Adjunct faculty members at Bentley University in Massachusetts voted to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union following an earlier, narrow vote against unionization, they announced Thursday. Adjuncts approved the bid by a 2-to-1 margin; their new bargaining unit of 220 adjuncts joins four other SEIU part-time-faculty unions in the Boston area: those at Boston, Lesley, Northeastern and Tufts universities. (Note: This sentence has been updated from an earlier version to include Boston University.) Organizers at Bentley attributed their about-face since the last Bentley union vote in 2013 in part to seeing adjuncts on other campuses form unions and, in the case of Tufts, gain wins in their contract. Bentley released a statement about the vote saying that while it “consistently stated its belief that having a union is not in the best interest of the faculty or the university, the university will, of course, bargain in good faith over the terms and conditions of employment for unit members."
In today's Academic Minute, Brad Hansen, physicist and astronomer at the University of California at Los Angeles, explores a new method for locating habitable planets in deep space. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
Whenever young writers have asked for advice over the years, the only thing I could think to tell them was to practice saying, “Where’s my check?” into the telephone, at various degrees of loudness, mixing in suitable expletives if they felt comfortable doing so. “You’ll probably be saying that a lot,” I'd tell them, generalizing from painful experience.
But as accumulated wisdom goes, it’s pretty well out-of-date. Communication by phone has lost much of its immediacy (half the time it involves leaving a message asking, “Did you get my e-mail?”), and besides, much of the work done by a novice writer, if not all of it, now goes unremunerated. Publication is supposed to be its own reward.
Exaggeration? Sure, but it’s how things look to a writer who began publishing at the close of an era when that meant print and nothing but print. Someone starting out today enters a public sphere with a very different composition and structure -- and does so with a tacit understanding that it, too, will be reconfigured over time. We Gutenbergian geezers must adapt to such changes or else forgo reaching much of our potential audience. Writers emerging now, by contrast, face an arguably more difficult problem: establishing a durable public presence (i.e., readership) at all, in an environment where sustained attention is the scarcest of resources.
A recently launched program at the New School for Social Research called Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism (henceforth CPCJ) seems designed with that challenge in mind. The course work, leading to a master’s degree, is intended to teach students “to think critically and historically about book publishing and journalism; to learn about the best practices of contemporary reporting and cultural criticism; to appreciate the business aspects of production and distribution; and to acquire an ability to work collaboratively in the writing, editing, design and publication of texts on a variety of platforms, both print and digital.” (The full program launches this coming fall, but three core courses are being taught this semester.)
The head of CPCJ, James Miller, a professor of politics and former chair of the New School’s liberal studies program, calls it “a frankly experimental program” that is off to a quiet if promising start. “The program has only been up and running for a few months, and without much in the way of advertising so far,” he told me in an e-mail. “We already have in hand 12 finished applications, and another 80 or so people that have started apps or expressed interest via e-mail inquiries or visits to our classes this semester.”
The roster of faculty and guest speakers listed on its Web site is clearly the program’s biggest draw for now, and it’s hard to think of anyone more suited to running it than Miller, who has published monographs on Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Maurice Merleau-Ponty as well as pieces in Rolling Stone and The New York Times. At a much earlier stage of his career, Miller was one of a number of professors in government who were denied tenure by the University of Texas at Austin -- in part, it was said by their supporters, because they leaned to the left, but also on the grounds that they were writing for the popular press as well as scholarly journals. Such, at least, was the word going around when I arrived as a freshman in 1981, and it tracks fairly closely with what Texas Monthlyreported the following year, in a cover story called "The Trouble With UT."
Miller was very much a felt absence among some of us, and when the last of his circle was denied tenure, we ended the school year by occupying the liberal arts office in protest. (You never forget your first political arrest.) By then Miller had joined Newsweek as a book and music critic, and also went on to write "Democracy Is in the Streets": From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago (1987) and The Passion of Michel Foucault (1993) and to edit the journal Daedalus, published by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.
A remarkable skill set, then -- assembled mostly in predigital days but supplemented by Miller’s feel for what the would-be public intellectual, magazine editor or literary publisher would need to know in starting out today. Part of the core curriculum, for example, is a lab where students can expand their multimedia literacy by learning Adobe Suite, WordPress, HTML, EPUB and so on.
You could acquire some of those tools at one of the city's many journalism/publishing degree programs -- or, for that matter, at the Learning Annex, I suppose. But the instructor for the lab is Rachel Rosenfelt, a founding editor of the cultural journal The New Inquiry and someone with a deep interest in the uses of multimedia for serious commentary and debate. Another instructor is Juliette Cezzar, an assistant professor of communication at the Parsons School of Design and president of the American Institute of Graphic Arts/New York, whose course on the history and theory of publication design also involves studio work. While overlapping somewhat with established programs in writing, publishing and design programs, CPCJ integrates them in a specific and, as far as I know, unique way.
