Category Archives: Movement

The sacrifice zone

Nowhere is the abuse as frightening as in Louisiana—with the exception, perhaps, of its neighbor to the east (“Thank God for Mississippi!” is the unofficial state motto). Louisiana is the second-poorest state and second-to-last in human development, which is a measure of individual freedom. The state’s rate of fatal cancers is about 30 percent higher than the national average. For all its antifederalism, Louisiana is fourth in accepting government welfare, with 44 percent of its budget coming from Washington. (Many of Hochschild’s Tea Party friends are beneficiaries of federal welfare programs.) Louisiana has the highest rate of death by gunfire (nearly double the national average), the highest rate of incarceration, and is the fifth-least-educated, reflecting the fact that it spends the fifth-least on education. It is sixth in the nation in generating hazardous waste, and third in importing it, since it makes a side business out of storing other states’ trash.

Louisiana’s governor is among the most powerful chief executives in the nation, a legacy that dates back to Huey Long’s administration, and under Governor Bobby Jindal’s dictatorship, between 2008 and 2016, the state’s prospects declined with unprecedented severity. After he reduced corporate income taxes and expanded the exemptions granted to oil and gas companies, the state’s revenue tumbled roughly $3 billion. He transferred $1.6 billion from public schools and hospitals to oil companies in the form of new tax incentives, under the theory that the presence of oil and a robust petrochemical infrastructure were not incentives enough. (The Louisiana Legislature is not only soaked with oil and gas lobbyists—during a recent session there were seventy for 144 legislators—but many lawmakers themselves hold industry jobs while serving in office.) Jindal fired 30,000 state employees, furloughed many others, cut education funding by nearly half, and sold off as many state-owned parking lots, farms, and hospitals as he could.

Despite these punishing cuts, he managed over the course of his administration to turn a $900 million budget surplus into a $1.6 billion deficit. National agencies downgraded the state’s credit rating. The damage was so great that it helped to bring about one of the most unlikely election results in recent American history. Jindal’s successor is John Bel Edwards, a Democrat—the only one to hold statewide office. Edwards is vehemently pro-life and agnostic about climate change, but he is determined to hold the oil and gas industry responsible for funding their share of coastal restoration. He currently enjoys a 62.5 percent approval rating. Almost a year into his first term, however, despite several emergency measures, the state remains in arrears.

The book has key information, even if I am not convinced the author does not exoticize our people somewhat. And I LOVE the term “sacrifice zone,” it is SO apt.


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Sobre la llamada democracia

Cerrar esta tienda y abrir otra, dos calles mas abajo. Pero empezar el negocio sin engañar a nadie, sin joder a otro porque piense distinto a ti, sin que te busquen pretextos para callarte la boca y sin decirte, además, que cuando te cogen el culo lo hacen por tu bien y por el bien de la humanidad, y que ni siquiera tienes derecho a protestar o a decir que te duele, pues no se le deben dar argumentos al enemigo y todas esas justificaciones. Sin chantajes… El problema es que quienes deciden por nosotros decidieron que estaba bien un poco de democracia, pero no tanta … y al final se olvidaron hasta del poco que nos tocaba, y toda aquella cosa tan bonita se convirtió en una comisaría de policías dedicados a proteger el poder. (Paduro)


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I appear to stand alone

It appears that only I think everyone should be on a tenure line. I understand the need for “flexible” faculty given shifting enrollments but I say that if you need someone clearly enough that you rehire them for longer than three years, you need them and should offer them a tenure track position. Pieces and comment threads like this, that talk about the need to treat contingent faculty well, do not go nearly far enough and it is as false that more tenure lines are unrealistic as it is that “we cannot afford” single-payer or national health insurance. Of course we can. Also, it is not more “conservative” but more “progressive” to say that if you are qualified to work, then you are qualified to be on the tenure track. That is not “meritocratic,” it is the opposite.


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Notes on language and power

This is important for my languishing article. It is hard to manage because it is about language, but wants to be about neoliberalism and educational policy. If I keep remembering it is about language, I may be able to finish it.



Filed under Movement, What Is A Scholar?, Working

On teaching college composition

“The common use of the argumentative essay in US schooling dates back to unprecedented growth in higher education and a literate middle class in the early 20th Century. College was no longer the purview of an elite group from similar backgrounds, and more students meant two things: an insufficient number of teachers trained in writing instruction and a more diverse student body, less likely to share knowledge of the same philosophical or literary texts to write about.”

Read the whole thing.


