging it usually works OK. But sometimes it doesn’t.

    My not being prepared for class is only one way in which the students suffer. More and more, I find myself completely drained by the end of the day. In the middle of a great discussion, a student directs a comment to me. To the detriment of the discussion, I stopped listening a few comments ago, thinking instead about my decreasing checkbook balance or the dishes that have been piling up as I have been grading papers. Or I stopped listening just because I have had similar discussions four times already today, and I am, frankly, bored and/or exhausted. At least once, I stopped listening because of the loud construction across the street, where the university is building a new performance center. And I couldn’t help but remember the news a week earlier that budget cuts had put my job in jeopardy.

    In the end, how much does it matter to my department, and to my university, if I do a good job? It’s not like I can share this information in any formal setting.

    When I leave the classroom, I know I could have done better. That isn’t an empty thought; I try to do better every day, every semester, every school year. And maybe my efforts succeed-maybe I do a little better. But I can’t help but wonder: Is it enough? If some of these distractions that come with being an adjunct were taken away, wouldn’t my students benefit? If I could talk about teaching and listen to others talk about teaching in that conference room, wouldn’t my students benefit?

    Again, I am not bitter about the money (or lack thereof). I chose to enter this profession this way, and I can choose to leave anytime I want. What makes me uneasy is that cheap labor seems more important to academe than quality instruction.

    In response to the massive re-orientation of education toward job training, privatization and the standardization of curricular outcomes mandated by the Bologna Process, students across Europe have been turning out by the thousands. This past June, as many as 250,000 students, parents, schoolteachers, college faculty and staff coordinated a week-long education strike in 90 cities across Germany.

    Right now, an estimated 2000 undergraduates are occupying parts of the University of Vienna. You can follow it nearly live on this guy‘s cellphone camera.

    If the topic of occupying campus space interests you, be sure to check out the Academia Insurgent panel being organized by Eli Meyerhoff (U Minnesota) and the countercartographies collective at UNC-Chapel Hill for the Annual Association of American Geographers Meeting Washington, DC, 14-18 April 2010.

    Topics for the panel organized by Elizabeth Johnson and Eli Meyerhoff, Academia Insurgent: Occupying and Communizing Universities // Militant Research and Organizing:

    * Strategies and tactics for university occupations

    * Theorizing ‘occupation’ of academic spaces and times

    * Militant research on universities

    * Creating an “undercommons” that feeds us and feeds off of the university, enabling us to do radical work from *within* the institution without becoming *of* the institution

    * Collectively preventing the alienating effects of leading such dual lives

    * Valorizing our own work without submitting it to universities’ disciplinary metrics

    * Maintaining our own invisibility (from capitalism/consumerism and from the university) while linking with one another and with common projects elsewhere

    * Building “institutions of the common” across universities and across disciplines, as well as between academics, activists, artists, diverse economies, etc.

    * Developing mutually supportive relationships for communities, movements, our teaching, and our activism without creating formal(izing) organizations

    * Finding ways within the university’s walls to not only create “living communism” but also to “spread anarchy”

    * Learning from university struggles around the world and across history

    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.


    Late Thursday, just two weeks after peacefully concluding their occupation of the graduate student commons, members of the UCSC-based group Occupy California! barricaded themselves into a dean’s office in the Humanites and Social Science building.

    According to the statement they issued shortly afterward, they targeted the office of Dean Sheldon Kamienicki in connection with decisions regarding job losses and cuts to program funding

    By contrast to the restraint showed in the earlier event, witnesses said that campus police promptly moved in, cuffed and hauled away at least some of the protesters.

    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.

    Courtesy of AAUP’s new video series, Voices of the AAUP, you can catch me on tape for a change. In the short piece I respond to questions about faculty democracy and work-life balance.

    More entertaining video is provided by the Ad-hoc Post-Tenure UnderAppreciated Band, and more important thoughts are shared by faculty serving contingently, for instance Jeanette Jeneault, Jonathan Karpf and Marcia Newfield.

    During last week’s massive 10-campus walkout, several dozen students and workers occupied [video] the Graduate Student Commons at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC), issuing statements frankly acknowledging their intention to escalate the conflict: “Occupation is a tactic for escalating struggles,” they note at their website, “We must face the fact that the time for pointless negotiations is over.”

    Their supporters aim to initiate some actual thought about the role of higher education in the economy. “A university diploma is now worth no more than a share in General Motors,” observes the author of the compelling Communique From an Absent Future:

    We work and we borrow in order to work and to borrow. And the jobs we work toward are the jobs we already have. Close to three quarters of students work while in school, many full-time; for most, the level of employment we obtain while students is the same that awaits after graduation. Meanwhile, what we acquire isn’t education; it’s debt. We work to make money we have already spent, and our future labor has already been sold on the worst market around. …Even leisure is a form of job training. The idiot crew of the frat houses drink themselves into a stupor with all the dedication of lawyers working late at the office. Kids who smoked weed and cut class in high school now pop Adderall and get to work. We power the diploma factory on the treadmills in the gym.

    Noting that public employees, the homeless and the unemployed have been demonstrating across the state, supporters argue that “all of our futures are linked” and the struggle over higher education is “one among many, [so] our movement will have to join with these others, breeching the walls of the university compounds and spilling into the streets.”

    I completed an interview with their spokesperson this morning, on the fourth day of the occupation.

    Q. Sounds pretty raucous in there. How long have you been at it?

    We’ve occupied this space for almost four days now! This is one of the longest student occupations in many, many years.

    Q. How many of you are there, and who do you represent?

    There are several dozen or so occupiers, plus countless numbers of supporters on the outside. It’s been very impressive. For example, one first-year student, after being on campus for just one week, almost immediately organized food drives with students in the dormitories for us.

    We honestly do not seek to represent anyone or any particular groups. Rather, we’re emphasizing our message: we want students, faculty, and staff at UC to occupy and escalate to stop the destruction of public education in California, and we call on the people of California who are similarly and unfairly affected by our state’s fiscal crisis to escalate in their own communities. The time for piecemeal negotiations with those who have fiscal authority over us to protect our own particular programs, jobs, or bottom-lines is over because our demands are only turned against those who face similar cuts, thus making foes of people who should be building a broad coalition to stop and reverse the damaging cuts.

    Q. What inspired you to occupy UCSC, as opposed to other tactics, such as demonstrating, etc?

    9/24 was the first day of classes at UCSC. As you probably know, there was a system-wide Walkout across all of the UC campuses on 9/24. We did demonstrate that day; we walked the picket line with the UPTE and CUE unions; we responded to the UC faculty call for a Walkout; some of us walked in uninvited on the large undergraduate lectures of those professors who failed to honor the picket line to make an emergency announcement about the Walkout.

    Let us provide some additional context: The Santa Cruz campus of UC was already hit hard last year by steep budget cuts. The Community Studies program was gutted; minority student programs were cutback; faculty searches for departments desperate for replacements, such as the History of Consciousness, were cancelled; health care costs for graduate students were forced up; family student housing rents were jacked up-just to name a few of the attempts to balance the budget on the backs of those least able to afford it and the most vulnerable in the system. Undergraduates, graduate students, and some unions organized to stop those initial rounds of damaging cuts through petitions, demonstrations, and other tactics, to no avail.

    A dire situation only worsened over the summer, which prompted the faculty to get more involved at the system level. So many of us at Santa Cruz already realized by the end of last year that the nature and severity of these budget cuts required an escalation beyond tactics of resistance that were attempted yet failed last year. As our press release (https://occupyca.wordpress.com) says, “occupation is a way of escalating struggles.” This is what we decided to do to jumpstart a year of endless confrontation with the administration over their destructive logic that subordinates everything and everyone to the budget. This is only the beginning.

    Q. What are your demands specifically?

    Our primary message is directed at those who should be our allies within the UC, the public education system generally, and indeed throughout the state of California, as opposed to those who have power over us. We would like to see a broad social movement against cuts to education and all other state social programs and services. Thus we appeal to these groups to organize, occupy, and escalate at their schools and colleges and universities, as well as in their local communities. To sum, demonstrations address specific issues; our actions aim at a much broader struggle. Workers are losing their jobs. Students are unable to enroll in school. We have no choice but to occupy and escalate. We call on the people of California to do the same.

    Q. This is a movement that you hope will spread to other campuses, isn’t it? Any developments we should watch for?

    Not only the other UC campuses, but actually throughout the entire state of California and even beyond. We’ve already been on the radio shows of several UC campuses to talk to those UC communities about the need to organize and escalate and occupy, so, yes, you should watch for developments there! The one-day Walkout and our occupation are only first-steps, the genesis of a year-long or multi-year effort to take back the UC, to re-write its priorities in the interest of public education and not privatization. The same thing needs to happen to protect K-12 education in California; did you know that one school district closed all 28 of its school libraries due to budget cuts? Whose vision of a quality K-12 education would not include access to libraries? Our purpose is not to blame local school administrators but to show how the cuts affecting the UC are also impacting everyone else in the public sector of the state. The process which has led to this point is simply unacceptable.

    Q. I take it you’ve followed the recent occupations at NYU and the New School, and perhaps earlier ones at Urbana-Champaign. Any lessons you’ve taken from those experiences?

    We’ve received statements of solidarity from student groups across the country, including several schools along the east coast, which can be read at https://occupyca.wordpress.com. We want to express our thanks for the support across the nation. Why stop at the borders of California? Let’s take this effort to escalate to the nation as well! Public universities are being run like corporations all across the U.S. This must be brought to an end.

    Q. Are you in touch with supporters outside?

    Absolutely. The occupation on the inside is only one aspect of the escalation. This requires a lot of outside support, including many students who’ve been sleeping outside the doors to the occupation zone, volunteers to pick up trash and keep the space clean, students going around campus to spread the word about the occupation, and more. Then there are those who are working on logistics and press coverage.

