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twenty years of schoolin’ and
March 23, 2011 6:46 PM   Subscribe

In over 35 years of friendship and conversation, Walter Michaels and I have disagreed on only two things, and one of them was faculty and graduate student unionization. He has always been for and I had always been against. I say “had” because I recently flipped and what flipped me, pure and simple, was Wisconsin. When I think about the reasons (too honorific a word) for my previous posture I become embarrassed. ... The big reason was the feeling — hardly thought through sufficiently to be called a conviction — that someone with an advanced degree and scholarly publications should not be in the same category as factory workers with lunch boxes and hard hats. Wisconsin has taught Stanley Fish that academics are workers too. Marc Bousquet (author of How the University Works) responds at the Chronicle of Higher Education with five lessons for academics from Wisconsin.
posted by gerryblog (48 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Musnt grumble, but even with an accurate mouse those 'Wisconsin' links are fiendishly difficult to use.
posted by oxford blue at 6:50 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Too cute, maybe? You can just use the Wisconsin tag; they're all recent MetaFilter posts.
posted by gerryblog at 6:52 PM on March 23, 2011


Wisconsin has taught Stanley Fish that academics are workers too.

*facepalm* If you can continue working despite a busted back (and like all white collars, I can), you cheapen the meaning of "worker" when you call yourself one. Truth is, what's happening in Madison should have happened decades ago, not just when it came time for our ox to get gored. Nevertheless, at least it's happening now, I suppose.
posted by ocschwar at 7:09 PM on March 23, 2011


If you can continue working despite a busted back (and like all white collars, I can), you cheapen the meaning of "worker" when you call yourself one.

So you're what, a white collar vacationer?
posted by kenko at 7:12 PM on March 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


So you're what, a white collar vacationer?

I am someone with a patriotic duty to support unions, workmen's comp, et cetera, despite not anticipating ever needing to draw benefit from such protections.
posted by ocschwar at 7:20 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you can continue working despite a busted back (and like all white collars, I can), you cheapen the meaning of "worker" when you call yourself one.

The dividing line is whether, in order to surive, your income comes from selling your labour, or whether it comes from your money working for you.

You are undermining labor and workers when you spout these ideas of division, that some types of workers are not really workers.

Unions are about uniting, not dividing.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:22 PM on March 23, 2011 [75 favorites]


Interesting. Now that private sector employees have been screwed over, the politicians with no guts, and no ideas have found a way to do the same to public sector employees - *and*, they have found a way to make a lot of the private sector folks, who don't have a pension future, actually *support* their stupid idea. What's even more ironic is that most of the politicians arguing for the constriction of public sector benefits, including unions, have pensions coming for life - either form the private sector they came out of, or the Congress itself.

Sad, how a perceived lack of something can make the person or group with the lack so easy to turn on their neighbor. God Bless America? How about "God Help America".
posted by Vibrissae at 7:26 PM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ocschwar, I know of a programmer who "fractured his right arm, broke his left arm, and tore several ligaments and muscles in both of his wrists. He also fractured and split his chin." A programmer with arms and wrists that will never work the same way again? This person's career is over, or at the least has been set back in a major way.

Bust a back? Sure, you can keep working, assuming you can think through the pain. Bust your wrists? Nope.
posted by aniola at 8:16 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nice piece from Bousquet. Ridiculously belated but still welcome realization from Fish that his earlier contrarianism was ill-thought-out. So par for the course all around, then.
posted by RogerB at 8:24 PM on March 23, 2011


Every time someone with wealth, parental or spousal backing, and/or high household income brays about how they’d do the job for free, they put another brick in the wall in front of those who don’t have those advantages.

Right on, but it took Wisconsin for him to realize this?
posted by phooky at 8:24 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Right on, -harlequin-. I just said it, but it bears repeating: If you need your paycheck, you are a working person, and shouldn't carry water for people who don't.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:28 PM on March 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


If you can continue working despite a busted back (and like all white collars, I can), you cheapen the meaning of "worker" when you call yourself one.

How's that solidarity working out for you, anyway?
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:29 PM on March 23, 2011


If you can continue working despite a busted back (and like all white collars, I can), you cheapen the meaning of "worker" when you call yourself one.
What the fuck does that mean?