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On academic freedom, again

I hope people actually respond to this. I had a huge argument today with some people in the adjunct movement, about this. They are convinced I do not understand that they are in poverty and I do not think their position is actually very well thought out. They have massive amounts of documentation of poor salaries, high teaching loads and poor working conditions. I don’t see how a move to 100% contract faculty with slightly better than adjunct pay would alleviate this. I also don’t see how nominally writing academic freedom into these contracts would really preserve academic freedom in all its aspects.

Tenured and tenure-track faculty and the professional organizations have failed to stem the overuse and exploitation of contract faculty, they say, and it is out of bad faith. We do well because they do poorly.  Neoliberalism has won, they say, the Humboldtian university is long gone, and they want decent jobs in the corporate one. I, wanting to push back and get more tenure lines while also getting good contracts for those who seriously do not want tenure lines, am not living in the real world. (This is, of course, what the adminstration says as well.) Also, it is meritocratic of me to say the Ph.D. has value or that having a research program does, and it means I do not value teaching.

Here is what I think, a grandes rasgos. 1. Without academic freedom you do not have a university, and tenure is what guarantees academic freedom. 2. Without academic freedom and tenure you weaken shared governance. 3. Universities are nonetheless very hierarchical and the faculty, without a union, do not have enough power to end the inappropriate overuse of contract positions completely. 4. It is not a question of NTT versus T faculty. Better pay for contract faculty means they are not less expensive, so there is less motivation to cut T lines. 5. And more T lines means better market. So you need  unions, and you need the professional organizations. (The NFM says the professional organizations have failed them and exists in part because of this, but without union-like action and follow-through can they do better? Does any advocacy organization have the power to remedy, by moral suasion, the economy and the kinds of business practices universities have now adopted?)

Where do the objections to my views 1-5 (above) lie, beyond the fact that people do not think I am talking about a currently existing university stucture and mission (they think the university I speak of is long dead)? What are the answers to the following anti-tenure, and sometimes anti-research line questions?: 1. “I have been a VAP in this line for 5 years and if it turns TT there will be a search and I will not be selected. I prefer it to be turned into a more permanent contract line for me.” 2. “I am an M.A. and cannot get onto the TT. I want more contract lines and also more power for people like me. The presence of Ph.D. and TT/T faculty limits my career.” 3. “All TT lines go to very new Ph.Ds. My Ph.D. is three years old, so I have more chances at NTT than TT jobs. I would therefore like the numbers of the former increased.”

Aren’t these questions all about how tenure is (mis)used, not about tenure, academic freedom and shared governance themselves? One of my objections to the project of making everyone contingent is that I do want faculty who are current in field, and I don’t see moving to an all-contingent faculty as a road to getting that at all–especially not in right-to-work states. I do think that in the context of the bad job market the search for tenure-track work and the traditional insistence that only that is viable has ravaged many people, including myself. But I also think it is very short-sighted to say the solution is to get rid of it.

I also know that at good schools, there are Ph.D. VAPs who deserve tenure-track jobs, and M.A.s with valuable experience and current expertise. But for us, here, if we cannot offer a T job, we are then reduced to searching for M.A.s living locally. This is not easy. With the tenure track, we get applications from people with a lot of skills. I don’t know how we could get comparable people on a contingent basis without offering a great deal more money. So with the tenure track, we can afford them, and we can also offer them something tangible, and we have the prospect of actually building faculty and program.

As I write this I am trying to envision more clearly an all-contingent world. There are places like that–Evergreen College. You have a lot of people there who are as good as tenured, just as our contingent faculty is (ours are effectively permanent as soon as they are hired). So people do get some form of permanence, and I doubt the anti-tenurists’ fantasy of “flushing out the bad” and opening up more jobs for the truly deserving is realized. But how real are academic freedom and shared governance there–or how real would they be if the place were bigger? What if large community colleges like Miami-Dade eliminated the tenure track–would there be academic freedom then? (Shared governance is no longer very real where I am, I must say, but does that mean we should renounce the idea of it?)

So in any case: how is it that the push to improve conditions for contingent faculty and to win back more tenure lines do not support each other? They do so far as I can tell, and I want as many people as possible on tenure lines. And that is not because of job security, it is because of the role of research in teaching and of tenured faculty in governance. Am I terribly conservative, elitist, out of date? Also, is it that bad to want at least half your faculty to have the terminal degree?



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Back to the prison industrial complex, and back to the border

We had been moving toward decarceration and the limiting or elimination of the death penalty but with the Trump victory the panorama has changed very greatly. I have long sustained that the prison industrial complex was the key to many mysteries and I declare that it must be watched closely now. This article talks about how far it is from being a mere creation of conservatives.

It is also time to return to certain fundamental texts about the border, and see how they look now. And I am thinking of subscribing again to the New Left Review.


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