The Doublespeak of Let’s Get Together

8 March 2015

I began researching part time faculty working conditions in 2010, the year I had abuse shouted at me by a peer at a local university who confused himself for the boss of me.

He’d tricked me into a casual get together with him, inviting me for coffee by email, the subject of which was: Let’s Get Together, a false message at best. When I arrived at his office at the appointed time, he began accusing me of something I hadn’t done. When it got to the point where he told me the person accusing me had an excellent reputation, implying that I hadn’t and so wasn’t to be believed, I realized this was no coffee chat.

Let's Get Together

Of course I felt confused, as I so often feel from the way so-called grown up people behave, and so I tried to tell him that he was listening to one of his mentees, and that he might try to get to know me a bit better before making assumptions about my character based on hearsay. He didn’t like this, and he ended up yelling at the top of his lungs.

When he did this, I pictured my huge, dearly departed alcoholic husband yelling right in my face about my liberal politics and calling me a hippie puke, neck veins bulging, face red as a fire truck, and I thought, “You don’t scare me, buddy, I’ve got you beat. I’ve been yelled at by an enormous, raging alcoholic.”

But George was an old-fashioned man’s man, a gentle giant whose bark was far, far worse than his bite. Not that he wouldn’t use physical means to defend himself or, especially, others. Because of his upbringing and his personal ethics formed by years of protecting those weaker than he, the idea that a man would hit a woman was foreign to my husband. Yelling, yes. Hitting, never. But I didn’t know this about my abuser of the moment. I collected myself, and calmly told him he needn’t worry, that nothing of the sort would ever happen again. I said this because I knew right then and there that after the semester, I would refuse to work with a department and people who foster such abusive practices.

Even though I’d been mistreated and didn’t deserve the severity of my aggressor’s manipulations, I knew neither the chair nor anyone else would care that this man had harassed me this way. The man who’d tricked me with his passive-aggressive email was a favorite in the department. He’d had a bad attitude about me for years, and I could tell that he believed his chance had come to instigate trouble for me. I knew I’d get no help because whenever I’d spoken to other part time faculty about the atmosphere of wanton backstabbing and abuse in the department, they’d change the subject or simply sigh. Meanwhile, the chair pretended to ignore the negativity, for doing so allowed others to do most of the dirty work for him. He knew exactly what was happening – the lying, the spying, the backstabbing – he just didn’t always know all the details. In politics, we call this plausible deniability. In life’s day to day happenings, it’s a rotten way to treat fellow human beings.

I was clear I’d been bullied, but I wasn’t clear as to what I could do about it other than run and tell my mom. It occurred to me that there was something much deeper fueling the rage behind my aggressor’s assault. The tension in the department reflected the atmosphere on the campus, and I realized this was not the same atmosphere of investigation, deep thought, and learning I’d come to know in college in the late 70s. I wondered what had happened to education. What happened that causes seemingly reasonable, highly educated people to behave like starved dogs fighting over a bone? The benefit I gained from being bullied was to focus my energy on finding out.

One thing I discovered quite quickly is that adjunct faculty are a symptom of a far-reaching epidemic: privatization models set up to casualize the work force. In other words, sacrificing hard fought labor rights for corporate profit by creating a flexible, at-will workforce.

Privatization will make political representation obsolete

But my view after only a little more than two month’s worth of researching privatization became that we will really get nowhere unless we concert efforts on all levels of education – K12 through PhD institutions. I didn’t come to the idea of joining efforts right away. It took another few weeks to realize that the voices I was seeking were not being highlighted. In fact, just the opposite, they were often being ignored, muted or suppressed. But that was half a decade ago, and today more and more people are aware that terms like Student Success and accountability are doublespeak meant to fool us into submission.

From this point of view, it makes no sense, for example, for contingent faculty to waste time and energy arguing against tenure. It’s already being done for us. And us doing so not only widens the two tier chasm between educators who should be focused on joining forces, it actually helps corporatizers achieve the goal of an all precarious, all the time workforce. When we think tenure, we should think union-busting. That’s the way our oppressors view it. Regardless of how we feel about our unions, these are part of the bedrock of a democratic society that broadens access to our freedoms. Being anti-union undermines our desire to empower the silenced majority. Too, think about how much easier it is to be taken advantage of while we’re at each others’ throats.

Brawl Cloud

But we can choose not to see ourselves as enemies fighting for leftover bones. We can reject the black and white, us v them polarization model so in vogue today and consider alternate ways of working together. When you stop and think about it, it’s going to take a whole lot of people to save education – and our democracy – from the ever-ravenous jaws of privatization.

Let’s face it, for a long time now our general mood in lobbying and negotiating efforts has been defeatist and reactive: accepting contingency as a norm is in the back of our minds, and the structures of our organizations for change are not set up for the challenges brought by 40 years of austerity measures. But in order to address these problems, we need to take a different approach, so instead of allowing ourselves to be swept into the national fervor for shutting down discourse, let’s challenge ourselves to open discussion based on our differences. Isn’t this what we teach our students?

