Saturday, May 10, 2014

Admin vs. Badmin

Early this morning, I had a very edifying and enlightening conversation over Twitter with a supportive administrator from an undisclosed university.  By supportive, I mean that she demonstrated she is supportive of adjunct causes and does her best to make a difference in her school for the many adjuncts who are underemployed and overexploited.  Through our conversation, I could tell that she was hurt by some of the angry rhetoric that was being directed at all administrators, categorically, regardless of what their personal histories were on the subject.  What began as a public Twitter thread then continued as a private conversation and served to remind me of the importance of treating all people as individuals, with respect and compassion, regardless of their perceived affiliation.  It is all too easy to vilify every administrator and to ignore the many that are trying to right the wrongs of higher education and are simply hamstrung by a broken system, even causing them to question the efficacy of their presence in such a profession.  And so I wanted to share a few more notes, building on my blog post from the other day about angry versus collegial rhetoric
Angry, aggressive rhetoric on Twitter, or any other form of social media, such as Facebook or the blogosphere, goes a long way in organizing, in making the disempowered and disenfranchised feel as if they have an outlet for their anger, a forum in which to air their grievances, and a platform full of other like-minded people.  But the down side to this is that it can potentially alienate sympathetic administrators who may happen to view the post.  I know that I have made this mistake in my short time organizing at my university.  They are people too, and they have feelings.  But we have to consider the personal histories of each administrator, their life choices, their challenges, before we can lump them into the same category as the “oppressor”. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Why I fight for a union

I’ve been involved in the campaign to establish a union for the adjunct faculty members at my university, Loyola Marymount, since the beginning of that movement.  Its roots go back several years, if not even further.  As a non-tenure track, visiting professor from 2003 to 2005, I was understandably miffed after discovering that not only was I not chosen for the tenure track position that I had interviewed for there – hoping at the time that my two and a half years of service would count for something – but that despite the presence of two separate and simultaneous student petitions circulating to have my position extended, I was allowed to fade away, and my contract lapse.  During that time, I heard whispers of a particular tenured professor on the faculty senate who had been trying to unionize his tenure line colleagues for years.  It was mentioned that I should talk to him, and see if there was something he could do for me.  I spoke to him and he pleasantly heard my story, my impassioned pleas to have his help in extending my position, hoping that he could use his considerable influence, as if the threat of a union would somehow keep me working.  He sat and listened to my puerile attempt to link the concept of a potential union with my job stability and so forth, but blithely asked me, “what do you want me to do about it?” With that, I was dismissed.  I was annoyed at not only his lack of ability to do anything about it, but also his seeming lack of concern about it.  I would later come to realize that his frustration with the problems associated with forming a union were not unique, and his apparent detachment from my case was nothing personal.  He couldn’t have done anything anyway. 

And so, by the time the Summer of 2005 ended, right after returning from my honeymoon, I had removed all my books and personal belongings from my temporarily held office—but not before my office computer was unceremoniously recycled to make room for new office computers, and all of my personal and professional files that were on it from the previous two years lost!  I grumbled and continued walking, never really looking back.  I tried to apply for tenure track jobs during the next few years, but they became fewer and fewer in my field.  From time to time, my sleep was haunted by dreams about LMU, in which the school was often presented as compared to the Empire from Star Wars, as if its buildings were somehow part of the Death Star and housed countless evil minions serving Darth Vader or the Emperor.  During waking hours, I would cringe to drive past the overgrown water fountain that presented the school’s first impressions to the public on Lincoln Blvd., which cost about a million dollars to build, and a whole heck of a lot to maintain every year.  The school that I had loved so much had become the locus of my pain and disappointment. 

But somewhere about three years later, having taught and consulted for a variety of small startup schools around L.A., my former chair at LMU called me out of the blue and asked me if I was available to teach part time.  I refrained from telling him to kiss off, knowing that my lack of continued employment there was not fully his fault; in fact, the decision to ask me back was likely his own.  So I put aside any of my residual annoyance at him or the school as an entity, and I gratefully accepted two classes for the Fall of 2008, now teaching part time.  Accepting these two classes, I was now an adjunct.  I had of course been teaching part-time at other universities since my original position at LMU ended, but it seemed different somehow.  They were startup schools, and one of them even somewhat prematurely gave me the title of Dean of Students as an incentive, prior to their folding due to funding problems and a fight among its board members.  With LMU, I had now taken on the identity of a person who was good enough to teach the students continually, but evidently not good enough to be hired on permanently. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The usage of angry rhetoric in unionization campaigns, versus sweet, collegial rhetoric. Which is better, and when is each appropriate?

During my time campaigning for an adjunct union at my university, I have found that you just can’t please all the people all of the time.  Some people are truly angry, even enraged, at the treatment that they have received at the hands of administration, and they are ready to hear the kind of rhetoric from organizers that gives voice to their extreme anger and rage at their treatment.  Others, perhaps more on the fence about having a union, or even about which union would be best for their school, don’t want to hear angry rhetoric; they only want to hear peaceful and conciliatory tones, talk of peacemaking and reconciliation between equally aggrieved parties.  The second party bristles at hearing the angry, retributive rhetoric of the first.  On the other hand, the first party is annoyed at not hearing enough fire and passion, and they balk and bristle at hearing what they feel is collaborative, collusive, apologetic rhetoric from the second party. 

It is a touchy game.  Often people say, believing that they are in the right (whichever camp one is in), that the other can just take a hike and that “we don’t need them.”  Well, in actuality, we do need them.  Elections aren’t won by the party who can yell louder or who has more torches and pitchforks (well, not so much, nowadays). Simply put, union elections are won by how many people you can convince to vote for a union.