Wednesday, February 23, 2022

The Power of Recognizing Higher Ed Faculty as Working-Class (Helena Worthen*)

Just over 20 years ago, Michael Zweig published The Working Class Majority: America’s Best Kept Secret. At that year’s How Class Works conference at SUNY Stony Brook, academics from history, political science, labor and industrial relations, and other fields debated Zweig’s use of the term “working class.” Some thought it was a throwback to the 1930s or a tip-off that someone was a Marxist. But even at a conference attended by many academics from working-class backgrounds, no one pointed out that academics are working class. Twenty years ago, academia still seemed like a middle-class or even an upper-class job, even though that had started to change in the mid 1970s.Young academics expected that if they did “all the right things,” they would get tenure and live happily ever after.

That expectation was wrong in 2002, and it’s even worse now, as this grim report shows. Nearly 75% of faculty in higher education are precarious workers, more like restaurant and hospitality workers, gig performers, contract healthcare workers, and delivery drivers than the tenured professor. They are hired on a per-class, per-semester basis. They do not control the conditions of their work. They often lack access to offices, professional development, research funds, and opportunities to collaborate with peers or vote in faculty meetings. They may be asked to take on a new course with a week or less warning. Many are told what textbooks to use and what tests to give. They are likely to have to apply for a new campus parking permit or library card every semester. But they also don’t get personal respect. They are vulnerable to management whim, favoritism, harassment, and simple forgetfulness, not to mention a complaint from a single disgruntled student who wanted a better grade.

Many contingent faculty are shocked to realize that college teaching is a working-class job. But recognizing that can be liberating. Thinking about ourselves as “working class” clarifies our understanding of our contingency by helping us identify with the 99% instead of the 1%. It can also inspire us to build alliances to improve our conditions and our industry.

First of all, it helps us appreciate and identify with our students, who are increasingly working class, and like us, probably working more than one job to make ends meet. We see their problems as our problems and become open to talking about common solutions. In turn they can see more accurately what it takes to be an academic and live the paradox of “love the work, hate the job.”

Second, it helps us understand and appreciate graduate student’s efforts to win the right to be recognized as employees (not “apprentices” on a stipend) who rely on their jobs for living. Graduate student organizing is one of the hottest areas in the campus labor movement – and possibly in the labor movement overall — these days, with wins coming in from unions like USW at the University of Pittsburgh, UE at University of Iowa, UAW at Harvard and the University of California and SEIU at Duke, Northwestern, Saint Louis University, and American University, just to name a few.

Third, thinking of ourselves as workers can help us understand the value of building campus labor coalitions, organizations that include not just academics but also clerical workers, the trades, transportation, custodial, food service, and technical workers. Such coalitions create power through the interdependency of all the workforces in a college or university.

Fourth, concerns about the working conditions of contingents can form a basis for solidarity with the privileged 25% who are tenured and tenure-line faculty. They usually resist this idea, but the reality of how their work has changed provides a strong argument. Over the worklives of senior faculty, colleges and universities tightened their belts, drained resources from the classroom, built arenas instead of libraries, created freestanding “foundations” that were outside faculty control, and engaged in a series of internet-based shocks like contracting out administrative functions like payroll to IT companies, putting journals on line, shifting classes to Blackboard and Moodle, experimenting with MOOCs, and much more. At the same time, requirements for tenure-track hiring and promotion were raised, contingent faculty became the majority, and administrative and advising work for tenure-line faculty increased. Some schools hired CEOs to run institutions like businesses. With all this, tenure-line faculty were progressively cut out of the full exercise of shared governance. All this degraded the institution of higher education, and not just for the contingent majority. These changes affect students, tenure line and contingent faculty, and staff alike.

The good news is that some are organizing for change. Higher Education Labor United (HELU), a new organization that came out of the organizing around College for All, has been endorsed by 117 locals from eight national unions and organizations. HELU uses the term “labor” broadly: its membership includes unions representing clerical, staff, and other workforces as well as faculty. The leadership team comes from colleges and universities in 29 states. HELU aims to establish a national strategy for higher education, something that the traditional faculty unions, AAUP, NEA and AFT, were never able to cooperate to achieve.

To get this rolling, HELU is convening a free Winter Summit, February 23-27, on Zoom. The conference will feature four afternoons of workshops and several keynote presentations, all focused on three goals: coordinate the surge of higher education worker organizing across the country, develop federal policy proposals to reverse the trends that have damaged higher education over the last several decades, and support politicians who will advance a program of democratizing higher education. Members of endorsing organizations will have opportunities to participate in decision-making.

The vision guiding the young leaders of HELU is broad working-class mobilizing to address the crisis in higher education. To accomplish that, it’s time for faculty see themselves as members of the working class and stand together to fight for change.

Helena Worthen, University of Illinois

This essay first appeared in Working-Class Perspectives. Thank you Helena Worthen, Sherry Linkon, and John Russo for permitting us to reprint this important article. 

Helena Worthen is the co-author, with Joe Berry of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the Contingent Faculty Majority in Higher Education (Pluto, 2021). She has worked and taught as a labor educator and teacher unionist in California, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.