In order to add the necessary force behind our efforts and amplify our calls for equity and genuine concern for students, we need to imagine more fluid leadership structures, ones that allow for much freer interplay between advocate and advocated for, and that can create multi-voiced, proactive planning. This cannot happen if we adhere to leadership styles that mimic corporate structures and focus on obsolete notions of speaking privilege. We who spend our lives teaching students about free speech are engaging in practices that silence one another. We shut down discussion in fits of emotion instead of seeing differences as opportunities for exploration. This irony doesn’t have to exist if we commit ourselves to building bridges rather than constructing walls.

Way back in 1961, President Eisenhower warned us to stay alert and keep informed because he could see that greed + access to public funds not only creates economic disaster for the lower and middle class but undermines our democracy. We are on the verge of missing DDE’s window of opportunity to maintain an alert, informed citizenry that can check the abuses of a privatization complex. Spreading the message that our lives are being legislated in favor of private interests needs to run deep, and this includes every person connected to education. Our advocacy has stalled at a crossroads for a very long time, and it’s time to realize that we cannot reach any consequential sense of unity or solidarity without some painstaking self-examination that includes forward thinking solutions of inclusiveness. Ultimately, we must take responsibility for teaching ourselves how to create new models of working together in meaningful ways.

Adjuncts Are But a Symptom

15 December 2014

One way to exert power in restraint of democracy is to bend the state to a market logic, pretending one can replace “citizens” with “customers.” Consequently, the neoliberals seek to restructure the state with numerous audit devices (under the sign of “accountability” or the “audit society”) or impose rationalization through introduction of the “new public management”; or, better yet, convert state services to private provision on a contractual basis.

– Philip Mirowski “The Thirteen Commandments of Neoliberalism

Who’s minding the store while thousands of academics across the globe debate ‘best practices’ for activism? The free market analogy is apropos, for while we focus our attention on the divisive nature of the two tier system, the assault on public education and the part-timization of the workforce go on unabated.

Adjuncts are a white collar symptom of systemic and deep global wounds to freedom. The plight of adjuncts is often compared to that of fast food and WalMart workers, but we need to consider that our advanced degrees provide us a privilege not shared by most of the wounded. We are equal to our fellow wounded but possess an additional step to economic access. So, even though many adjuncts subsist at or near poverty levels, we also exist within a realm of opportunity granted via advanced education – an irony we can’t afford to ignore.

https://i2.wp.com/www.wikitree.co.kr/webdata/editor/201410/23/193910_240_thumb.jpg

Because the piece of the pie relegated to education keeps shrinking, we are all fighting for our very existence, and without realizing it or meaning to, we are being conditioned to accept a norm that says there is no public good, only allegiance to oneself. Such a focus erodes freedom. We need a concerted effort to fight the undermining of programs that actually helped bring about the ideals of democracy for forty-plus years, one of which is public education.

The ongoing Adjunct Question is a tool being used to misdirect us from the subversion of public education since the 1940s and the big push against New Deal programs. This era saw the formation of Friedrich Hayek’s Mont Pelerin Society, the adoption of ideas by Ludwig von Mises, and the birth of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), “generally regarded as ‘the first libertarian think-tank,’” into which both Milton Friedman and future John Birch Society founder Robert Welch put energy:

The purpose of the FEE – and libertarianism, as it was originally created – was to supplement big business lobbying with a pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-economics rationale to back up its policy and legislative attacks on labor and government regulations. (Mark Ames)

Think of it this way – there is billions at stake in the testing-accountability movement that accepts public funding into its own coffers as a way of doing business, framing the siphoning as ‘public-private.’ This means that tax dollars are being used to make profits at the expense of all of us, profits that are not being returned to the classroom. Nor are these monies being used to support citizen interests such as job security, pro rata compensation, student loan subsidies, or education the way we ourselves practice it.

No, as it turns out, public education is an investor’s dream. Often cloaked as social enterprise investing and venture philanthropy with directive strings attached, education investment opportunities include everything from owning charter schools, student loan corporations, and assessment facilities to manipulating curriculum and operating billion dollar hedge funds. As reborn education activist Diane Ravitch put it:

What’s in it for the hedge fund guys? A fun hobby; power; a chance to call themselves “civil rights leaders” (not too many to be found in the big cities’ exclusive clubs); and, yes, a chance to make money. Those who invest in charters can double their money in seven years, thanks to a federal program called the New Markets Tax Credits.

