We continue awaiting the decision of a grand jury on whether or not to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, exactly 15 weeks ago today on a suburban street in Ferguson, Missouri. News reporters from across the globe have been camped out in Ferguson for months, their expectation of an announcement teased and disappointed several times in the last week alone. On Monday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard in advance of the grand jury's decision. Yesterday, President Barack Obama, in what can only be judged to be an anticipation of Wilson's non-indictment, preemptively urged protesters not to use Ferguson as an "excuse for violence." In the meantime, demonstrators of various ilk remain on standby, rallying their troops, refining their organizational strategies, painting their oppositional signs, standing vigilantly at the ready for whatever may come.
But what are we waiting for, really, as we wait for Ferguson?
In comment #9 at this post, Susan makes a kind of canonical case I've heard from lots of assessment people.
First, I should say that I agree with 95% of the intended answers to Susan's rhetorical questions. We should be much clearer about what we want our students to get out of their degrees, and we should put in the hard work of assessing the extent that we are successful.
But "assessment" in contemporary American bureaucracies almost always accomplishes exactly the opposite of the laudable goals that Susan and I share. And there are deep systematic reasons for this. Below, I will first explain three fallacies and then explain why everyone involved in assessment faces enormous pressure to go along with these fallacies. Along the way I hope to make it clear how this results in "assessment" making things demonstrably worse.**
However, one additional factor needs to be put into the equation: undergraduate student-workers, who do lots and lots of service and clerical work: checking books out of the library, answering phones in department offices, and on and on. Marc Bousquet estimates in How the University Works that UG student-workers are the largest labor component, by number, at some big public schools.
Should they be part of the bargaining unit, or should the bargaining unit negotiate their work conditions and limits to the number of them employed relative to full-time clerical workers, is a good question, but one or the other is needed I think.
On February 18, the tenure track and non-tenure track faculty who make up the University of Illinois-Chicago faculty union UICUF Local 6456 will walk out of the classroom and onto the picket line for a two-day strike. Barring a dramatic change-of-heart by university administrators at the bargaining table the weekend, it will be the first faculty strike at a major research university in a very long time....
Every entering UIC student takes at least one writing course; most take two. Not surprisingly, our writing courses are overwhelmingly taught by lecturers (i.e. non-tenure track faculty), on year-to-year contracts and paid a standard salary of $30,000. Furthermore, although the administration carries on endlessly about the importance of merit, they’re unwilling to mandate a promotion track for non-tenure track faculty, the whole point of which would be to reward merit....
The term “shared governance” is invoked to disguise this evisceration of power but what it mainly means is that faculty senates can “advise” the administration and the administration can then do whatever it wants. To call shared governance real governance is like saying your dog has an equal say in how your household is run because sometimes when he whines he gets fed.
One of our issues in this strike is to take back decision-making power over the issues that matter to us — curriculum, teaching conditions, the distribution of monies, and the like. The administration is fighting ferociously to retain that power — since giving it up would in effect be returning it from management to workers.
I like the result of the NYU graduate student unionization election (I would like to say, "obviously," but as too many profs use the "in principle I like unions, but ..." line when it comes to grad student organizing I guess I can't). But I don't think the subhead of this column ("An important victory over the corporatization of the university"*) is right. Unionizing isn't a victory over the corporatization of the university, it's a recognition that admins using corporatized universties for rent-extraction** is the reality of the university***; hence, unionization is a means of fighting fire with fire.
* I know that authors don't compose subheads or "deks" (thanks to Sean Carroll below in comments for correcting me on previously using "lede"); I'm objecting to the frame this one gives the column.
** This NYT story about sweetheart financing for summer homes for NYU "stars" deserves wide circulation.
*** The connection of the university and the corporation is not so simple ...
The good news: NYU and the UAW have agreed to allow graduate teaching assistants to hold a union election.
The "sigh" moments come in the first and last clauses here:
Outside the South, graduate student unions are common in public higher education (where collective bargaining rights are determined at the state level), but have been the source of years of organizing and legal struggles in private higher education.
Philosophers should read this online issue of MLA Profession, since so far MLA > APA on professional issues. (Don't believe me? Check the date on this APA page.) Which doesn't mean it should stay like that; but it does mean we have a good model. Think of the leading folks writing on US HE issues: Bérubé, Massé, Newfield, Bady, Bousquet: they're all English folks. Let's fix that by developing a robust set of philosophers working on HE in general and philosophy work conditions in particular. IMO, these issues require us to drop the near-exclusivity of focus on the TT sector of the employment system, and to see it as one sector only. The last slides of this presentation tries to do that; the earlier slides are a stab at a brief historical survey. A conversation starter rather than a definitive statement.