    Q. What will it take for the state government and administration to
    move in a different direction?

    This is a big question! Unfortunately, it may not be enough simply to focus on amending the state of California constitution, which makes it notoriously difficult to construct a reasonable budget, or simply to focus on the next round of state elections in order to put into power friendlier decisionmakers. These things might certainly help or be steps along the way.

    On the one hand, our occupation is informed by a deep critique of the political economy of the system that underscores the unacceptable way in which things are accorded value by nothing more than the bottom-line, by nothing more than the potential to make profit (and this is what is driving the budget cuts and re-structuring at the UC); on the other hand, we don’t suppose to have the answer in detail to this question, though we are convinced that attempts to negotiate to protect our own singular interests or programs or jobs–which is tantamount to arguing for their value against, and not in conjunction with or in a complementary relationship to other programs–are only making matters even worse for everyone. Deleveraging in order to rectify problems in one’s balance sheet–whether at the state, university, or local level–does not cleanly map onto a process of social devaluation, and yet this congruence is a demand of the standard operating procedures of how our institutions are currently being run, including our universities. Protests are a manifestation of that gap between the two processes of balancing a budget and people feeling their own devaluation by the system.

    Anyone who slavishly submits to a social logic that reduces social things to a line item in the budget might find it hard to comprehend how protests are part and parcel to the system, not roadblocks to its smoother operation. Protests on the level of the UC Walkout and now our occupation signify that this imperative to rectify accounts is determined by a grossly unfair set of priorities that must be rejected.

    We’re tired of hearing UC President Mark Yudof talk about making the UC more “efficient,” more “competitive,” about “human capital,” not because we are against some notion of what it means to be efficient, to not be wasteful, but because his speech demonstrates he needs a more complex analytic of the dynamics over-taking the UC system in this crisis. A broad-based social movement that has the capacity to articulate an alternative collective vision to the narrow, corporatist special-interests that control our budgets and strategic planning will be necessary. Nobody is sure what this will look like yet.

    For now, we believe one of the first steps to building such a movement is to show that escalation and occupation is necessary and possible. We hope that groups of students, faculty, and everyday Californians can begin to see themselves, too, as people who can organize, occupy, and escalate to fight back.

    Follow their websites, OccupyCa, We Want Everything and (microblog) occupyucsc and coverage in the UCSC newspaper.

    October 16. Plenary, Labor in Higher Education conference, sponsored by APSCUF/PSEA.  Harrisburg, Pa.

    October 28, 29. Public lecture, University of Kansas Hall Center for the Humanities, (lecture Wednesday, discussion and workshop Thursday).

    November 5.  Panel. Graduate Student Sustainability? American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Washington, DC.

    November 22-29 Global Learning Visiting Fellow, School of Business and Management, St. Mary University, London.

    February 11-12  Plenary, Networks and Enclaves: Open Access and Work in the 21st Century. University of California, Irvine.

    June 9-12  AAUP Annual Conference on the State of Higher Education. Washington DC.

    June 14-20, MLG Institute for Culture and Society, Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

    Dear University of California students, staff and faculty: Thank you. As a California parent, I am grateful for your courage in standing up to this administration in the massive walkout you’ve planned for tomorrow, September 24th.

    You are wise. Without you, tuition would soon rise to a point where most Californians couldn’t afford it. Public higher education in this state used to be free–and now it’s going to cost more than a new small car every year? Pretty soon a UC bachelor’s degree will cost the equivalent of four luxury cars. Who can afford that? Thank you for throwing yourselves into the trenches against the Schwarzeneggers and the Yudofs who want to turn public higher education into a subsidy for the rich.

    You are compassionate. You are demanding that cuts not fall on employees earning less than $40,000. Thank you for demanding fairness, and asking that–if cuts are actually necessary– the thousands of wealthiest UC employees dig a little deeper.

    You are honest. The reality is that undergraduate tuition subsidizes every other activity in the university, and the administration has billions of reserve funds. As Bob Samuels says, “UC does not have a budget crisis; it has a crisis in priorities.” The savage 40% tuition hike–while raising class sizes, cutting sections, etc–is really a massive increase in the tax on undergraduates represented by cross-subsidy. Thank you for asking that education come first.

    You are fighting racism in admissions. Economic discrimination is always wrong in a democracy, but in our state it falls much harder on African-Americans and Hispanics.

    You are fighting racism in university employment. Faculty salaries in the humanities already offer an unbelievably low return on the ten years it takes to get a PhD (if you’re lucky, around age 35 or 40 you’ll get a job that pays you $55,000, or less than a bartender). This means that mostly persons from wealthier backgrounds can afford to become professors–a form of economic discrimination that explains why university faculties are among the most disproportionately white workforces in the country.

    You make us think. It seems the administration has been trying to mislead the media with the statistic that UC professors make an average over $100,000. Funny thing about averages, though. If your neighbor earns a million dollars a year, and you earn $15,000–guess what? Your average salary is half a million bucks! The fact is that “average” salary includes a lot of people making huge, inflated salaries, and a lot more folks barely scraping by.

    Your typical humanities prof–you know, the person they show as a prof in the movies, talking to you about history, culture, or philosophy–puts in about ten years getting the Ph.D., then another three or four years on temporary appointment, before even starting a tenure track job.

    Even worse? Most university teachers aren’t tenured profs at all. Most courses are taught by grad students or folks on temporary, part time and nontenurable appointments. Most of these faculty make fifty or a hundred dollars per student per year. Thank you for inspiring us to ask: If it’s not going to the persons teaching our students: where’s our money going?

    In solidarity, Marc Bousquet

    UC Student Association (pdf)
    UC Faculty blog (FAQ, teach-in materials, etc)
    UC Staff one-day strike in solidarity

    Another scarily bad article from The New York Times on the economics of higher education is making the rounds. Purporting to explain why college costs keep rising, columnist Ron Lieber does a job so superficial, so thoughtless, so unresearched and unfact-checked–in sum, so embarassingly bad–it really wouldn’t have passed editorial review in many responsible college dailies.

    Lieber has just one main source for his piece, a college president MBA with nonacademic experience in management consulting.  He tells Lieber that problems one and two with college costs are faculty productivity and faculty resistance to closing departments. Third, he admits that there might also be a bit of an explosion in administrators and service personnel.

    Hm–no mention of facilities wars? Marketing? Technology? Venture capitalism and patent questing? Declining public investment? Sports? Administrator salary? Grad programs to scam the rankings?

    No mention of who benefits from those unmentioned soaring costs, either: wealthier students and parents, administrators, the business community, local elites consuming the sports spectacle (what, you thought those were students packing the seats at Division 1 basketball games?)

    Lieber’s fake journalism here is bad faith on the scale of your Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and other right-wing loons. Obviously, first, he doesn’t know squat about where colleges really spend their money, and isn’t much interested in finding out. His college president isn’t a source of knowledge on the issue; he’s just a quotation farm for Lieber’s half-baked preconceptions. By Lieber’s own admission, he didn’t actually look for a scholar who knows something about these questions–he just went looking for someone, anyone, in university management with an MBA.

    Second, he doesn’t fact-check his source’s claims. By any measure, for instance, faculty are INSANELY “productive,” teaching more students at less cost to the employer than at any point since the one-room schoolhouse.

    Anyone who knows anything about faculty labor costs knows a) that research faculty in many traditional arts and science fields get a lower return on their years of education than police officers, kindergarten teachers and bartenders and b) about 3/4 of all faculty aren’t even tenurable, much less research faculty, commonly working at “wages” that amount to philanthropy.

    Lieber similarly fails to look into the facts of department reorganization–how many such efforts have been made? how many have been defeated by faculty? at what cost? And of course this would really be straining his brain cells, but he’s describing the sort of reorganization that happens all the time at for-profits and community colleges: how’s that working out for students?

    In case you’re interested, I’ve an excerpt from HTUW that tries to think a bit about the main questions Lieber is trying to raise, ie, where the money goes and  Who Benefits From the Tuition Gold Rush? Read more here, and if you really want to see how colleges generate revenue from student misery, read this mind-bending case, Extreme Work-Study (pdf).

    The Real Drivel

    As regular readers know, I already played the drivel and junk-analysis cards with the New York Times earlier this year.  Plenty of people who agreed that the pieces were lousy or off-base thought playing the drivel card wasn’t necessarily a great rhetorical choice on my part, and maybe they were right. I mean, geez, there were ideas in Mark C. Taylor’s piece. They were bad ideas, poorly informed, contemptuous of most other faculty and perhaps a touch self-interested (Taylor is a distance-education entrepreneur), but at least they were ideas. And once you dismiss one piece as drivel, however epic its badness, what have you got left for something that’s next-generation worse?

    But Lieber? Come on, New York Times: with all the unemployed journalists floating around, you can’t find one that gets perma-temping and can put it into words for a mass readership?

    I’ve also tried to note when Grey Lady gets it right, by the way. Krugman has a great piece on why even good economists have been getting it wrong. He emphasizes the love of modelling over actual research–which is part of the story of why the few economists who’ve taken on higher education have done such a poor job (pdf, pp 15-27).

    I’m told that Amazon has picked HTUW for 40% off back-to-school pricing, which means they’ve shaved 9 bucks off the 23 dollar list.

    Yes, I know they do it by being union-busting assholes and crapping on the life of the mind, as represented by independent booksellers.

    I’m acquainted with Joel Russel, chemistry prof and president of the AAUP chapter at Michigan’s Oakland University. Courteous, soft-spoken and gentle to the point of self-effacement, he’s naturally conflict-avoidant and careful with his speech.

    But yesterday’s scheduled start of classes found him walking a picket line with most of his colleagues and several hundred supportive students, determined to hold the administration of his institution accountable to students and the public.

