Occupy the AHA!

The stark contrast between recent imaginative actions by students and the decades of poor data, bad analysis, and foot-dragging by most academic institutions suggests a possibility. Could AAUP and the disciplinary associations become the next target for the more radical students?

For today’s grads, socially conscious unionism no longer represents the left wing of political possibility. Instead it’s a launching pad from which they can surpass the limits to the imagination of a previous generation.

Take the AAUP. I believe we represent low-hanging fruit for the rising generation of students and contingent faculty. We are a democratic association with simple procedures. Occupying the slate with insurgent graduate student candidates can be accomplished using a simple petition process. A few thousand votes — the graduate employees on two or three campuses — could shape the AAUP’s governing council in a year or two.

The same is true at most disciplinary associations, as we proved with the Modern Language Association Graduate Student Caucus more than a decade ago. From that series of actions dates major improvements in data gathering and analysis, the formation of the Coalition of the Academic Workforce, the minimum wage for contingent faculty, and a legacy of workplace activism in the organization’s Delegate Assembly (not to mention the morphing of last-generation GSC activist Bill Pannapacker into Chronicle columnist “Thomas H. Benton”).

Like the AAUP, disciplinary associations have a bullhorn regarding the profession and real purchase on the public sphere. They have staff and resources — often greater resources than the AAUP — as well as contacts with the press and politicians. The associations substantially leverage their own resources with nets of relationships with the richest campuses and wealthiest foundations.

What I am suggesting is that by joining and studying the petition process for officer candidates, a relatively small number of graduate students could begin a peaceful “occupation” of all the institutions of the profession — especially if they coordinated with students, staff, contingent faculty, and fellow travelers in the tenure stream.

What would happen if the submerged 80 percent of the profession — graduate student employees and contingent faculty — occupied the governing positions of the AAUP and of disciplinary organizations like the American Historical Association, the American Philosophical Association, and the American Psychological Association?

What if they similarly occupied the governments of college towns — Ithaca, Bloomington, and Ann Arbor? What issues would they engage?

Where would they direct the funds? How would they employ staff time? What improprieties would they commit in public?

I, for one, would like to know.

–adapted and excerpted from Occupy and Escalate, Academe (Jan-Feb 2010).

Occupation Science

East Coasters may not realize that the California quarter system means that the very eventful fall term was only 10 weeks of drama: we have twice that still to run on our academic calendar.

Students appear to be still forming a response to police escalation and having their civil disobedience labeled arson and terrorism by the administration and the more credulous journalists and think-tank flacks.*

Watch for escalation as the occupations continue to move beyond the UC system into the Cal States and community colleges, and a major coalition with K-12 faculty and staff, which will sponsor a March 4 strike and day of action.

Eli Meyerhoff has organized a conference on the emerging global occupation movement. Featuring Morgan Adamson, Chris Newfield, Andrew Ross, David Downing, and Silvia Federici together with veterans from occupations in Austria, Germany, Italy, Greece, Britain and California, Beneath the University, the Commons will be held at the U of Minnesota April 8-11.

Also of interest: Reclamations, the somewhat Berkeley-centric journal devoted to the occupation movement. The best source for updates remains the OccupyCa website.

Post AHA Link Round-up

Quite a bit of favorable response, including fan mail, kind reviews, and even an “I heart Marc Bousquet” (blush) over at the academic jobs wiki. So thanks for that. Folks interested in learning more regarding the critique of job-market theory can download the book’s intro (pdf).

I’m moving on to a new project on the Obama-Duncan partnership, so will try not to get sucked into under-informed blog spats on these issues in the future, as I have way too many times in the past couple of years.

But if you like that sort of thing, you can check out the 150 comments spawned by historian Claire B. Potter’s post on these issues over at Tenured, Not So Radical. I haven’t read most of the 60+ comments there or the 80+ over at Historiann’s effort to defend Potter. I gather that Potter made some suggestions, at least a couple of them of the I-can-fix-the-profession-from-the-watercooler variety (like, let’s not admit folks until they’re older and grad students should have administrative experience). This sort of thing isn’t Mark C. Taylor territory, of course–it’s just under-informed. By under-informed, I do not mean a failure to read my stuff–there’s a whole slew of folks to have read.