United Academics represents tenured, tenure-track, non-tenure track, and adjunct faculty in addition to librarians, research assistants, post-docs, and other academic employees at UO. United Academics is a joint affiliate of the American Association of University Professors (www.aaup.org) and the American Federation of Teachers (www.aft.org). In addition to UO, AAUP and AFT jointly represent faculty at the University of Alaska, the University of Vermont, Wayne State University, and City University New York (CUNY).
It's not helpful to make the arguments of labor’s enemies for them. So please don’t trumpet efficiency on behalf of the owners when its an argument that is almost always used as a cudgel against the rights of labor. We all know what efficiency really means: less money for labor and more for management and owners.... When management trumpets efficiency as the justification for subcontracting or any other labor practice [JP: such as changing the TT vs precarious labor ratio in HE] it's usually a front for disenfranchising labor and increasing management importance and scope.
I'm reminded of Jeff Nealon's biting and insightful "The Associate Vice-Provost in the Gray Flannel Suit" (here and here), an example of outsmarting in which he says we should welcome honest management consultants into universities, because the fat they would cut would be administration, not faculty. The trick is to find the honest management consultants!
Various sorts of attacks on academia have been a theme at Newapps since the beginning: Increasing corporatization of the university, growth of administration, take-over of administration by non-academics, funding cuts, increasing student debt, uses of MOOCS that are contrary to goals of education, increasing use and abuse of adjuncts, hyper-emphasis on "evaluation", anti-intellectualism, federal attacks on academic freedom and research independence, legal attacks on faculty and graduate student organizing, and here's a new one - "outsourcing" grading to Bangalore (coming in a pilot project from a director of business law and ethics studies, as probably was just inevitable.)
Anyway, I've been saying for some time that I'd start a thread in which we might think collectively about what can be done. Should we work within existing organizations like AAUP and APA, or give them up as hopeless? Should we take an activist/organizing approach or focus on legislation and lobbying? Should unionization be a focus - whether legally or not? Creative new ideas would be most welcome.
So writes Michael Bérubé, [update: citing the slogan of the New Faculty Majority], in his Presidential Address to the MLA. He reminds us that we can't let the internal rewards or "psychic wage" cover for the material conditions of many of our HE colleagues who are worse off, materially, than K-12 colleagues: "The truth, of course, is that contingent college faculty members earn lower wages, have less professional autonomy, and endure significantly greater job insecurity than unionized teachers in the K–12 system." On this point, see the Adjunct Project. And here also.
Speaking of K-12, t wouldn't hurt to recall this point I'm fond of making, and start thinking in terms of K-16:
Th Dec 6, 5 pm CST: I'm moving this post back up as it's received some important comments from Ed Kazarian, in response to a comment I made at Leiter Reports to a post by Amy Ferrer, the Executive Director of the APA. By the way, all of Ferrer's posts at LR deserve reading.
The past month (September 2011) we've had a series of interesting and informativeposts on preparing graduate students to enter what is commonly called "the job market." The presupposition here is that the job market in philosophy begins post-PhD.
I don't want to criticize the content of the posts; as far as I can tell, the advice has been excellent. But I do want to suggest that we change our frame of reference on these matters, and specify that we have been discussing only a small segment of the complete system of employment for philosophy instruction in institutions of higher education. So I'd like to suggest we call the analysis of the complete system "the political economy of philosophy instruction."
We want to update readers on developments at McGill since our last post.
We have a clearer, but not yet complete picture of the chain of events that led to the riot police using pepper spray, truncheons, and tear gas to clear students from the square in front of the James Administration Building on Thursday, November 10. We know that campus security officers – who have no policing powers – manhandled several of the 14 students who occupied the office of Heather Munroe-Blum, and that it was the communication of this mistreatment via cell phone that swelled the crowd of students who gathered in front of the building (and occupied one of the lower floors). We also know that it was security who initially called police.
What remains opaque is the decision to clear the student gathering. We do not know whether the Montreal police officers who were inside James ordered the crowd cleared on their own, or whether they consulted with McGill security or administration. Nonetheless, we know that after approximately twenty bicycle police arrived to disperse the crowd, and the crowd did not budge, at least one officer used pepper spray on the front ranks of the students. This is the same pattern we have seen play out so often of late: a large group of nonviolent protesters, or a few among them, refuse to obey a police order to disperse, and the first police recourse is to inflict pain in order to gain compliance.