    Administrative Opportunism:
    “Never Let A Good Crisis Go To Waste”

    Oakland’s administration, Russell contends, is engaging in a version of the sleazy managerial opportunism sweeping the country–using claims of fiscal crisis as a form of extortion, to seize even more control of the institution’s mission, raise tuition and fees and further impoverish the faculty.

    (Only about a quarter of all faculty today are even eligible for tenure*; in many traditional humanities and science disciplines, even this minority earn wages similar to those of bartenders and waitstaff–a fact that has real consequences for the class, race, and gender segmentation of the academic workforce.)

    As Russell told the Chron, “The Michigan economic crisis is real. Oakland’s is not.”

    Citing several reports of the institution’s excellent financial health, the chapter’s website includes the AAUP chapter’s opposition to steep rises in tuition during the summer of 2009 and previously. Meeting with the trustees’ finance committee, Russell documented ten million dollars in faculty givebacks (on pension contributions) and annual tuition increases averaging almost ten percent.

    “Our employees have made the sacrifices and our students have paid steep tuition increases while the university has chosen to build its reserve accounts,” Russell said.

    “The time has come to consider spending some of the extra tuition dollars you have collected in the past rather than asking students to help you build even higher reserves.”

    What is really going on, the AAUP chapter contends, is an unfair labor practice–the administration is not bargaining in good faith, counting on the claims of “crisis” to give them carte blanche at the bargaining table and before an administrative law judge, who will rule on whether the chapter membership can continue to withold its services legally. (If the judge agrees that management is violating its obligation to bargain in good faith, the job action can legally proceed.)

    Normally at this point in a bargaining cycle there are one or two issues remaining to be resolved, but according to AAUP (pdf), few major issues have been resolved and there has been little pretense at actual bargaining by the administration.

    In addition to opposing unfair tuition hikes, the chapter is seeking fairness in health care and pension contributions, support for faculty research, and to restrain the growth of nontenurable appointment.

    The chapter has pledged to stand behind all faculty, pledging unqualified solidarity with those working nontenurably, “The AAUP will not tolerate punishment of any faculty member for participation in a job related action. You will be protected as if you were a full professor.”

    Where is the money going?

    Russell notes that while faculty and deans averaged 2.5 to 3.3% wage increases in 2008, the president accepted a 40% raise to a $350,000 base (despite having collected additional compensation of as much as $220,000 above the base in previous years), created three new vice presidents at salaries in the $170,000 range, and gave existing veeps raises of five to fourteen percent.

    Similar claims of opportunism and manufacturing a fake crisis to extort concessions have been made by faculty at the University of California. They have just voted no confidence in the system’s chancellor and are planning a walkout already endorsed by national AAUP (join).

    Further reading: Who Benefits From the Tuition Gold Rush?
    Undergraduates and Faculty are Super-Exploited Together (pdf)
    Why Higher Ed is Like Health Care (pdf)

    *As I’ve previously written, there are holes in the data on permatemping that campuses a mile wide: there are no criteria about what it means when ampuses report instructors “without faculty status,” no standards for the reporting of grad students working as faculty, and no remedy for the increasing percentage of persons reported as staff but also teaching courses as an adjunct.  This has resulted in major distortions of the true tenure-track faculty ratio at many schools–including my own–and most recently the University of Nebraska, which contrived to report itself at 100% full-time faculty when as Craig Smith points out, the truth is they had more like 1500 full-time, 400 part time, and over 1800 grad students. Even this more honest data covers up the number of full-timers who were tenured, the number of the the tenured who were released from teaching into administration, etc etc.

    The professional opinion of the chair of the George Mason University economics department is mistaken for the punchline to a Cajun joke.

    Last Thursday, 350,000 faculty members–most of them without any hope of entering the dried-up tenure stream–received a militant blast email from the AAUP:

    The AAUP serves notice that we are working to end “at-whim” employment for contingent faculty.  At its June 2009 annual meeting the AAUP put Nicholls State University and North Idaho College on censure for terminating the services of contingent faculty members who had been teaching in good standing for many years: one had taught as a full-time contingent faculty member for twelve years; the other had taught for thirteen consecutive semesters as a part-time faculty member.  The North Idaho College case was the first in which the AAUP has censured an administration for violating Regulation 13 of the Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure (“Part-time Faculty Appointments”), which draws on some procedural safeguards embedded in tenure to extend stronger due process rights for contingent faculty in part-time positions. (join AAUP)

    This drew a quick response from that reputable academic outlet, the PhiBetaCons blog (The “Right” Take on Higher Ed) at National Review Online, authored by the chairman of the George Mason University economics department, Don Boudreaux.

    (Usually I’d say chair or chairperson, but this really is as close to an all-male celebration of “competitions” rigged in favor of the richest as you’ll find anywhere in the academy.)*

    Boudreaux’s intellectual argument, such as it is, is a classic if-then castle in the air: if AAUP succeeds in making it more difficult to fire faculty (you know, like having a cause other than we want to get back at your husband, as in the North Idaho case), then it will be more expensive to hire faculty on contingent terms.

    If that is true, Boudreaux continues, fewer such faculty will be hired. Therefore, he triumphantly concludes, without any actual research,”it’s doubtful that your efforts will help the very persons whose well-being you claim to champion!”

    Wow. You can just see this genius dusting off his hands after dispensing with Cary Nelson and Gary Rhoades in 144 characters or less.

    He’s so intellectually deft that he can dispose of the AAUP, all of academic unionism, and three-quarters of the faculty in higher education in an argument that will fit on his Twitter page!

    But wait, there’s more. Flushed with pleasure at his first unassailable gem, Boudreaux can’t resist another go:

    Because adjuncts compete with full-time faculty, making adjuncts more costly to hire will raise the salaries of full-time faculty and prompt colleges to hire greater numbers of full-time faculty. Each of these consequences benefits us full-timers, both by fattening our wallets and improving our access to other full-time scholars in our fields. But our windfall will be paid for by unemployed part-time faculty — and by students and taxpayers who’ll have to foot the bill for the resulting higher cost of supplying classroom instruction.

    So, Boudreaux says, if you look at the situation intelligently–as they do in the endangered-conservative preservation tank in which he swims frustratedly, all day long, at GMU–you see that raising wages or otherwise raising costs of employment (you know, by giving benefits or protecting the workplace rights of professionals) is actually bad for workers!

    Yes, Socrates, I’m convinced. The first 144 characters didn’t do it, but that absolutely brilliant postscript was an original and unanswerable broadsword to my intellectual vitals.

    (And if I weren’t completely finished off, I certainly would have been by reading this selection from your Ideas on Liberty (“Dear Mom and Dad, Thank You For Being Blue-Collar Folks Who Taught Me Civility to My Betters and Not Resentment of Wealth.”)

    This sort of thing–why, son, y’all know I pay your people ev’ry penny I kin afford; you’re hurtin’ yourself with all this agitation, and it pains me to see you tho’ away your bright future–doesn’t generally merit a response.

    Nonetheless the folks over at ADJ-L (join) discussed it, most not knowing GMU’s reputation as a center for the paid lackeys of the speculator class.

    “He doesn’t sound like an economist,” writes the usually mild mannered Thane Doss. “He sounds like the people I went to high school with who didn’t go on to college and nowadays think Glenn Beck represents sound logical reasoning:

    If adjuncts cost more, the university will hire fewer because they can’t afford more, and then they’ll pay the tenure line professors more money out of the money they don’t have because they have to pay adjuncts more???? This is the same line of reasoning G. W. Bush used to use when he’d just explain that if he needed more money, he spend the same money a few more times again! If any of your kids want to study economics, DON’T send them to Non-Sequitur University,
    err, George Mason University.

    And Vanessa Vaile, who apparently hails from Cajun country, thought that she understood the piece correctly as a conservative gag (you know, the “Onion” for Yalies who sold their souls to Goldman Sachs), writing, “I get it; it’s a Boudreaux joke!” going on to explain the Cajun tradition of telling country stories about the hapless Boudreaux (sometimes Thiboudeaux):

    Anyone you know who’s lived or worked in Cajun south Louisiana can tell you about Boudreaux jokes, tell you a few too.  Boudreaux is the classic doofus, who gets it backwards, says dumb things that make you roll on the floor laughing.

    For my money, Vaile’s explanation captures this Boudreaux perfectly.

    *After I posted a link to the GMU Econ website (to prove to the disbelieving readership that Boudreaux was, in fact, a paid economist and not a joke, or at least not a Cajun folk hero) the Chron’s own Steve Street followed the link to the department photo and had this to say: “Notice how many in this economics dept look well- or even overfed. All guys, too, but two not pictured, and all but two not pictured are white. At first I thought the shot was overexposed!”

    FURTHER READING: Regulars know I’ve responded to the well-known labor economist and Princeton president William G. Bowen, whose well-intended but wildly erroneous work on related issues distressed tens of thousands of graduate students in the 1990s.  The argument is summarized on pages 15-27 in this free pdf from NYU Press.

    I just came across Mike Stanfill’s cartoon from last week, which captures a truth about the way the coding of the words “public” and “private” function in our debates about our laughing-stock-of-the-developed-world system of “health care.”

    (You know, health care for those who can pay and aren’t sick, health care as a reason to stay in a lousy job with more unpaid overtime and less vacation than the Japanese, health care for the last ten days of your life, but not the first thirty years, etc, etc. The whole pile of crap–which appears irrational until you see how efficiently it operates in its actual purpose, which isn’t “health” but to provide second homes, compliant spouses, and boats for a bunch of jerks you were right to despise in college.)

    One way the insurance parasites are beating Obama is in allowing their side to be described as the “private option.”

