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.