Why Professional Development Matters, a guest blog by Lydia Snow

From Founder of ‘Junct Rebellion and “The Homeless Adjunct” blog, Debra Leigh Scott:

As many of you know, “The Homeless Adjunct” is the blog of ‘Junct Rebellion, which is an organization founded to raise awareness of the many ways in which the corporate colonization of academia in the U.S.  (and now in the other parts of the world where the “American system” has been adopted). It is part of a larger effort that includes the filming of a documentary called ‘Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America, and a companion book of the same name.   The difficulty of trying to do a lot at one time means that our blog here sits for long stretches of time with no new posts. So, we’ve decided that the community would be better served if we open the blog up to other voices who will join us as guest bloggers.

 

Lydia Snow

Lydia Snow

Our first guest blogger is Lydia Snow, Co-Director of Women Composer’s Concert for the past three years, and made her professional career as a musician in Chicago as a choral singer.  She was a professional member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus for ten years and has appeared as a soloist and choral singer with Ars Musica Chicago, the Northshore Choral Society, the James Chorale, Basically Bach and other area church and synagogue choirs She’s taught Vocal Music and general education courses at Northeastern for 10 years, and recently has become involved in the Adjunct Labor Movement and helped organize a Teach In at NEIU last February on National Adjunct Walkout Day. She has been active in Faculty Forward Chicago unionizing efforts at the University of Chicago and more recently Loyola University.

If you would like to follow her on Facebook, she can be found here.”

A typical day's white board for Lydia's class

A typical day’s white board for Lydia’s class

 

WHY PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT MATTERS by Lydia Snow

One morning, I received a mass email from an unknown university music educator which I scanned quickly. As I felt my stomach tighten I promptly deleted it. Later that same day, I retrieved the email and read it more closely, trying to understand my reaction:

“Good Morning Illinois Music Teacher Educators!

With a little over a week to go until the Illinois Music Education Conference (IMEC), I wanted to reach out to everyone and share some of the exciting MTE related events planned for the conference. I have attached a handy MTE and Collegiate schedule to help assist you in planning your time at IMEC.”

It has been ten years since I have been able to attend this conference, or any music educator conference workshop, or any professional development meeting with fellow university music educators. I am an adjunct; I can’t afford what it costs to attend these events. I am an adjunct; my university offers no financial assistance so that I can take advantage of professional development opportunities.

 

I went through my week of teaching plagued by dead weight within me. My tenured colleagues bustled through their week. I heard them in the hallways, talking about meeting up at the conference hotel with colleagues. They planned how to distribute the brochures needed for recruiting the high school students who were coming from all over the state. Even the music students gathered in clusters talking about carpools, who was rooming with whom, what time they should gather after class, what time they hoped to get to Peoria for the opening sessions. My mind kept returning to that email, and I continued to push my feelings down.

I thought again and again of the sentence that cut through me the deepest, the one that caused me to delete it.

“This year our special MTE guest is Susan Conkling, chair of the Society for Music Teacher Educators, and professor of music education at Boston University. Susan will be chairing two panel discussions for all MTE members. The first one will be looking at issues of equity and inclusion within music education.”

Equity? Inclusion? It is the use of those words that cuts me deeply. But the injurious information continued:

Finding Balance: Jacki Kelly-McHale will chair a discussion on the other side of life in the academy. How do we find the time to be teachers, researchers, parents, and active members of university and local communities? Jacki will present some strategies to help find a better balance, but the larger issue of how to build support through a higher education community across the state will also be discussed.”

In a two-tiered academic workplace, contingent faculty do not find balance. We keep our heads down, we show up to class, we do our jobs, we dare not talk about the issues we suffer. Inclusion, finding balance, how to build support through a higher education community? What does it say about our profession that our conferences offer workshops on the very issues plaguing 75% of its faculty – the same part of the faculty not invited to the conference? Contingent faculty cannot present at the conferences, because contingent faculty can’t afford to attend the conferences.

Early on in my awakening as an adjunct activist, I discovered twitter and found #AdjunctChat a weekly group that quickly became an important part of my professional development. There is a moderator who poses specific teaching challenges; adjuncts exchange their experiences, and brainstorm solutions in a supportive environment. I learned a lot from these exchanges, I started to understand that I was not alone experiencing the isolation and desperate need to connect with other educators.

Another twitter conversation took place with a group called #realacademicbios. This one included tenure stream faculty and adjuncts. I was intrigued, but also skeptical. So I test the waters by tweeting about my teaching situation, the ten years of not attending the IMEA or IMEC, of not being incuded or invited or funded. Out of nowhere a tenured professor, obviously young and trying to be supportive tweeted back: “Why are you waiting to be invited? Isn’t this a conference/mem org? Join and go. #Lean in

I was infuriated! How could anyone be so naïve as to think that I could just pick up and leave my classes for two days to attend a conference for which I have neither financial assistance nor legitimate, professional welcome? Why must this inequality and ruinous professional abuse constantly be explained to a clueless full-time faculty?

I long for a way to attend these conferences. More than that, I know how crucial it is to travel, refuel, collaborate, imagine; our continued growth in our profession depends on these opportunities.

For those who are tenured and do get to attend these conferences, who do have a chance to do research and publish and talk about your work in groups, who feel validated as professionals, who feel a sense of belonging, who get to schmooze and go to the parties afterward the work is done, you are provided with chances to remember why the hell you care about your discipline, to have that passion reawakened.

This isn’t true for those of us for whom the way is barred. I used to look forward to teaching. I am passionate about it. Actually I’ve been passionate about it my entire working life, and to me it is a whole lot more than a job. I teach because it matters to me in the most essential way that could be described in words.

 

The students in my World Music class were very attentive this week. I felt as if I was on the edge of some understanding. After teaching this class for many years I find myself stepping back from the anxiety and stepping into the heart of the teaching art. I create lesson plans that allow group work and heated discussions in class. We sit in a circle and I tell them I no longer want to be called Professor Snow, but Lydia. At first they seem perplexed, but many stay after class to exchange ideas and ask questions about the music we both decide to explore in the next meeting. We discuss Indian music in a way that deepens my own understanding of every aspect of its performance and history. I am falling off a cliff here because I am allowing myself to let my students lead us. I have decided it’s more important to be honest in my exchanges with them. Why did I allow this vague sense of complete ignorance on a daily basis invade my confidence when it came to explaining Hindustani and Carnatic classical traditions and history and their influence on other culture’s music as well? I no longer need to offer excuses to myself. I have done the best I could under extraordinarily bad circumstances. I decide to accept what I have to offer them in the classroom.

In my general education classes there was a stillness and quietness I don’t remember experiencing the first weeks of teaching music concepts. They seem almost spellbound in class and I find my heart beating faster with the weight of all they want from me, the professor of music education. I try my best to introduce time signatures, dotted notes, even divisions of the beat. After class I gather up my drums, mallets, beat cards, lap top, textbooks, staff paper, handouts for the ones who can’t afford the textbooks, recorders for those who haven’t purchased them or left them in their car. I come prepared to teach. I refuse to let them stare into space when I introduce these basic concepts of music theory. It hurts too much to see their blank faces with nothing to hold onto. I make them write the notes on blank staff paper, I go around to check to see their work. Many are looking at phones, scrolling through Instagram. I just tap on the blank paper. “You need to try to make the shapes of the notes, it will help when you do your homework.” They smile, push the phones aside, “Do you have a pencil?” one student asks. “Of course!” and out it pops in my other hand. I come prepared because I want my students to learn how to read music.