    Part of what’s going on here is the oft-observed prejudice against the public, a phenomenon those of us in higher ed know pretty well.

    But another dimension is the way that “private” remains unexamined. In higher ed, private can mean Swarthmore and Georgetown, but it can also mean DeVry.

    That is–in higher education, we distinguish between public and private, but we draw a bright-line distinction between them and for-profit education.

    Maybe I haven’t followed the debate closely enough, but I haven’t observed any major Democratic player trying to control the terms of the debate in a similar way–by labelling the insurers advocates of “health care for profit.”

    It wouldn’t be that difficult–the other side has opened the door by describing publicly-funded health care as “socialism.” (If only!)

    The Nation’s First Black CEO

    There’s more to say here–part of the problem is that Obama’s been weak on health care since declaring his candidacy– though who knew he’d be worse on education? If Obama’s idea of an education secretary is Arne (“squeeze ’em”)Duncan, who’s he going to appoint to oversee his public health care plan? Jack Welch? Leona Helmsley? Why not Dick Cheney?

    (Hey, I know you think I’m exaggerating about Obama and quality-managing higher ed back into the stone age of correspondence schools, but I’m not. Please feel free to describe to me the significant policy differences between Obama-Duncan and the pro-business “reformers” of higher education at intellectual sinkholes like the “John William Pope Center” who’ve set a couple of their cheezy PR flacks on me this year. )

    A big part of the problem is that Obama’s theory of the presidency is that he’s a good manager, hired by the people to clean up Bush’s bad management and restore what he views as the better quality-management of the public sphere represented by Clinton-Gore. (Albeit with more charisma than the latter, and minus the messy personal life of the former.)

    Getting back to Clinton-Gore didn’t sound like much of an ambition to me during the campaign, and it still doesn’t–and if Obama’s Wal-mart views of higher education are any measure of his idea of a public health care plan, I can understand why some people are worried.

    A public option that’s run by people who want it to be private and are operating under the delusion that they’re great managers–you know, like Arne Duncan, who privatized and militarized the Chicago public schools–might not be much better than the straight-up privates.

    Seriously–would you want your health care managed by this guy?

    As the cases of Chuck Manning, Mark Yudof, and countless others clearly prove: there is no evidence that bureaucrats are better managers than private executives. The efficiencies of public works don’t come from superior public management, period.

    Instead they come from not having to pay the bill collectors, lawyers, lobbyists, advertising agencies, PR flacks, bill-collecting programmers, executive bonuses and, above all, the shareholders.

    Unless Obama gets over being a great manager in his own mind, and dumps would-be privatizers and executives-of-everything like Duncan–unless, like Ted Kennedy, like FDR, he stands up to the moment, overcomes his own failings and previously-articulated bad ideas–unless he outlines a compelling case founded on an actual theory of the public good, he’ll end up as what he presently most fears: an historical curiousity, the “first Black president.”

    Late last night, disabled faculty veteran Gerald Davey posted to the adjunct faculty discussion list (join) to explain that he’d been fired, less than a year after blowing the whistle on San Antonio College administration’s scheme to defraud contingent faculty by forcing them to sign waivers relinquishing pay and eligibility they had earned under state law.

    The adjunct representative to his faculty senate, not only did Davey refuse to sign, he contacted AAUP and the media, eventually forcing the administration to admit breaking the law.  Essentially standing alone, he was eventually featured in a prizewinning series of articles.

    “Those who predicted retaliation in a term or a year were correct,” Davey wrote. “Having traditionally taught 6-11 hours per term, I was reduced to 3 hours in the Spring term with the hiring of a new, much less qualified adjunct.

    “For the Fall, my chair wrote me two days before the start of classes that I wasn’t placeable” Davey continued, claiming that the chair trumped up a refusal to teach a class offering, a pretext he dismisses as “entirely made up and of course completely untrue… a wholesale lie.”

    Largely subsisting on disability pay from a previous academic position, Davey is one of the few members of his department to hold the Ph.D. and publish in his field, has won multiple awards for excellence in teaching, and in 2006 was featured as one of the “20 Best Teachers” in the district.

    A “New Low” in Shared Governance

    The AAUP (join) has previously collected documents pertaining to his case, calling it a “new low in the exploitation of adjunct faculty.”  I’ve previously interviewed Cary Nelson on the question of academic freedom for faculty serving contingently.

    “It’s broadly recognized, certainly by contingent faculty themselves, that they really don’t possess academic freedom,” Nelson says, at least not “in the way that the American academy has assumed for basically half a century that everyone who teaches does.”

    In the first segment of our interview, the 49th president of the AAUP suggests that the shift to a majority contingent faculty is not only an economic phenomenon.

    It’s an intellectual sea change as well–for the faculty and for their students.

    Instead of intellectual freedom, many of the majority contingent faculty can be fired for contradicting the administration, can’t choose course texts or create syllabi, and are afraid to challenge students to think and learn, or raise controversial issues.

    “It’s a question of teaching in a climate of fear, versus teaching in a climate of freedom and honest interchange with your students,” Nelson warns. “The American academy has shifted from a place where there is a great deal of reinforcement for the intellectual independence of its faculty, to a place where there is very little.”

    The near-absence of academic freedom for the contingent majority is steadily becoming the reality for the tiny fraction of faculty who actually enjoy tenure, as AAUP counsel Rachel Levinson, Michael Berube and I warn in High Noon for Academic Freedom and The Children of Garcetti. The notion of shared governance is increasingly a figleaf for total managerial control.

    Community Colleges Yes, Perma-Temping No

    The recent boosterism for the mission of community colleges is welcome.

    That enthusiasm needs to be tempered, however, by a clear-eyed look at the way those institutions hire and promote their faculty. Hard research demonstrates clear connections between over-reliance on adjunct faculty and student nonpersistence, but sadly it appears to be adjunctification that Obama and Duncan like about community colleges. And as the Davey case and many others suggest, instances of administrative thuggery are sharply on the rise.

    As a recent NYT op-ed, Quenching A Thirst for Learning, points out, however, even when the community colleges aren’t being run by crooks and thugs, or using students as indentured labor, and are being staffed by those with the most earnest philanthropic motivations (“I’ll sacrifice to teach these people–they need me!”), the adjunct system fails:

    “I’m an adjunct professor, one of hundreds of thousands in an overeducated, unmoored, disposable work force staffing a majority of the nation’s colleges and universities. At the community college where I work, I have no permanent desk or office, no telephone, no benefits and, to many, no name….. Once the semester is over, I can’t promise that I’ll see [my students] again because I never know if I’ll be rehired. When they try to enroll in my coming classes, the registrar can’t even locate me in the computer system.”

    Even while describing the students who melt away from her classes, adjunct Katherine Jamieson seems like a committed, successful teacher who understands that she teaches as a philanthropist:

    “When I calculate the time and money spent traveling, grading, answering e-mail, teaching and planning, my wages come to about $9 an hour. Faced with this situation at any other job, I’d leave with no regrets. But these conditions are outweighed by the simple fact that I’m needed. When I walk into my classroom and look into 20 pairs of eyes ready and waiting to learn, I can’t turn away. [I] guess that this is why I keep coming back, too: I like to help people…”

    Despite the talent and dedication brought to the job by Jamieson (who, if she’s typical, will leave in a few years) all of the evidence strongly suggests that institutionalized teaching as deprofessionalized philanthropy fails: it fails K-12; it fails community colleges; it fails at research institutions and at small liberal arts colleges. It fails by standard metrics, such as persistence, and it fails the major tests of social justice.

    If we really want to invest in community colleges, we need to invest in faculty, secure their participation in governance and curriculum, pay them well enough to allow demographic groups without disproportionate wealth to envision joining the faculty, and put these faculty through the intensive peer scrutiny of the tenure system.

    Bob Samuels is the president of UC-AFT, the union representing nontenurable faculty at University of California campuses across the state. Like thousands of others, he recently received a layoff notice in the wake of the chancellor’s assumption of ’emergency powers’ (the academic equivalent of martial law).

    On his blog recently, Bob explained how 3500 U.C. “fat cats” earning over $200,000 are living large while students are being turned away and the teaching faculty–most earning less than bartenders–are being terminated and involuntarily furloughed. Learn more at Remaking the University and the California Faculty Association.

    For me the most eye-popping statistic that you’ve been tracking is the soaring compensation in the upper echelons at the University of California–what you call the “$200,000 club.” In the past three years, this group has grown by 50% and collects more than 11% of the salary budget for the whole university system.

    Couldn’t UC address its financial issues by adjusting the salaries and/or selective terminations among this group alone?

    Almost all of the people making over 240,0000 are medical faculty, law and business faculty, coaches, and senior administrators, and many will have only a small part of their salaries reduced in the UC furlough plan. The unions are calling for a 25% reduction of these positions. As we say, the UC needs to chop from the top.

    By contrast, the lowest paid workers, including many of the faculty you represent, have endured austerity for decades, haven’t they?

    Many faculty and staff have received no pay increases during this period; their labor subsidizes the raises of the highest paid employees.

    You’ve called this a “fake” fiscal crisis. What do you mean by that?

    UC has an operating budget of $20 billion and investments of over $50 billion; this was also a record year for external grants. They need to just move money around or share the profits of the revenue-generating sectors.

    The new UC chancellor Mark Yudof has been green-lighted for the university equivalent of martial law– “emergency powers.” What is he doing with those powers?

    He is imposing the furlough plan and allowing the fiscal emergency to trigger the layoff clause in union contracts.  Who knows what else he can and will do.  It is martial law.

    Is this restructuring really necessary, or just desirable from management’s point of view?

    There is a long-term problem on the horizon, which has to do with the pension losses of at least $16 billion, and the UC will need to require high pension contributions from the university and the employees, but this means they need more workers and students, and they have to stop giving people outrageous salaries that turn into incredible pensions. Many executives are given special pension supplements, which will cost dearly in the future.

