Mayday Manifesto

The Mayday Manifesto, published by the Student/Labor Collation at SUNY, begins with a long list of historical grievances about the use of adjunct and contingent labor in U.S. Higher Education. It’ll be familiar fare to anyone who reads this blog. It concludes with a list of demands that is worth reproducing as wildly as possible:

The conditions under which contingent teachers are forced to work undermine the quality of higher education. Their miserable working conditions adversely affect student learning conditions, thus short-changing our students and threatening the future of our nation. This is no way to prepare the next generation for an increasingly competitive global economy! Funding education on the cheap has resulted in most American students no longer being competitive with those in dozens of other countries.

To reverse this disastrous trend, the undersigned urge that the following steps be adopted on a priority basis:

1. Increase the starting salary for a three-credit semester course to a minimum of $5,000 for all instructors in higher education.
2. Ensure academic freedom by providing progressively longer contracts for all contingent instructors who have proven themselves during an initial probationary period.
3. Provide health insurance for all instructors, either through their college’s health insurance system or through the Affordable Care Act.
4. Support the quality education of our students by providing their instructors with necessary office space, individual development support, telephones, email accounts and mail boxes.
5. Guarantee fair and equitable access to unemployment benefits when college instructors are not working.
6. Guarantee eligibility for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to all college instructors who have taught for ten years, during which they were repaying their student loans.
7. With or without a time-in service requirement, allow all college teachers to vote and hold office in institutional governance, including faculty senates and academic departments.

It’s not complete– I think class sizes ought to be capped as well– and in many ways it sets a very low bar. An adjunct teaching 8 classes a year, for example (assuming a workload of only 2 courses in the summary) would, after taxes, be working just above the poverty level for a family of 4. I think the rate ought to be high enough to make loads higher than 8 courses per year unnecessary. This is one way to improve education in every sort of institution. If we were to take into account the amount of experience and skill needed to teach at the college level, $10,000 per course would probably be a reasonable baseline. Still, the list is a great start. If you have a Gmail account you can sign the manifesto here.

Won’t Get Fooled Again

In terms of what strategies colleges and universities could use to do bring students more in line with what employers are looking for, Humphreys said, “[employers] want a ‘both-and’ picture; they want higher education institutions to bring students to an even higher level of ability…. They also want [higher education] to ensure that every college graduate, no matter what their major is, achieves much higher levels of evidence-based reasoning, research skills and complex problem-solving skills [along with] ethical decision-making.”

More Than a Major’ Zack Budryk

I’ve been an English teacher long enough to remember a time when ‘finding a job’ wasn’t necessarily the first priority in college. Plenty of people went to college seeking specific jobs, of course, but the liberal arts model dominated. My Dad, who was an accountant and studied “Commerce” at L.S.U. in the late 1940s’, used to say that you went to college to get educated; once you were well-educated, you could easily get a job.

His degree included English classes as, in effect, a kind of second major. Over the three last decades or so (every sort of loss seems to start in 1980 with the election of Reagan) the once broad notion of vocation, centered on the professions, has become more and more narrow. It’s no coincidence that this has happened alongside a huge increase in the cost of higher education and ongoing attacks on the federal government.

The right hates class mobility– the servants get restless– and it will not abide the notion of a government with a social agenda and the funds to back it up. Cheap college and a progressive government, after all, brought us the 1960s’. We can let that happen again. We’ve now reached a point where the tail wags the dog: if you go to college to get a job, then the college has to change everything to make that happen.

Even more, college will be assessed by that vocational criteria and little else. It’s a prescription for servitude, not surprisingly, to the masters of the marketplace. And it has created an entire profession– the college professor– where a majority of people are no longer fully professionals; adjuncts paid piecemeal by the student or the course, no benefits. As the recession drags on, perhaps our masters are starting to reconsider.

Class Educated

I come from a very large Catholic family and very few of us went to college. I may be the only person in an extended family of more than 100 people who has a graduate degree. I can remember, in the 1970’s, most of my cousins and friends rejecting the middle class, and a middle class education, in a fairly explicit way. We wanted to be carpenters and plumbers and landscapers, not accountants and doctors and lawyers.

There were only a handful of college degrees in the generation that preceded us. My Dad had one from L.S.U. and I think I had at least one Uncle-in-law who did too. We should have taken the next step up the socioeconomic ladder but we didn’t. I don’t think our socioeconomic background is the only explanation but I do think that we were certainly both alienated by school and more or less institutionally ignored. We weren’t the promising students.

This sounded very familiar to me and much less new than the writer seems to suggest:

If one asked any university official, they would all be wanting to say that what they were trying to do was create a really rich educational environment leading everybody to move into strong professional trajectories. But what happens, particularly in this moment where public universities are becoming so tuition dependent, is that universities are in a position that in order to stay solvent they really have to attend very carefully to what it is that their most affluent, their most reliable set of students—set of customers, really—is going to want.