 

Related link: Working-Class Perspectives  

Sunday, February 20, 2022

College Meltdown 2.0

College Meltdown 2.0 is distinctly different than the College Meltdown that started in 2010. 

The first wave of the College Meltdown (2010-2021) resulted in a slow and steady drop in overall US college enrollment, with dramatic losses among for-profit colleges and community colleges. Corinthian Colleges, ITT Educational Services, and Education Management Corporation were three large for-profit chains to close. Small private liberal arts schools and regional universities also experienced losses.  More folks were moving into the growing educated underclass.  


Elements of College Meltdown 2.0 include publicly held corporations.  Click on the image to see the chart (Source: Seeking Alpha) 

College Meltdown 2.0 comes as US fascism advances, the Coronavirus Pandemic becomes more normalized, student loan debt approaches $2 trillion, and the 2026 enrollment cliff is just a few years away.  This wave includes remnants of for-profit colleges like zombie college National American University, Stratford University, South University, the Art InstitutesUniversity of Phoenix (owned by Apollo Global Management), Career Education Corporation (aka Perdoceo), and DeVry University (owned by Cogswell Education) as well as national accreditor ACICS. 

The largest element of College Meltdown 2.0 is federal student loan debt, which appears to be rising to an unsustainable level--as it hamstrings the lives of millions of families.  When mandatory student loan payments resume (scheduled for May 1), student loan repayments may be low enough to result in long-term default rates between 30 and 50 percent.  It also appears that at least $500 billion of the Federal Student Aid (FSA) student loan portfolio will be unrecoverable.  

College Meltdown 2.0 also involves online program managers (OPMs) that service elite schools (2U), regional universities (Academic Partnerships), and subprime robocolleges (Zovio-University of Arizona Global and Graham Holdings-Kaplan-Purdue University Global). 

Student loan servicers and private student loan companies (MaximusNavient, Sallie Mae, Nelnet), publishers and other edtech enterprises (Chegg, Barnes & Noble Education, Coursera, and Guild Education) are implicated or at least entangled in the mess.  Higher education accreditors and student loan asset-backed securities (SLABS) are also worth monitoring.  

Related link: 2U Virus Expands College Meltdown to Elite Universities






Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Terri Givens and “Radical Empathy: Finding a Path to Bridge Racial Divides”

[This article is part of the Transparency-Accountability-Value series.]

Terri E. Givens is a seasoned (and storied) political science professor currently teaching at McGill University, in Montreal, Canada.  Professor Givens has recently produced two essential books on the politics of race: “Radical Empathy: Finding a Path to Bridge Racial Divides” and “The Roots of Racism.” 

While there are a number of outstanding historical and social science works to inform readers about racial issues, Radical Empathy is valuable for moving folks towards justice and solidarity—in Trumpian times that are challenging at best. 

One valuable tool for her has been to weave her own individual stories of geography, personal evolution, social location (not just race, but also class and gender), privilege (being middle class) and vulnerability with social and larger historical forces (what C. Wright Mills called The Sociological Imagination).  

By sharing our stories, all of them, it's hard to be just enemies.  And when we can see our similarities and respect our differences (at least some of them) maybe we can even move together.  

But understanding is not enough.  And radical empathy takes practice.  Lots of practice. 

Rather than describe Professor Given’s work, it would be best to provide some free resources for Radical Empathy.

Radical Empathy - Google Books

Radical Empathy Reader’s Guide

Book launch: Radical Empathy (with Julie Lythcott Haims - YouTube)

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

One Fascism or Two?: The Reemergence of "Fascism(s)" in US Higher Education

The Higher Education Inquirer is conducting an extensive investigation of the reemergence of fascism in US higher education.  The examination aims to: define and operationalize the concept of fascism, investigate the roots of American fascism since the 17th century, and chronicle the most important cases of fascism in US higher education today.  As part of a democratic process, we ask readers to be involved in the research and writing of this project.  

Reader Input

Additions and corrections will be made with input from readers of the Higher Education Inquirer.  Please add your comments in the section at the bottom. For those who wish to remain anonymous, you can provide feedback by emailing me at dahnshaulis@gmail.com. 

Definition(s) of Fascism(s)

The word fascism has been used by politicians and American writers on the Left and Right for generations.  It may not be possible to create a consensus of what fascism is, or how it appears in US society. This space is likely to be edited as more comments are received.  


*Laurence W. Britt, the author of Fascism Anyone, described 14 elements of fascism here

*Italian historian Umberto Eco described 14 elements of fascism here.

*Yale professor Jason Stanley explains "How Fascism Works" here.  

Origins of Fascism in US Higher Education 

US higher education was founded on the taking of land from indigenous people, and oppressing people of color for four centuries. Enslaved Africans and their descendants were part of the origin and continuation of elite American schools for two hundred years.  White, Protestant, males from elite backgrounds had most of the higher educational opportunities--and the names of robber barons and tobacco magnates (Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, Duke) became part of the elite pantheon.  Thorstein Veblen and Upton Sinclair provided a great deal of information on this. 