Seems some commenters got mad, hoping for more thoughtful analysis from a self-advertised tenured radical– after all it was for a book on academic labor that Cary Nelson first borrowed that phrase from icky Roger Kimball (once my t.a. at Yale, perhaps Potter’s too, actually). Then Potter got a bit hot and started talking about grad students taking personal responsibility for their choices, veering into “Dean Dad” territory (the man’s been over-compensating for years, with his “I used to read Foucault” routine.) Plus there were other commenters who liked talking about grad students as whiny inept choosers in the market of life. Then Historiann picked up on it and, seems like, more of the same.

Read it yourself, if you like, but my impression is that the 150-comment slugfest didn’t get much of anywhere.

Better to read the most recent Academe, or a few pages by me, Gary Rhoades, Joe Berry, Sheila Slaughter, Frank Donaghue, or Cary Nelson (whose latest is getting good reviews all over the place — even made Stanley Fish take back a few of his choicer ejaculations).

Hell, just read a moderately conscientious review of a book by any of these folks. I’ve had enough of watercooler wisdom, and the arguments it supports, for a lifetime.

There are real questions here — who should be teaching, with what qualifications? What effect has restructuring had on student learning? Why are history departments less diverse than police departments? (Short answer: because there are real social costs to turning the professoriate into an irrational economic choice. There’s a long answer too.)

I guess what I’d say in response to Potter in particular is meta-critical: the question isn’t what grad programs can do about the “job market,” which is in any event increasingly epiphenomenal to a labor market in contingency, serving the function of managing, reproducing, and legitimating the majority contingent workforce.

The question is what should tenure-stream faculty be doing with the various institutions to which they belong to address the aggressive restructuring of academic labor?

The second question — the right question — implicates all of us. We are all responsible for struggling against the return of the professoriate to those who can already afford extreme discounting of wages, and for the segmentation of the university workforce it creates: white faculty, brown staff, women disproportionately in insecure positions, etc.

Whereas the supply-side job-market false heuristic says that the situation can/should be managed by directors of graduate programs, that leaves people who aren’t themselves at grad programs “producing PhDs” free to feel not particularly responsible to address massive structural changes in the profession — and to offer watercooler wisdom.

Luke Menand weighs in

This is how I feel about Luke Menand’s ideas as well — he’s been shopping the three-to-five year PhD idea to anyone who would listen for over a decade now, and has gotten NPR to flack it for him recently. I’ve argued this one out on e-mail with about five people in the past couple of months, and gave it the consideration it deserved fifteen years ago as a grad student.

It’s not that the short degree is the worst idea in the world. I feel the same way about it as about closing programs that are doing a bad job of preparing future scholars, or reducing over-publication pressure.

Like those other Ideas that Won’t Go Away, in itself it’s an okay idea, and a good conversation to have: it’s just that it’s not necessarily going to have much of an impact on real issues like permatemping or managerial intrusion into curricula (with research faculty who “know better” as the leading edge of that intrusion).

However, if conversion to tenure ever became common a 3-year degree — especially for already experienced teachers — would be brilliantly useful.

Absent that particular utility, though, the 3-year degree will benefit those at schools where they already get jobs without publishing — Dukies, eg — and hurt those where part of the 8 or 10 years is publishing your first three peer-reviewed articles/getting a book contract. So it’s not an unalloyed good.

Nor does it answer a bunch of basic questions: when would new faculty learn to teach, and on whom? Who would do the teaching the grads are doing now?

And if the PhD is a nonteaching luxury good like a Mercedes, then who can afford to take it? Even if totally free and affirmatively recruited: when are the interests that lead to the intention to study for such a degree formed, and in what kind of schools? Oh, it seems Historiann has scooped me once more.

Read more:

Part 1 At the AHA: Huh?
Part 2 Who’s a ‘Historian’ to the AHA?
Part 3 History ‘Job Czar’ Shuts Down PhD Production
(Oversupply Continues for Two Decades)

*On the bad coverage of the occupation movement: I’ve spoken with a couple of folks regarding Kevin Carey’s sorta aggressively false characterizations of the movement — eg, that protesters “periodically surrounded, stoned, and tried to set on fire” a university official’s home — en route to persistent misrepresentation of their analysis, background, and motivations.

I’ll try to make time to collect some of these responses for a later post. Carey, one of Brainstorm’s two voices for “school reform,” has at least twice defended Yudof from what he saw as unfair or biased coverage, a concern shared by many of the substantial contingent of administration-oriented staff at The Chronicle, which has used mocking headlines to describe the student actions. My own view, of course, is that Yudof gets paid 8 bills a year to take a few shots from the press, and doesn’t need much defending. Students are entitled to have their reputations handled more carefully. At least by my reading of journalistic ethics and established practice (not to mention US libel law).



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