One of the main ways that unions have been marginalized in the US is through a kind of divide and conquer bullshit where the right wing has convinced people that if they wear khakis to work and sit at a desk, they share fundamental interests with CEOs. They're not workers. They're management. They might extend a hand of charity to workers, but really their own interests lie with the people running companies, not the people working for them. And it feels good, I guess, to think you're like the CEO and not like the guy operating the forklift, but it's still bullshit. I don't think the people running the show at my office worry about how they're going to pay for daycare if our health insurance premiums go up, and that's a frequent topic of conversation among the white-collar workers who are making $30,000 a year.

It's also worth pointing out that some of the workers who were targeted in Wisconsin, like teachers and nurses, have physically demanding jobs that would actually be pretty tough to do with a busted back.
Right on, but it took Wisconsin for him to realize this?
Are you talking about Fish or about Bousquet? Because I'm pretty sure that it didn't take Wisconsin for Bousquet to realize it, given that he starts by saying "I’ve written about this many times before."
posted by craichead at 8:36 PM on March 23, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'm a tenured faculty member at the University of Wisconsin. Here's how it works now (prior to any changes put through by the legislature) in case people are curious. Faculty and academic staff have the right to collective bargaining, but have had this right only since 2009. Faculty members at four UW campuses have voted to unionize. Four more campuses have votes pending (three for faculty, one for academic staff.) UW-Madison, where I teach, does not have a faculty union. Or maybe we do? I hadn't heard of this until I started writing this comment.

I think the reason professors have some hesitations about unionizing has little to do with the absence of hard physical labor -- there are lots of unionized jobs you can do with a bum back. Rather, it's that we are managers and workers at the same time.
posted by escabeche at 8:42 PM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


of course the first thing an activist faculty union would do is negotiate to reduce the number of non-tenured faculty and graduate students so that tenured faculty can teach more and shoulder more administrative .... oh wait.

the problem with unionized grad student and non-tenured faculty is that it makes legitimate and formalizes the fact that the university system in the US is built on the backs of temporary, replaceable and fully commoditized labor.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:50 PM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Actually, ennui.bz, one of the main components of Bousquet's and the AAUP leadership's vision for the future of academic work is the hope that all teaching should eventually be done on the tenure track. The hope is to remove the association of basic job security with prestige, and get institutions to create a teaching tenure track rather than continuing to casualize and adjunctify the bulk of the teaching work. It's entirely in line with the current academic labor movement to critique and work to end the separation of a minority of favored tenured/tenure-track workers from those doing the bulk of the teaching work.
posted by RogerB at 8:55 PM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Right -- it seems to me the actual critique of Bousquet's work goes the other way. Why tenure for adjuncts but not for janitors? His project is still fundamentally predicated on the specialness of academic labor in ways that can be problematic.
posted by gerryblog at 8:57 PM on March 23, 2011


Actually, ennui.bz, one of the main components of Bousquet's and the AAUP leadership's vision for the future of academic work is the hope that all teaching should eventually be done on the tenure track. The hope is to remove the association of basic job security with prestige, and get institutions to create a teaching tenure track rather than continuing to casualize and adjunctify the bulk of the teaching work. It's entirely in line with the current academic labor movement to critique and work to end the separation of a minority of favored tenured/tenure-track workers from those doing the bulk of the teaching work.

no organization created to advance the interests of a economic group is going to work against the self-interest of it's members: state research universities are in the process of deciding that whole academic departments are "teaching track." so advocating for a teaching track makes it easier to reduce the number of research positions in "unprofitable" disciplines. this is all pie-in-the-sky and ignores the elementary politics/economics of the university system.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:01 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Public universities are cutting departments and that seems to you like a reason for faculty not to unionize?
posted by RogerB at 9:03 PM on March 23, 2011


Why tenure for adjuncts but not for janitors?
Do we know for sure that he doesn't want tenure for janitors?
posted by craichead at 9:04 PM on March 23, 2011


Public universities are cutting departments and that seems to you like a reason for faculty not to unionize?

No, what I'm saying is that reversing the "corporatization" of the public university system requires tenured faculty to act against their own economic self-interest. this goes against the raison d'etre of a labor union. And, solving and labor problems of the university system would involve reducing the number of grad students and adjunct faculty so "one big union" is impossible.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:09 PM on March 23, 2011


Do we know for sure that he doesn't want tenure for janitors?

I don't think the idea is ever mentioned in How the University Works, despite significant discussion of service unions on campuses throughout the book.