If anyone wanted to know what inclusion means I could take photographs of my students composing music the last weeks of the semester. I could show videos of the process as they put together the building blocks of reading rhythms, playing recorder, building chords, and work together to compose counter rhythms under each of their sections. As a class we put all their melodies together and then I let the students decide how to weave them together through different musical forms. We record them and then go back and rework it as a group of 35-40 people. Playing the class composition is the highlight of my semester because the students enjoy it so much, and everyone is included. I try to grab music education students to help me with the process and sometimes they come and help, but mostly I do this on my own. So, yes, I do understand the importance of inclusion, in respecting the potential of each student and not being willing to waste it. But after ensuring inclusion to my students, I sit in my classroom after class exhausted, and stare out the window; I wonder how I will gather the steam to pack up and trudge down to gather my things and go home.

If, even in this most depleted state, I can assure my students equal treatment and support, how is it that the university can’t guarantee the same equal support and inclusion to its faculty? If I treated my class the way the university treats its faculty, 75% of them would be denied desks, materials, computer equipment, instruments. 75% of them would struggle, and fall short, not because of their own lack of desire, intent or ability, but because it is the inevitable outcome of inequality.

Without having a chance to take part in professional development opportunities, to attend conferences, to offer presentations in these discussion groups, to ask important questions, I have lost my drive and my inner voice. I can no longer find the will to teach without summoning up such great reserves of energy that I literally want to go to sleep after teaching. Teaching no longer energizes me, it depletes me. None of the traditional ways that a scholar replenishes energy, restores inspiration, grows and develops their area of specialty are open to contingents. We are expected to perform our teaching duties without any of these necessary supports, without the ability to develop professionally, to restore ourselves. If 75% of our students were denied the necessities of development, everyone would understand what a travesty that is, and what a horrible outcome that would cause. Isn’t it equally obvious that denying our faculty the necessary supports and development opportunities is a travesty?

I wanted to share this with you, so you can understand the depth of depletion of the contingent faculty in higher education. It is affecting the teaching conditions of this majority faculty, thereby leeching the core energy required to power the classes for students in all disciplines. I am not alone. There are at least 1.5 million other university faculty out there who one day wake up and say, “I don’t have it in me to do this anymore.” We are the majority faculty of American higher education. We desperately need to be supported in our chosen disciplines because this is how we stay alive in the classroom, and without it, we fall down. All of us fall down, our students fall down, our society falls down. Our universities fall down. We need to rise, and we need to do it with a determination to never let our profession be knocked to the ground again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Hypocrisy of the American University

This post offers Part 2 of our conversation with Pennsylvania State Senator, Daylin Leach.

It has been many years now since faculty voices within academia have been speaking out against adjunct hiring, which is the low-wage semester-by-semester hiring of university professors that has replaced full-time status for approximately 75% our country’s college educators. Gradually, awareness of the situation has grown, with concern about the many ways these hiring practices negatively impact not only the role of our scholars in higher education, but the quality of education our students are receiving. It wasn’t until the death of adjunct professor Margaret Mary Vojtko, and the outcry created by a series of articles, the first written by Daniel Kovalik for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that the cold-hearted cruelty, the social injustice of such practices really became part of the public conversation.

Talking about the late Professor, our Pennsylvania State Senator, Daylin Leach, discusses the plight of the adjunct professors across the country.

As the Senator says, Vojtko’s earnings, which barely reached $25,000 a year,
“… is poverty, and that is just a salary. There are no benefits, no healthcare, no support system. It is really an impoverished life.”

Senator Leach points out that the perception people have too often is that adjuncts are teaching as a side activity, and are people with full-time jobs elsewhere. This is largely a false perception, intentionally perpetuated by the universities themselves. The truth is that the majority of university educators are living in poverty because university teaching IS their profession – and a profession for which they trained on average, with ten years of graduate work, research and study. Often, those years of study also mean years of student loan debt, now crippling these professors who are earning so little that they often qualify for food stamps and other forms of public welfare.

The argument has been made against companies like Walmart or McDonald’s, which pay such low wages that our social welfare system, paid for by our citizen’s taxes, is supplementing their workers’ needs. The same argument must be made against universities who also “game” the public welfare system by so severely underpaying their faculty that the same supports are necessary. Why should taxes be used to supplement these organizations which refuse to take responsibility for paying a living wage? Why, especially, when these same organizations, universities included, have seen an explosion of administrative jobs and salaries? As our legislators beat the drum against food stamps, talking about the need for “austerity”, there is no honest evaluation of the largest beneficiaries of that welfare – the corporations and universities, as a recent article in Truthout has discussed.

Far too often, the rhetoric about people on food stamps or other welfare supports is that they are lazy, that they “don’t want to work”, that they prefer to sit at home and let the state pay for their lack of responsibility. Nothing could be further from the truth. Too many of those receiving these benefits are working many hours at jobs in companies and universities which manage to shirk their responsibilities, succeeding in paying wages that are despicably low, not living wages at all.

“These are not lazy people…..(but) people who are very smart…leaders in their field sometimes. It speaks an indifference which I find both ironic and troubling on the part of universities. Because, frankly, there is this image of universities as bastions of liberalism….but in terms of how they treat their employees, suddenly all that goes out the window. You’ll have universities which teach great courses on the American Labor Movement, and….you’ll have universities with courses on poverty studies….but they don’t see the irony in the person teaching that not being able to heat their home because they won’t pay them. At the same time, we’ve seen here in Pennsylvania, administrative salaries go well into the 7 figures. So….this is a reflection of what is happening in society as a whole….”

Senator Leach is right. Universities should be a “bastion against that,” he says. But they are not. “They are deliberately doing this,” he says. Deliberately taking and exploiting the labor of hard-working, well-educated, dedicated faculty and driving them into poverty.

Margaret Mary Vojtko has become the symbol for this suffering. She was 83 years old when she died, over a year and a half ago, collapsing on the lawn of a home she couldn’t afford to heat or repair, a home she could no longer live in because of its condition, and the freezing temperatures inside. She died sick, without healthcare or savings. As Kovalik writes, “As amazing as it sounds, Margaret Mary, a 25-year professor, was not making ends meet. Even during the best of times, when she was teaching three classes a semester and two during the summer, she was not even clearing $25,000 a year, and she received absolutely no health care benefits. Compare this with the salary of Duquesne’s president, who makes more than $700,000 with full benefits.”

Dr. Vojtko’s poverty was so desperate by the end of her life that she was buried in a cardboard box.  A national outcry against her suffering rose, and the disrespect of those at Duquesne University who were not only aware of her plight, but who caused it, was exposed.  Her fate could well be the fate of many of the over 1.5 million university professors now working on adjunct contracts.  The first generation of “career adjuncts” is well into retirement age, with no retirement savings or benefits, no healthcare, nowhere to turn.

