The New Enemies List

Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.

–George Orwelltexasvigilantes

Remember Richard Nixon’s enemies list? How paranoid and absurd that sounded? Remember CoIntelPro? How not absurd and dangerous that was? That craziness is starting again in the wake of the Trump election, not just with the threat of registering Muslims, but also aimed specifically at professors. Not long after the election, fliers were distributed at Texas State University  that read, “Now that our man Trump is elected and Republicans own both the Senate and the House—time to organize tar & feather vigilante squads and go arrest and torture those deviant university leaders spouting off all this diversity garbage.” At least two Jewish professors have received hate messages.

Helping to spur this hatred on, and making its targets easy pickings, is the new Professor Watchlist, developed by 22-year-old conservative Charlie Kirk, who defines its mission as “expos[ing] and document[ing] college professors who discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values, and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” Kirk is the new wunderkind of the conservative witch-hunters. Funded by his organization Turning Point USA, the watchlist is an echo of an earlier site, NoIndoctrination.org, itself a now-defunct offshoot of Campus Watch, whose mission was “monitoring Middle East studies on campus.”

The complaints listed are mostly of the “you made us learn something we didn’t want to, or do something we didn’t want to, or expressed an opinion we didn’t like” type that one often hears from students when we challenge them to look outside their current beliefs. Many explanations of “ideology” and “indoctrination” are taken out of context. Many complaints are about professors’ personal lives, most about women and people of color — what organizations they gave money to, their activities outside of class, their Twitter accounts. The complaints are all personally submitted by students and substantiated by what the site calls “a variety of news organizations.” In reality, these are largely anything but mainstream, credible news organizations: CampusReform.org, DiscovertheNetworks.org, theCollegeFix.com, Project Veritas, PJMedia, and so on.

While it’s true that some of our colleagues have done and said some ethically questionable things, there is an enormous difference between, say, Holocaust denial, Sandy Hook conspiracy theories, and sexual harassment and both free speech and pedagogy. That difference is what this website fails to distinguish. What may look questionable or weird when reported by a disgruntled student, may, in fact make sense in the context of the class or lesson plan—whether the student reporting it is able to see it or not. That’s part of the learning process. Karen Roothaan parodies the problem perfectly: “Watch that Professor M.T. Pockets! He is always telling his students about his miniature little paycheck and his lack of health benefits. He even gets them feeling sorry for him and they bring him old clothes and other useful items. He is basically a proto-communist.”

The new site may seem like nothing more than an annoying version of Rate My Professor without the chili peppers, but it’s far more dangerous. It’s undoubtedly no coincidence that the site’s “featured professors” are often women and people of color. There are previous parallels in the 1930s targeting the founders of AAUP itself, which grappled with similar issues of “Americanism” in public thought. As Rebecca Schuman points out, even though Kirk insists there is no call to action here,

I also have to wonder whether the intentions of his watch list make a difference—and whether this is a bell that can be unrung. It doesn’t matter if the site wasn’t meant as a No-Goodnik Intellectual Kill List one day after Richard Spencer and his Jungen screeched Heil Trump. Intentionally or not, the Professor Watchlist, simply by being a self-styled watch list, has aligned itself with the ugly, frightening new political status quo.

The very existence of a list of “targets” is all too tempting for the unstable in a nation that has campus carry laws.

asimov-antiintellectualismWhat also makes a site like this dangerous is the chilling effect it has on teaching and academic freedom, especially on adjuncts. Learning is a messy, awkward, sometimes painful process that students often resist with every fiber of their being, either because they think they already know what they need to know, or because of the emotional consequences of being challenged to provide evidence for their arguments or to acknowledge the validity of others’ arguments, or to realize that their arguments have real world consequences. Our primary job as teachers is, we all know, not simply to fill students’ heads with facts, but to help them learn to think, and to grow emotionally and academically, to see the world with an analytical eye, and to sort out their own convictions. That often means challenging those (quite often) received ideas they carry around when we first meet them. Not uncommonly, that leads to some interesting “discussions” in class that may offend or upset students. But booting students out of their comfort zones is part of our job. If we are not supported in doing that, we risk giving our students less of an educational experience than they deserve, and failing them, and the country.