    What has to change is funding undergraduate instruction out of temporary funds, while everything else is funded out of permanent funds.  In the current system, when there is a decline in state funding, they have to gut undergraduate education.

    How will the administration’s actions affect California students?

    In order to show they need more state money, the President has said that cuts have to be made visible on the campuses.  This means larger classes, the elimination of many courses, fewer services, the suspension of requirements, higher fees (tuition), more student debt, the slosing of entire programs, online instruction, and it will take students longer to graduate because they will be unable to get the required courses they need. Also, many will lose their financial aid if they do not graduate on time. >

    This doesn’t sound smart even from a sales and marketing point of view–how will the restructuring affect the reputation of the UC system and its ability to attract international and out of state students?

    Right now, the UC attracts so many students, that it feels it can do almost anything and still be highly selective.  UCLA has been the most applied to school in the nation for the last several years.  It only accepts 5% from out of state, but it might move to increase this number since out of state students pay about four times as much for tuition.

    How are the UC and CSU unions responding?

    CSU really does have a budget crisis, and they have one union for tenured, non-tenured faculty and staff. They are being forced to accept furloughs for everyone and massive layoffs for the non-tenured. UC has many different sources of revenue, and the tenured faculty are not unionized.  So the faculty and staff will get a furlough/salary reduction, and the UC has to bargain with the unions, but the UC is refusing to meet with the unions or answer their questions. There is major union busting activity going on, they have hired the top union busting law firm, and they are blaming layoffs on the failure of the unions to accept the furlough plan.

    What lessons does the California situation offer to public university systems in the rest of the country?

    Faculty have lost control of their own institutions, which are now run by administrators with no interest in education.  Faculty have to fight to regain control, and scale down the administrative bloat.  There also has to be a plan to defend undergraduate instruction and share revenue across sectors. Students also have to get involved and demand a quality education or they will be neglected.  If all of the workers and faculty were unionized, they could create a united front, but now they are being pitted against each other. Tenured faculty have also bought into the free agent system, where they negotiate their salaries through private deals circumventing the peer review process, and this has to stop.

    I’ve previously complained about the New York Times’ coverage and opinion regarding higher ed, which it treats more as a culture and lifestyle choice than as a critical social concern and economic enterprise. Moreover, it has drifted to the right on K-12 education, delivering soft coverage of charter schools, union busters like Michelle Rhee and Democratic  proponents of education as drill instruction like Arne Duncan.

    But Tamar Lewin’s recent piece, Study Shows Rise in Average Borrowing By Students, takes a step in the right direction.

    Faced with the task of covering an aggressively-spun white paper by higher-ed trade association The College  Board (representing “5,600 schools, colleges, universities and other educational organizations”) purporting to show that most undergraduate loan debt is “manageable”–Lewin notes the spin job by leading with the data that the PR flacks at the College Board are trying to conceal: median debt jumped 5% over inflation and 10% of bachelors graduate owing $40,000 or more. 

    Lewin goes on to place this propaganda in the appropriate critical context, noting that the median bachelor’s debt of $20,000 “does not include parents’ borrowing, credit-card debt, informal loans from relatives or friends, or loans for graduate school.” Additionally, the online version of the story was surrounded with relevant testimony from the victims of the College Board’s membership, as well as analysis and dialogue.

    There’s a lot more to say on this score, as I’ve already pointed out in my detailed response to recent coverage by Robin Wilson.

    x-posted: Swift Notes, April 2010

    Since it’s long been proven by solid metrics, such as admittances to the best colleges, that private boarding schools are the best schools, creating the best sort of citizens and leaders (“decision makers” or “deciders”), I think we should arrange private boarding schools for everyone.

    You’d think it would be difficult to do, but it’s not. You’d be astonished how much teaching you can buy in India, China and Africa for the $10,000 a year that some U.S. public schools are spending on their students.

    That’s right. My idea is to combine the outsourcing of education labor with a year abroad for every U.S. high school student. Several years abroad, actually. In fact, all of them.

    Let’s just move every U.S. middle, junior, and high school to India, China, or Africa.

    Just as in collegiate year-abroad programs, now all U.S. students will learn in an environment that promotes multiculturalism, bilingualism, awareness of poverty in the developing world, and a sense of their own good fortune in global capitalism!

    Of course we can’t let just anyone run these schools. It’s clearly understood by the Fox network of school reformers that American public schools have “failed.”

    It’s true that a couple decades of evidence proves that charter schools are less effective, even when they get to cherry-pick the best test-takers, as nay-sayer intellectuals like Diane Ravitch keep pointing out in the socialist media.

    However, I think we should allow the charter school people and education corporations to run our national offshore boarding schools for several reasons.

    Number one, we need a standardized national curriculum. Knowledge is always changing–for instance, we didn’t know until quite recently that markets solved all social problems. With a standardized national curriculum, we can direct teachers to share the correct views with maximum efficiency.

    (And having a good, patriotic, pro-capitalist curriculum is going to be especially important when all of our kids are living overseas!)

    Number two, charter schools can hire the personnel they really need–drill instructors. Since education and test-taking are two different skill sets, we should stop trying to get students to do well on tests by educating them. Historically, teachers have cheated students of their test preparation time by asking them to read, play music, and study art.

    Number three, charter schools know how to shed underperforming students, who often go on to prison. Imprisonment in the United States is awfully expensive–think of the savings when we can imprison our underclass overseas!

    Number four, rather than wastefully accumulate capital in stone buildings and libraries like old-style  boarding schools, our new offshore publicly funded but privately run boarding schools would accumulate capital for the shareholders of privately held education corporations, which have been some of the most profitable businesses in the history of capitalism. It’s true these shareholders will spend most of their gains on yachts and electronics manufactured in China, on cars built in Japan, Britain and Germany, and on undocumented nannies and housekeepers.

    But they’ll also have to spend at least a couple thousand dollars registering and insuring those possessions here in the United States, which will help to create clerical and civil-service jobs for the 1/4 of our population with four-year college degrees.

    Talk about killing two birds with one stone!

    Every American Student Offshore

    But the All High Schools Abroad (AHA!) program has many unintended benefits.

    Besides all of the savings on teacher salaries and prison guards, AHA! will export a big chunk of our problem with poverty, homelessness, food security, and health care.

    Since we have driven wages for so many workers below any reasonable estimation of the poverty line, and demand so much unpaid labor from young people (as part of their failed “educations”), we’ve really developed an embarassing problem with working adults unable to feed, house and insure their children, students bankrupting themselves while working full time, and so on.

    With so many young people offshore, we’ll be removing a sizable chunk of our poor, malnourished, homeless and uninsured. They can “slip through the cracks,” as we like to say, over there, which would be preferable. (But even if they demand services, we can purchase them at an attractive offshore discount.)

    There are some problems with my plan, like environmental impact.

    If we used jets, there’d be a lot of carbon. But why not use boats to send our kids overseas? I live about an hour from Oakland, and we send cargo ships the size of a golf course back to China full of empty containers. We could convert those containers to nice state rooms, for the better-off kids, and steerage housing for the rest. Call it a “semester at sea,” and offer course credit for cooking, painting, and swabbing the deck.

    Another problem: who would work in the malls, serve our lattes and flip our burgers, if not the student workforce? I admit, that was a real stumper for me, until I remembered all of those public-school teachers who would be unemployed.

    Why Not College?

    I know you’ve been reading this, and saying, okay, I see the dollars and sense of the proposal–but why not save money on colleges first? Why disrupt the younger students?

    The truth is simple post-Fordist economics. I’ve done the math, and the fact is that U.S. higher education is a freaking genius accumulation machine. For one thing: you can’t get college teaching any cheaper!

    The U.S. campus has redefined college teaching as something akin to missionary work (“Believe in literature, philosophy, or history? Great! Come to State U. and teach it for a thousand bucks a class–the salary’s just to pay for your broadband and photocopies.”)

    And don’t even get me started about the tuition that students pay! In the U.S. we really rake it in, whereas overseas all the higher ed is often cheap or even free.

    Plus we really can’t afford to lose the donated and underpaid gold mine of college student labor: the internships, student assistantships, the service learning, and the low-wage work-study jobs.

    When you think about it, every capitalist on the planet wants to accumulate by the methods perfected by U.S. higher education. So let’s not mess with something that’s working perfectly as is!

    Are you ready to give shared governance an F?

    Maybe it’s time we learned our lesson about shared governance. Four decades of earnest collaboration with management have done little for the tenure stream partners in governance–except to see their steady replacement by instructors, moonlighters, staff specialists and student workers, including undergraduates.

    This summer’s events on many campuses suggest that “sharing” governance has been just a figleaf for managerial control.

    These past few months even the most Pollyanna of profs might have to admit that the fundamental powerlessness of faculty under systems of “sharing” governance is on spectacular display across the country–with opportunistic administrations using the economic crisis to achieve their hearts’ desire: wage cuts, furloughs, layoffs, program closures… but no reduction in administration, staff, services, or landscaping!

    The administration building’s air conditioning is on full blast; their carpets are new and regularly cleaned; their kids are in private school, and they still get out for golf while you’re grading papers or paying for your research out of pocket, stealing time from your kids’ lives. On the occasions they’ve taken pay cuts, they’ve generally been symbolic, knocking a grand or two off a monthly take that would buy an average person a new car.

    Professional Managers, Proletarian Professionals

    Sure, one part of the story is partisan politics in the U.S.–the defunding of higher ed.  But the other part is the story I’ve been trying to find time to think about, regarding what seems to me to be a split in the professional-managerial class. It’s what literary folks call a chiasmus: the professionalization of management has resulted in their seeking to deprofessionalize everyone else. It’s happened already in higher education; the faculty is already deprofessionalized.

