Monday, December 3, 2012

How to Attack and Destroy Higher Ed Labor Evil: The Secret revealed

Read this post, commit it to memory, and destroy, ok? 
Top secret.

Cadmo Totally Kills this Dragon

The SEIU Local 500 Coalition of Academic Labor Fourth Annual Forum on Part-time Faculty Unions, Caste and Classes: Contingent Academic Labor Confronting Inequalities in Higher Education

The Prime Hypocrisy of Higher Education Now

A trio of strong speakers, in remarks moderated by New Faculty Majority President Maria Maisto, opened up with powerful views about education. Speakers railed against the current intolerable conditions of the majority faculty, preached on the need for alliances between adcons and other communities—both more and less exploited—and robustly defended higher ed's true character as a public right and a public good--the only context in which the rights and working conditions of adjunct and contingent faculty will be genuinely addressed. 

It was wonderful.

Gary Rhoades, of the Center for the Study of Higher Education, at University of Arizona, started out with enthusiasm for the wonderful promise of SEIU's Metro DC strategy, discussed below, and called out the "prime hypocrisy" of an academy in which 2/3 to 3/4 of the faculty are not living any kind of that much ballyhooed "dream" that's supposed to be connected to higher education. He reaffirmed his well-known commitment to higher education for the least served communities, and made a case that contingent faculty are the faculty with the most creativity, energy, and informed commitment to students. 

And then Pablo Eisenberg, Senior Fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, weighed in with an appeal to all of us to be in support and dialogue and action with other-than-adcon groups in our nation who are being driven "down the ladder." He surveyed, with clear and grounded authority, the state of play of "living wage," and other campus-based social justice that ought to be running at full steam and in concert with drives for adjunct/contingent equity. And are not. He called the assembly—and they were ready to be called, I think—to renew their efforts against the selfish and self-injuring indifference, of too many adcons, to the problems of other workers. 

After which, Wayne Langley, Director of the Higher Education Division for SEIU Local 615, pumped out some fine material of the sort we just sometimes want, real bad. Like, current higher education practice is "driving a stake though the heart of the American dream." That I liked, and also the insistence that "All education is public"—Maria, Gary and Pablo had all said this in one way or another, but Wayne also offered us a new bit, or one I hadn’t heard before in this formulation: "You get a 4-year critical thinking education," he said, if you're a member of that shrinking number of citizens who are going to be allowed to develop the tools they need to be informed, and critical, and empowered to advocate and act for the public good. 

Otherwise, if anything, "you get trade school." 

Now that's the "vision" you get, isn't it. A few folks allowed into the critical thinking club. Trade school for the rest. That’s the vision from that bunch Wayne dubs "Mandarins pretending to be leaders." I like that too.

Later on, he examined a question he’d heard while organizing Harvard’s janitorial and cleaning staff: “Why should a janitor care about higher education?” Everybody at this conference, SEIU or not, liked the answer, which sums up, I think, the goals of this first panel which was, after all, about "Caste and Classes, and "linking our struggle for the rights of contingent faculty to the larger struggle to maintain a middle class, ensure access to quality education for all, and save the dignity of work for everyone from professors to janitors." 

The answer, basically, is that janitors can figure it out, can figure out what higher education really means. Check here for another version.

Fighting Back with Data? Yes!

Some folks yawn when they see this sort of thing, and/or, reach for a mallet, a can of Metricide, but my advice is, don't. 

We can use numbers too, and it’s a way of fighting back, and fighting hard, as we heard from the next panel, “Professor Staff Organizes – addressing contingent faculty working conditions, student impacts, and education policy.”

To begin, New Faculty Majority's Esther Merves brought us up to date on the design and use of the "Back-to-school" survey instrument. Then came Dan Maxey, researcher from USC and the Pullias Center for Higher Education and Delphi Project (Adrianna Kezar is associate director). 

I cannot now completely analyze either the “Back to School” survey strategy, or the strategy associated with the Pullias Center, but I will say this: I’m convinced that both are going to be sucking devoted participation, in sci-fi tractor-beam fashion, from ever-increasing numbers of sin-sick administrators who would not otherwise be open to the saving grace of the true gospel, by which I mean four-square adcon-liberation theology. 

Again, read this, commit to memory, and burn, bothers and sisters. Those who are ready will see: meanwhile, mum’s the word, though I wouldn’t discourage you from walking around campus while leafing through a Back-to-School instrument or one or another Delphi Project report.

In this same panel, finally, Michael Best of SEIU, and Thomas Vadakkeveetil, adjunct at George Washington University and Strayer University, showed us some appalling numbers about public monies in private for-profit higher ed, and detailed how some of these were put before a Congressional committee investigating abuses.