Henry Giroux, in a Facebook post in which he shares the recent Inside Higher Ed article on Professor Watchlist, calls this resurgent atmosphere of anti-intellectualism “Orwell’s academic dystopia.”

The notion that these self-appointed apostles of political purity confer the title of anti-American on views they disagree with makes visible how ignorance and repression feed each other. What they don’t realize is that they are an updated version of the darkest replicas of the secret police and censors that were indispensable to authoritarian regimes reaching from Pinochet to the interrogation chambers of the former East German Stasi. The only thing being exposed here is a climate that has been ushered in with the election of Donald Trump that trades on a culture of fear, hatred, censorship, and bigotry. Shared fears hold it together along with a culture infused with the toxic registers of political fundamentalism and ideological rigidity. This type of trolling constitutes a fundamental condition of the alt-right, which is the creation of a white public sphere based on the destruction of all those others nominated to be impure, worthy of suppression, deemed pathological, and eventually subject to exclusion, imprisonment, or worse.

Though it may seem like a small, juvenile website, it marks the next step in a dangerous trend that began before Trump was elected and has only been emboldened by that election now. The interpretation of ideas students don’t like as “un-American” or “too radical” is the real problem here. Who gets to decide what an “American” idea is? Or define what’s radical and what’s not, and from what point of view? The benchmarks for such evaluations are hardly fixed or easily defined. It’s highly ironic that this watchlist, focused as it is on one particular ideology, completely overlooks the fact that contingency is a far bigger threat to academic freedom across the political spectrum than a handful of professors in classrooms. After all, conservatives are less likely to have representation and academic freedom on campus because of contingent employment than because of the presence of liberals or leftists on campus; students are just as likely to find themselves offended by conservatives as by liberals, and coming under the same scrutiny by fiscally conservative administrations. Conservatives aren’t any cheaper to employ than progressives and that’s all that actually seems to matter right now.

Since I first began writing this, the watchlist has grown to include at least two dozen contingent faculty, including graduate teaching assistants. For adjunct faculty, this watchlist creates a deeply chilling climate in corporatized universities that already rely more on student evaluations than peer review to hire and fire their instructors. Because of the precarity of their appointments, contingent faculty are already much more cautious about experimenting pedagogically in the classroom, introducing new material, or even grading appropriately for fear of student complaints. Once contingent faculty appear on this list, a university more interested in “protecting its brand” than in free and open academic inquiry can easily hedge their bets and bypass a potential professor who dares ask hard and uncomfortable questions of both their students and society at large. This, in turn, further chills free speech, open inquiry, and innovation.

So what are the remedies? In the spirit of “the remedy for bad speech is more speech,” the Professor Watchlist Redux (“a website dedicated to satirizing sites that try to squelch academic freedom through intimidation, innuendo, and other sophomoric methods”) is a good start. If you’ve been a reader here, you know how we feel about satire. At the very least, however, we must also demand that all academic administrations uphold and protect the rights of academic free speech. The right to publish such a site may be covered by the First Amendment (where it doesn’t descend into slander or libel or promote violence), but the right to denounce its purpose and content does too. That right needs to be exercised, vigorously, especially in defense of the most vulnerable among us.

revolutionary-act-orwellWe must also call upon college administrations to make thorough and impartial responses to student complaints about instructors, considering the pedagogical context and foundations of each situation. Rutgers University has already failed in this capacity by putting adjunct professor Kevin Allred on leave for complaints about his Twitter account postings. On the strength of a student complaint alone, and the over-reaction of campus police, Allred was subjected by NYPD to an unnecessary and humiliating psychiatric evaluation then placed on leave for tweets no more incendiary (and with actual pedagogical purpose) than anything Donald Trump has said on that medium. Without the assurance of academic freedom from our own institutions, the process of education will be severely curtailed, and molded to reflect the ideology of those in power. Free inquiry and free speech in academe must be protected to help protect it everywhere else.

As colleagues, we must stand up for each other against attempts to silence any of us, no matter where or whom they come from — students, administrators, department heads, fellow academics, outside sources. Now is not the time for silencing or being silent.

