Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Want/Need/Love: A Non-Response to Craig Smith

Craig Smith at FACE Talk graciously and thoughtfully unpacked the issues raised by my fragment of a post on tenure, which was itself a sequel to my post raising the possibility of negotiating in addition to lobbying for more tenure-track lines. In neither post was I advancing an argument that I'm 100% behind, but instead floating possible solutions to longstanding issues that arise when a faculty union (or faculty/professionals one like mine) represents both the tenurable and the nontenurable--and seeking insights from Blogoramaville. So I really appreciate Craig's taking the time to take up these issues in an ongoing exchange with me and I encourage anyone interested to join in.

But since work is actually getting in the way until the very end of the week, what I can do here and now is thank him for making explicit my Queen allusion. Or whatever it is you call it when you've forgotten (repressed?) that you are, in fact, making an allusion. I can't quite say it was unintentional (is this a non-denial denial?)--I must have put it in quotes for a reason--but to the best of my memory it was for a technical rather than musical one (look and clarity, that is). But, yes, I am a Queen fan. Or maybe they're just one of the many bands from the '80s in particular that have burned their way into my memory bank, never to be rooted out. I'll blame Wayne's World rather than my ex, who was the real Queen fan in the family at the time! Who am I to put down her love of Queen when, pre-grad school, my musical tastes spanned Journey, Men at Work, Weird Al Yankovic, "Eye of the Tiger," and more that I really don't have time to confess to.

So, back to Queen, I suppose one of the biggest problems with the actually four-tiered tenure system (RTS, RT, RS, TS) I was proposing in a thought experiment kind of way is that it institutionalizes the dichotomies of want, need, and love posed in my not-quite allusion. And not only from the perspective of the institution but also from that of the faculty member. I'll really have to finish unpacking this later. Lots to do before I drop the girls off at day care!

[Update: Reading over Craig's post again just as quickly as the first time, it strikes me that I may have been working my way toward a quibble--and maybe more than a caveat--with his proposed starting point. And with that perhaps-suggestive fragment, back to work!]

[Update 2/28/08: I am SO tempted to erase all evidence of my humiliating Queen/Meat Loaf switcharoo here, which Craig was ever so kind to point out in comments, especially since Inside Higher Ed decided to feature the first two posts in our exchange. But no, let the historical record show that I am an idiot! I'm just glad they didn't link here.]

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Go Read This Now!

No, not because a friend of mine from grad school got published in The New Yorker. And not because his argument confirms my long-held view that the Mexican War and Spanish-American War are the most useful historical analogues to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. No, read it for the questions this finely-nuanced historical account of American responses to water torture by the U.S. military in the occupied Philippines raises about the state of the nation as it entered the 20th and 21st centuries.

Friday, February 15, 2008

English is Rotten Here

Well, at least at Politics and Culture, according to Amitava Kumar. Here, too, though, I would hope. And perhaps also in the state of globalizing U.S. higher ed, as Andrew Ross suggests in a long excerpt from his co-edited collection, The University Against Itself.

On Tenure: The "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" Route

I'm on a mailing list for activists within UUP and we've been discussing the complexities of contingent labor issues and the comcomitant difficulty of crafting legislative or activist solutions to problems. I may have had a brainstorm, however, and I need Blogoramaville's feedback. What do you all think of

a two-tiered system for tenure--those who want to go for the whole package (research/teaching/service) would get paid more than anyone who wanted to go the "two out of three ain't bad" route....

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Million Dollar Question

Another plea to the collective wisdom of Blogoramaville, this one having to do with a faculty-professionals union's priorities. I want my half dozen regular readers to help me start a meme.

Like the California Faculty Association and the Professional Staff Caucus at CUNY, United University Professions is a union that represents all teaching faculty, from Lecturers and Visiting Assistant Professors all the way up to Full Professors, in our case in the SUNY system (where we're a bit different is that we also represent academic professionals). In that infamous comment thread at How the University Works, I criticized UUP's leadership for, in essence, failing to live up to PSC-CUNY's and the CFA's example.

Mayra Besosa, a full-time lecturer and former member of the CFA's bargaining team, recently explained why issues of contingent academic labor are at the front and center of the CFA's agenda and why faculty solidarity across ranks is so crucial. She doesn't get into that many specifics, but in Marc Bousquet's How the University Works, there's an aside that caught my attention and inspired the thought experiment I'm about to put out there.

One recent California State University contract--through which the California Faculty Association compelled the administration to raise tenure-track hiring by 20 percent annually over the life of the contract in exchange for concessions in their cost of living adjustment--is an eye-opening, and heartening, exception.... (57)

With that set-up, here's my scenario for Blogoramaville to ponder:

Pretend, for the moment, that you are represented by a faculty union (let's call it UUP). Negotiations for a new contract are around the corner. UUP leadership is divided between those who want to emphasize traditional bread-and-butter issues (salary and benefits the top priority in negotiations) and those who want to try a different approach (prioritizing the expansion of the tenurable faculty as a negotiating strategy rather than only as a lobbying campaign). So they work together to develop a survey and put the question to a referendum. The survey is designed to help them figure out the complexity of the members' views; the referendum to gain clarity on the level of support for the new approach.

