Category Archives: Working

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:

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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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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Le vendredi

I am perfectly well, perhaps the best ever, but so introverted. It is possible that other people have these phases as well, when they are on sabbatical. I am not working on teaching, research or service, I am going through my books and creating a more amenable, and also more up to date work environment for myself. I’ve needed to do this for some time but now I am impelled. I always question people who say they did something because they could not resist but I do understand.

When I went into shock in November, 1991 I bookmarked my books and journals, to come back to later. I have kept all of these since, but not read them. Now they are yellow. I should stop listing what I discard here, and create an electronic library, and I will; for now, though, I want to say I am discarding:

— a copy of Luis Alberto Sánchez, VALDELOMAR O LA BELLE EPOQUE (México: FCE, 1976), which is of historical interest;
— Tom Weiskel’s THE ROMANTIC SUBLIME: STUDIES IN THE STRUCTURE AND PSYCHOLOGY OF TRANSCENDENCE (1976), which I had because I thought/think that if one understood these sources one might understand more about subjectivity, shadows and terror in Vallejo;
— CRITICAL INQUIRY 13:3 (Spring 1987), a special issue on “Politics and Poetic Value,” which I had kept by now in large part for Rob Nixon’s article on Caribbean and African appropriations of Shakespeare’s Tempest, which I thought would be good for teaching but which obviously, if I still need to see a piece this old, I can look up again.
— a bound photocopy of Meo Zilio, STILE E POESIA IN CESAR VALLEJO. It is a classic, but I do not believe I will ever have the patience for it.

I also got rid of two thick files of student papers and exams from some semester several years ago, and my 2006 TEI materials. I still think a digital archive of Vallejo with text versioning would be a good thing to have, but these materials are out of date and digital humanities irritate me. That is the project I’d like to do at the end, or start at the end of my life.

Because of the obsolescence of digital platforms this is a series of experiments I would like to do with text versions, and then write articles about.


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On labor

I will take this post and add to it, creating a co-authored piece for the Academe blog.


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More things I will do

I will find out whether I am still in LASA and ILLI.
I will find out whether I can receive paper copies of my father’s insurance bill.
I will do other things on my lists.

I am changing my life. I do wish the university were not such a space of torture, and that I were not so afraid of it. I want to get over this as I have things to do.

I am afraid of it because it is irrational and it has power, and because I have a tendency to internalize its venom.

Here is a good article on the rhetoric of excellence.


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