–Lee Kottner

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Necessary but not sufficient conditions | Here comes trouble

NFM Board memberSeth Kahn ruminates on the activism part of professional organizaiton activism.

We care a lot. We know other people who care a lot. We know how to formulate action plans and write press releases. What’s missing, our Phase 2, is the willingness (?), ability (?), resolve (?) to express to each other our collective commitment to being ethical and proactive. We nitpick at ideas. We talk ourselves out of taking obvious stances. We argue relentlessly about individual words in 1000-word statements. We refuse to commit to principles because we can’t already know what will have happened when we try to enact them.

Source: Necessary but not sufficient conditions | Here comes trouble

Five Trends to Watch in Higher Ed in 2016

We’ve done the year-end round-up, and now it’s time for the 2016 projections. All the education pundits have their own pet trends for the year, but no one, it seems, is paying attention to where the core action is. You can’t have higher education without educators, and 75% of us are now contingent, disposable, and/or roundly ignored in faculty senates even if we’re tenured. Much of mainstream media that covers education still acts like educators, especially adjuncts, are peripheral to education. The focus is on student protests (and not about student debt, either), new administrators, sexual assault (a worthy focus, agreed), and moaning about the cost of college—but not where all that money is going, or where it’s clearly not, which is to academic salaries. We’re offering our own analysis of what to keep an eye on in the coming year.

  1. educate-agitate-organizeAdjuncts and the wave of faculty unionization. Oddly enough, none of the year-end roundups or projections for the new year that I’ve read so far have mentioned the massive wave of academic labor organization (see the previous post for a run-down) and what it means for colleges and universities across the country. Two significant developments in this field might give adjuncts more clout than we’ve had before. One is the upcoming verdict in the Friedrichs case, which, in the case of blended unions, makes the dues-paying membership of adjuncts imperative for the survival of unions formerly dominated by full-time tenured members. It also makes an active membership in exclusively adjunct unions all the more necessary. The other development is the new attitude of the DOL toward higher ed faculty unions, especially those at religious-affiliated institutions. Fight it as they may, colleges like Duquesne and Loyola are likely to be on the losing end of opposition to the unionization of their adjunct faculty. No matter how many they fail to rehire or convert to full-time, the writing is on the wall: we want better pay, more security and more tenure-track lines. CUNY and Cal State have showed that at least some of us are willing to strike to get what we want. Tenured faculty are going to need to ally themselves with adjuncts to regain the power they are losing and have already lost to shape curriculum and university mission. There’s more and more pushback against Right to Work legislation, but there’s no reason not to organize whether you have a legal right to collective bargaining or striking or not.
  2. Adjuncts and the forgiveness of student debt. Many adjuncts are not just educators Used to have dreamsbut student loan debtors themselves. Many of us had to take out enormous loans to pay for our education, believing that we would be heading for secure, decently paid jobs on the attainment of our advanced degrees (thanks, advisors; please stop lying to your graduate students just to keep your programs alive). Many of us were TAs and didn’t always get tuition
    remission for our labor (the department giveth, and the bursar taketh away). Now we’re saddled with an even more enormous debt than most of our students will be, thanks to the out-of-control increases in tuition, coupled with the decrease in number and value of grants and scholarships for advanced degrees and shift of emphasis to loans. In 2014, Senator Dick Durbin introduced a bill to expand the Federal public service loan forgiveness program (which already demands at least 10 years of on-time payments from debtors) to include adjunct professors. This bill is still pending and needs some modification to provide any reasonable kind of relief for adjuncts whose average income is $23K, which puts us squarely in the 51% of the population making less than $31K/year, a crime in itself  (see #5). Any modification of it could only benefit other students who are now graduating as indentured servants to their loans.
  3. Adjuncts and the Department of Labor. Remember that 11K+ signature petition to the DOL to get them to look into the hiring and wage conditions of adjunct faculty? That was just an attention-getter to ping former professor David Weil; as a matter of fact we’re going to be having some longer and deeper conversations with him about how labor regulations treat faculty. Next up: crafting some new rules and legislation that don’t let white collar higher ed “knowledge workers” fall between the cracks on overtime, salary, and unemployment under the FLSA.
  4. studens first, faculty lastAdjuncts and the quality of higher education. Apparently, the government is worried enough about the quality of higher ed to start imposing the kind of quantitative metrics on it that it has imposed on K-12 with standardized testing and reporting.  Supported by organizations like The American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Higher Ed for Higher Standards, and the Collaborative for Student Success, the buzz words student completion, student success, performance based funding are creeping over from K-12 to shape higher ed policy. A careful look at most of these organizations shows they are supported by corporate sponsors and college presidents and chancellors, many from the world of business or not lifetime educators themselves, who are shifting the emphasis of higher education away from the education of good citizens to the education of good (compliant) workers. The adjunctification of the university is part of this plan, as is the silencing, dissolving or diminished standing of faculty senates as they represent fewer and fewer tenured faculty. Others are starting to realize this too. Parents, students, and educator driven affinity groups such as the Badass Teachers Association are our allies and we need to continue to embrace them and get the word out. It’s not metrics that are going to save higher ed; it’s educators doing what we have always done: making education better from within.
  5. Adjuncts and the intersectionality of the struggle. The year end wrap-ups in higher Stop criminalizing my studentseducation are full of handwringing about on-campus student protests: Black Lives Matter, protests about how sexual assaults are handled, divesting from the prison system, protesting tuition hikes, boycotting Israel, taking down Cecil Rhodes’ statue at Oxford—those students are sure getting uppity. Adjuncts need to take a cue from our students and get our butts out on the picket lines. We’re largely female, often people of color, overwhelming poor ourselves (unless we’re lucky enough to have a partner who supports us in a more lucrative profession) and we’ve got just as much to be pissed about as our students (see above). The struggles of our students are often just another manifestation of our own struggles based in the widening inequity gap and the corporatization of, well, everything. We’re natural allies.