In any event it's something a cheap shot, because tenure is not exactly (or not solely) an economic privilege -- it's more about preserving the conditions for intellectual production and objective research in the first place. But it does seem important to me that the nontenured faculty movement be about more than just restoring privileges to a particular class of white-collar workers that had them once, and lost them; it should be about solidarity among all varieties of workers campus-wide. I don't want to see grad students and adjuncts pull the ladder up after themselves, and I think there's a real risk of it.
posted by gerryblog at 9:18 PM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I am someone with a patriotic duty to support unions, workmen's comp, et cetera, despite not anticipating ever needing to draw benefit from such protections.

You don't benefit from an eight-hour workday or employer-provided health insurance?

That sucks.

Or do you mean that you don't anticipate ever being the subject of unfair practices by your employers that leave you little effective means of redress?

Lucky you!
posted by kenko at 9:20 PM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


reversing the "corporatization" of the public university system requires tenured faculty to act against their own economic self-interest.

Bousquet very convincingly argues in How the University Works that this is not the case. Driving down the cost of academic labor hurts all academic laborers, including those lucky enough to receive tenure. It seems clear to me that it's in the interest of tenured faculty to reverse the trends that see more and more classes being taught by workers who are paid less and less.

solving and labor problems of the university system would involve reducing the number of grad students and adjunct faculty so "one big union" is impossible.

I don't see that tradeoff as necessary. Extending tenure -- or at least long-term contracts -- and reasonable workloads to adjuncts would mean there was more demand for workers, not less.
posted by gerryblog at 9:22 PM on March 23, 2011


also, creating a formal research vs. teaching tenure track actually divides tenured faculty since research, in the university-as-business, is synonymous with grant funding: reasearch and teaching faculty would have entirely different economic interests.

unions are a fine thing and unionization is an important political tool, but unions fundamentally exist for the economic self-benefit of their members.

But it does seem important to me that the nontenured faculty movement be about more than just restoring privileges to a particular class of white-collar workers that had them once, and lost them; it should be about solidarity among all varieties of workers campus-wide.

solidarity on the basis of what? what if their economic interests diverge?

It seems clear to me that it's in the interest of tenured faculty to reverse the trends that see more and more classes being taught by workers who are paid less and less.

how so? maybe in a frog slow-cooked in a pot sense, but practically speaking i don't think it's clear at all. individually it means "research" faculty have smaller teaching loads and cheap labor for research projects.

I don't see that tradeoff as necessary. Extending tenure -- or at least long-term contracts -- and reasonable workloads to adjuncts would mean there was more demand for workers, not less.

so you're advocating paying adjuncts more for less work: where's this extra money coming from? public support for universities is contracting, has been contracting, and will contract in foreseeable future.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:29 PM on March 23, 2011


...public support for universities is contracting, has been contracting, and will contract in foreseeable future.

That's a political struggle. There's nothing inevitable about this.
posted by gerryblog at 9:31 PM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


...public support for universities is contracting, has been contracting, and will contract in foreseeable future.

That's a political struggle. There's nothing inevitable about this.


pie-in-the-sky.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:42 PM on March 23, 2011


pie in the sky
posted by ennui.bz at 9:45 PM on March 23, 2011


the problem with unionized grad student and non-tenured faculty is that it makes legitimate and formalizes the fact that the university system in the US is built on the backs of temporary, replaceable and fully commoditized labor.

Which is easy to say when, oh I dunno, one is not an adjunct? I get the bigger picture argument but the reality is I would not have the meager health care and benefits I now enjoy were it not for my union. Some of us do not have the luxury of engaging in these sort of abstract tactical analyses because we depend on what little protections our unions provide so as to feed our families and pay our bills.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:51 PM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


You don't benefit from an eight-hour workday or employer-provided health insurance?

A lot, even most of the white-collar workers I know consider an eight-hour day/40-hour week to be a myth. Mandatory overtime is the norm, and even when employers aren't stretching the exempt category to avoid paying time-and-a-half, my friends consider the extra pay a benefit, or the extra hours a way to get their projects done in time. That's one way in which they don't consider themselves similar to blue-collar workers.
posted by happyroach at 10:36 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's one way in which they don't consider themselves similar to blue-collar workers.

Because they're too blind or stupid to unionize and demand their legal rights? Yeah, that's different.
posted by TypographicalError at 10:44 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


gerryblog That's a political struggle. There's nothing inevitable about this.