Isn’t time to ask: what sort of world is this, where such desperation is intentionally created? What sort of economic system creates and perpetuates this kind of suffering? What has happened to our American university system that the values and morality have become so warped that those upon whom the entire educational endeavor depends are left to suffer poverty, illness and degradation while the ever-growing number of administrators are living lives of comfort and well-being, and in many cases, wealth? What kind of country has America become?

 

To see the clip of part 2 of our interview with Senator Leach, click here.

 

 

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Call to Adjunct Walk-Out Activists — Help Us Shoot the National Event for Our Documentary

Hi everyone!  This is a call to all the adjunct activists who are planning to be involved in the nationwide walk-out on Wednesday, February 25, and in other demonstrations for the rights of educators and students that are taking place that day.

Chris M. LaBree, co-producer of ‘Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America had a great idea last night.  I’m hoping that it isn’t too late to coordinate this and make it happen. Chris’s suggestion is that we get activists who are taking part all over the country in these demonstrations to shoot some footage on their phones – group shots, maybe some individual comments from various people involved, sweeping vista shots of the amount of people involved – anything, really, that feels good and exciting to each of you. In order for us to be able to use it, Chris says that it would have to be shot in landscape, not portrait. As we wrap the final interviews and put an “act three” to the film – the focus is going to be on what we are DOING to change this situation for the better – for the scholars/educators and for the students, for American academia.  It would be terrific if this part of the film could be crowd-sourced in this way, as yet another indication of the growing group effort pushing back against corporatized academia.    Chris and I, obviously, can’t be everywhere at once, so this would be a great way to really include a concerted group effort into the documentary. It would only require that we get a general release from you in order to use the footage, and if we DO use what you send, you’ll get a thank you in the credits. Email me at junctrebellion@gmail.com so that I can put you on the list, and get your information for the release form. Let’s make this happen! It would be great if we could document this in the film, and really capture the energy that is about to explode all over the nation.

 

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Law and the Labor-Abused

These pages have discussed many aspects and problems of what has happened to America’s scholarly class, and how the casualization of the profession of the academic has ruinous repercussions throughout not only higher education in the U.S., but through American society.

In our work on the documentary, ‘Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America, my co-producer, Chris M. Labree, and I have talked to many people about the difficulties and struggles of those attempting to survive in an academia which offers little beyond poverty and professional misery. We’ve also talked to those in national policy institutes, in national unions, and on local campuses across the country, searching not only for the truths of what has happened to our country’s system of higher education, but ways to restore the quality and honor of what American academia used to be.

More and more is written now about this situation, and how it impacts scholarship in the country, how it harms our students – America’s next generation of adults – and how the corporatization of what had previously seen as an institution of social good has to be stopped.

One question I’ve asked to those we’ve interviewed is “What about legislation? Can we pass laws that put an end to the casualization of academic labor – and by extension all occupational casualization which has proliferated since the beginning of this so-called “Great Recession” – in order to restore professional stature?”

That there should be legislation, I think, is indisputable. As long ago as 1999, the case for laws ending this labor exploitation was made. John C. Duncan, Jr. of the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, wrote an extensively exploration of the situation in academia, and concluded that both the unionization of contingent faculty and laws to protect the professoriate were necessary:

“If schools cannot step forward and provide equitable treatment of adjunct faculty members, then the law should provide the appropriate protection. Consideration in accreditation is just one possible solution. Legislatures and courts should realize the treatment of these professional educators is inadequate. Whatever the specific solution, the general answer should be this: recognize adjuncts as professionals, treat adjuncts as professionals, and afford adjuncts the rights and protections they deserve as professionals.”

Such laws have been extremely slow in coming. Recently, Colorado legislators attempted to introduce such a bill, HB 14-1154, which was lauded throughout the country, especially by unions and the 1.5 million educators suffering adjunctification. Sadly, the bill was squashed by legislators more beholden to corporate interests than to education or workers.

We talked about this situation with Pennsylvania Senator Daylin Leach, a progressive member of the state legislature in PA, a former candidate for the Congressional seat of Allyson Schwartz, who has himself taught on an adjunct basis, and knows well the indignities. His view is clear-eyed, and holds forth little hope in state houses which are dominated by the same sorts of corporate interests which derailed the Colorado effort.

His suggestion? Vote. Get involved at the grass roots level. Raise candidates who support workers and those whose occupations have been casualized, who are determined to restore economic security Americans in all occupations.   Of course, legislation at the state level is only one way to address the issue. National legislation against such occupational exploitation would, in one sweeping act, restore our fair treatment. Of course, the same issues exist at the national level, even more severely. There is no political will for helping the beleaguered worker, the casualized professional. With the exception of a few senators, such as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, we see no real concern for the plight of impoverished workers in any occupation. So, again, State Senator Leach’s advice rings true: Vote. Get involved. Begin at the roots and build up the candidacy of those who are dedicated to issues of workers’ right, of supporting and restoring the institutions of social good.

According to what Senator Leach said, not only is the political will to protect workers’ rights missing in the kind of people currently holding office, both at the state level and the federal level, but there is an undisguised hostility toward workers in general.

I asked him, “So what you are saying….is that some of the people who are holding these representative positions don’t really believe it’s a legislative duty to address economic labor inquality.”

Senator Leach agreed, “….I would go further than that. Some of them think that income inequality is a desired outcome. It’s a good thing, because…in heir view of the world, we need a system that picks winners and losers aggressively, and the winners need to be rewarded infinitely…the people they perceive as and actually rhetorically call losers, who have not reached the top of the economic ladder….that’s a character flaw on their part and people with character flaws should be punished…that’s literally the philosophy we are talking about.” (To see the full clip of this segment of our interview, please go to our new youtube channel, and remember to subscribe!)

Our legislators are not supporting the people.  These elected people populating our state houses, our national legislative positions, cannot truly be called our representatives. If this isn’t an argument for more impassioned involvement in what’s left of our democratic processes, I don’t know what is.

So please: consider the plight of our students, our country’s scholars and the quality of our institutions of higher learning when you research the candidates at all levels of our government. Get involved on a deeper level and demand of our representatives the kind of justice and respect for our citizens – in all occupations and endeavors – that a healthy and responsive government should embrace.

 

 

 

 

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How American Universities Have Destroyed Scholarship in the U.S.

Put simply, universities traditionally have pursued a three-prong mission: 1) to provide excellent educational opportunities, 2) to support scholarly research and study, and 3) to encourage both professional and community service.

There has been a lot written recently about how the adjunct situation has negatively impacted our students’ education – and this blog will be addressing that extensive problem in a future post. But it is the second of the three-prong mission I’d like to talk about now, since I’m not seeing as much attention focused on this equally serious problem.

The adjunct labor abuse problem is becoming more widely reported: Seventy-five percent of America’s college faculty earn less than $25, 000 a year. Often hired one semester at a time with no healthcare or retirement benefits, paid per course an average of $2700, faculty are now academia’s migrant workers.

Historically, it has been the responsibility of our institutions of higher learning to provide financial and professional support for our country’s scholars, whose work extends far beyond the classroom and its instructional activities. It’s an essential part of the university’s role to support the nation’s intellectual class in their ongoing research, study, publishing and continued learning. Our scholars are the very life’s blood of an academic culture, and their work benefits society in a great variety of ways. Professors are public servants. The value of their research, rigor and learnedness lies at the heart of the traditional university’s very existence. When a university is fulfilling this part of its mission, faculty members are employed in full-time positions which make such rigorous research and scholarly work possible. Today, however, departments employ a small fraction of full-time faculty. The rest of their population is made up of short-term contract hires whose precarious, low-wage conditions render their scholarship largely impossible.

