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Posts Tagged ‘building’

For a while now I’ve been wanting to write a post responding to several emails and comments I’ve received about this blog.  The specific emails and comments I have in mind have to do with concerns that the XChange is simply “preaching to the choir.”  In all but a couple of cases, these concerns were expressed by people who are invested in building a stronger union, who want to push our local and state union to be more proactive, and who are, by their own admission, part of the choir.

Anyone who has been involved in progressive politics, activism, or labor organizing is undoubtedly familiar with some version of this line of argument: progressives/ activists/ organizers/etc. spend way too much time talking to each other an not enough time trying convince those who are not already on our side.  This claim, of course, is an important one.  But I have always been troubled by an unarticulated consequence of this line of argument that devalues what I might call “rhetorics of solidarity” in favor of “public rhetorics.”  That is, an implication of the criticism that a blog like this is “preaching to the choir” is that a blog like this should strive to reach a “general public” or that the work of a blog like this is a “waste of time.”  Let me emphasize once again that I do not think that was the intention of those who took the time to write me. However, I think these criticisms are part of bigger discourse about what kind of work is valued by progressive/activist/labor communities.

One of the podcasts that I listen to is “Media Matters with Bob McChesney,” which comes out of University of Illinois Public Radio station WILL AM 580. On May 9th, McChesney had Jessica Clark and Tracy Van Slyke on the program discussing their new book, Beyond the Echo Chamber: How Networked Progressive Media Can Reshape American Politics.  Most of the discussion  was centered around the rise of what has become known as the “progressive blogosphere” and how emergent networked media is helping challenge the mainstream media’s lack of critical reporting.

At one point in the discussion McChesney raised the issue of the progressive blogosphere “preaching to the choir.”  Clark and Van Slyke were quick to take issue with the whole notion of preaching with the choir, preferring instead to foreground the concept of “assembling the choir.”  That is, Clark and Van Slyke drew attention to the importance of “rhetorics of solidarity” to a broader progressive project.  In their book, Clark and Van Slyke argue that

“preaching” is actually a false description of what many progressive projects do…it is the assembling and activating of the choir that is the critical strategy.  Just as churches, temples, or mosques serve as the hubs for those seeking to examine and fortify their beliefs, a number of media outlets have evolved into central meeting places for those looking to join, debate, and strengthen political movements (148).

A bit further on they quote from Bob Ostertag’s book, People’s Movements, People’s Press: The Journalism of Social Justice Movements about the importance of “solidarity rhetoric” to any developing social movement:

if we seek a voice in shaping our society beyond our immediate social circle, we have to step outside our daily existence into roles which we are not accustomed and for which we have little or no institutional support.  We have to band together to maximize our very limited time and resources.  Before we can do any of that, we have to find each other–identify others with the same interests who are also willing to step outside their daily lives to pursue our long-shot objectives.  We have to see who’s good at what, who else is doing what, who might rise to the occasion if given half a chance.  We have to make plans, formulate strategies, set priorities.  We have to agitate, educate, mobilize, confront, and more.  In short, we have to constitute ourselves as a political subject, a constituency, a social movement.  And if this we had done this sometime between 1830 and 2000 we would have made a newspaper.  In most cases, it would have been the first thing we did (148-9).

Clark and Van Slyke then add that “From 2000-2008, the first thing that many activists and journalists did to join and define the progressive movement was to start a blog” (149).

Frankly, I think that this work–the work of constituting ourselves as a political subject–has been glaringly absent from both our local and State union work.  This book is helping me think through some of the issues I raised in some earlier posts about the DIY ethic.  It’s that “constitutive work” that has been absent from our union work in any sustainable way.  Since I’ve been here, there have been moments of this work, but in each case it seemed as though we were constituted as a political subject by circumstances. To put it in the terms of my field, we responded to an external exigence–for example, our last contract negotiation.  The problem with that kind of dynamic is that when the exigence is gone, so is the “stuff” that helped link people together.  Some of this is unavoidable, of course.  But it is clear to me that we need more forums–not ONLY the XChange–in which this work takes place.