Yes. Talking about "inevitability" in a political or economic context is a sure sign of an ideologue. People just aren't rational enough or consistent enough in their behavior for inevitability. It's not two steps forward, one step back; it's one step this way, one step this other way, one step in a third direction, and with every step, the view changes. You do have to re-fight (almost) every victory; but the converse of that is, you get to re-fight every defeat.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:57 PM on March 23, 2011


A lot, even most of the white-collar workers I know consider an eight-hour day/40-hour week to be a myth. Mandatory overtime is the norm, and even when employers aren't stretching the exempt category to avoid paying time-and-a-half, my friends consider the extra pay a benefit, or the extra hours a way to get their projects done in time. That's one way in which they don't consider themselves similar to blue-collar workers.

They're in a real pickle, because of course if any one of them objects, he or she's out the door—plenty of people willing to come replace the unlucky stiff, and even no replacement can be found, the extra work can just be redistributed among those who remain.

Yep, it sure is tough when it comes to atomistic action.

If only there were another way!
posted by kenko at 11:04 PM on March 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


the problem with unionized grad student and non-tenured faculty is that it makes legitimate and formalizes the fact that the university system in the US is built on the backs of temporary, replaceable and fully commoditized labor.

It would be a lot better if it were formalized, because then the people who get screwed as a result of its not being formalized would have a fighting chance. Moreover, if it were formalized, even the people who aren't screwed (because they already have theirs) might become more awake to the realities of what's become of the administrations of their institutions.

The corporatization of the univerisity is already underway, and burying our heads ("our" not only including academics, of which I am, for the nonce, one, but everyone else as well; education is serious stuff, you know) in romantic notions won't help.
posted by kenko at 11:07 PM on March 23, 2011


I have to go out of town and so can not say what I would like to here. Save for one thing:

IT ALL GOES BACK TO ACCREDITATION--who accredits a college, and on what basis now and on what basis in the past, and who accredits the regional accrediting groups...
posted by Postroad at 5:01 AM on March 24, 2011


Why tenure for adjuncts but not for janitors?

There are some things that are really different in the nature of getting a teaching job and the relationship with the employer.
1) Risk premium and opportunity cost. You put in crazy time getting to the credential, which means you need to be able to securely pay back that loss. Not so for the janitor.
2) There are janitorial jobs across the street. There are not sociological research jobs; your employment disruption is pretty severe.
3) Outraged morons (parents, legislators) rarely call for the sacking of the janitor.

I'd be fine with the explicit teaching / non-teaching system. It'd collapse pretty fast when parents realized that their kids weren't actually being exposed to the best and brightest in their fields. That's true now, but that .5 class / year taught by the full professor makes them gush.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:52 AM on March 24, 2011


Why tenure for adjuncts but not for janitors?

Well, in lots of state institutions, janitors *do* have what amounts to tenure. Being a public employee, out of your probationary period, and with civil service protection is not appreciably different from academic tenure.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:07 AM on March 24, 2011


Which is easy to say when, oh I dunno, one is not an adjunct? I get the bigger picture argument but the reality is I would not have the meager health care and benefits I now enjoy were it not for my union. Some of us do not have the luxury of engaging in these sort of abstract tactical analyses because we depend on what little protections our unions provide so as to feed our families and pay our bills.

phd who would scrape and grovel for a visiting assistant position right now and former unionized grad student here. unions are definitely in your interest, but you shouldn't confuse your self-interest with the common good.

would you choose a path which reduced your ability to feed your family and pay bills in order to achieve a higher goal?

fun fact: at the university where I got my phd, the grad student union worked out that it was actually cheaper to pay an adjunct to teach than a grad student. this state research university is in the process of downsizing whole departments and came to the union with a threat to effectively cut hundreds of grad student positions and implicitly some of those teaching jobs would get taught by adjuncts. this is part and parcel of union negotiations: employers trying to split employees into factions, divide and conquer. I'm not talking about abstract issues.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:43 AM on March 24, 2011


happyroach: "Mandatory overtime is the norm, and even when employers aren't stretching the exempt category to avoid paying time-and-a-half, my friends consider the extra pay a benefit, or the extra hours a way to get their projects done in time. That's one way in which they don't consider themselves similar to blue-collar workers."

I am a non unionized blue collar worker (currently "enjoying" a seasonal laid off).

Guess what? During busy season, everyone works mandatory overtime and those who can't do the overtime get replaced, pretty much immediately. It isn't really that different (except maybe your job isn't as fungible). And do you really think we don't consider the extra pay a benefit?
posted by idiopath at 7:46 AM on March 24, 2011


Unions are about uniting, not dividing.