The few “lucky” tenured, or tenure-track faculty members receive more complete support. Often, they are able to research and complete books more quickly. They produce articles more frequently. They receive university reimbursement for attendance at conferences where they can present papers and collaborate with fellow scholars. But for the seventy-five percent of college faculty off the tenure-track in those one-semester contract positions, that life seems like an impossible dream. For most adjuncts, the time it takes to research and write a book – or even a small article – is time they don’t have.

Adjunct professor, Stephanie P.*, in California, states: “I drive 350 miles a week to three schools. I spend at least three hours a day driving to and from school. I spend at least four hours a day preparing when I am not teaching and two hours a day on a teaching day. This term, my car was hit by an SUV and was totaled. I have worked for various publishers as a content expert and started writing a textbook, but have not had the time to finish.”

Stephanie has been teaching for nearly ten years, and has yet to finish a book. Our 1.3 million adjunct faculty scholars nationally are so over-extended, so underpaid, so stressed that the ability to find not only the time, but the emotional and psychological capital necessary to focus, to research, to write, is little more than a fantasy.

In all academic areas, scholars are struggling to survive in order to continue their work. More and more of them are fleeing the universities, finding a life of poverty and corporatized values intolerable. For those who suffer to stay, and those who go, the outcome to America’s scholarship is the same. We are losing millions of works of scholarship; we are failing to move scholarship forward when so many voices are silenced.

Many people outside of academia don’t see the work performed beyond our classroom activities. They don’t understand the amount of dedication and labor involved in researching and writing, in working as an expert in any particular field. That is why the “lazy tenured professor” image has lasted for so long. Far too many people believe that professors spend about ten hours a week in classroom instruction, and the rest of the time lounging around their well-appointed homes, reading books and sipping wine.

But that image is no more accurate than it would be to suggest that trial lawyers work only when they are in court. There are hundreds of hours spent in research, writing, preparation, correspondence, conferencing, and professional development, all of which command significant time and energy in both the attorney’s and the scholar’s work life.   Although largely invisible, such work is essential to the full practice of both professions.

The life of a scholar, which on average requires ten years of preparative graduate study, is made up of intensive work in a particular discipline. Let’s provide a few examples, and say a graduate student in linguistics undertakes a course of study that focuses on the ancient languages of the Middle East, and a history graduate student focuses on the history of the First Persian Empire. Our linguistics graduate student writes and defends a dissertation on the ancient Nabataean language. Our history graduate student does a dissertation on the religions that existed during the reign of Cyrus the Great.

To many people, those areas of study would seem entirely useless. Who needs someone to spend ten years in order to understand a language that hasn’t been spoken in a thousand years? Who cares about dead religions practiced in a time of a dead emperor from the 5th Century B.C.?

But, in 1947, a Beduoin shepherd discovered clay jars in a cave near the Dead Sea which contained scrolls of indecipherable languages. Over the next ten years, discoveries of more of these scrolls were made. Our scholars in the Nabataean language were crucial. It was necessary for them to come together with scholars expert in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek in order to begin to decode and translate the content of what would come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, one of the most important discoveries in modern history. Our history expert on the religions of the reign of Cyrus the Great would come together with other historians, anthropologists, archeologists, materials experts, restorationists, scholars who do carbon dating, others who do paleographic dating. Teams of people, all with very narrow, “esoteric” learning, would work together for years and years to present the learning provided by the Dead Sea Scrolls to the world.

The discovery of these scrolls took place largely over the years from 1946 to 1957, but scrolls are still being discovered in the region to this day. Even in this new millennium, a variety of scholars continue to work on them. This series of discoveries has been the life’s work of many, many learned people in the very fields of study that have been so denigrated by the more corporatized university. What we see regularly now is the shutting down of such programs as ancient history or languages. Programs that focus on these kinds of knowledge are seen, in this new business-model climate as useless, unnecessary – in other words: not profitable.

If those scrolls were found today, would we have a new generation of scholars in these fields, trained and ready to uncover their secrets? Or, if those scholars existed at all, would they be scattered, living in poverty, working several low-wage, instructional jobs, or tending a retail counter, waiting tables, bartending, driving taxis? Driven from their fuller roles in the traditional university, would our scholars be able to devote a lifetime to such an enormous endeavor? I’m afraid that the answer is no. America’s corporatized university cultivates no continuation of such learning, but instead tends the bottom line. So, when discoveries of this sort are made now, there will be fewer American scholars to join with other learned people around the globe in order to do this work. And, as this “American model” of academic labor is picked up in European universities (which the EU is currently pushing), there may well be no one anywhere in the world able to work on such a project. Given that very real possibility, we must ask: Will future generations look back to this time and see another Dark Age?

Whether it is medical research, musicology, linguistics, art history, each field of study is a living, changing area of learning. The responsibility of our scholars is to stay engaged in their field, work with their colleagues from around the world, and then to bring their research and work out to the public through writing, lecturing, and teaching. The second prong of a university’s mission is to support that, through maintaining a full-time faculty, financially supported so that they have the ability to perform the work they’ve trained a decade and more to do.

As you would expect, the last generation of full-time professors was much more productive than this generation of adjunct professors. Dr. Ron G.*, an English professor from a university in Georgia, has written or edited thirty books, and countless articles over the course of a 50 year career that began in the late 1960s. His current university employer, eager to attract him to their campus, worked with him to design an entire interdisciplinary program around his life’s work.   Dr. Samuel L.*, a prolific religion scholar in D.C., over a 50 year career that began in the late 1950s, wrote or edited nearly thirty-five books, and established an international foundation named after himself. Just two scholars provided over sixty books, countless articles, an international foundation and a new interdisciplinary program.

If those scholars had been born a generation later, trapped in a lifetime of adjunct work, how much of that output would have been possible? Would they have been able to progress in their scholarship and their career? Would they have been able to create university programs, or establish world-renowned foundations? Of course not. We will never know the amount of scholarship that’s been lost in this shift to casualizing the work of our professors. But if you assume even a 50% reduction in the output of a full-time faculty professor and multiply that by the 1.3 million adjuncts, you begin to get a sense of the devastation. This is an invisible cost, suffered not only by the individual scholars themselves, but by the society in which we live.

So much of the activism currently taking place around the issues of faculty labor exploitation is focused – and of course it is a crucial first step – on restoring a professional wage scale and securing permanent positions for our university educators. But we simply CANNOT forget that part of what has been stolen from us is our profession itself. We can’t be scholars in the fullest sense if we are unable to research, to write, to present our ideas, to conference with fellow scholars in our fields, to present our work to the public. We can’t give our fullest measure of expertise and learning to society, which is one of the most significant roles we play as citizens and public intellectuals. The universities are cheating us by deprofessionalizing the faculty, that is certain. But it is cheating the entire country, robbing the people of the work we trained to do, not for ourselves, but for them. For the love of learning, for the love of scholarship, and for the love of future generations who will, I believe, one day, look back and see this as a dark age.

 

*Names here are changed to maintain privacy.