Elizabeth Armstrong, quoted in “College and Class: 2 Researchers Study Inequality, Starting With One Freshman Floor.

In my family, two of us finished college degrees and two of us did not. I don’t have children. My sister Jill and her husband Cliff both finished their undergraduate degrees. They have two kids who will be going to college in a few years. I am certain both will do well; one or both may go on to graduate school. My other sister, who finished an associate degree in her 40’s, has one of three kids that will likely finish college.

My older sister, Cynthia, died a few years ago; she and her husband, Don, didn’t get college degrees. He quite high school and got his G.E.D. Their oldest daughter finished her undergraduate degree last year, in large part because she had softball scholarships. I worry that her younger sister will not finish. She has little financial or institutional support, especially now, without her mother, who was a tenacious advocate for her children.

The Men Behind the Curtain

As part of my doctoral research, I am conducting an institutional analysis of the growth of for-profit colleges. What about the mid 1990s made the environment so ripe for rapid expansion? Kevin Kinser gets at this neo-institutionally with a fine analysis of regulation and financialization.

Yet, there must something more than regulatory changes and market innovation to such a massive change in college-going in such a short period of time. Something created a million new people who suddenly wanted a college degree.

In my sample of currently enrolled for-profit students there is one motivation that subsumes all others: job insecurity.

How “Admissions” Works Differently At For-Profit Colleges: Sorting and Signaling,” tressiemc22

I found this blog via Education and Class and it seems worth following. In the next several years I expect a lot of curtains to be drawn, revealing that the wizards behind the for-profit sector are simply salesmen with a flair for theater. Their main trick was a sexy dual appeal: first, to our sense of injustice– that great mass of people who have no access to a college education– and second, to our technological and consumer fetishes.

When I say “we” I mean those of us who study these things and are doing well financially. In Higher Education, that means the tenured and tenure track faculty, now a small minority of higher education teachers. We loved our technology, we had enough money at least to be early adopters, and we thought that these new communication technologies would help us reach people who had never been reached, much less heard. A great dream.

We are slowly learning to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain; I lost my bid for tenure. I am bothered by one thing, though. As people have said in many contexts, the recent story of higher education, or, rather, the historians, tend to ignore the teachers when they tell the story of the system and the students. This isn’t just a story about students and new institutions and class, it is also a story about creating the adjunct system.

Raise The Social Wage Too

Deespite impressively increasing usage, across the entire City of New York only eight libraries currently offer Sunday service and nearly 30% of our libraries are closed on Saturdays. In fact, New York City’s libraries already rank well behind Columbus, Ohio; San Antonio, Texas; Toronto; Chicago; and Detroit in average hours per week.

Every day our doors are closed is a day New Yorkers of all ages and backgrounds miss out: children are deprived of story time, students can’t borrow books, jobseekers lose access to computers and the internet, and immigrants can’t attend English classes. Our libraries should be accessible for everyone. The rising demand shows our amazing potential to reach even more New Yorkers if we had the necessary funding to offer additional hours every week. As the CUF report states, “No other institution in New York serves so many different people in so many different ways.”

NYPL President Testifies On Proposed City Budget Cuts” Press Release

The ongoing Republican assault on the federal government– their determined, decades old effort to disable it or shrink it down to meaninglessness– has a not-so-hidden effect: it impoverishes all of us. We used to have a post office system that was accessible and delivered mail six days a week; every year the post office has to cut services and cut hours. We used to have public libraries but more and more they too face cuts and closures.

The myth, of course, is that new technologies make old institutions obsolete. In fact, libraries are more important than ever and, as the New York example suggests, more popular than ever. The mail should be a public service. We cannot allow the right-wing to use the recession and their austerity programs and market myths to make us all collectively poorer. We need to fight for our libraries and our post offices in the same way we fight for our public schools.

Topsy Turvy Teaching

New data from a long-term study by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College suggest that some of the students most often targeted in online learning’s access mission are less likely than their peers to benefit from — and may in fact be hurt by — digital as opposed to face-to-face instruction.

Who Benefits From Online Ed?” Doug Lederman

One of the first things I learned about college is that the academic pecking order is upside down. It’s especially dramatic in an English department, where the students who need the most work and help– the college freshman– tend to get the lowest paid teachers, that is, adjuncts and graduate students. The students who need the least help– junior and senior English majors– get the best paid, most experienced tenured professors.

Traditionally, English professors (each a literary specialist) taught freshman, if they did at all, only as a part of a kind of hazing ritual. Once you earned tenure you got the small classes with the (self-selected, experienced) best students. This has changed as Rhetoric and Composition nears a kind of numerical equality with Literary Studies. The more Rhetoric and Composition matures, however, the further it seems to go from those freshman.

Online education has tended to duplicate these patterns in curious ways, by focusing on those very students who seem least likely to do well in an online setting. Here, as elsewhere in academia, those students who most need the sorts of help you can only get in the traditional classroom– and in small classes– seem to be the main target audience for online education. And online education has even fewer full-time tenured professors.