That's a nice thought, and maybe in a tight labor market it would even be true. But in a slack labor market like the one we're currently in (and see no signs of escaping from in the foreseeable future), the effect of unions is to create a very clear dividing line: between the people who are members of the union and have jobs, and the people waiting outside the proverbial factory gates.

You're not going to find a whole lot of love for unions when a significant percentage of the population can't get a job, period. Not unless the unions rather fundamentally change how they operate and start organizing and providing benefits to not only currently-employed workers, but also potential workers in a field (i.e. they become more like trade guilds). But they have no particular incentive to do this, at least under current laws in the US.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:20 AM on March 24, 2011


Daily Show: Sam Bee gets a taste of what it's like to live the teacher's dream.
posted by homunculus at 9:57 AM on March 24, 2011


In other Wisconsin (Milwaukee, specifically) news, today the Court of Appeals upheld the two year old sick-pay ordinance which has been held up by an injunction for the last two years. It mandates that "private-sector employees must offer paid sick leave to all full-time, part-time and temporary employees" and passed with nearly 70% of the vote.

"The business organization called the ordinance a job killer for the city and has challenged the legality of the measure, which was passed with 69% of the vote in the November 2008 election."

What does this "job killer" entail? "The city's paid sick day ordinance would require large businesses to provide employees with up to nine sick days a year, while small businesses would have to provide up to five sick days."

They are saying that providing sick time to employees will kill jobs.

I guess this class war has been going on for a while now, huh?
posted by quin at 10:13 AM on March 24, 2011


You're not going to find a whole lot of love for unions when a significant percentage of the population can't get a job, period.

Yeah, just like there was no love for unions during the Dustbowl era or the Great Depression when we saw the highest unemployment rates in history.

Oh yeah, except those circumstances were pretty much what sparked the beginning of the US labor movement.

Sheesh. You people aren't even trying anymore.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:34 PM on March 24, 2011


(...Or maybe more accurately, its modern renaissance, since the labor movement began in the US in the 1800s. Still, point being, unemployment fuels the labor cause for obvious reasons.)
posted by saulgoodman at 1:27 PM on March 24, 2011


saulgoodman: Since we're reviewing history, let's put a cause to that effect.

Question One:
Why was the US Labor movement moribund before the 1930s?

Answer:
In the wake of world war one, after the booming wartime production was turned to civilian ends and the "merchants of death" pocketed tremendous amounts of cash - the american government and middle class turned on the labor union when they began to organize strikes, stripping unions of many of the powers they had won throughout the Gilded Age. With the advent of the Red Scare, the once persistent and slowly growing socialist movement evaporated virtually overnight, and labor unions began to become smeared with the red brush

So, union power was "stripped," not "lost." The passive voice and the passive tone are an abomination.

Queston Two:
Why did the US Labor movement have a resurgence in the 1930s?

Answer:
Well, although much of the middle and pretty much all of the upper classes despised the man, the ranks of the lower classes swelled tremendously by virtue of huge layoffs of the working class. These people overwhelmingly placed Roosevelt and the Democratic Party into office, who were much more pro-Labor and much less prone to attacking solidarity. Also, in fact many unions actually were mortally wounded by the depression themselves - as huge layoffs in industrial jobs meant a huge reduction in power and dues. This, down the road, actually made the unions stronger, too, because they organized into the CIO which was gigantic and, let's face it, probably impossible under someone like Coolidge.

During the New Deal, the government did not work to obstruct organization, and made it more difficult for employers to obstruct the same

But, honestly, compared to the noise you're putting out this deep, I fear I'm actually trying too hard.
posted by absalom at 1:47 PM on March 24, 2011


Guess what? During busy season, everyone works mandatory overtime and those who can't do the overtime get replaced, pretty much immediately. It isn't really that different (except maybe your job isn't as fungible). And do you really think we don't consider the extra pay a benefit?

The overtime he's talking about is mandatory unpaid labor. Ie a white collar exempt worker might typically work an 80 hour week, but on the books it is a 40 hour week and that's all you get in your paycheck. These people see extra pay as a benefit in the sense that you're doing well if you get paid for your time at all.

You might be talking about the same thing, but it's unclear - you might be talking about mandatory but paid overtime, and seeing it as a benefit because you get more employment hours.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:25 PM on March 24, 2011


e pluribus union
posted by Twang at 3:40 PM on March 24, 2011


-harlequin-: "mandatory unpaid labor"

OK yeah that is bullshit and I haven't seen that, it is actually so alien to my experience that I hadn't even considered that he might have meant such a thing.
posted by idiopath at 3:54 PM on March 24, 2011


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