A memo by Miller indicates that the M.A. work culminates in “an individualized capstone project that can take a number of forms: from an edgy short story or long-form book review to a piece of investigative reporting, from a business plan for a new literary quarterly to design work that demonstrates a student’s ability to create an engrossing reading experience and shows an awareness of and empathy for today’s reader of serious writing.”
For a reader of serious writing, it’s good to hear this -- especially the part about students designing “a business plan for a new literary quarterly.” Does that sound crass? Well, someone said that you can tell who the poets are at a party, because they’re the ones in a corner talking about money. (The lack of it, presumably.)
My one major worry is that the program could end up as a conduit supplying still more unpaid labor to the voracious maw of the New York culture industry. At some point CPCJ really ought to offer a course on organizing interns to demand fair pay. It's an experimental program, after all, and that's an experiment worth making. All together now: "Where are our checks?"
As part of National Adjunct Walkout Day today, many adjuncts -- along with some students and tenure-line faculty members -- will walk out of their classes or participate in other forms of protest on campuses across the U.S. and Canada. The idea was posed in the fall on social media to highlight adjuncts' working conditions, lack of job security and relatively low pay. Many adjuncts on unionized campuses are prohibited by their collective bargaining agreements or state laws from walking out, but many unions have pledged to support the effort through awareness campaigns, such as teach-ins. A list of actions is available here, and updates will be posted throughout the day on Twitter under #NAWD and on Facebook.
The American Association of University Professors on Tuesday joined a chorus of other organizations and academics that have criticized a controversial recommendation that the board of the University of North Carolina System shutter the Chapel Hill campus's Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. Critics of the decision have said that the board is playing politics and is targeting the center's director, Gene Nichol, a professor of law, for being an outspoken critic of policy makers who he says aren't doing enough to help the state's poor.
The AAUP's statement says in part that to be "true to their mission, public universities must serve all members of our society, the poor as well as the privileged. Externally funded centers must be free to sponsor curricular and extracurricular programs and provide services to the public across the broadest range of perspectives and approaches."
A Chapel Hill spokesman referred a request for comment to a campus message from Chancellor Carol L. Folt and Provost James W. Dean Jr., saying in part that "We recommended against this action, and are very disappointed with [the board's] decision. Since its inception in 2005, the center has focused dialogue, research and public attention on the many dimensions of poverty and economic hardship for people in North Carolina and beyond."
Adjuncts at Temple University on Monday kicked off National Adjunct Action Week with a pro-union march around campus. A sufficient number of adjuncts signed a petition to hold an election to form a union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. But the university has challenged their bid on a number of points, including who should and should not be included in the bargaining unit, and the case is pending before the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. About 75 adjuncts and their supporters walked across campus, holding pro-union signs and demanding that the university to allow them to set a union election date. Here's a Twitter image of the event:
Sharon Boyle, Temple’s associate vice president for human resources, said the university is concerned about adjuncts’ working conditions, and “didn’t need a march to pay attention to them.” She said the university already has raised adjuncts’ pay from $1,200 to $1,300 per credit hour (most courses are three or four), and that many of their concerns -- such as timelier course assignments and participation in shared governance -- need to be addressed by the full-time faculty. Ryan Eckes, an adjunct instructor of English at Temple, said adjuncts want better pay, benefits and job security, and need to be able to bargain collectively with the university to achieve them.
Although Monday’s march was specifically about the union bid, Eckes said it reflected the goals of adjuncts on other campuses and was timed to coincide with National Adjunct Action Week, an offshoot and extension of National Adjunct Walkout Day, which is planned for Wednesday. “Adjuncts are 70 percent of the faculty nationwide, and most students don’t even know what adjunct means,” he said. “We want to make the public aware of this situation in higher education.”
Sixty law professors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have issued a statement objecting to plans by the University of North Carolina System board to close the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, which is led by a UNC law professor. A committee vote last week to close the center outraged many faculty and others, who said that there was no financial reason to close a center that does not receive state funds, and who said that they believed it was being closed because of board anger at Gene Nichol, the head of the center, for criticizing conservative policies. (Board officials have denied this.)
The statement from the law professors says that the center is much needed. "Over the past decade, our state has experienced the greatest increase in concentrated poverty in the country. The center has continually sought to call attention to this pressing fact, as well as others that many would prefer to ignore. These include that 25 percent of all children live in poverty, including 40 percent of children of color."
Further, the statement says that attacking the center because of political disagreements with its leader sets a dangerous course for higher education. "To the extent that the working group’s recommendation regarding the Poverty Center is based on animus for our colleague and former dean, Gene Nichol, the Poverty Center’s director, we decry it," the statement says. "Professor Nichol has been a prominent and thoughtful critic of proposals that exacerbate inequality and drive low-income people into ever deeper destitution. Punishing a professor for expressing his views – views always carefully supported by facts and rigorous analysis – chills the free speech that is central to the University’s mission. Such active suppression of free speech contravenes the very lifeblood of a public university, where dialogue and dissent must be permitted to survive and indeed to flourish if scholars are to fulfill their missions of contributing to the collective knowledge of the commonwealth."