Simple Truisms

Along with this reminder, the struggles of the Progressive Era offer several lessons for today: First, the conditions academic workers enjoyed at mid-century did not emerge organically as the American university developed; they had to be fought for and won, and they require continuous defense. Rather than describing tenure as an “eroding” institution, for instance, we should see it as being dismantled. We need to locate and hold accountable the people and policies responsible for today’s retrenchment.

Second, professionalism cuts both ways. While organizing as professionals (as did the early AAUP) can provide and protect some autonomy and power, it can also promote the sense that professionals are above the rank of ordinary workers, thereby discouraging participation in labor-related struggles and encouraging a steep hierarchy within the work force.

Intellectual Proletarians in the 20th Century,” Heather Steffen, Chronicle of Higher Education

I admit it. It’s the holidays and between the work that I didn’t get done over Thanksgiving and the shopping trip with The Child this afternoon, I am pressed for time. So I am going to cheat a little bit and simply point to a very helpful article by Heather Steffen that’s full of some very basic truths that I think we cannot be reminded of too often.

I was particularly happy to see her emphasis on struggle (over so-called organic development) and on holding ourselves and our administrators responsible for the choices that got us into this mess. Ms. Steffen implies something very hopeful: if we are in fact in more or less the same position that academics were a century or so ago, perhaps we are also on the cusp of a new progressive era.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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