Posted in The Breakdown of the American University System | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Inequality, MOOCs and The Predator Elite

It’s been too long since I’ve written here on The Homeless Adjunct blog, but I am back and ready to move forward.  The silence was caused by a particularly hard year of never-ending job searching.  Two of my three adjunct teaching jobs disappeared, leaving me with barely 30% of what was already a poverty level income.  I suspect that this has had something to do with my outspokenness on the issue of adjunct labor abuse, but as those of you working on contingency contracts all know far too well — there is simply no way to definitively prove such retaliation.  And after a year of falling victim to the severe trauma that we adjuncts are always facing, I have gotten myself back up, and have determined that I won’t let myself be silenced by poverty, or fear.  While it has certainly proven to be an effective tactic, it can only be effective if we allow it to take our spirit along with our income.  It’s pretty clear that this is a Braveheart moment, where I either continue to fight against tyranny — and the corporatized university is a tyrannical institution — or I let them win.

And thanks to the Scottish warrior blood in my veins, I choose to fight.

Since many people have kindly asked, I should also say that my co-producer, Chris Labree, and I are putting together a fundraising campaign shortly, to help us raise the money we need to get the remainder of the film shot, and into post-production.  So, you’ll be hearing a good bit on these pages about how that’s going.  You’ll also be reading about some of the people we’ve already interviewed, and the issues we’ll be addressing in the film and in the book.

So, since my last article, what’s been happening in higher education?  Tuitions are continuing to increase.   Student loan debt is continuing to increase.  Administrative jobs are continuing to increase.  Use of low-wage adjuncts is continuing to increase. Presidential salaries are continuing to increase.  But the quality of education is plummeting.

Yes, more people are talking about the terrible situation in academia.  But the focus still seems to be skewed.  The myth of the “lazy tenured professor” still gets bandied about by too many people as if it were a truth.  For profit “information delivery” methods are on the rise.  MOOCs proliferate, despite plenty of research that points out the serious flaws in
this “model”.  The game plan seems clear – destroy the teaching profession, then blame those educators still struggling against all odds to teach, hold them responsible for the systemic failures.  Then replace a system which focused on the social good of education with a for-profit model run like an edu-factory.  There is a reason that billionaires like Bill Gates have bought into education – and its the same reason that Gates owns over a half million dollars worth of Monsanto stock.  Factory farming and factory-ed have the same goal: profit.  And not for you or me.  Certainly not for our children.  But for Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates and the other 1%-ers who have muscled their way into ownership of the “education industry”.  And, I will say it until I’m blue in the face (and yes that’s another Braveheart reference):  Education is NOT a for-profit endeavor, any more than medicine should be.  It is a social good, and must be treated as such.  Teachers are professionals and know more about the complexities of educating individuals than the “Instructional Designers” and curriculum technicians who are doing their best to take over.

An article from outside of academia caught my attention the other day.  It’s an interview from Salon.com with Jaron Lanier, long seen as an internet visionary.  Lanier has grown more than a little concerned about the ways in which the internet has become a driving force for inequality and, sees it at the root of the destruction of the middle class.  He points to several professions – artists, musicians, journalists – whose livelihoods have all but disappeared.   His new book Who Owns the Future continues his war on digital utopianism and his assertion of humanist and individualistic values in a hive-mind world. But Lanier still sees potential in digital technology: He just wants it reoriented away from its main role so far, which involves “spying” on citizens, creating a winner-take-all society, eroding professions and, in exchange, throwing bonbons to the crowd.”

The idea of this erosion of professions is what caught my attention the most.  He warns that internet technology has been destroying the middle class by destabilizing jobs – by both shrinking the pool of possible jobs, and then creating instability in the few jobs available.  Instability comes in two ways: job instability (part-time, contract work has been replacing full-time work) and the low wages and lack of benefits that go with such part-time jobs.
While the last 20 years of academia have seen these two destructive practices
aimed at the professoriate, it hasn’t been until lately that the threat is driven by the internet — in the case of academia, in the form of MOOCs that are now looming enormous, casting monstrous shadows over the college campus. The MOOC model, from the standpoint of the professoriate, is an entirely exploitative one.  The professor designs a class, has lectures and other media support shot and “canned” — and then the university, or the MOOC itself owns that material.  It OWNS the intellectual property of a professor who has trained for, on average, a decade for advanced degrees, who has taught for years and developed skills and abilities.  And, once that particular area of scholarship is canned — who needs the professor, ANY professor, anymore?

Lanier talks about what happened when digital photography overtook the old style of photograph development.  He uses Kodak as an example.  At one point they employed over 140,000 workers.  Instagram, at the point it was sold for….about a billion dollars was it?….to Facebook, had 13 employees.  THIRTEEN.

Digitizing does away with the need for the human.  In the case of MOOCs, it is a scholarship killer. Education, at the university level especially, is the outgrowth of ongoing scholarship by the faculty.  A lifetime of research, writing, speaking, engaging with other scholars in your field, produces not just the articles and books of each scholar’s work, but the classes – NEW classes, exciting never-before-given classes, which provide a furtherance of study and scholarship in a given area.  By MOOC-ing college classes, an illusion of higher education is created.  Nothing more.  It’s “virtual” education in all the worst ways.

Remember when SAG and AFTRA did bloody battle with the film studios and TV studios in the early days of VCRs?  When a whole new way of distributing the work of the actors and crew on films and TV shows offered tremendous increase in revenue….but not for THEM?  Well, that’s what the MOOC model does in academia.  The owners of the MOOC platform, the universities under contract with the MOOC companies — those are the beneficiaries of all this digitized “information delivery”.  The shrinking career of the professor just got diminished even more.  And, unlike the members of SAG/AFTRA, we have no union capable of providing significant pushback.  The traditional educational unions have been nearly worthless – they haven’t been able to stop the casualization of the majority of university professors in the country, for instance.  They’ve been notoriously short-sighted.  Who is there to fight against the already-impoverished professoriate being MOOCed?

Lanier talks about the social contract that is being broken by the casualization of more and more areas of labor — he calls it the “informal” economy of our current employment situation. “We kind of made a bargain, a social contract, in the 20th century that even if jobs were pleasant people could still get paid for them. Because otherwise we would have had a massive unemployment. And so to my mind, the right question to ask is, why are we abandoning that bargain that worked so well?”

This observation is certainly relevant to what he sees happening in the creative industries, and in journalism.  But it is just as true in academia.  The idea that if a person loves what they do — even if it takes a lot of work and dedication to do it — they don’t deserve to be paid a middle-class salary to DO it — is part of what fuels the disappearance of the scholar as a professional.

The problem is, as Lanier points out, that we are not living in an informal economy, simply suffering with the income of an informal hiring system.  This informal, casualized labor situation puts far too many people, across all professions, into a terrible situation when they crash up against the formal economy we actually LIVE in — that’s the economy where you must still use cold, hard cash to pay for your housing, your utilities, your food, your healthcare.

“It was all a social construct to begin with, so what changed… is that at the turn of the [21st] century it was really Sergey Brin at Google who just had the thought of, well, if we give away all the information services, but we make money from advertising, we can make information free and still have capitalism. But the problem with that is it reneges on the social contract where people still participate in the formal economy. And it’s a kind of capitalism that’s totally self-defeating because it’s so narrow. It’s a winner-take-all capitalism that’s not sustaining.”