As the fall semester quickly approaches, so does our next round of contract negotiations and strike preparations.  Our contract expiration date, June 30, 2011, seems like a ways away at this point, but I can promise you that it will be upon us sooner that any of us would like.  And it promises to be a difficult contract negotiations year.  With the organizing we will do, will come new networks of affinity and we will once again constitute ourselves as a political subject.  The question remains as to whether or not we will consciously try and do so or if we will be constituted by circumstances.

For my part, I will continue my work on the XChange as a small piece of constitutive work.  I’m on the other side of the “preaching to the choir” criticisms, recognizing what I think is of value in this little experiment.  That does not mean that I think that the work of getting the word out to the “public,” or establishing effective communication among all of our members is not important.  In fact, I think it’s absolutely critical. And so I return to the critics.  Yes, you’re right.  We do need to do more than “assembling the choir.”

I challenge you to do it.

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FLowersAnyone who has been around Kutztown for the past five or so years has heard a familiar back and forth between APSCUF-KU leadership and President Cevallos.  Each time Cevallos cries “budget crisis” (there have been no fewer than three since I came to KU in 2002) members of the union and faculty members in general all point to the incredible amount of money that KU is spending on “beautification” and say, “you seem to have plenty of money to plant flowers.”  Cevallos generally responds with something like: “there’s nothing we can do about it.  We can’t move money from one type of account to another.”  Put another way, Cevallos has been pretty consistent in defending a range of austerity measures–e.g. freeze on faculty hiring, turning closets into temporary faculty office space, cutting funds for travel–with “there’s nothing we can do.”  His argument has rested on a notion of accounting that suggest that each function of the university has its own budget line and funds from one area cannot be used for another.  He has been particularly insistent that money for buildings and grounds cannot be used to supplement the budget for academics, faculty hiring, travel support, etc.  You know, all those things that are important for the working conditions of faculty.

Curious then that the flow of money has no problem going in the other direction.

Peg your curiosity did I?  Well, let me introduce you to a little thing called “breakage.”  Breakage refers to money that the university receives or budgets for, but does not spend.  The unspent money is then moved into a “breakage” fund.  Let me give you a concrete example.  When tenure-track faculty lines are released at KU, they are generally released too late into the academic year for many departments to do quality searches.  In the English department, for example, the common practice is for jobs to be posted to the MLA job list or the Chronicle of Higher Education in August or very early September.  First round interviews are conducted at the MLA convention between Christmas and New Year.  If KU does not release lines for faculty hires until November, we’ve already missed all our major deadlines.  This is generally not TOO much of problem because KU gives departments two years to fill a line.  However, that first year that the line is not filled (because it was released too late) is still accounted for in the budget, is not spent, and then is moved to “breakage.”  So, if KU budgeted $75,000/year for a faculty line (including all expenses for benefits), that $75,000 would be moved into “breakage.”

This is where it gets interesting.  Once the money is in breakage, it is no longer tied to faculty lines or academics.  Nope.  The university administration gets to spend it how they choose.  Say, for example, on flowers.

What this means in practice is that the university uses breakage as a way of transferring money out of the academic budget and diverting it to other areas that reflect administration priorities.  Let me say that again.  The administration systematically and routinely diverts money out of the academic budget into other projects.  To be fair, breakage is not made up of only money that is unspent from the academic budget. If an administrative position goes unfilled, the same rule applies.  However, we can say that money from academics is being used for different purposes.

Think I’m making stuff up?  Well, next time you run into folks from the Budget and Finance office or the Assistant Vice President of Facilities or the Director of Facilities Business ask them where the Facilities budget comes from.  The short answer is, they do not have a budget.  They do not have a budget to cover routine building repairs, building improvements, HVAC updating, rodent remediation…you name it.  The budget for facilities only covers the salaries of people who work for the department.  There is no budget for routine repairs or long term updating.  Where does the money to do building repairs come from?  You’ve probably guessed it by now: BREAKAGE.