    College faculty long ago gave up the key perquisites of a profession–control over who does their work and their qualifications–a lower percentage of faculty hold the PhD today than forty years ago, even while fatuous analyses of academic labor squawk absurdly about a “surplus” of doctorates. The only remaining question is guesswork: what single-digit percentage of the faculty will be tenure stream in twenty years?

    The same thing is happening in law and medicine and accountancy, albeit with more determined and better-informed resistance by more militant professional associations. And it is happening in higher education unevenly–in some places more than others–but this unevenness has turned out to be useful to management. Since those of us at the top of the food chain retain some vestigial professionalism and control, we have a pathetic tendency to feel acknowledged and warmly appreciated because the boot is kicking us with less vigor.

    Never Too Late to Learn

    The future true history of this moment won’t waste time blaming one half of the U.S. CP (U.S. Capitalist Party) over the other, as if Democrats like Al Gore (see what he’s done for higher ed in Tennessee!) and our own Capt. Wal-mart would have saved the day.

    Instead that history will point to the Rise of the Executive, the Stalinist era of a capitalist leadership cult, an entire culture of consolidating control of mission in an individual and his loyalists, his Band of Brothers, his famiglia, his team. The executive class has been so effective that they’ve managed to capitalize massively on themselves, wresting control of trillions in shareholder wealth to pour hundreds of millions in compensation into their individual pockets.

    (Come on, did you really think the popularity of The Sopranos was because it pertained to actual New Jersey gangsters? It succeeded because it represents our everyday experience of gangsterism in the workplace, the production of revolting new concentrations of wealth out of our sweat and misery–the The Real Housewives of Orange County/Atlanta/New York/New Jersey. Sure, they’re not all Godfathers–most executives are just junior-league earners, beating up a call-center or two.)

    We have a growing literature and culture and world of ritual associated with the rise of these executives and their domestic arrangements: it’s called the business curriculum.

    Higher education plays a major role in producing and legitimating the executive class.  These steadily more professionalized executives are our product. We’ve made them more ambitious, more confident, more certain of the justice of their claim on outsize reward for quality-managing absolutely everything–not just business, but education, medicine, government, and organizations of all kinds, even labor unions.

    I’ve already argued that higher education employment–permatemping, student-sourcing, interning, service “learning,” etc– has been a crucial laboratory for innovation in the labor process, which has been for decades of greater importance than purely technological innovation.

    In other words, I’ve been observing that most of the nostalgic whiners are wrong–it’s not that we’re being managed like a business so much as businesses are trying to manage themselves like us. Every business wants workers to give themselves away the way faculty have.

    So we make these executives and they get into a job and they have to innovate the labor process and where do they look for inspiration? The university and its racist, sexist division of labor:

    Hey, got a high household income or inherited wealth? You too can be a college teacher! Few Hispanics and African-Americans need apply! And ladies? We have some introductory courses for you; a nice man will give you a syllabus to teach from. Need a man-sized income so you can hire a lady to raise some kids for ya? No problem, just get smart in a manly discipline or go into administration!

    The racist, sexist division of labor isn’t the intention, of course–universities desperately want to hire affirmatively. It’s simply the unintended consequence of the higher priority, the race to the bottom in faculty wages at the expense of any pretense at actual learning: the mindless starvation of student mind and faculty body in service of capital accumulation. To get more buildings, bigger endowment, more flowers and new paint in the offices of important people, wages have been driven down to the point of near volunteerism, and the faculty closely resembles the demographics of the class that can afford to do good works in their spare time.  (In short, despite our imagined faculty superiority, we’re structurally bound to the world of The Real Housewives franchises: hence the train-wreck fascination.)

    The true history of this moment in higher education therefore is a subset of the true history of the split in the professional managerial class: a tale of administrations engorged with power and blood lust, running amok while hooting their battle cry, “Never let a good crisis go to waste!”

    Of course the next moment could simply be an intensification of the misery and hypocrisy we have today, being pushed for by think-tank drones in both the Republican and Democratic wings of the US Capitalist Party: “Excepting those loser dropouts who really oughta be in prison working for even lower wages, these kids are getting a great education and I have the test results from our patented nationwide curriculum to prove it! We have built a Global Coalition of the Educationally Willing to use our Teacher-Proof Curriculum and They Love It, according to our completely unspinnable metrics! My numbers prove that we don’t need teachers at all; students can teach students, just like in log-cabin schoolrooms! Though personally, my kids are in private school.”

    Or it could be better, if we’re willing to learn from our past follies. We might even need to stop “sharing governance” and kick some of these turkeys to the curb.

    Summer School For Faculty

    Possibly you’re tired of beach reading–or perhaps you couldn’t afford the beach this year? You say you’d like to get beyond the “Thank you, sir! May I have another?” school of governance?

    I have a few suggestions.

    AAUP’s Academe. Read it online for free. Better yet, join the militant new AAUP, helmed by the dream team of Cary Nelson and Gary Rhoades. Former editors include heavy hitters like Paula Krebs and Ellen Schrecker; be sure to look for the completely overhauled website and investigative-journalistic mission promised by incoming editor Cat Warren.

    The new Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor. When Wayne Ross fled Louisville and its subsequently-indicted education dean for the University of British Columbia (think of it as Canada’s Cal-Berkeley), he took Workplace with him. Featuring an all-new format, energetic new board and coeditor, the journal now releases articles in a timely pre-print fashion. Recent releases include Bruno Gulli on the Super-Exploitation of Contingent Academic Labor  and fellow Louisville escapee John Welsh’s two contributions, Theses on College and University Governance: A Critical Perspective and The Status Degradation Ceremony: The Phenomenology of Social Control in Higher Education.

    Journal of the Edu-Factory Collective. The current top article is an essential piece by Chris Newfield on Militant Chairs, about the possible stiffening of spines–even at R1s! even in nonconfrontational California! even by chairs! in response to the opportunistic wage-cutting by capo di regimes at the University of California. Featuring an international cast of mostly radical intellectuals, you’ll keep up to date with the quarter-million strong German education strike and occupations of Italian admin buildings and the sleazy new Australian conversion of foriegn students into indentured guest workers.  You’ll learn how educators and students across the planet have been fighting (sometimes winning, sometimes losing) many of the fights we have in the U.S.

    Polygraph 21: Study, Students, Universities. Fair warning: these kids are Marxists. This issue of what is perhaps the best-run graduate student journal in the U.S. is sparked by a simple, core, observation: There are students in the university. 

    Remaking the University. Together with two collaborators, Newfield’s blog, currently devoted to the running thuggery in California. Chris makes the best and most thorough case for the defunding-of-the-u dimension of the current disaster. See especially his discussion of the furlough’s bias and his analysis of the Cal budget from 1990 planning and benchmark insitutions to the moment of “Extreme Arnold.”

    CFA Headlines. Keep up with the news on the California Faculty Association’s struggle to keep mandatory furlough days under faculty control.

    Last week President Obama (He Who Must Not Be Criticized From the Left) proposed throwing some chump change at higher education–12 billion or so to community colleges, much of it intended for such great ideas as more spending on facilities, online education, assessment tools, and a standardized national curriculum–excepting where potential employers want to dictate course content.

    Woo-hoo. Over a decade from now, more than 1,000 institutions, educating half of all the students in the country–tens of millions of people!–will eventually divvy up a third as much cash as The One slings to a bank or automaker in a single day. As long as they spend it the way ROTC cheerleader and Margaret Spellings clone Arne Duncan tells them.

    Not to go all Paul Krugman on the prez, but it’s hard to know which is more irritating–the galling cheapskatery, the wretched ideas for spending the money–more standardization! more managerial control! a teacher-proof curriculum!–or his cynical, self-congratulatory contempt for the education of citizens outside the professional managerial class (“the workers,” for whom “job training” is all that’s required.)

    Candidate Obama promised to make community colleges “completely free to most Americans.” That was a far cry from what an actual intellectual and activist like Adolph Reed has been proposing for a decade–free higher ed, period–but it would have helped.

    What he now promises–a slim billion annually, to promote Arne Duncan-style “reform”–will do more harm than good.

    It’s not that community colleges don’t need reform. Commonly displaying single-digit graduation rates–attainment of two-year degrees averages about 25% after four years–your typical community college basically sucks.

    Don’t get me wrong. I probably wouldn’t be in this profession if I hadn’t been inspired and transformed by my experience of teaching in community colleges and similar institutions in the CUNY system.

    What’s more, plenty of four-year schools suck in the same way–the University of Louisville, where I first got tenure, purported to be a Carnegie Research-1 institution, largely on the basis of work in the medical school, but had a six-year graduation rate hovering around 30%. (And the only members of the faculty I ever met who cared about that statistic were among the group in the ed school chased out by a thuggish dean later indicted for embezzling his federal grants.)

    Bankers are from Tiffany’s, Educators are from Wal-mart

    Louisville fails for the same reason many community colleges fail: they put cheap, permanently temporary teachers (students, retirees, moonlighters, folks willing to work for status) in the front lines of first-year courses, and then–desperate to armor-plate the curriculum against the uneven preparation of the faculty–convert the tenure stream into supervisors of the temps.  The bribe for the tenured overclass includes being freed to teach only the fraction of students who get through the obstacle course of the first year or two.

    But this suckiness is what Obama and Duncan like about community colleges and enterprise universities like the U of L.  Not the low graduation rates–they’ll pull at their chins thoughtfully and agree with you there.

    What they like–no, love–is the organization of community colleges, the top-down control of curriculum, the tenured management and the disposable teachers. That’s perfect! Community colleges regularly fire union officials and anyone else who gets in their way.