Again, there are those who get annoyed at the thought of "another study," and I am sometimes one of them, but in all three cases here, we could see the pragmatic nature of the collecting enterprise, and I think it is key part of taking back our authority—the authority of the faculty. And we’re getting better at it.

Students Support for Adjunct Faculty Organizing

I have been slow to grasp the value of this, and slow to recognize opportunities when they arise, but now I see the light. We were all impressed. The support of the students on this panel, for adjunct and contingent faculty, was certainly evident, in their specific presentations, and in videos about American University and Georgetown University where adcon organizing is/has been underway. Also, their terrific energy, autonomous drive, and splendid grasp of the natural linkage with other social justice campaigns, which dovetailed wonderfully with what Pablo Eisenberg had counseled earlier, was an education unto itself.
Ethan Miller, an activist at American University, and an articulate and skilled blogger on high ed ed issues, spoke about the AU campaign. (He was also, I think, the most accomplished conference tweeter, and taught me a few things, which I'll probably forget: old dogitude syndrome).
KB Brower, of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), was a fine analytic presence as well, and I very much liked her advice to us that we never lose an opportunity to "inoculate" students against some of the noxious ideas to which they are sometimes susceptible: living wage campaigns, for instance, presented as potent tuition-hike drivers. (The annual USAS conference agenda, by the way, can be seen here.)
Marissa Allison, also on this panel, brought her particular graduate student point of view to the table. As a prime mover in the George Mason University Graduate Student Sociological Association, and as an observer of grad student challenges as they mesh with structures of control and direction, formally or otherwise, she was able to sketch out for us the linkage between at least one style of contemporary grad experience and the adcon dilemma. I don't have her whole argument to give you here, but the title of just one of her projects will give you a flavor of her commitment and analytic perspective: "Media Rhetoric on the Feminization of Higher Education: Uncovering a Paradox of Neoliberalism in the Academy" I'm ready for more of that.  

I've got Several Day Jobs 

So, look, you know what? I have to get my laundry out of the drier, and then do some class prep. And I believe I have a class observation tomorrow at LaGuardia Community College, so I'd like to get all freshened up pedagogically, and just, you know, presentable.
So, I will hope to get the rest of this wonderful conference described later--by Wednesday? In the meantime, here are the higher-ed journalism accounts, from Chronicle of Higher Education, and Inside Higher Education.

I think the Peter Schmidt piece in CHE is better than the Colleen Flaherty in IHE, but, you be the judge. Neither of them seem to feel, as I do, that history is being made. I suppose it's not their job to feel as I do. Could that be true? For us, though, I'm urging that we be on the case, following the comments, contributing our own comments, and generally not allowing the usual troll population to run amok.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Do the Bishops Realize that they get It?

Thank you, Keith Koeller, for alerting me to this. I wonder who thinks what about all this. Anyway, good job Adjuncts Association!

US Conference Of Bishops Statement Supports Adjunct Union At Duquesne

 ( 0 Votes )
PITTSBURGH--(ENEWSPF)--August 31, 2012.  In the spirit of the Labor Day Statement delivered by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Adjuncts Association will distribute flyers at Monday’s parade asking Duquesne to treat all faculty members with dignity and to recognize their union. 
The Conference of Catholic Bishops points out that millions of workers, like adjuncts, “are underemployed; they are willing and able to work full time, but there are not enough jobs available.”  And, “they work hard, but their jobs do not pay enough to meet their basic needs.”  The statement continues, “Many are forced to work second 
The flyer distributed at the parade will share information on adjuncts’ wages and lack of access to healthcare, as well as some words from the Vatican’s Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (2004): “They commit a grave injustice who refuse to pay a just wage,” and because labor unions ensure that workers are paid a “just wage” they are an “indispensable element of social life.” 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Working Conditions for Higher Ed Faculty Really Suck

 This is a picture of a stagnant pool at some very badly managed construction site near Cincinnati. Unwise construction? 
Bad management? Sounds like higher education to me. 

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a very end-of-Augusty thing going on—its 

Almanac of Higher Education 2012, subtitled "The State of Academe,” in which their clerks and interns and junior executives (I'm guessing) present a bunch of stuff they published or republished in the past year.

Here's their view of themselves:

The Chronicle takes the measure of higher education in the 2012-13 Almanac, our annual compendium of college and university data. Choose a section below to start browsing.

Well, you can choose a section if you want, but be aware: it’s behind a paywall.