It may seem realistic to accept the neoliberal argument that education is not a right (and it is eek, socialist!), and therefore schools must compete for consumers just like businesses, but it’s actually opportunistic and clearly doesn’t work. The question should be: how do we fight the nexus of the behemoths of big politics and business in order to redress the contingency crisis?

https://i1.wp.com/dollarsandsense.org/archives/2014/0314friedman--fig3--500x368.gifThe two-tier system is an excellent tool for the divide and conquer strategy of Jeffersonian free markets. Forcing tenured professors to protect the tenure system misdirects attention away from the assault on the teaching profession as a cover for union busting and removing obstacles to the godhead of the market. While educators as a whole are attacked on multiple fronts, the unions we rely on to protect academic freedom and tenure are in a fight for their lives. The business-political elites have been busy forcing education unions to spend large sums fending off legislation meant to weaken our voices. Unfortunately, the two tier system, viewed by assailants as a socialist program, unwittingly and conveniently helps weaken public education. This is not a justification for the inability of unions to protect academic freedom and make gains for all faculty members – just a demonstration that the assault on multiple fronts is working very well.

So, if the unions are busy fighting for their existence (relying on the same methods used in the past), and tenured faculty are busy protecting tenure (relying on academic freedom arguments that necessitated the rise of faculty unions), and the adjunct faculty are busy working to improve their working conditions, who is minding the store?

http://academeblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/pa-keystone-defend-public-higher-ed.png

Our old ways of handling academic infighting is made obsolete by the legislating of our lives in which every move is calculated toward repealing any semblance to the freedoms we understand as guaranteed in the Constitution. In “Reclaiming the Politics of Freedom,” Political Science Professor Corey Robin argues that big business, “uncurbed and unchecked, portends…personal domination,” and that government is a source of freedom:

When government is aligned with democratic movements on the ground, as Walter Reuther and Martin Luther King Jr. understood, it becomes the individual’s instrument for liberating [oneself from one’s] rulers in the private sphere, a way to break the back of private autocracy.

Contingent labor is being made out to be the new norm, not just in academia, but worldwide. We need to consider that our fight is not just a fight for adjunct faculty, but for the denial of what the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states as

The right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work which ensure, in particular:

(a) Remuneration which provides all workers, as a minimum, with:

(i) Fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind, in particular women being guaranteed conditions of work not inferior to those enjoyed by men, with equal pay for equal work;

(ii) A decent living for themselves and their families in accordance with the provisions of the present Covenant;

(b) Safe and healthy working conditions;

(c) Equal opportunity for everyone to be promoted in his employment to an appropriate higher level, subject to no considerations other than those of seniority and competence;

(d) Rest, leisure and reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay, as well as remuneration for public holidays.

https://i0.wp.com/www.cdhrap.net/en/wp-content/uploads/International-Covenant-on-Economic-Social-and-Cultural-Rights.jpg

We must take the big picture into consideration to broaden our thinking and thus our discourse. This doesn’t mean abandoning our work to claim our rights and improve our working conditions, but enriching it. Educational budgets are ensconced in state budgets, and changes to Ed Codes are likewise made without consulting the public, so working to change the very legislative conditions that cripple education is a necessary tool. In this way, lobbying advocacy groups such as California Part-time Faculty Association (CPFA) are vital. We must also challenge the entrenched power of the business elite who seek to further shift Americans from citizen to consumer with calls to investigate this unwarranted influence at the local, state, and national levels. Equally important, adjuncts should join efforts against the business elite, working hand-in-hand at every level of education and connecting to efforts from those who, like us, are being denied freedom through economic manipulation.

https://i1.wp.com/louisville.edu/journal/workplace/boesenbergpq3.gif

Think about how we have become accustomed to doing so much more with so much less – and with little to show for it but our sense of loyalty to the public. If we are to take back education and our freedom, we need to be a solid front of citizens who seek to denormalize what is being force fed us as givens.

0 This article appears in the Fall 2014 issue of CPFA’s Community College Journal.

Flow Chart: How Privateers Undermine Our Education System

Advancing the Quality of The Common Core Flow Chart

Many thanks to Karen Bracken for painstakingly clarifying Morna McDermott’s original chart.

http://educationalchemy.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/jpeglabyrinth-slide-21.jpg

Video explaining the Flow Chart:

Walking the Labyrinth of the Corporate-Owned-Common Core

This chart shows the insidious web of assault on our public education system. While the chart reveals the system behind privatizing our primary and secondary schools, many of the same groups are actively involved in similar takeover of our higher education system. The goal in all this at every level of education is to access public funds and bust unions so as to have more control over the entire operation.

California Tenure Ruling Sneaks Past Higher Ed

I spent a quite a bit of time yesterday researching and Tweeting news of California Judge Treu’s ruling that tenure prohibits students from accessing a quality education. I have loads to say about how this is wrong in so many ways, but that’s not the reason for this post.

This post is to urge all levels of Higher Ed faculty and media:

• to see that a decision against tenure affects every level of education.

• to start viewing every attack against teachers as part of a campaign to undermine not only faculty unions at every level but unions and the voice of the middle and lower class

• to connect the dots between neoliberal free market capitalism, Citizen’s United, the rise of our Oligarchy, deregulation, state legislative actions, and access to public funds.

• to perceive that undermining unions allows greater leverage in the so-called free market

• to work together to fight the destruction of what we know best and are supremely capable of delivering

And finally, to get that all of this applies to you, citizen or not, because this is part of the undermining of our participatory democracy.