Think about the writing-for-free model that has taken over journalism.  His point can be supported by the millions made by Arianna Huffington, while many of her writers worked for little or nothing.  Yes, writing is one of what Lanier is calling the “pleasant” jobs — as is teaching (I didn’t say easy.  But dedicated writers and educators alike see what they do as rewarding and important work.)  Why should journalists or educators be working for little to no money, living at the edge of poverty, while the people at the top of this sort of economic structure are reaping enormous fortune?  According to Lanier, this is a conscious breach of the all-important social contract that not only provides what he calls the “hump” of middle class citizens — that middle area surge on the economic chart where the majority of people fall — but that large, sustained middle class keeps the rest of the system going.  Without it, the economy fails, as does democracy itself.

“We don’t realize that our society and our democracy ultimately rest on the stability of middle-class jobs…The way society actually works is there’s some mechanism of basic stability so that the majority of people can outspend the elite so we can have a democracy. That’s the thing we’re destroying, and that’s really the thing I’m hoping to preserve. So we can look at musicians and artists and journalists as the canaries in the coal mine, and is this the precedent that we want to follow for our doctors and lawyers and nurses and everybody else? Because technology will get to everybody eventually.”

Technology will get to everybody eventually.  Well, it’s already more than started in the professions he lists.  Internet diagnosis and the silo-ing of medical treatment.  Lawyers’ duties being unbundled, with online document reviewers being outsourced to other low-wage countries.  Scholars being reduced to migrant status, teaching conveyor-belt classes with “common syllabi”.

We’re all screwed.  And we’ll stay screwed if we keep struggling as individuals, or as separate classes of professionals.  We’ve got to come together and rise up together – all workers, across all platforms and industries – and put our talents and our multiple intelligences to use for our own benefit.  Stop giving our talents and abilities away to the Predator Elite, and start working together to figure out how to use our talents for each other.  If all exploited journalists stopped writing; if all exploited artists stopped creating; if all exploited educators stopped teaching — what would these exploiters have?  A great big bunch of nothing.  No articles or news stories.  No music, theatre, film, visual art.  Empty classrooms and campuses.

The most exploited are the most necessary.  We can never forget that.

Posted in Social and Economic Inequality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps

A few years back, Paul E. Lingenfelter began his report on the defunding of public education by saying, “In 1920 H.G. Wells wrote, ‘History is becoming more and more a race between education and catastrophe.’ I think he got it right. Nothing is more important to the future of the United States and the world than the breadth and effectiveness of education, especially of higher education. I say especially higher education, but not because pre- school, elementary, and secondary education are less important. Success at every level of education obviously depends on what has gone before. But for better or worse, the quality of postsecondary education and research affects the quality and effectiveness of education at every level.”

In the last few years, conversations have been growing like gathering storm clouds about the ways in which our universities are failing. There is talk about the poor educational outcomes apparent in our graduates, the out-of-control tuitions and crippling student loan debt. Attention is finally being paid to the enormous salaries for presidents and sports coaches, and the migrant worker status of the low-wage majority faculty. There are now movements to control tuition, to forgive student debt, to create more powerful “assessment” tools, to offer “free” university materials online, to combat adjunct faculty exploitation. But each of these movements focuses on a narrow aspect of a much wider problem, and no amount of “fix” for these aspects individually will address the real reason that universities in America are dying.

To explain my perspective here, I need to go back in time. Let’s go back to post World War II, 1950s when the GI bill, and the affordability – and sometimes free access – to universities created an upsurge of college students across the country. This surge continued through the ’60s, when universities were the very heart of intense public discourse, passionate learning, and vocal citizen involvement in the issues of the times. It was during this time, too, when colleges had a thriving professoriate, and when students were given access to a variety of subject areas, and the possibility of broad learning. The Liberal Arts stood at the center of a college education, and students were exposed to philosophy, anthropology, literature, history, sociology, world religions, foreign languages and cultures. Of course, something else happened, beginning in the late fifties into the sixties — the uprisings and growing numbers of citizens taking part in popular dissent — against the Vietnam War, against racism, against destruction of the environment in a growing corporatized culture, against misogyny, against homophobia. Where did much of that revolt incubate? Where did large numbers of well-educated, intellectual, and vocal people congregate? On college campuses. Who didn’t like the outcome of the 60s? The corporations, the war-mongers, those in our society who would keep us divided based on our race, our gender, our sexual orientation.

I suspect that, given the opportunity, those groups would have liked nothing more than to shut down the universities. Destroy them outright. But a country claiming to have democratic values can’t just shut down its universities. That would reveal something about that country which would not support the image they are determined to portray – that of a country of freedom, justice, opportunity for all. So, how do you kill the universities of the country without showing your hand? As a child growing up during the Cold War, I was taught that the communist countries in the first half of the 20th Century put their scholars, intellectuals and artists into prison camps, called “re-education camps”. What I’ve come to realize as an adult is that American corporatism despises those same individuals as much as we were told communism did. But instead of doing anything so obvious as throwing them into prison, here those same people are thrown into dire poverty. The outcome is the same. Desperate poverty controls and ultimately breaks people as effectively as prison…..and some research says that it works even MORE powerfully.

So: here is the recipe for killing universities, and you tell ME if what I’m describing isn’t exactly what is at the root of all the problems of our country’s system of higher education. (Because what I’m saying has more recently been applied to K-12 public education as well.)

First, you defund public higher education.

Anna Victoria, writing in Pluck Magazine, discusses this issue in a review of Christopher Newfield’s book, Unmaking the Public University: “In 1971, Lewis Powell (before assuming his post as a Supreme Court Justice) authored a memo, now known as the Powell Memorandum, and sent it to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The title of the memo was “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System,” and in it he called on corporate America to take an increased role in shaping politics, law, and education in the United States.” How would they do that? One, by increased lobbying and pressure on legislators to change their priorities. “Funding for public universities comes from, as the term suggests, the state and federal government. Yet starting in the early 1980s, shifting state priorities forced public universities to increasingly rely on other sources of revenue. For example, in the University of Washington school system, state funding for schools decreased as a percentage of total public education budgets from 82% in 1989 to 51% in 2011.” That’s a loss of more than 1/3 of its public funding. But why this shift in priorities? U.C. Berkeley English professor, Christopher Newfield, in his new book Unmaking the Public University posits that conservative elites have worked to de-fund higher education explicitly because of its function in creating a more empowered, democratic, and multiracial middle class. His theory is one that blames explicit cultural concern, not financial woes, for the current decreases in funding. He cites the fact that California public universities were forced to reject 300,000 applicants because of lack of funding. Newfield explains that much of the motive behind conservative advocacy for de-funding of public education is racial, pro-corporate, and anti-protest in nature.

Again, from Victoria: “(The) ultimate objective, as outlined in the (Lewis Powell) memo, was to purge respectable institutions such as the media, arts, sciences, as well as college campus themselves of left-wing thoughts. At the time, college campuses were seen as “springboards for dissent,” as Newfield terms it, and were therefore viewed as publicly funded sources of opposition to the interests of the establishment. While it is impossible to know the extent to which this memo influenced the conservative political strategy over the coming decades, it is extraordinary to see how far the principles outlined in his memo have been adopted.”