There will be an official investigation, of course. It will be an internal investigation headed by the Dean of the Law Faculty. It will assign no blame. It will be a mix of fact-finding and suggestions to prevent a recurrence. We can hope that it will teach us more about what happened. We cannot hope, however, that it will shed any light on the meaning of what has happened. We would like to focus on this latter task.
On November 10 – last Thursday – approximately 100 riot police from the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) marched onto the campus of McGill University, beating billy-clubs against shields. They did so in order to drive student protesters gathered in front of the James Administration Building off of their own campus. In the process, they pepper-sprayed, clubbed, and tear-gassed hundreds of students and at least one faculty member (philosopher Greg Mikkelson, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, on his way to pick his kids up from daycare). These events have sent shock-waves through the University community. Not since March 1969, when the “Opération McGill français” brought 15,000 nationalist protesters to the gates of McGill, had riot police been on the campus of the University. This time, it didn’t require external intervention: the administration of McGill seems to have called the cops on its own students.
A fun movie of the 1980s, Hollywood Shuffle, skewers the blaxpoitation genre.
Rather than submit to playing playas and hustlers, the hero finally takes the advice of his aunt, who reminds him that "there's always work at the post office." Besides it being a genuinely funny and rather insightful movie, the tag line consoled me in some harrowing graduate school days!
But the post office has been targeted by the privatization goons. It's a classic ploy: find a government service that's doing well, place impossible demands upon it, declare it in crisis, then move in for the kill. A nice overview from Truth-out.org of the assault is here. Excerpts from the analysis:
The Postal Service has been under constant, vicious assault for years from the right, who views this as an epic battle with the goal of finally taking down the strongest union in the country, the second largest employer in the United States (second only to Wal-Mart,) and a means to roll the country ever closer toward the abyss of privatization....
The Postal Service isn't paid for by taxpayer dollars, but rather fully funded by the sale of stamps.... It was only a few years ago that the USPS was considered not only stable, but thriving.... Perhaps it was its booming history that first drew Congress' attention to the Postal Service in 2006 when it passed the Postal Accountability Enhancement Act (PAEA), which mandated that the Postal Service would have to fully fund retiree health benefits for future retirees. That's right. Congress was demanding universal health care coverage.
But it even went beyond that. Congress was mandating coverage for future human beings.
"It's almost hard to comprehend what they're talking about, but basically they said that the Postal Service would have to fully fund future retirees' health benefits for the next 75 years and they would have to do it within a ten-year window," says Chuck Zlatkin, political director of the New York Metro Area Postal Union....
UPDATE Th 25 Aug, 14:05 CDT: Matt Lister, in comments below, refers us to this NYT piece, a nice counterpoint to the corporate blather cited by other commenters. Excerpts from the NYT piece are below, in comments.
It's a wonderful video; you can see worker alliances among the students, and among the students and the local residents, forming before your very eyes. Basically, Hershey's wanted compliant, low-wage workers; what they got was group of committed activists. Here's the text from Change.org:
Hundreds of foreign exchange students paid to come to America this summer, expecting opportunities to learn English and experience American culture.
Instead, the exchange students found themselves forced to work in back-breaking, round-the-clock production lines packing chocolates at a Hershey's plant in Pennsylvania at low wages. When the students complained, Hershey's threatened to have them deported.
Now the exchange students are fighting back. They just walked out of the Hershey's plant and into the streets to protest the abusive conditions and to demand big changes to Hershey's deceptive "cultural exchange" program.
At the Union Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in Florida, inmates from a nearby lower-security prison manufacture tons of processed beef, chicken and pork for Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises (PRIDE), a privately held non-profit corporation that operates the state’s forty-one work programs. In addition to processed food, PRIDE’s website reveals an array of products for sale through contracts with private companies, from eyeglasses to office furniture, to be shipped from a distribution center in Florida to businesses across the US...
Although a wide variety of goods have long been produced by state and federal prisoners for the US government—license plates are the classic example, with more recent contracts including everything from guided missile parts to the solar panels powering government buildings—prison labor for the private sector was legally barred for years, to avoid unfair competition with private companies.
