18.2.14

WHAT MEANS THIS STRIKE?

The tenured and tenure-track faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago have gone on a two day strike.  Because the strike does not deprive the management or the share-holders of income, even some potential beneficiaries of the strike on the faculty are skeptical.
Anthony Pagano, an associate professor of management who is not in the faculty union, said he agrees with its overarching goals — but not with the chosen means for achieving them.

Pagano said strikes in industry can be effective bargaining tools because they affect the company directly. In university settings, however, strikes don't really affect administrators — they affect students, he said.

"Who suffers from this (strike)? Not the university," he said. "The answer is students. And the students have zero say-so in this."
A statement by two Illinois-Chicago professors of English raise the possibility of short-term pain to current students, so as to avoid greater long-term pain to current and future students.
To understand why we’re striking, it’s useful to know a bit about UIC. It is, indeed, a major research university, but “large, struggling under-funded research university” would be more accurate. We’re more like Wayne State, Temple, or Brooklyn College, say, than Berkeley or Michigan, or even the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

But mainly, we like it that way. Unlike the flagships of state universities around the country (never mind selective private colleges), we don’t think our job is mainly to educate the children of the upper middle class.

If you look at college enrollments, almost all the top public schools enroll a large proportion of students from well-off families.
Yes, and you are in the same business as Berkeley and Michigan and Urbana, and your students deserve the same intellectual challenges as their future competitors for jobs are getting.  (Otherwise, your students will simply be managed by graduates of the flagships and the Ivies.)  Fortunately, the strike organizers get it.
Only about a third of our students come from families making over $60,000, and many of our students are from immigrant families, live at home, hold full- or part-time jobs, and even have children of their own.

What this means is that we characteristically enroll students whose preparation, as reflected in their ACT scores, isn’t as good as the students at places like Urbana-Champaign. (Family income is a very good predictor of ACT scores.) And we have some real problems with retention (family income is a good predictor of retention, as well).

But the UIC faculty and the UIC administration are completely united on the fact that we don’t think that the way to solve these problems is by getting “stronger” (which is to say, richer) students. In fact, when we put together a “Strategic Thinking Report” back in 2005, we explicitly said we’re not looking to recruit “better” students; we want to do a better job of educating the students we have.
In other words, no dropout factory, no watered-down degrees just to make the completion statistics look better.  But to do a better job of educating the students who show up requires proper resources.
The UIC faculty is committed to that mission. And the whole point of the strike is to help us fulfill it.

Start with the retention problem. The biggest falling off is between the first and second years of college, so our administration is (rightly) concerned with the first year experience. What courses do first year students take? Who teaches those courses?

Every entering UIC student takes at least one writing course; most take two. Not surprisingly, our writing courses are overwhelmingly taught by lecturers (i.e. non-tenure track faculty), on year-to-year contracts and paid a standard salary of $30,000. Furthermore, although the administration carries on endlessly about the importance of merit, they’re unwilling to mandate a promotion track for non-tenure track faculty, the whole point of which would be to reward merit.

So what exactly does it mean to insist on the importance of the first year experience and then pay the people most responsible for that experience a wage that virtually requires them to work a second job? What does it mean to claim you want to reward the best and the hardest working when you not only won’t promote them, but you won’t even provide a position they could in theory be promoted to? You’re short-changing both the faculty and the students.
I repeat myself. But repeat myself I must.
How many students are taking classes from temps who have no office hours because they have no office? And what authority does such a surrogate professor have? (To repeat some pet themes of mine, one reason the military is more effective at developing troops is that the boot's introduction to the service is a senior noncom. The cub dispatcher who has tied up the railroad for the third time in a week has a conversation with a crusty general superintendent of transportation along the lines of "let's discuss a different career.")
There's a potential bargain to be struck between the administration and the union here: put the senior faculty in the same position vis-a-vis the new students that the senior noncom or the crusty general superintendent holds.

There are, however, fewer senior faculty to sit in the superintendent's chair.
On the contrary, with fewer tenure track appointments getting made, the tenure track faculty skews older; therefore, we have salary compression — the effect of years of no raises combined with the effects of inflation and no cost-of-living increases. But the Board of Trustees has been as reluctant to deal seriously with this issue as it has been with those $30,000 a year non-tenure track minimums.
Then, strip away the radical pose and note in the manifesto a call for methods of university governance that works.
These are bread and butter issues. They don’t even speak to the loss of autonomy and control that faculty are experiencing in neoliberalized workforces, to questions like what academic freedom means to people on one-year contracts or to the politics of reducing universities to nothing but supposed instruments of economic development.

Historically, the administration of the university was a function of faculty who were chosen to manage the running of departments.  The Dean was Dean of Faculty — chosen by and beholden to the people who actually teach students. But with the bureaucratization of the university and the growth of the university as corporation, deans, provosts, and their myriad vice-provosts have become management. This now-bloated segment of the university makes decisions about the welfare of faculty and students.  A recent study shows that non-faculty jobs have grown by 27 percent while faculty lines remain flat or decreasing.

The term “shared governance” is invoked to disguise this evisceration of power but what it mainly means is that faculty senates can “advise” the administration and the administration can then do whatever it wants. To call shared governance real governance is like saying your dog has an equal say in how your household is run because sometimes when he whines he gets fed.

One of our issues in this strike is to take back decision-making power over the issues that matter to us — curriculum, teaching conditions, the distribution of monies, and the like.  The administration is fighting ferociously to retain that power — since giving it up would in effect be returning it from management to workers.
Notice: take back. Not restoration.  Not "turning back the clock."  The language of thermodynamics (only entropy increases) or of cosmology (uni-directional time) is not applicable to human actions that are historically contingent, subject to review, and reversible.  And whether we're speaking of an administrative power-grab, or of a sub-priming of institutions of higher education to the demoralization of faculty and to the dis-service of striving and determined students, reviewing the consequences and reversing the mistakes is a consummation devoutly to be wished, never mind the politics of the statement.  Without students, no university.  The faculty are permanent.  Administrators come and go, and they job-hop and punch their tickets and go on to wreak havoc elsewhere.

At Chicago Circle, the havoc has been sufficient to drive the faculty to unionize, and to strike.

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