It’s been a while since I’ve posted exclusively to the XChange and a lot has changed. A couple of weeks before the beginning of the fall 2011 semester, my daughter Scout was born. In addition to the sheer joy of welcoming her into our family, lack of sleep has been a constant companion. Readers of the XChange also know that I stepped down as Vice President this past year in anticipation of the birth of my daughter. This fall marks the first time since 2002 – the year I started teaching at Kutztown – that I have not been an elected representative for our local chapter of APSCUF. It’s a bit odd, I have to say.
While I know I made the right decision to focus on my family this year, I am also keenly aware of how easy it is to fall out of the loop. Doing union work, especially at the Executive Committee level, means that you are intimately involved with micro-battles every single day. The administration’s decision to cut programs and retrench faculty last year meant that the bulk of my days were dominated with the practical and emotional weight of fighting an administration that had no intention of looking for alternatives to their slash and burn approach to the “budget crisis.” I’ve been astounded how “easy” my job feels now – a 4-4 teaching load, and ONLY a 4-4 teaching load, actually feels like a break. How messed up is that?
Stepping down from APSCUF leadership for a bit has allowed me to do quite a bit of thinking about where I want to put my efforts and how to best build some kind of sustained resistance to the budget cuts and assaults on public, higher education. Last year I oscillated between intense frustration and cynicism because I could not understand why faculty and staff at Kutztown University and the other PASSHE Universities were not flooding the streets of Harrisburg and their communities to defend their institutions and the promise of public higher education. I still don’t get it, but I think my experience this semester is helping me understand better how it’s just so much easier — at least in the short term and before the pink slip shows up in your mailbox — to just focus on teaching and let someone else worry about the future of public higher education.
Much of my “free time” is now spent on building my independent, progressive media site, Raging Chicken Press. October will be our fourth issue. I’ve been kicking around the idea of an autonomous or semi-autonomous organization/institute/center for quite some time. At least two of my conference papers over the past five years have suggested the need to develop extra-curricular institutions for advocacy rhetoric and training citizens for participation in 21st century democracy. In my writing and research, I’ve grown more and more pessimistic about the ability to do the kind of progressive, democratic work that many in my field feel lies at the core of literacy education within the terms of the curriculum. That does not mean that I think there is not room for courses that can contribute to progressive, democratic projects. I only mean to suggest the university and most faculty do not see their work as being primarily concerned with public education’s charge to train the next generation of democratic citizens.
For better or for worse, faculty and curricula tend to be primarily focused on job preparation and more traditional disciplinary concerns. There was a time that I thought it was a worthy struggle, a worthy expenditure of energy, to attempt to shift the curriculum more toward citizen training. And that still may be worthwhile. However, given the intensity of the attacks on the public sector, workers’ rights, collective bargaining, voting rights, environmental protections, and women’s rights and the rather timid response from faculty, staff, and students in Pennsylvania’s state and state related universities, I have felt an urgency to find more direct means to network and build citizen-based movements in the State.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that faculty, staff, and our unions were silent. I personally made four trips to Harrisburg, organized two bus trips with faculty and students to Harrisburg for rallies, and APSCUF and the other education unions were doing some great work responding to Governor Corbett’s slash and burn budget. All that is good. However, to my knowledge, there has been no recognizable, sustained organization effort to push back the budget cuts. When it comes right down to it, people still lost their jobs, students still had a hefty tuition increase, and PASSHE Universities still saw almost 20% of their budgets gutted. These are all losses by any measure. We should be learning from colleagues in Wisconsin, Ohio, New York and others who have organized mass mobilizations–and occupations of their state capitals. These states have now almost nine months of organizing under their belts and are building strong coalitions moving into the 2012 election. Hats off to them.
It has been striking to me that Kutztown University didn’t see a version of #OccupyWallStreet this past year, especially given the administration’s smoke-and-mirrors “budget crisis.” As readers of the XChange know, APSCUF-KU has been contending for a long time that the University was not being straight with it’s numbers. President Cevallos was persistent in his claims that Kutztown faced perpetual shortfalls. However, as I wrote in a post here on the XChange and in the first issue of Raging Chicken Press, we found out that Kutztown University has been sitting on $29.1 million that could have been used to save programs and jobs. Put another way, stripping faculty of their tenure, jobs, and programs was a conscious calculated choice, not an unfortunate, unavoidable consequence of a force of nature as the administration would like us all to believe.
But, as a community, our defense of our retrenched colleagues and efforts at building an organized resistance has been lackluster. I say “as a community,” not “as a union” purposely. Anyone on Kutztown’s campus who’s been paying even partial attention is well aware of charges that the “union didn’t do enough” or that “the union should have done X instead of Y.” What baffles me is why people are more willing to criticize their union or stick their heads in the sand instead of organizing. I’m not suggesting members should not criticize their union. As a matter of fact, I think member involvement and critical participation is essential to any effective union. Rather, I am saying criticism does not stand in for action. I mean, think about it. If I was criticizing my union while I was joining together with my colleagues to resist the administration’s attacks that’s one thing. Any community worth its salt comes to the aid of other members of the community out of a commitment to that community. It does not wait to be told what to do. It does not wait for others to do it for them. It just acts. Because it’s the right thing to do.
I know this is very ranty and scattered…it will take me a little while to get my XChange groove back. I’ve still got a lot to say about where we go from here and fights we are going to face down the road.
For now, I have to go teach.