With me so far? OK, I'm not actually going to develop that survey myself, but think of your rationale for your decision on the referendum as what it is designed to elicit. So what I'm looking for from you is your decision and reasoning behind it on the following question:

UUP is considering a new strategy for the next round of negotiations. We are willing to offer some concessions on our demands for improvements in salary and benefits if New York State will agree to incorporate key provisions of the AFT's FACE Campaign into the next contract. So, for instance, if the state commits to reaching a 75/25 tenured/tenurable faculty to non-tenurable faculty ratio, having 2/3 of students in SUNY classes at each campus taught by tenured/tenurable faculty, and acting on our long-standing demands for improving the compensation, security, working conditions, academic freedom, and professional development opportunities of the nontenurable, we'll be open to finding ways to help them pay for all this. Do you support this approach to the next round of negotiations? Why or why not?

This is what I'm calling the million dollar question. Here's hoping it goes far and wide and gets some interesting responses.

And yes, there is a backstory to my asking this. But no, I'm not going into it now. Oh, and since I am not even a member of my chapter's Executive Board any more--thanks to the slowness of mail to and from Japan--this post has nothing to do with the current tentative agreement that UUP members will be voting on soon. And very little to do with the recent election of a new UUP President.

[Update 2/19/08: For a cogent clarification of AFT's FACE Campaign goals in Washington state, check out the latest from Craig Smith.]

Monday, February 11, 2008

An Open Invitation to "Anti-hypocrisy advocate"

Whoever you are--whether tenured faculty, long-time adjunct activist, or someone else entirely--I was entirely serious when I invited you to guest blog here at CitizenSE over on that comment thread at How the University Works. So I'll restate the offer: I'll publish your review of Marc's book here--in the exact state you send it to me. I'll even post a response. You can call it a refereed and peer-reviewed electronic publication on your c.v., if you wish, but you don't have to out yourself to me or anyone who happens to drop by the obscurest blog on teh intertubes. Heck, if you want to join in on the polemical fun at the debate blog I founded and sometimes contribute to still, I'm open to that--that AAUP-NY silencing thing sounds like it deserves wider play.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I called you names, tossed off unfounded accusations and disparaging remarks, and concern trolled you. But if you can't take what you were dishing out, you may as well go back to commenting at Inside Higher Ed under different pseudonyms.


CitizenSE regulars, please lend me your critical distance! Was AHA trolling Marc? Was I too mean to AHA? Have Marc and I become the new good old boys as AHA accuses? Special bonus question: why do you think AHA rubbed me so precisely the wrong way? Oh, and congratulate Marc on his good news!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

On Funding Public Higher Education, Part V: Service; or, Seizing the Levers

Take a look around your campus: do you have a union? an AAUP chapter? a college or university senate? Now ask yourself: who's in charge of them? what is their agenda? do I like it or not? could I do better?

The reason I ask these questions is a comment thread I've been participating on at Marc Bousquet's How the University Works. In the course of dropping an f-bomb, constructively of course, I tried to make the point that hypocrisy cuts both ways and organizing is the answer.

But the point that I want to make here is that tenure-track faculty need to stop treating service as the third wheel of the research-teaching-service triad. Sure, three's a crowd, but the sooner we think of service as the terrain for institutional activism, the better off we'll be, personally and as a profession. So do me a favor: read Marc's book, consider his arguments, and reflect on what you can do, individually and with colleagues in your department, division, university, and system (if you're part of one) to solve some of the problems he identifies in the places you can make the biggest impact.

And the point I want to make to the nontenurable majority is similar: if your university is like mine, there's a real generation gap in campus leadership among the faculty. Rather than turn it into another excuse to slag baby boomers, why not join in and take over the institutions at your campus from which you can best make change? If the leadership on your campus is anything like mine, they're eager to mentor newbies and give them serious responsibilities. And if not, well, that's why they have elections.

Unlike the wealthiest private institutions, most public higher education institutions really are constrained--by legislators afraid to raise taxes or authorize tuition hikes, by a history of failure to prioritize endowment growth, and much more--to exploit their part-timers and overwork their full-timers. Taking on more work--in an area least likely to improve your salary or status in the short run--may sound rather counterintuitive, to say the least. But unless administrators, legislators, parents, and prospective students are made aware of the quality of the work the faculty is doing and how much better we could do with more funding, their only demand is going to be for colleges and universities to cut costs.

More on that demand later.

Friday, February 08, 2008

We Interrupt This CitizenSE Hiatus to Bring You This sf@SF Public Announcement

For those of you who have been itching to see Samuel Delany's "significant distortion of the present" idea applied to George Stewart's Earth Abides, you've come to the wrong place. Go here, young geek! Or old geezer. Or whomever you may be. Westward, ho!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

No Time

It may not have been the smartest thing I've ever done in my life to kick off a semester in which, over the course of its first few weeks, 6 candidates are coming to campus and 4 colleagues are coming up for reappointment/tenure--and in which I trade associate chair for university senator and co-chair of an active committee--by teaching two novels that I've never even read before. It's not that I'm not loving them--they were the exact right choices to start both classes--but my choice certainly doesn't make a week in which I'm also trying to get funding to bring a hopefully-soon-to-be-named writer to one class, finalizing colleagues' guest spots in another, setting up student teams for research/teaching projects in two, and nailing down the logistics of a campus talk by a former mentor of mine at Seinan Gakuin University any easier or less stressful. Which is why things have been quiet in these here parts for the past week. And threaten to be for the next two. Unless the urge to complain becomes too pressing again. Don't even get me started on the mystery ailments afflicting the Full Metal Archivist and me that are baffling doctors all over town, and, probably soon, out of town!