Under the guise of many “conflicts”, such as budget struggles, or quotas, de-funding was consistently the result. This funding argument also was used to re-shape the kind of course offerings and curriculum focus found on campuses. Victoria writes, “Attacks on humanities curriculums, political correctness, and affirmative action shifted the conversation on public universities to the right, creating a climate of skepticism around state funded schools. State budget debates became platforms for conservatives to argue why certain disciplines such as sociology, history, anthropology, minority studies, language, and gender studies should be de-funded…” on one hand, through the argument that they were not offering students the “practical” skills needed for the job market — which was a powerful way to increase emphasis on what now is seen as vocational focus rather than actual higher education, and to de-value those very courses that trained and expanded the mind, developed a more complete human being, a more actively intelligent person and involved citizen. Another argument used to attack the humanities was “…their so-called promotion of anti-establishment sentiment. Gradually, these arguments translated into real- and often deep- cuts into the budgets of state university systems,” especially in those most undesirable areas that the establishment found to run counter to their ability to control the population’s thoughts and behavior. The idea of “manufactured consent” should be talked about here – because if you remove the classes and the disciplines that are the strongest in their ability to develop higher level intellectual rigor, the result is a more easily manipulated citizenry, less capable of deep interrogation and investigation of the establishment “message”.

Second, you deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors (and continue to create a surplus of underemployed and unemployed Ph.D.s)

V.P. Joe Biden, a few months back, said that the reason tuitions are out of control is because of the high price of college faculty. He has NO IDEA what he is talking about. At latest count, we have 1.5 million university professors in this country, 1 million of whom are adjuncts. One million professors in America are hired on short-term contracts, most often for one semester at a time, with no job security whatsoever – which means that they have no idea how much work they will have in any given semester, and that they are often completely unemployed over summer months when work is nearly impossible to find (and many of the unemployed adjuncts do not qualify for unemployment payments).  So, one million American university professors are earning, on average, $20K a year gross, with no benefits or healthcare, no unemployment insurance when they are out of work. Keep in mind, too, that many of the more recent Ph.Ds have entered this field often with the burden of six figure student loan debt on their backs.

There was recently an article talking about the long-term mental and physical destruction caused when people are faced with poverty and “job insecurity” — precarious employment, or “under-employment”.  The article says that, in just the few short years since our 2008 economic collapse, the medical problems of this group have increased exponentially.  This has been the horrible state of insecurity that America’s college professors have experienced now for thirty years. It can destroy you — breaking down your physical and emotional health. As an example:  the average yearly starting salary of a university professor at Temple University in 1975 was just under $10,000 a year, with full benefits – health, retirement, and educational benefits (their family’s could attend college for free.) And guess what? Average pay for Temple’s faculty is STILL about the same — because adjuncts now make up the majority of faculty, and earn between $8,000 to $14,000 a year (depending on how many courses they are assigned each semester – there is NO guarantee of continued employment) — but unlike the full-time professors of 1975, these adjunct jobs come with NO benefits, no health care, no retirement, no educational benefits, no offices. How many other professions report salaries that have remained at 1975 levels?

This is how you break the evil, wicked, leftist academic class in America — you turn them into low-wage members of the precariat – that growing number of American workers whose employment is consistently precarious. All around the country, our undergraduates are being taught by faculty living at or near the poverty line, who have little to no say in the way classes are being taught, the number of students in a class, or how curriculum is being designed. They often have no offices in which to meet their students, no professional staff support, no professional development support. One million of our college professors are struggling to continue offering the best they can in the face of this wasteland of deteriorated professional support, while living the very worst kind of economic insecurity.  Unlike those communist countries, which sometimes executed their intellectuals, here we are being killed off by lack of healthcare, by stress-related illness like heart-attacks or strokes.  While we’re at it, let’s add suicide to that list of killers — and readers of this blog will remember that I have written at length about adjunct faculty suicide in the past.

Step #3: You move in a managerial/administrative class who take over governance of the university.

This new class takes control of much of the university’s functioning, including funding allocation, curriculum design, course offerings. If you are old enough to remember when medicine was forever changed by the appearance of the ‘HMO’ model of managed medicine, you will have an idea of what has happened to academia. If you are not old enough – let me tell you that Once Upon a Time, doctors ran hospitals, doctors made decisions on what treatment their patients needed. In the 1970s, during the infamous Nixon Administration, HMOs were an idea sold to the American public, said to help reign in medical costs. But once Nixon secured passage of the HMO Act in 1973, the organizations went quickly from operating on a non-profit organization model, focused on high quality health care for controlled costs, to being for-profit organizations, with lots of corporate money funding them – and suddenly the idea of high-quality health care was sacrificed in favor of profits – which meant taking in higher and higher premiums and offering less and less service, more denied claims, more limitations placed on doctors, who became a “managed profession”. You see the state of healthcare in this country, and how disastrous it is. Well, during this same time, there was a similar kind of development — something akin to the HMO — let’s call it an “EMO”, Educational Management Organization, began to take hold in American academia. From the 1970s until today, as the number of full-time faculty jobs continued to shrink, the number of full-time administrative jobs began to explode. As faculty was deprofessionalized and casualized, reduced to teaching as migrant contract workers, administrative jobs now offered good, solid salaries, benefits, offices, prestige and power. In 2012, administrators now outnumber faculty on every campus across the country. And just as disastrous as the HMO was to the practice of medicine in America, so is the EMO model disastrous to the practice of academia in America, and to the quality of our students’ education. Benjamin Ginsburg writes about this in great detail in his book The Fall of the Faculty.  

I’d like to mention here, too, that universities often defend their use of adjuncts – which are now 75% of all professors in the country — claiming that they have no choice but to hire adjuncts, as a “cost saving measure” in an increasingly defunded university. What they don’t say, and without demand of transparency will NEVER say, is that they have not saved money by hiring adjuncts — they have reduced faculty salaries, security and power. The money wasn’t saved, because it was simply re-allocated to administrative salaries, coach salaries and outrageous university president salaries. There has been a redistribution of funds away from those who actually teach, the scholars – and therefore away from the students’ education itself — and into these administrative and executive salaries, sports costs — and the expanded use of “consultants”, PR and marketing firms, law firms. We have to add here, too, that president salaries went from being, in the 1970s, around $25K to 30K, to being in the hundreds of thousands to MILLIONS of dollars – salary, delayed compensation, discretionary funds, free homes, or generous housing allowances, cars and drivers, memberships to expensive country clubs.

Step Four: You move in corporate culture and corporate money

To further control and dominate how the university is ‘used” -a flood of corporate money results in changing the value and mission of the university from a place where an educated citizenry is seen as a social good, where intellect and reasoning is developed and heightened for the value of the individual and for society, to a place of vocational training, focused on profit. Corporate culture hijacked the narrative – university was no longer attended for the development of your mind. It was where you went so you could get a “good job”.  Anything not immediately and directly related to job preparation or hiring was denigrated and seen as worthless — philosophy, literature, art, history.

Anna Victoria writes, on Corporate Culture: “Many universities have relied on private sector methods of revenue generation such as the formation of private corporations, patents, increased marketing strategies, corporate partnerships, campus rentals, and for-profit e-learning enterprises. To cut costs, public universities have employed non-state employee service contractors and have streamlined their financial operations.”