Oh well. You can see some of it. Like this:

Campus leaders and college professors encountered urgent calls for change in how they do business in 2011-12.
Economic and technological forces continued to reshape campus workplaces. Administrators closed and consolidated academic programs and had to rely increasingly on adjunct instructors, who now make up 70 percent of the professoriate. And leaders also face stagnation in their own ranks.

Let’s see, there are those “forces” again. They’re like earthquakes, or hurricanes, those things. But then, there are some attempts by humans—puny though they are in the face of “forces—and they have done a few things, like closing this and consolidating that. 

And don't forget, they're "facing" stagnation. That dull and sluggish, crew, that stale and inactive few? Yes, they’re facing stagnation?

Makes you wonder how that managed to do all that closing and consolidating, facing the forces as they were.

So how did they do it? Well, they just did what they've been doing for the last 40 years—"rely increasingly on adjunct instructors, who now make up 70 percent of the professoriate."

The CHE language about these "leaders" is that, even as they faced stagnancy in their own rank tribe—or something like that—they "had to rely" on us.

Oh, the poor feeble little things! I mean CHE and the Stagnant Ranks both. I mean, the system has been relying on us every year, for the past forty of them, "increasingly," though fat times and lean.

Please guys, take some time off. Read up. Try this-it’s a CHE article.* Don’t you read them? It will tell you something about “Professor Staff,” by which is meant the majority adjunct and contingent faculty that has been keeping higher education afloat—you rely on us!—for a couple decades.

Well, the CHE article’s ok*, as is the one in Inside Higher Education*, but better you should read the whole report, out from Campaign for the Future of Higher Education and based on research and analysis from The New Faculty Majority Foundation. 

That will help you find out what’s going on—what’s been going on—in higher ed, and while you’re at it read this as well—Debra Leigh Scott’s “How the American University was Killed in Five Easy Steps."

I could give you a link to a Forbes blog where Debra's very fine piece has been discussed and commented on, but I just don't feel like it. Sorry. Not in the mood. No, not now. I just feel too mad. Forbes doesn't work. For me. Right now. Well, maybe. Ok.* 

Look, join New Faculty Majority, will you? Membership in NFM may be your first step in fighting back against this “stagnant” and hardly “new” normal, or it may be an “adjunct” so to say, to your union membership, or your membership in other adcon activist groups. But find out about NFM, and join.

It’ll help build a face for all of us, nationally, so that “industry journalists” and “leaders” won’t keep wasting our time with dumb ideas—that it’s only been recently, for instance, that Higher Education has “had to” (or chooses to) “rely on” the exploitation of its majority faculty.

So, that’s your homework, and mine, and then we can all go back to school, teaching, grading, organizing, recruiting, advocating and challenging. 
* Here they are—I just stuck ‘em down here because, well, they’re ok, but they don’t need top billing either.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sector is Just Broken: From Guardian's Friday the 13th

“Have you been following what happened at the University of Virginia?” That was a question appearing in a live chat sponsored a couple weeks ago by the Guardian’s higher education blog.

Also referenced, early on, was an old favorite from AAUP on the bleakness of things, in 2010, which had a subheading “the Collapsing Faculty Infrastructure.” 

Which, really, was the main subject of the Guardian's Friday the 13th conversation, entitled, “Freelance, part-time or fixed-term: is this the future of academic careers?

This produced comments so rich, and varied, that I have taken the liberty of excerpting a number of them, with enough editing to yield “one-liners.” I think I have not altered  anyone’s fundamental views.

Now, although they were obviously aware of grim parallels in the United States, the respondents seem to be mostly British, no surprise, an Australian or American here and there, and mostly lecturers—limited term and part/or part-time, “fractionals”—and graduate students. There were also some “staff” folk, and at least one senior tenured professor, and a gaggle of panelists who are listed here

The chat was kicked off by the news that a job advertisement, from the University of Birmingham,* had elicited applications for a "voluntary postdoctoral position.” Well, even in Britain they’re not going for an entirely voluntary higher education faculty yet, and so the comments more often involved “fractional” and other sorts of arrangements that are very familiar to American adjunct and contingent faculty.

Of course, anyone can see the original comments whenever they wish, but I read them all, in one bleak and unbroken binge, and I am trying to convey here what I heard as a sort of opera, with voices of despair, grief, cynicism, solidarity, resignation, sadness, amusement (not much), anger, and resolve.

Um, before we go on, have you seen New Faculty Majority's new website? That will help you get through this or, after you've read the whole thing, get over this. 

Ok, it was a downer, altogether. I didn’t, for instance, read anything that sounded like good fun. You know, a bunch of teenagers preparing to toss a burning motorcycle through a bank window, that sort of stuff. 

