Saturday, January 8, 2011

Across the Freeway from the MLA: Notes on the Counter-conference

. . . actually more like tweets, organized around themes not presentations and slighting all sorts of good stuff from a full Merrifield amphitheatre at Loyola Law School:
  • The country has so many problems that need solving and yet many of us are having to spend all our time fighting for a decent wage and benefits.  We have to do it, we have to make sure they respect our profession. But with everything else that needs doing in the country this is such a waste! (Maria Maisto).
  • The public money for higher education isn't coming back, no matter how much we protest (AAUP president Cary Nelson).  I pressed him on this, given the fact that the student fee-hike protests of November 2009 are probably what kept Arnold Schwarzenegger from continuing cuts in the following year.  Cary said yes but it's not springing new money, and won't. It's a waste of time to go to the statehouse.
  • Federalize public higher education.  Cary said this would cost $60 billion, a drop in the defense bucket.  Argue it on fundamental principles: higher education is a fundamental right, it should be free, it should create no debt. . .
  • The new dominant faculty feeling is Fear.  "Fear now dominates the academic world.  Amazingly it has conquered arrogance as the main faculty emotion."  
  • Faculty have become dormant and passive again.  They are forfeiting the chance to make alliances with staff and students, and the window is in danger of closing (Joshua Clover).
  • New Faculty Majority.  Fear is there, but can and is often overcome.  We need to educate the public on the reality of contingent labor, and have been doing this (Maria Maisto).  On unemployment in Ohio one can make more money than teaching 3 courses as contingent faculty.
  • Grad student majorities: it's a fractured profession, where most grads can't aspire to the financial or professional conditions of their professors.  In this context the most important educational experiences were often, in grad school, not the most important professional experiences. (Annie McClanahan).  A kind of deprofessionalization needs to take place. This may overlap with an ongoing activism focused not only on unionization and labor conditions but on democratization. This means in many cases actually struggling against national unions which have often on campus been undemocratic and top down (Annie McClanahan). 
  • Grad students are the future of the profession.  If their issues aren't addressed, the profession will resemble the condition of being a graduate student (Jasper Bernes)
  • Management: given unequal power and unilateralism in so many university administrations today, progress requires "the credible threat of disruption" (Joe Berry).  Strikes are a tactic, and have to be part of a continuous process of tactical innovation, as they were in U of Illinois battles for tuition remission security among other things (Kerry Pimblott). The only thing that has made lasting differences in working conditions for most university employees has been union contracts (Bob Samuels).
  • Organizing as an educational practice: both are produced by enormous amounts of labor, both are collective collaborative activities and both produce people who have agency and who can organize all sorts of new things including further campaigns (Pimblott).
  • Progress.  Contingent labor has in places been successfully organized. People are feeling that now.  It seems like a movement. In five years things will be significantly different in a positive sense (Maisto).
By my count all but one of the speakers teach at public universities, and that was certainly true of the audience, many of whom were from state and community colleges around the country.  Jeff Williams provided the great service of giving a name to what many of us have been doing on the research side. Comparing it to Critical Legal Studies, he called it Critical University Studies (CUS).  This is one new discipline which was invented and is overwhelming practiced by faculty from public universities.

Thanks all for your excellent work and for a very promising afternoon. To be continued . . .

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