Spring equinox

It’s the first day of spring, rebirth, and the equinox, that turning point of the world, and it is beautiful and clear, luminous, springlike in all senses, in a way we rarely get here. I stayed up too late and I life’s events and the semester have created turmoil, but I can see the spring so clearly and feel the world balance and shift itself. It is happening to me.

If you place yourself in the center of your life and grant yourself the authority you need — and turn off what Jonathan and Clarissa are now calling the (negative) “radio in your head,” Radiohead — you will see clearly and not carry the proverbial weight of the world on your shoulders. I am trying to do this, and I might succeed.

In graduate school all the professors were grappling with poststructuralist and postmodernist theory and I could not run with or against it at an intellectual level because I was so opposed to it viscerally. It was as though I were saying: but I do not wish to decenter myself, or to be knocked off center! I have only just gotten into a position to step up to the plate, or onto the mound and throw, and I do not want to step down!

Then in Reeducation I learned that everything I knew was wrong, that I as a person was wrong, that my vision was not to be trusted, and that as a wrong person I did not have the right to control of my days or plans for my future. Not being Christian I did not see these things as Christian dogma in a perverse version, nor as negative counter-transference from the patriarchy, and I took on the task that was handed me.

That is the strange burden I have been carrying since. The way to put it down is to place yourself in the center of your life and accord yourself the authority you need to act. As I say, decentering and deauthorizing were the name of the game in postmodernist theory, and my reaction against that was so very visceral. I should have taken that reaction directly to the right analyst, because it was and is key.



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Writing about the university as a site of class struggle

The new (and last) piece will follow on this one and will start out talking about the question of trust and solidarity: do we really have these, are we really one faculty? Part of why we are not is hierarchical management and part of it is that in situations where basic survival is at stake, the lofty goals of a campaign like One Faculty are not anyone’s first priority (really).

The university is the new factory floor, someone said. “The struggle is not just over campus labor, but over the social reproduction of the labor force, knowledge of ‘the economy,’ and more.”

Not about this precise point, but on another part of my piece: The university and the public good.

Whose university is it, anyway? The brilliant LARB piece.

Legitimation crisis — on hierarchical micromanagement: https://poptheory.org/2018/03/03/the-crisis-of-legitimation-in-higher-education/

On labor, focusing on the contingency wars: Contingency, Exploitation and Solidarity (Seth Kahn et al.) — despair is not a strategy

Reichman quoting Jacobin quoting WV teacher on uniting with other public employees, parents of low income students (Bolivia: obreros, campesinos, jubilados, amas de casa, empleados públicos, estudiantes)

Demands against the long crisis of the university (on faculty complacency).

Global autonomous university

Between the ivory tower and the assembly line

Malcolm Harris’s new book Kids These Days and the chapter on schools. Also, the 1970s pamphlet by Zerowork, “Wages for Students”.

Bowles and Gintis, Schooling in Capitalist America.

Aronowitz and Giroux, others, but I want to start with these things. My intuition is that the older forms of shared governance are insufficient, complacency is bad, and just unionizing is similarly inadequate.



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An answer to my other post

My third post to this blog of a professional organization could start out talking about the argument I had with New Faculty Majority people, about adjunctification and related matters. They kept saying they did not want tenure, only long contracts and good pay, and that people like me were utterly antiquated, unfair, and “tone deaf” to still be thinking about things like tenure and academic freedom, much less shared governance. They wanted to teach and go, with research optional and they kept saying tenure is dead, we are just employees now. They took pleasure in this and I thought I was on the moon.

But are they right? Has everyone become an atomized, neoliberal subject? Is my idea of what a professor is gone? Is the effort I put into Senate and AAUP misplaced (I think of it as central, key service activity like serving on editorial boards, writing letters of recommendation, but am I wrong)?

A friend said,

You are looking at what may well be the semi-wreckage of our profession.

First, yes, the AAUP is at least a potentially dying organization. It is in a spiral brought on, economically, by too much dependence on a union population that is dwindling owing to court decisions and likewise brought on, economically, by the inflexibility of a mostly male and admittedly occasionally well-meaning geriatric oligarchy (perhaps a “geriocracy”?).  However, I don’t think that it is quite done for if we can manage to get in new leadership and start on a new direction in the next few elections. I disagree: I think the problem is its traditional focus on tenure and academic freedom, which the contingent not only do not have, but to which they do not necessarily even aspire (job security being different from tenure). Now that everyone is contingent, and those who are tenure-track or have tenure don’t realize that is because of the AAUP.