And I guess I was a bit surprised by the lack of revolutionary zeal.

Also, not much about fattening administrative salaries or pharaonic building projects.

And not much class-based chat either. Some, not much: Brits, we really do rely on you for this. What gives?

Well. Here it is-almost everything is in order of appearance, with a few switches, and a few parenthetical indications, for the sake of intelligibility. I didn’t sample every single comment, but most of them. Also, I’ve linked here and there to some sites that explain some special topics.  


Sad to hear that this is happening.

Sector is just broken.

Fractional contracts insufficient to live on.

Interactions lead to inequalities....nobody has managed to eliminate them.

Unless/until full time staff begin to value part timers and support them.

Existence of contingent faculty downgrades the value of every professor. 

In America, the pundits are continually asking why isn't college cheaper? 

Declare a fiscal emergency and tenure goes out the window.

Short-term, part-time contract was perfect. (Then) 

[But] Opportunities for permanence are not so forthcoming. (now).

Their career is something they're passionate about.

Supporting the status quo....actually part of the problem

Underpay and overwork new entrants to the profession.

Blight of casualisation.

Universities know they are losing out to entrepreneurs.

Universities tend to be appalling employers.

Mundane factors...eating and sleeping and having basic job security.

Support...that you hope to get from senior colleagues...patchy.

Closed off to workers on casualised contracts...getting a mortgage.

PGWA resists... increasing exploitation of PhD students.

Someone who completed her PhD...working as a “honorary” research fellow!

Concordat says "value and afford equal treatment...regardless of contract.

Boggles the mind what they think they can and.. actually get away with.

Has the concordat actually made any difference?

Tend to avoid these kind of discussions because they fill me with panic.

Very long way from being paid fairly for the work they do.

Wait until you have to compete against every Ph.D. all around the globe.

Women academics are also twice as likely to work part-time.

I have been advocating the 'branded academic' and portfolio professional.

The level of responsibility that senior academics do or don’t’ feel.

The HE equivalent of selling off the family assets in order to survive today.

It’s about intergenerational responsibility, innit?

Can't get a job in academia, need to look outside it(?) Seems a tad harsh. 

There's clearly something rotten in the industry that needs to be sorted.

I'm more keen on tackling these problems than just throwing my hands up.

How about having limits on the numbers of PhD students trained?

Wish I could be as optimistic about the future as you.

Administrators primarily have cutting labor costs in mind. 

Have you been following what happened at the University of Virginia? 

Replace professors with machines...few people left to fight for

In terms of solutions, unfortunately, there are no easy fixes

Personally happy to (at least have accepted that I'll) work part-time.

What disheartens me is that this is expected.

Burden this puts on people not as lucky as I am in having partner who earns.

In US and Australia university teaching is casualised to a staggering rate.

Fraction of the cost of meaningful salaries.

Absolutely no business incentive whatsoever to higher education institutions.

We all hate to think that this is what's happening.

Try to find constructive answers.

The problem now goes...beyond individual academic career disappointment.

Someone looks at the evidence and decides it is time to do something else?

Many were working below the UK minimum wage.

Knock on impacts are huge... impacts upon support staff.

Casualization....going hand in had with relentless drive of marketisation. 

There is a LOT rotten in the industry!

When I [Senior faculty] catch cold, contingent faculty catch pneumonia.

All facing the same epidemic...should work together in order to stamp it out.

Without support from senior academics

Grassroots' groups ....little power to make any significant changes.

Real need for criticism of the system by those...already tenured.

"Lecturer" is part research part teaching, I don't see it w/only one part.

Flexible workforce... balance of financial incentive and professional esteem.

Reward flexible workforce: trust in you as employer will reap rewards. 

They'll keep you innovative, lean, on the cutting edge.

The very knowledge creators that your business depends on.

I doubt I'll get an academic job or post doc funding.

Get a job, almost any job...see if I can do a bit of research on the side. 

I'm 30—I want a pension and to start a family.

Think they'll don't seem to let them know the odds. 

Support staff...far more job security than people doing teaching or research.

Hell, some panelists (for live chat) have these kinds of staff positions.

Have hopes...but you should not have expectations.

* Now have look at this, for, not University of Birmingham, but University of Alabama at Birmingham where, strangely, they offer not one, but two "volunteer postdoctoral positions." Of course, we are a much bigger country. And, sure, it's for orthodontics students, and those guys stand to make a little money down the road, but still, there it is. 

And, again, just pointing it out: New Faculty Majority's new website? That will help you deal with all of this.