The Department of “While Rome Burns”

There’s quite a lot of discussion about crisis in my book, both in terms of the two historical crises (the Great Depression and World War II) that had such a profound effect on the teaching of English, and in terms of the contemporary crisis, which I argue is less about pedagogy than it is about institutional power. Academics have allowed others to control our professional lives.

There’s not a fundamental crisis in funding, or in the market for English majors, or the use of part time labor, or the rising costs of tuition. (See this “Redesigning Today’s Graduate Classroom” for a recent example of these misconceptions.) The crisis is symptomatic of working people in academia who no longer believe in the power of organizing together towards collective goals.

The attacks on unions in Wisconsin should be instructive to academics. The budget crisis wasn’t caused by the unions, and it won’t be solved by breaking their power. The attacks on the unions is about trying to shift power away from democratic control so that money and capital can be moved out of the public sphere and into private hands. It’s simply a redistribution of wealth.

Markets are not natural phenomena; they are shaped by more or less explicit policy decisions. We can’t reshape the market for liberal arts graduate students simply by teaching them differently. We have to seize control of the mechanisms of policy and create a market that suits our goals. The only way to do that is to organized ourselves into unions. Right now, the rest is fiddling.

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 I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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