If last year is any indication, this is going to be another busy year for adjuncts. We’re gaining momentum and making changes. Join us.

Campus Equity Week–Wednesday Wear Red

ScarletA-icon-small…or a big fat Scarlet A to symbolize our pariah status on campus. Adjuncts are the red-head stepchildren, higher education’s shameful secret, the unholy spawn of business and education—whoa, okay, maybe that’s taking it a little too far. If so, though, not by much. But instead of skulking in the shadows as you to-and-fro, make yourself visible to your students, to administration (so they’ll get a very clear reminder of just how many of us there are), to your tenured colleagues. Make your campus a sea of red. Be bloody minded (not literally, please). We’re not academe’s Hester Prynne, we’re Margaret Mary Vojtko, Jason Martin, Danny Ledonne, Divya Nair, Dave Heller, and oh so many more. Ditch the shame. Adjunct and proud!

Scarlet-Letter

And don’t forget your daily dose of Doonesbury’s take on the Adjunct life.

 

Campus Equity Week–Tuesday is Tweet/Teach-In Day

cropped-CEW2015FAV-21If you’re Tweeting today, use the hashtags #CEW2015 and/or #CampusEquityWk. Tweet about your work conditions, about the hypocrisy of selling our students education as a way to get ahead. Tweet your outrage. Tweet solutions. Tweet support for your fellow adjuncts. Tweet information. Here’s a few Tweets to get you started:

  1. Contingent and Full-Time Faculty are the yin and yang of college. Let’s work together to make a whole education for students. #CEW 2015  (135 characters)
  2. Contingent and Full-Time Faculty: Two halves of the whole educational experience. Treat & pay us equitably. #CEW 2015 (117 characters)
  3. Contingent and Full-Time Faculty: allies in giving students the best education we can. Treat & pay us equitably. #CEW2015 (121 characters)
  4. A Starbucks on campus won’t get students a job; fairly treated faculty will. Pay contingent faculty a living wage. #CEW2015 (123 characters)
  5. Future and current student success doesn’t depend on a climbing wall or a new gym. It depends on secure, equitably paid faculty. #CEW2015 (137 characters)
  6. Want creative, innovate, critically thinking students who can communicate clearly? Pay contingent faculty a living wage. #CEW2015 (129 characters)

If you’re not a tweeting type of person, you can also use the day to do a little consciousness raising with your class or your colleagues. If you’re at a loss about what to say, here are some talking points that I and others have used with the media and with students. And here you’ll find the letter I write to my students about being contingent at the beginning of every semester as part of their syllabus. Feel free to copy and adapt it.