So what is the problem with corporate money, you might ask? A lot. When corporate money floods the universities, corporate values replace academic values. As we said before, humanities get defunded and the business school gets tons of money. Serious issues of ethics begin to develop when corporate money begins to make donations and form partnerships with science departments – where that money buys influence regarding not only the kinds of research being done but the outcomes of that research. Corporations donate to departments, and get the use of university researchers in the bargain — AND the ability to deduct the money as donation while using the labor, controlling and owning the research. Suddenly, the university laboratory is not a place of objective research anymore. As one example, corporations who don’t like “climate change” warnings will donate money and control research at universities, which then publish refutations of global warning proofs. OR, universities labs will be corporate-controlled in cases of FDA-approval research. This is especially dangerous when pharmaceutical companies take control of university labs to test efficacy or safety and then push approval through the governmental agencies. Another example is in economics departments — and movies like “The Inside Job” have done a great job of showing how Wall Street has bought off high-profile economists from Harvard, or Yale, or Stanford, or MIT, to talk about the state of the stock market and the country’s financial stability. Papers were being presented and published that were blatantly false, by well-respected economists who were on the payroll of Goldman Sachs or Merrill Lynch.

Academia should not be the whore of corporatism, but that’s what it has become. Academia once celebrated itself as an independent institution. Academia is a culture, one that offers a long-standing worldview which values on-going, rigorous intellectual, emotional, psychological, creative development of the individual citizen. It respects and values the contributions of the scholar, the intellectual, to society. It treasures the promise of each student, and strives to offer the fullest possible support to the development of that promise. It does this not only for the good of the scholar and the student, but for the social good. Like medicine, academia existed for the social good. Neither should be a purely for-profit endeavor. And yet, in both the case of the HMO and the EMO, we have been taken over by an alien for-profit culture, our sovereignty over our own profession, our own institutions, stripped from us.

A corporate model, where profit depends on 1) maintaining a low-wage work force and 2) charging continually higher pricers for their “services” is what now controls our colleges . Faculty is being squeezed from one end and our students are being squeezed from the other.

Step Five – Destroy the Students

While claiming to offer them hope of a better life, our corporatized universities are ruining the lives of our students.   This is accomplished through a two-prong tactic: you dumb down and destroy the quality of the education so that no one on campus is really learning to think, to question, to reason. Instead, they are learning to obey, to withstand “tests” and “exams”, to follow rules, to endure absurdity and abuse. Our students have been denied full-time available faculty, the ability to develop mentors and advisors, faculty-designed syllabi which changes each semester, a wide variety of courses and options. Instead, more and more universities have core curriculum which dictates a large portion of the course of study, in which the majority of classes are administrative-designed “common syllabi” courses, taught by an army of underpaid, part-time faculty in a model that more closely resembles a factory or the industrial kitchen of a fast food restaurant than an institution of higher learning.

The Second Prong:  You make college so insanely unaffordable that only the wealthiest students from the wealthiest of families can afford to go to the school debt free. Younger people may not know that for much of the 20th Century many universities in the U.S. were free – including the CA state system – you could establish residency in six months and go to Berkeley for free, or at very low cost. When I was an undergraduate student in the mid to late 1970s, tuition at Temple University was around $700 a year. Today, tuition is nearly $15,000 a year. Tuitions have increased, using CA as an example again, over 2000% since the 1970s. 2000%! This is the most directly dangerous situation for our students: pulling them into crippling debt that will follow them to the grave.

Another dangerous aspect of what is happening can be found in the shady partnership that has formed between the lending institutions and the Financial Aid Departments of universities.  This is an unholy alliance. I have had students in my classes who work for Financial Aid. They tell me that they are trained to say NOT “This is what you need to borrow,” but to say “This is what you can get,” and to always entice the student with the highest possible number. There have been plenty of kick-back scandals between colleges and lenders — and I’m sure there is plenty undiscovered shady business going on. So, tuition costs are out of control because of administrative, executive and coach salaries, and the loan numbers keep growing, risking a life of indebtedness for most of our students. Further, there is absolutely no incentive on the part of this corporatized university to care.

The propaganda machine here has been powerful.  Students, through the belief of their parents, their K-12 teachers, their high school counselors, are convinced by constant repetition that they HAVE to go to college to have a promising, middle class life, they are convinced that this tuition debt is “worth it” — and learn too late that it will indenture them.  Let’s be clear: this is not the fault of the parents, or K-12 teachers or counselors.  This is an intentional message that has been repeated year in and year out that aims to convince us all about the essential quality of a college education.

So, there you have it.

Within one generation, in five easy steps, not only have the scholars and intellectuals of the country been silenced and nearly wiped out, but the entire institution has been hijacked, and recreated as a machine through which future generations will ALL be impoverished, indebted and silenced. Now, low wage migrant professors teach repetitive courses they did not design to students who travel through on a kind of conveyor belt, only to be spit out, indebted and desperate into a jobless economy. The only people immediately benefitting inside this system are the administrative class – whores to the corporatized colonizers, earning money in this system in order to oversee this travesty. But the most important thing to keep in mind is this: The real winners, the only people truly benefitting from the big-picture meltdown of the American university are those people who, in the 1960s, saw those vibrant college campuses as a threat to their established power. They are the same people now working feverishly to dismantle other social structures, everything from Medicare and Social Security to the Post Office.

Looking at this wreckage of American academia, we have to acknowledge:  They have won.

BUT these are victors who will never declare victory — because the carefully-maintained capitalist illusion of the “university education” still benefits them. Never, ever, admit that the university is dead. No, no. Quite the opposite. Instead, continue to insist that the university is the ONLY way to gain a successful, middle class life. Say that the university is mandatory for happiness in adulthood. All the while, maintain this low-wage precariate class of edu-migrants, continually mis-educate and indebt in the students to ensure their docility, pimp the institution out to corporate interests. It’s a win-win for those right wingers – they’ve crippled those in the country who would push back against them, and have so carefully and cleverly hijacked the educational institutions that they can now be turned into part of the neoliberal/neocon machinery, further benefitting the right-wing agenda.

So now what?

This ruination has taken about a generation. Will we be able to undo this damage? Can we force refunding of our public educational system? Can we professionalize faculty, drive out the administrative glut and corporate hijackers? Can we provide free or low-cost tuition and high-quality education to our students in a way that does NOT focus only on job training, but on high-level personal and intellectual development? I believe we can. But only if we understand this as a big picture issue, and refuse to allow those in government, or those corporate-owned media mouthpieces to divide and conquer us further. This ruinous rampage is part of the much larger attack on progressive values, on the institutions of social good. The battle isn’t only to reclaim the professoriate, to wipe out student debt, to raise educational outcomes — although each of those goals deserve to be fought for. But we will win a Pyrrhic victory at best unless we understand the nature of the larger war, and fight back in a much, much bigger way to reclaim the country’s values for the betterment of our citizens.

I am eager to hear from those of you who have been involved in this battle, or are about to enter it.  We have a big job ahead of us, and are facing a very powerful foe in a kind of David and Goliath battle.  I’m open to hearing ideas about how to build a much, much better slingshot.

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