While there has been more democracy at times, people of color, women, and working-class folks have been excluded or discriminated for all of US history.  The federal government (Department of Defense, CIA) and US corporations (particularly federal contractors) have also held great importance in the direction of higher education, servicing their most oppressive anti-democratic, colonial elements.  

In the 21st century, historians Craig Steven Wilder and others dug up the white supremacist roots of elite universities. In a zero-sum game, historically privileged groups and individuals may also feel aggrieved and oppressed when others succeed or are placed ahead of them in line.    

Propagation of Fascism in 2022 (Contemporary Examples in No Particular Order) 

This section will evolve with the help of reader comments.  Here are some preliminary examples of varying importance: 

Role in Mass Surveillance 

"Savage Inequalities" in the K-12 Pipeline 

Hunger, poverty, prostitution, and drug sales among college students 

Sexual assault of college students

Anti-intellectualism in America

Rise of Charlie Kirk, Turning Point USA, Turning Point Action, and Students for Trump  

Turning Point USA's Professor Watchlist

Police State and Strong Military Supported 

Use of Propaganda and Disinformation to Oppress "Minorities" and Empower Big Corporations

Predatory Marketing and Advertising 

Legalization of Hate Speech in US Higher Education 

Book Burning and Censorship in US Society

Role of Corporate Power in Higher Education (e.g. Boards, Endowments, Contracts)

Role of Elite Families in Higher Education (e.g. Walton Family Foundation, Koch Brothers) 

Land Theft Through Gentrification and College Expansion 

Tax Avoidance by Elite Schools to Rob Public Coffers 

Colleges Colluding to Limit Financial Aid 

Role of Higher Education in Educating Reactionary Judges and Politicians

State-Sponsored Think Tanks to Support Elites and Oppress Others (e.g. Liberty Institute at University of Texas)

Bomb Threats Against Historically Black Colleges and Universities

End of Affirmative Action for African Americans but Continued Use of Legacies 

Reduction of Needs Based Grants and Scholarships 

Management Corruption, Robocolleges, and the Loss of Labor Power in US Higher Education 

Expenditure of Elite Endowment Funds to Fund Anti-Democratic Organizations

Role of NCAA Football in Promoting Oppressive Values (No Wages, Poor Safety, Sports Gambling) 

Role of US Universities in Supporting Human Rights Violators (e.g. Russia, People's Republic of China) 

Role of US Universities in Undermining Foreign Efforts in Democratization  

Use of "Credentials" as a Legal Form of Discrimination 

Student Loan Peonage, Declining Social Mobility, and the "Educated Underclass"


Related link: US Higher Education and the Intellectualization of White Supremacy

Related link: UT Austin President Eats Cake in a Pandemic (Austin Longhorn*)

Related link: Coursera IPO Reveals Bleak Future For Global Labor

Related link: Guild Education: Enablers of Anti-Union Corporations and Subprime College Programs

Related link: Maximus, Student Loan Debt, and the Poverty Industrial Complex

Related link: Community Colleges at the Heart of College Meltdown

Related link: The Tragedy of Human Capital Theory in Higher Education (Glen McGhee*)

Related link: Higher Education Inquirer: The Growth of "RoboColleges" and "Robostudents"

Related link: SLABS: The Soylent Green of US Higher Education


Dahn Shaulis

Higher Education Inquirer






Thursday, February 3, 2022

"20-20": Many US States Have Seen Enrollment Drops of More Than 20 Percent (Glen McGhee and Dahn Shaulis)

In 2013, Futurist Bryan Alexander aptly talked about peak college enrollment in the United States.  And over the last decade or so, higher education enrollment has declined in almost every state. Now at least 18 US states have experienced enrollment drops greater than 20 percent--and five more are close to that threshold.  

People can watch the College Meltdown in real time at thelayoff.com. 

Enrollment declines are the result of several interrelated economic and demographic shifts.  Reduced populations of college age people, economic distress, growing inequality, and migration are some of the interacting factors. College is expensive and time consuming for working folks.  

While programs like College Promise can help with shoring up community college enrollment, they cannot make up for deep social and economic problems. Online learning has made school more convenient, but the quality and value of several of America's robocolleges (colleges largely free of full-time instructors) is often substandard.  

For many working-class families, college is no longer perceived as the golden ticket to upward social mobility. And a growing educated underclass, based on their own personal experiences with underemployment and student loan debt, are skeptical about the value of higher education for their children--if they choose to have children. Many are not.  

Without significant change, we estimate that the 2026-27 enrollment cliff is likely to put almost every US state above a 25 percent decline over the last 15 years.  With another economic meltdown, the numbers could get worse without major reform--smart social reform--not reform that lines the pockets of the rich and powerful.  

Though consumer demand for college has declined significantly, college costs have not.  Increasing federal funding, though, especially to subprime robocolleges like Purdue University Global, Liberty University, University of Phoenix, and University of Arizona Global Campus may not lead to lower college prices, better quality curriculum, or better jobs at the end of the pipeline.   


*major colleges' data missing from the chart

(Source: National Student Clearinghouse)