But this has changed thanks to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), its Prison Industries Act, and a little-known federal program known as PIE (the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program). While much has been written about prison labor in the past several years, these forces, which have driven its expansion, remain largely unknown.
We need wins in three of the six recall elections on August 9. Polling currently shows us crushing Republican Dan Kapanke and narrowly ahead of Republicans Randy Hopper and Luther Olsen.
In the two districts where Democrats hold narrow leads, we are going to run Google Blast ads during the final 120 hours of the election. Every single person who goes online in those districts will see our ads an average of 20 times. Further, these ads will drown out any online ads run by Republicans and their corporate masters.
We need $13,596 per district to pull this off. Please, contribute using this link!
[The bill] would give broad new powers to emergency financial managers, who are appointed by the state treasurer. Those powers include the ability to nullify collective bargained agreements, imposition of new agreements for those bargaining units which will have effect for as much as five years after the EMF leaves office and the ability for the manager to dissolve local governing bodies of schools and cities. The EMF would also have the power to eliminate any local ordinance or law he or she decides to eliminate.
UPDATE: Sun 27 Feb 5:19 pm CST: video of my talk. Thanks to Peter Sutherland for the videography!
UPDATE: Sun 27 Feb 9:42 am CST: MoveOn photo show. Solidarity from sea to shining sea.
We’re here today to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Wisconsin.
Now that sounds crazy, “brothers and sisters.” None of us are related to them, we probably don’t even know any of them. But we know their cause, and it’s our cause too. The cause of public service and the cause of union rights. It’s one cause; you can’t have one without the other.
Why do I say that? Because if we don’t have union rights, pretty soon we won’t have public service either. Because the enemies of union rights are also enemies of public service!
I'm not sure the last line in this clip is grammatical, but my goodness, it's powerful!
"Whose house? Our house!" When Walker has lost the cops and firefighters, he's lost his divide-and-conquer gambit, and he's lost the "Reagan Democrat" part of his base. The Republican governor of Indiana has taken notice, dismaying the ideologues at National Review. I can only make a song request: "Cry Me a River," played on this instrument.
UPDATE: Sat 26 Feb, 8:37 am CST: Push may come to shove on Sunday at 4 pm, when the Capitol building is to be closed "for cleaning." A not-too-subtle way of calling the protestors trash. We'll see what happens then; I suspect the cops will co-operate with the clearing order. But that's not to say that the symbolic action depicted above isn't very important in the short term.
I don't often cite the Bible, but when I do, it's the King James, and this passage immediately sprang to mind when reading that the Wisconsin Republicans passed their union-busting bill in the state Assembly last night: "For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind." Now it's on the the state Senate and to the nationwide fight.
UPDATE: Fri 25 Feb, 12:09 pm CST: "We are Wisconsin." In re the discussion with Eric in comments, note the reaction of the cop at the end of the video. The joy of collective action can overcome the fear and resentment of isolation.
According to Wisconsin campaign finance filings, Walker's gubernatorial campaign received $43,000 from the Koch Industries PAC during the 2010 election. That donation was his campaign's second-highest, behind $43,125 in contributions from housing and realtor groups in Wisconsin. The Koch's PAC also helped Walker via a familiar and much-used politicial maneuver designed to allow donors to skirt campaign finance limits. The PAC gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn spent $65,000 on independent expenditures to support Walker. The RGA also spent a whopping $3.4 million on TV ads and mailers attacking Walker's opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker ended up beating Barrett by 5 points. The Koch money, no doubt, helped greatly.
The Kochs also assisted Walker's current GOP allies in the fight against the public-sector unions. Last year, Republicans took control of the both houses of the Wisconsin state legislature, which has made Walker's assault on these unions possible. And according to data from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the Koch Industries PAC spent $6,500 in support of 16 Wisconsin Republican state legislative candidates, who each won his or her election.
A couple of nice articles on the protests in Wisconsin, where the Governor is playing by the Republican play book: cut taxes and / or shuffle money into pet projects to create a "ZOMG Budget Crisis!!" (TM) and then use that as a pretext to attack public sector workers. See this one from Harry Brighouse at Crooked Timber and this one from Paul Campos at Lawyers Guns and Money. The comments thread at the LGM post provide great examples of resentment-driven rage at public unions: "I won't rest until everyone is as miserably alone and exploited as I am in the private sector!!!"
UPDATE: Governor Walker's divide-and-conquer strategy of exempting police and firefighter unions from his bill is an Epic Fail.