    With management firmly in control of curriculum and governance, there’s no pathetic and irritating faculty to raise their hands and whine while local employers are trying to place their education orders with the college administration: “Gimme about fifty x-ray technicians! naw, make it seventy-five–we got about ten jobs and wanna make sure we can replace any with union sentiments. And hurry it up, will ya? I gotta fly to Hilton Head this afternoon for dinner and a round of golf in the morning. Oh, you only make a hundred grand? Heck, I can offer you five times that if you can get my people to work for the crap wages you pay your faculty!”

    The fact that the best research shows that a perma-temp faculty and several decades of total managerial dominance are causing low graduation rates won’t stop the prez and his basketball buddy, because control is their goal. However unjust and racist the consequences, they are fundamentally anti-democratic in their aspiration to fulfill the Clinton-Gore dream of quality-managing the public sphere.

    (Follow the link to see what I mean by “unjust and racist,” but essentially: when you drive the wages for teaching down to the point where it’s a luxury good providing status–“I teach at the U” is a variation on the theme of “I live on Wisteria Lane” or “I drive the 600-class”–only the already well-off can afford the luxury of spending time on teaching.  You pretty much inevitably perpetuate the beliefs, interests, racial composition and gendered division of labor of the class providing the teachers. Including that class’s disproportionate whiteness and their belief that the folks they’re teaching–“workers”– are a pretty unworthy bunch.)

    Despite increasingly threadbare efforts to wrap himself in the legacy of FDR, in any reasonable world-historical perspective Obama is our Herbert Hoover: a pro-business “moderate” eager to keep good relations with organized labor while minimizing labor’s impact on public policy.

    To put it another way, he’s essentially a fixer for the status quo ante Bush II.

    In his wildest dreams, the prez just wants to get back to the crappy “good economy” of the Clinton years. Those were the years that inspired my favorite first-year student writing assignment, on the question of “for whom is a ‘good economy’ good?” (Hint: the cast of Bravo’s “Real Housewives” franchise has done okay, but their servants–not so much.)

    The Right Pressure Point, Wrong Strategy

    The fact is that neither Obama nor his ballplaying buddy think community colleges are really sources of higher education at all–to their minds, they’re job training centers.

    But even from this perspective, the community colleges offer a major opportunity to stimulate the economy.  Higher education is a pressure point where we can  apply real, FDR-style solutions, as I’ve pointed out before: full employment for educators and taking students out of the workforce would create millions of jobs. Essentially overnight. And community colleges offer the largest opportunities in that respect, with the most part-time faculty and the students working the longest hours.

    In the unlikely event our two ballplaying cronies do legislate pro-rata faculty pay and provide not just free tuition but living support for students at community colleges–even if their aim is the cynical one, of economic stimulation–all the evidence suggests they’ll have another, unintended effect: education.

    In my last column, I pointed out that the nationalist and “cultural capital” function of literature classes are in decline. With their tenure lines evaporating, many literature faculty are grasping at the claim that they teach “reading” and “thinking.”

    By this they generally mean the training of managers and professionals in a degraded version of New Critical reading practices–spotting (or producing) ambiguity, complexity, and irony. For those who care about this sort of thing, this is really a version of a much older claim, that they teach rhetoric.

    Combined with the right higher-ed brand names, the capacity to produce ambiguity and complexity in the tax code or the National Labor-Relations Act can get sold to a corporate law firm for a million dollars a year.

    Of course that requires further training in the ability to live with oneself while eating meals that cost more than a retail worker’s monthly pay. That’s where a corresponding ethical agility–learned in, say, philosophy or theology classes–comes in handy.

    The crowing by the University of Colorado administration after the latest twist in the Churchill case illustrates this claim pretty well. Provost Phil DiStefano seems to have huffed a few lines of Hogwarts Ambiguity Powder to keep a straight face while dubbing CU’s trampling on Churchill’s academic freedom, subversion of faculty process and transparent political thuggery “a victory for faculty governance.”

    It’s true that saying stuff like that comes with a price for administrators–obviously DiStefano’s abuse of Ambiguity Powder has caused his sense of irony to collapse–but he’ll be amply rewarded for this workplace injury. After years as the admin’s point man on the Churchill case, he’ll soon step into the chancellor’s job as the result of a search process that produced him as the “sole finalist.”

    DiStefano couldn’t have gotten his broomstick off the ground, though, without the teamwork of loyal CU alum Judge Larry J. Naves. The latter waved his wand of Dumbledorean Complexity over the jury’s verdict in order to vacate it, claiming that upon further reflection–you know, after the jury came up with a verdict he didn’t like–he believed that the Colorado regents were immune from lawsuits!

    Yessir, Naves says, the Regents are immune from legal liability because–here’s the creative part–he thinks they’re kinda like judges, a “quasi-judicial body.” They can’t be sued for decisions taken in relation to their jobs. (Unlike faculty at public institutions, who a growing web of hostile law says can be retaliated against for disagreeing with the thugs and political hacks who boss them.)

    Now, the law doesn’t actually come out and say the Regents are immune–that’d be too pedestrian and straightforward. You need a good Reader and Thinker to see that.

    As RaceToTheBottom points out, Naves could have spotted this analogy of Regents to judges, and the corresponding immunity from lawsuits before the trial, and spared Churchill the expense of a month-long hearing. But before the trial–not knowing its inconvenient result–Naves didn’t need this clever (and false) analogy.

    Look for this stinker to be reversed on appeal. And if it isn’t–whoa, nelly. Strap on for a wild ride. Increasingly the Law says administrations have academic freedom–and you don’t.

    Here’s your homework assignment for the day. Ask yourself what “academic freedom for administrators” means.

    A short piece forthcoming in the tenth anniversary issue of Pedagogy (Duke UP).

    For me the most compelling question in English studies today is the tension between the figure of reading and the figure of writing, especially as it plays out in what David Downing calls managed disciplinarity, the disciplinary division of labor between writing and literature.

    Nearly everyone thinking about this question acknowledges that it’s a distinction serving to justify the division of resources and rewards—time, salary, prestige, power—rather than a coherent intellectual division. This wasn’t always the case, but it was for much of the twentieth century. So long as the literature curriculum remained central to sustaining nationalist and imperial projects, faculty working under the sign of “literature” were steadily more likely to be associated with research-intensive, or at least tenurable, appointments; to control institutional resources; shape the disciplinary agenda of the field; receive funding and media recognition, etc. Read more

    A funny thing happened on the way to the White House. The one-time supporter of the only kind of national health insurance proven to work (single payer) rolled over for the insurance industry and adopted the single most ridiculous health care plan offered during the 2007-2008 Democratic primaries. Against all the evidence, candidate Obama asserted that “lowering costs” would lead to universal health coverage.All the evidence has it the other way around: universal coverage causes the lowering of costs. Most educators will understand this clearly, because it’s parallel to our situation. Most of the actual expense to be saved is in administrator bloat, the armies of staff to collect the bills and whole country clubs full of vice presidents to “manage the care,” ie, invent the hoops that separate physicians from patients.

    When yours truly pointed this out across the Dem blogosphere, the responses ranged from the Insane Hero Worshipper position (Obama is my God and you shall have no other Gods before him!) to the Wisdom of the Political Insider, who argued that absurd as candidate Obama’s fake health plan appeared, after the election the political process would take over, and we’d get something better, perhaps even single payer. In other words: President Obama would not be wedded to the health care industry just because Candidate Obama let them get to third base at the drive-in.

    That political process is happening now. Two-thirds of all Americans favor single payer. A massive national coalition supports that preference, comprising in addition to hundreds of student and citizen organizations, physicians, labor, and even a few legislators .

    Nonetheless single-payer is all but off the table, with Kennedy and Baucus picking up where Obama left off at the drive-in, and The One’s mouthpiece yammering red, white, and blue nonsense. “What we need is an American solution to an American problem,” Kathleen Sebelius gabbled to NPR the other day.

    FAIR blames the corporate media quarantine for consistently ignoring single-payer, or mentioning it only to describe it as impossible or unlikely. Bill Moyers agrees, saying that Obama’s White House and Congress “have kept the lid on.”

    What can you do? Sign up with socialist Bernie Sanders, for starters.

    In this week’s lead story at _The Chronicle of Higher Education,_ Robin Wilson has a spread of four pieces scoffing at the notion of a national problem with undergraduate debt: A Lifetime of Debt? Not Likely.Splashed above the fold on the front page — during Congressional hearings regarding major reforms in student lending — this story flies in the face of massive public and legislator concern about the funding of higher education, including a longrunning series of scandals in student lending: corruption among state and federal education officials, predatory lending, abusive collections, lax oversight, outrageous executive pay, perks, and bonuses.

    While acknowledging that what she dubs a vocal minority of undergraduate borrowers have “very real” problems with the system of college financing, Wilson asserts that students in loan trouble are “more often” the victims of their own bad choices, especially those “determined to attend their dream college, no matter the cost.”

    The hero of Wilson’s piece is a 2007 graduate of a Roman Catholic college who lives rent-free with her mother, foregoing “for now” such unrealistic expectations as her eventual plan to “live in an apartment in Boston with a friend.”

    This young woman’s story, Wilson claims, is emblematic of a “silent majority” of borrowers paying off car-loan-sized debt “without much complaint.” For those who need more convincing, Wilson helpfully provides three more tales — all of young, married, well-employed couples with children making small middle-class sacrifices to pay down their debt. It’s all very Ozzie and Harriet, in low-cost-of-living locales like Iowa and West Virgina — the most coastal of the couples lives a 40-minute commute from Philadelphia.

    Wilson defends the one-dimensionality of her sidebars as a necessary corrective — a “stark contrast” — to the several thousand stories of student loan woe told by the nearly 200,000 members of a new Facebook group, Cancel Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy, or at The Project on Student Debt, or Generation Debt, or Student Loan Justice, among others.