With regard to your first point:  Well taken.  Actually, I think about half of the remaining outspoken people believe primarily in “free speech” rather than the more disciplined academic freedom while the remainder believe primarily in the sanctity of their careers, i.e., they want to preserve their careers because they see something worthwhile in them and they have a suspicion that academic freedom might be part of that mix, but, first and foremost, they are careerists.  That is one reason that the CBC mentality is so dangerous:  it licenses thinking of rights and prerogatives in terms of jobs and careers, which are rather less principled things. [Emphasis added]

Point two:  I do believe that Faculty Senates matter but that they need some updating. Nobody gives a hoot about the outcome of a debate on the official “order of business” for the Senate (this bit of wrangling happened at LSU last week), but plenty of people do give the aforementioned hoot when they think something will impact them, i.e., when the press is around giving administrators good or bad press.  We need a whole lot more people who will go public and who will use tactics from politics and advertising along with their usual academic armaments.
[Emphasis added] I guess that might help make administrators care. I don’t know.

Point three:  I agree with Newfield that we need to keep in mind the public good.  The underlying problem, however, is that we no longer have the kind of educated public that we did back during the Enlightenment.  Until we put some juice in the liberal arts and educate people about basic philosophical principles and about the nature of governments—even at the expense, say, of taking a course in more politically correct topics—we aren’t going to get anywhere with the public good theme.  Put another way, there must be a public before there is a public good, and it must be a good, i.e., educated, public. [Emphasis added]

Point four:  Sad to say, many of our colleagues are like our students, wanting enough money to buy toys and pay for kids’ dance lessons and not much more.  Few are able to take on the mammoth challenges arising from our new age of very large populations (i.e., it’s a whole lot easier to be a man or woman of letters in colonial America with a few million people than in a world with seven billion who are all inundated with messages from commercial social media sources).  We may see a further fracturing in the faculty between those who are activists and fed up and those who are homebodies and want to do nothing other than cash checks.  Perhaps such a civil war within the faculty would not be such a bad idea, for it would separate the doers from the non-doers.



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That third post

I wrote this, and with Clarissa wrote a sequel, but there is a third that must come.

Some questions: does anyone believe in shared governance any more? or academic freedom (or do they only believe in free speech)? If the university is corporatized and the administration ignores mechanisms for shared governance, do institutions like Senate mean anything any more? Further, are professors even professors any more, or are they deconstructed (Lombardi), a set of “unbundled” functions?

Chris Newfield says it is important to reclaim the idea of the university as a public good. I’ve said tenure, academic freedom and shared governance are intimately related to issues such as defunding and corporatization; and that we needed to organize around the rights of all faculty and students, and the preservation of academic values generally.

But how can faculty have a collective voice in the university now? Again, do they even want one, or are they content currying favor where they can and going home to promote themselves via their websites when they cannot?


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I don’t believe in this test but setting that aside, on the P-J axis, I think I am a J. I always thought P, because while I like having an idea of a schedule, priorities I honor, and goals I fulfill, I then like to violate that schedule according to how I feel. I like the freedom to shift it as I see fit, or take things in the direction they lead me. I am internally motivated and do not like goading.

I notice, though, that I am happier after a decision than before one. “Keeping my options open,” sitting with too many open variables, makes me anxious. I tend to know what I want, and when I make decisions that to some may look impulsive and could not be well considered because they were quickly and easily taken, and the decision is freely taken and I am happy with it from the start, I find I am happy in the longer term as well. Also, I can make a plan and remember to follow through, without employing any coercive mnemonic devices.

All of this makes me think I must be a J, even though I feel like a P. Or perhaps I am a P with skillz. I do not know. Perhaps I am simply on the cusp. If it is work, I am J, although I can improvise well on teaching and course planning and in some ways prefer it, have better ideas that way. If it is play, I am P, although I will make sure we get to our planned campsite or if we aren’t going to, we get to one that is also good and that allows us to do some of the things we came to do.

What do you find? Are you P or J, and how can you tell? (I think most academic advice is for P-people who need some J-skills, and that I either am J or have the J-skills, so that the insistence on gaining extra J-skills seems beside the point.)



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People get angry at leaders and accuse them of things. I know this about teaching and about being a department chair. New teachers are shocked when students oppose them because they are the teacher, and new chairs are surprised at the hostility they discover–especially when really, they are working hard to support the department and have good will.

I am always surprised when people get angry because I am a committee chair, or when I am a committee member and come through on what I said I would. It is the same problem, though: people get angry at leaders and accuse them of things. (I believe have made an error with some new department chairs, expecting them to have the kind of experience a more seasoned one would.)

In my AAUP chapter, about Committee A, it has been: “Do you even have a copy of the Red Book?” About the presidency, it has been: “I am merely reminding you of your constitutional responsibility!” I could have said back: “I am following it, are you?” and “When have you lived up to yours?” But I have not, because it would not be solidary.


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That chicken-and-egg question

For my article. Reichman points to Newfield, whose work is central to my discussion. University administrators “[i]n lockstep with politicians and profit-seeking corporate managers … oversold the private benefits of education and downplayed higher education’s role in serving the public good.”


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