Adjunct Conditions Talking Points

  1. Since 1975, full-time faculty hires have increased only 23% while part- and full-time adjunct hires have increased 286% and 259% respectively. Fewer full-time tenured faculty means faculty overloaded with administrative work and unable to give students the attention they deserve.
  2. By 2011, part-time adjunct hires comprised 51.4% of faculty. Full-time tenured and tenure track employment has shrunk to represent only 20.6 and 8.6% respectively. Adjunct hires, full & part-time, comprise closer to 75% of faculty in 2014 at both public and private institutions. The drastic increase in part-time faculty means fewer office hours available for student counseling and mentoring relationships.
  3. Adjunct hires are now teaching approximately 60% of classes and 100% of them at some institutions, where they are also the only faculty. Contingent hiring conditions hinder pedagogical innovation because of time constraints and because adjunct faculty are almost never allowed on curriculum committees.
  4. Average remuneration for a class is $2700. Paid for only hours in class, not prep, grading, meeting with students, which takes far longer than classtime. Average income is $25,000–about what WalMart workers make at minimum wage. Only covers 8 months of the year. If we cannot pay the most highly educated among us fairly, how can we sell the need for and benefits of education to anyone?
  5. Most adjuncts have no health, retirement, or other benefits and cannot afford to “retire” from teaching. Ever. The lack of sabbatical time also hinders professional development and research, which hurts students as well, if educators cannot stay current in their fields.
  6. Part-time adjuncts teach as many as 6-8 classes at multiple institutions to make ends meet. Hours spent on the road could be better spent with students, prep, research.
  7. Contingency erodes or eliminates academic freedom, professional development, research opportunities. While critics are calling for more public engagement by academics, administrative structure makes it impossible.
  8. Market forces did not create this situation. It was a deliberate decision by administration to increase the number of graduate degrees offered while decreasing the number of tenure track jobs available. (Ex.: the sharp rise in MFA programs).
  9. Colleges don’t always spend their money wisely, but cutting back on instructional budget  and increasing the number of administrators is a reckless response.
  10. “If we can afford such a massive increase in professional staff , as well as such an increase in executives whose salaries have been escalating very dramatically [an increase of 141% in full-time executives and 369% in full-time non-faculty professional staff between 1975 and 2011], the sharp decrease in the percentage of all instructional faculty who are tenured or on tenure tracks is a matter of a dramatic shift in priorities—in the conception of the university. Clearly, our colleges and universities are no longer places where the primary focus is on instruction. Instead, they are places where the primary goal is to entrench and to expand administrative bureaucracies.” (“In an Era of Increasing Fiscal Constraints, an Inexplicable Shift in Hiring Patterns in Higher Education”  – by Martin Kich  April 21, 2014)

And you can show your students this Doonesbury cartoon. Remember we’ve got a series of six, so keep checking back here for the links. And there are more resources at the Campus Equity Week page.

Go forth and speak up!

Welcome to Campus Equity Week 2015!

We’re starting off this year’s Campus Equity Week with both a Congressional briefing in DC (more on this later) and the premiere of a movie about … US! made by Brave New Films. Watch it here:

But that’s not all. During the week, we’re urging all of you to plan actions at your campuses. Teach, Tweet, wear red, speak up, tell your stories creatively, make your work visible and keep doing so. So many of us are organizing, rising up and speaking out that it actually looks like some kind of MOVEMENT! Let’s keep the momentum.  Here are some suggestions:

Campus Equity Week 2015Flier

And tell us what you’re doing by submitting your projects and photos here.

P.S. Thanks to our sponsors and partners, Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, National Education Association, Pennsylvania State Education Association, Service Employees International Union, United University Professions, and Wisconsin Education Association Council—and all of our brave and outspoken activists.