    Wilson seems particularly disturbed that the gullible folks at CNN, _USA Today,_ and The New York Times appear to have been taken in by these complaints (not to mention three or four years of scandal and public outcry). There’s “confusion” about the issue, Wilson says, because many people, like the founder of the Facebook page, are counting graduate-school debt.

    So — to help us out with our confusion — Wilson artificially separates out the grad-school debt and then invites us to share her pose of mystification that so many people appear to be complaining angrily about what amounts to a new-car loan.

    Among the many inconvenient facts that Wilson leaves out is that present trends suggest that 40 to 50 percent of all persons with bachelor’s degrees in 2009 will eventually go on to graduate or professional school.* Those debts can be enormous, and when one acknowledges the real chances that any individual with a B.A. will go on to grad school the “lifetime of debt” is indeed more “likely.”

    (Even if we accepted Wilson’s rhetorical carving-off of undergraduate debt from other debt — and further accepted her definition of borrowers with real problems as in the range of 8 or 10 percent — that would still be many millions of people affected by the student loans carried by someone in their family — a spouse, parent, or child.)

    Wilson ignores that students also carry thousands of dollars in credit-card debt, often with the complicity of the campus.

    Their parents are also borrowing more, and in some cases parents out of the workforce are going back to work primarily to help pay for tuition. (Fifteen percent of graduating seniors have parents that take PLUS loans; the average is approaching $20,000).

    Students are working more too, and most of those who are employed are working longer hours than is compatible with academic success and persistence.

    Equally relevant is the trajectory of debt — that many more people are borrowing, and borrowing much more; the average debts has recently doubled under Bush-era policies and without policy change may well double again.

    Students with lower incomes borrow more and work more, and have less success. Does taking on larger and larger undergraduate debt provide a barrier to graduate school for persons of disadvantaged backgrounds?

    The piece could have considered the consequences of education debt for those who don’t persist, or don’t go in the first place. It could have considered the rising default rate (or the lousy way we’ve been calculating default rates), or the different default rates for different kinds of schools, like the especially high default rates in the for-profit sector.

    But even if we accept the focus on those who get degrees and find employment, and ignore what for many is the inevitability of grad-school debt, what about those in the current graduating class — who aren’t finding jobs with employers planning on hiring 20 percent fewer college grads and offering lower salaries to 20 percent of those they do hire? Even recent grads from good schools with econ degrees are going on food stamps. Hard stats on this are going to take a while, but one of the good indicators is this one from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (hat tip to Anya Kamenetz):

    ACE’s 2009 Student Survey shows that just 19.7 percent of 2009 graduates who applied for a job actually have one. In comparison, 51 percent of those graduating in 2007 and 26 percent of those graduating in 2008 who had applied for a job had one in hand by the time of graduation.

    For that matter, it would have been worthwhile to consider how the so-called going-to-college bonus in wages is:

    1) more of a going-to-grad-school bonus, and
    2) not so much a bonus as a penalty.

    Yup, a penalty — for staying out of college. Since the 1970s, the gap between those with a sheepskin and those without has grown, but not because the wages of the B.A.-educated have risen.

    Far from it. They’ve just stagnated less than the wages of those without a B.A., whose wages have been driven down in the era of Reagan, Clinton, and the Bushes.

    Absent from the piece are the voices of the indebted or their spokespeople, like Kamenetz, Tamara Draut, or Jeffrey Williams.

    Also absent is any consideration of most of the core contemporary policy issues about student loans. Even _USA Today_ — under the subhead Helping Gamblers, Not Students — managed to explore the policy universe of student loans more thoughtfully, raising the issue of bankruptcy reform.

    Loans aren’t the only thing that are broken about higher education, but an article like this one (“No problems here!”) does the conversation little good. Robin Wilson is entitled to her opinion, but this front-page lead story wasn’t presented as an editorial — and it lends credibility to Cat Warren’s concerns about fair coverage. I don’t mean to be a grouch here, and I know I’ve been a little tough on the higher-education press lately, but _The Chron_ loses credibility when it gets out-thought on student loan issues by _USA Today._

    *Educational Attainment in the United States, 25 years and over: 2008, US Census (excel file)

    This essay is drawn from the final issue of minnesota review to be edited by Jeffrey Williams, featuring a series of statements of professional commitment or belief–credos–by representative scholars. It’s a very special series of essays, and a worthy capstone to Williams’ extraordinary run as editor.

    I’ll follow up with more about Williams’ accomplishments, and the future of the journal, which received several bids from institutions willing to step in where Carnegie Mellon stumbled. A letter of intent has been signed, and an orderly transfer to a great new editorial board is underway.

    The issue also brings nearly to a close Williams’ spectacular series of in-depth interviews. Often twenty pages in print, these leisurely portrait-of-an-era conversations have been typically longer than the articles in the same issue. Despite Williams’ normally unerring judgment, the issue includes a talk with me, Higher Exploitation.

    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.

    So at the end of all that, you have a person who is earning within ten or fifteen thousand dollars of $70,000 and has perhaps fifteen or twenty years of career ahead of them.

    All of the reasonable studies of faculty work suggest that this person will put in between 50 and 55 hours a week for most of those years, more or less voluntarily. There are plenty of enforcement mechanisms to make sure that most faculty will teach, serve, and do scholarship in some rough proportion to their abilities and inclination, but after a quarter-century of strict selection and socialization, it is rarely necessary to invoke them to get the faculty to do their jobs.

    By comparison to the twenty-year probation leading to academic tenure, police officers, kindergarten teachers, and civil servants earn tenure or job security in a year or two, often less. During training, a high-school-educated police recruit in 2009 generally earns a salary of between thirty and forty thousand dollars, or about twice what a doctoral student earns during graduate school. Today’s starting salaries for 20- or 21-year old metropolitan police officers and state troopers are generally in the forties.

    They receive bonuses for completing two- and four-year postsecondary degrees, as well as tens of thousands of dollars in supplemental pay for overtime and special duty. In Cincinnati, for example, a recruit will earn $31,000/year during a six-month training period, and then begin work at $46,000. Five years later—at age 26—they will expect to earn a base pay of $56,000, or about what junior faculty in many arts and sciences fields are being offered after their twenty-year apprenticeships, in their early forties.

    The 26-year-old police officer earning about the same base pay as our 40-year-old assistant professor can expect to work as little as another fifteen or twenty years, keeping up with inflation whether or not promotions are awarded, collecting additional fair compensation in such forms, as the Cincinnati metro police site promises, “overtime earnings, court pay, certification pay, training allowance, and night differential pay.”

    The Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund estimator estimates that in 2009 a 48-year-old retiree who had done nothing to save additionally and earned just under $70,000 in his final year as a 27-year veteran would receive a pension of about $42,000. That 48-year-old would then be free to work another job—a corporate security position, or a supervisory position overseeing poorly-paid retail guards, or real estate, or whatever, earning, say $60,000 a year, for a total annual income of six figures. Or the retired officer could work part time, twenty hours a week or so, and still pull in about $80,000 or $90,000—likely quite a bit more than our largely fictional time-serving 55-year-old associate prof is pulling in on the imaginary twenty-hour work week of just showing up to teach from old notes.

    Pension benefits for military service and certain civil service positions are similar: your average worker aged 48 to 55 without too many promotions but with a quarter-century or more of service will be eligible for pensions of between thirty and sixty thousand dollars, or the equivalent of between about $800,000 and $1,500,000 in your Fidelity or TIAA-CREF accounts.

    No matter how you slice it, most public servants earn a better return on education and effort over the course of a career than most faculty, including those on the tenure track. It’s hard to make a case that the rather unusual instances of lifetime associate profs who skate by on twenty- or thirty-hour work weeks are gaming the system.

    Instead, they are the unusual few who have refused to allow the system to game them. Read more

    MAY DAY!
    Thursday, April 30 is May Day for faculty serving contingently, according to the fledgling New Faculty Majority coalition. Major support provided by Bob Samuels, president of the California Federation of Teachers, representing nontenurable faculty at five UC campuses: Berkeley, Davis, Riverside, San Diego and Santa Cruz. Support ’em by wearing red to work tomorrow.
    On the same day, the University of Colorado AAUP chapter’ will push my kind of radicalism, putting Suzanne Hudson’s Instructor Tenure Proposal to a vote in the Faculty Assembly.
    Image: Lenin Pointing the Way Forward! pose struck by Emile Bousquet, 13 mos. Sweater fashion by Jamie Owen Daniel, former Marxist Literary Group president, denied tenure by New York Times columnist Stanley Fish during his theatrical run as a “campus leader” at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
    If you think I’ve been hard on Mark C. Taylor and the New York Times for their “hey! I went to graduate school, therefore” theories of higher education, you should consider that bad journalism and bad leadership have real consequences for people I care about, like Jamie Owen Daniel and the young fellow pictured above.In point of fact: I was rather tame by comparison to pretty much everyone else who actually knows anything about academic labor, especially the always-blistering Historiann and Jonathan Rees. Even the guy over at Savage Minds who wants to agree with Taylor admits, “this op-ed sucks.”

    I answered most of the responses in the comments portion of the original post, such as where to find the data.

    Among the excellent responses, I felt one deserved a post of its own. It went something like this: “well, if demand for education is rising, and tuition is soaring, where does the money go, if not to the faculty?”

    For that, I promised to reprint this post from before I joined Brainstorm.

    Who Benefits From the Tuition Gold Rush?
    The logic of the HMO increasingly rules higher education. Management closely rations professor time. Thirty-five years ago, nearly 75% of all college teachers were tenurable. Only a quarter worked on an adjunct, part-time or nontenurable basis.

    Today, those proportions are reversed.

    Read more