To the Editor:
I write in response to Joshua Clover’s “Free Speech and Unfree Universities” (The Chronicle Review, October 18). His initial point about the need for universities to support people like Uju Anya when they make extramural statements that offend others is excellent. His desire for departments to be able to issue statements as a collective (in the name of faculty solidarity) is problematic for the same reason that his first point is true: Departments are hierarchies, not groups of equals.
Solidarity is a very worthwhile aspiration for, say, a group of workers at an Amazon fulfillment center because the struggle for better pay and working conditions is the same for them all and collective bargaining is a great way to wage that struggle. University departments, on the other hand, may have members who are white, male, tenured full professors (like Clover and myself) and others who are untenured or contingent or who face prejudice because of their gender status or race. Clover asserts that collective statements can be a way of protecting the less powerful members of a department; this is true, but they can just as easily be the means for senior department members to run roughshod over the wishes of the less powerful. Or vehicles for mansplaining. Sometimes, junior faculty members get bad mentoring (or no mentoring) from senior colleagues who don’t care enough to invest in them — how loudly can they complain to the people who will populate their review committees? Toxic departments are just as destructive as toxic administrators and much harder to fix.
This is not to embrace the Thatcherite model of atomized individualism that Clover rightly cautions against. It is just to argue that, as Fredric Jameson pointed out, academics are not alienated labor in the classical Marxist sense; the solidarity model of a labor union just doesn’t fit a group in which some members are incredibly privileged and others are very vulnerable. We do need community. We do need to protect the Anyas in our midst. But we have to recognize the inequities baked into our disciplinary structures from the start and not to pretend that they don’t exist.
Professor and Director, Comparative and Digital Humanities Program
Affiliate Faculty, Film/Media Studies Program