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    John Warner is the author of Why They Can't Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities and The Writer's Practice: Building Confidence in Your Nonfiction Writing.

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WTF Is Going on at Wright State?

It's ugly, but it was foreseeable, maybe even inevitable.

February 7, 2019
 
 

WTF is going on at Wright State?

For those not following the news, as a faculty strike goes on for a third week, Wright State has posted job ads for what looks to be just about every department in the entire institution, offering immediately available positions and even housing for those willing to relocate.

In at least one case, an administrator reportedly has taken over a course originally under the supervision of one of the striking faculty and assumed the role of “instructor of record.” 

The action was initiated when Wright State administration imposed a contract outside the collective bargaining framework, which prompted the faculty union to strike, a move which initially brought the administration to the table, but after which talks broke down over issues related to health care, namely that the administration refused to negotiate. 

Management taking over for laborers and hiring scabs is pretty classic old-school union busting tactics, and no matter how this turns out, I feel some confidence in saying that the people in charge at Wright State who are advocating for these tactics are pretty much ensuring that their institution will be significantly and irrevocably harmed. 

Sure, at some point, there will have to be some resolution. If enough adjuncts take these jobs Wright State administration can either cut the unionized faculty loose or bring enough pressure to bear on the union to capitulate to the administration’s terms. I have no crystal ball or special insight, but those scenarios seem unlikely. Uprooting oneself to take a course or four on a contingent basis during an ongoing labor action does not sound tempting. The job ads do not delineate the proposed payment for these courses so I can’t imagine the appeal of a temporary job in an unfamiliar town for possibly low wages in the midst of a strike being very great.

While it is a different situation, reading the news of Wright State had me recalling the time last year when Southern Illinois University – Carbondale issued a call for “volunteer faculty” who would do work that looked a lot like the kinds of things that are normally and properly done by non-volunteer faculty, otherwise known as faculty who get paid. 

At the time, I called it a “death knell for public higher ed,” and I said it without hyperbole. I hear those same funeral bells tolling when I read the stories out of Wright State. When faculty (and by extension, students) are treated as fungible units of capital inside of the university system, the plot has been thoroughly lost. 

That Wright State administrators feel so free to attempt to exploit the two (or three, or more) tiered labor structure of higher education in order to either replace their existing faculty at a lower cost, or compel existing faculty to give up on their collective bargaining rights is a very bad sign for the future and an inevitable consequence of these inequities. 

I strongly urge that no one apply for or take these adjunct jobs, not just because the situation sounds terrible, but because all laborers should extend solidarity to the unions who fight for better conditions. Still, in a more equitable world where more care had been taken as the professorate was adjunctified, this card wouldn’t even be available for management to play.

The events reveal that when it comes the labor structures of academia, adjunct faculty already exist as a kind of “scab,” their very presence undercutting the value of all academic labor. This is why I have been advocating over and over again that tenured faculty should work to make sure their adjunct colleagues have equitable pay. It is why I have tried to warn that tenure is already dead because it was never alive for a majority of instructional faculty in the first place. 

It is why I pushed back against those who suggest the solution to adjunctification is for adjuncts to “just leave.” As we see with Wright State, this does nothing to protect the deeper values tenure is meant to embody. As it turns out, all faculty, regardless of unionization, regardless of rank are vulnerable. It was only a matter of time until an institution made this fact a central facet of their management strategy. 

I take no pleasure in this. In fact, it’s the opposite. It is difficult to underestimate how radical the Wright State administration’s actions are. They are treating an entire institution’s faculty as replaceable. I know what that feels like at the individual level, and it ain’t good. 

I honestly do not see a way out of this dilemma. Academic labor was once my most frequent topic on this blog, but over time, I’ve addressed it less and less because there’s only so many times you can say essentially the same things. 

This shit is messed up and the actions of Wright State’s administration are the equivalent of nuking the entire institution in the name of what exactly? Institutional survival? 

What’s left after the bomb detonates?

 

 

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