Good News and Bad

I don’t read enough. I don’t have time; maybe I can sneak in 500 or 1000 words over breakfast. (I haven’t been writing either.) I do listen to good podcasts when I work out and one of the best is from Doug Henwood. I’ve been reading his Left Business Observer for about 15 years or so. Henwood has a radio show too, “Behind the News” or sometimes “Almost Behind the News”, which is sent out as a podcast. That’s what I was listening to this morning– everyone should listen to it– and the interview with Steve Horn pointed me to a piece about the Chicago public schools that I think needs to be more widely read. There is good and bad news coming out of the Windy City.

The bad news is that the Obama administration, Horn shows, has deep ties to the architects of school privatization. The Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, was, of course, an Obama aide; Emanuel has been closing down public schools right and left and firing teachers just as quickly. The goal seems transparent: there is a lot of money to be made in for-profit schools staffed by poorly paid teachers. This is what has happened in the college system more generally. Even in the public universities cheap labor is at the heart of the institutional model. There is some good news though, as this piece in the Nation suggests, Chicagoans are fighting back and in some cases winning. Maybe our long lost progressive movement can be reborn.


In the UC system, lecturers represented by UC-AFT (University Council of the American Federation of Teachers) have a clear pathway to job security with relatively high pay and full benefits (including pensions). These teachers also at times have a strong role in departmental governance and curricular development and have their academic freedom protected. Although, there is still plenty of room for improvement, at one of the largest public university system in the country, activism and organization have led to a model that should and can be replicated throughout the United States.

An Existing Just Model for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty” Bob Samuels

Every once in a while, I like to remind myself that the it is possible to clean up the mess that’s been made of my profession. I think the old system– full-time employment and benefits– made a lot of sense and was by far the most effective model for learning and research. Keep it simple. I think the best solution is to go back to that system; if nothing else, no system worth pursuing is going to be any less expensive. That may be a lost dream.

In a sense, then, we are fighting against a perceived symbolic enemy, the tenured professor, who many (administrators, right-wing economists) believe is by definition complacent if not ineffective and who’s employment security makes it nearly impossible for schools to adjust to changing conditions. In effect, Samuels wants to make an end-run around the boogie-man through a new kind of job, with equivalent but different forms of pay and security.

We accept the final defeat of tenure, in other words, in exchange for getting back much of what we lost: relative employment security, fairly good pay, a pension, protections for academic freedom of speech. It’s an attractive idea, not only as a way forward, but also as a foundation on which to build an entirely new, non-exploitative system. It’s a model that works, after all, only if adjuncts have a union to fight for their interests.

The Recession Isn’t Over Yet

Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, has proposed in his budget bill that boards of public colleges and universities be given the ability to unilaterally increase the workloads of faculty members.

The proposed change modifies the state code that governs the function of boards at public institutions. Should the budget pass, the code would state that boards “may choose to modify [colleges’] faculty workload policyā€¯ to require all full-time faculty members to teach one additional course in one of the next two academic years. The increased workload then becomes the new minimum for faculty members to maintain. Faculty members at most public colleges and universities are unionized, and have workload provisions in their contracts, but the proposal would permit the boards to ignore those provisions.

Hours in the Classroom,” Carl Straumsheim

Technically, of course, the recession ended a few years ago, as soon as the economy began to show positive growth in 2009. Politically, though, the recession won’t be over in higher education until administrators stop using their fiscal power to try to undermine what they see as faculty privileges. Why do we never hear of administrative work loads rising?

Never mind that these so-called privileges, such as a course load that allows research, (already much too rare) contributes to the university’s mission as an institution that produces knowledge (and status) as well as teaches. These guys will always try to kill the goose that laid their golden eggs; it’s second-nature to the contemporary U.S. oligarchy.

Let us be dissatisfied

So, I conclude by saying again today that we have a task and let us go out with a “divine dissatisfaction.” Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort and the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. [,et us be dissatisfied until those that live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security. Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family is living in a decent sanitary home… Let us be dissatisfied. Let us be dissatisfied until every state capitol houses a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy and who will walk humbly with his God. Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Let us be dissatisfied until that day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together. and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid. Let us be dissatisfied.

Where do we go from here?” Dr. Martin Luther King, Speech, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, 16 August 1967