That’s right.  Each year the folks in facilities have to wait until the administration knows how much it has been able to divert into breakage before it knows which projects they can address.   In effect, money from the academic budget is being siphoned off into breakage so the university can fix the roof on a building or…plant flowers.

So, let’s be clear.  There is no natural reason why money for academics can be turned into breakage and used to plant flowers, but money from breakage cannot be used to support academics.  Add it to the list of myths of the budget crisis.

This year as I’m walking across campus on these beautiful spring days and see the beautiful flowers beginning to bloom outside The Barn (aka the Academic Forum, aka, the Large Classroom Building), I’ll be noting that this administration has bled the academic budget for those flowers.  And as temporary faculty members are packing their offices after being cut by this administration, I’ll be singing a different song of struggle that calls faculty to hold this administration accountable for its “structural budget problems.”  We will call for our own version of retrenchment.  We will not bail out those who view education as just another cost/benefit analysis.  We retrench you.

Bread and Roses.  Bread and Roses.

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As Kutztown University prepares to cut faculty, eliminate programs, increase student fees, it is planning to build a $7 million dollar maintenance building on a flood plain.  Apparently, investing in faculty–you know, the people who actually do the work of educating students–is considered too “risky” of an investment in this economic crisis.  Spending $7 million dollars (another source puts the cost at $8.2 million) on erecting a new university building on a flood plain is deemed perfectly fine.

S0, just so we’re clear: Kutztown University has money to build on a flood plain, create an “elaborate water-retention system, including an underground holding tank and two surface rain gardens.”  However, because of the budget crisis it must cut faculty and staff and eliminate programs.  Here’s the report from the Reading Eagle article:

Maxatawny planners review
Kutztown University project


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Hey all…and now for something completely different.  That is, non-College of Business stuff.  I actually began writing this post a few weeks ago, but I needed to clarify some info.  Then the College of Business stuff exploded and I put this on the back burner.

On October 26th representatives from English, History, Modern Languages, and Math (Math dept. was not in attendance) met with LAS Dean Zayaitz and Ass’t Dean Rauenzhan to discuss what’s up with the timeline for the “New Lytle.”  For those of us who reside in this architectural remnant of 1960s functionalism (aka the movement to make all state buildings look like housing projects), we have been waiting quite patiently and have put up with our share of building issues.  You might even go as far as to say we feel we deserve a new building.

At our November department meeting, we learned a little bit about the Administration’s plans for the New Lytle–what’s being referred to as the North Campus Academic Building.  At this point I think it’s fair to say that many if not most of us Lytlers are somewhere between skeptical and pissed.

Here’s some of what’s included in the Administration’s current plans:

  • one (1) computer lab
  • 16 classrooms of approximately 2000 square feet with a capacity of up to 50 students (double the size of the Lytle’s current classrooms), some of which will have electronic divider doors
  • suite (aka bullpen) offices for temporary/adjunct faculty

I contacted LAS Dean, Anne Zayaitz, to see make sure I had the details right and it seems what is listed above is pretty much on target.  She did say, however, that what was discussed at the meeting was a “feasibility study” not a detailed architectural design: “This implies ‘footprint’ info—e.g. number of classrooms at particular sizes, number of offices at particular sizes, open spaces for student interaction, etc.”  So, if we are looking at doubling the classroom size as part of a feasibility study and that is accepted, then is seems that all future architectural plans will begin from that premise.

There are two additional issues that I’ll have to take up in an additional post.  First, the number of faculty to be located in the New Lytle.  From what I’ve been told, the new building will house more faculty members than the current Lytle, yet there will not be a proportional increase in space (again, we are working from a feasibility study, I know).  This can only mean a herding of temporary faculty members into one large, inadequate office space.  Second, it seems that the Old Lytle may not go away as previously thought.  The “New Lytle” is actually the “North Campus Academic Building.”  It seems that despite Lytle’s persistent problems (mold, wasp infestation, and over-heated classrooms) that the plan at this point is to keep it.

Stay tuned.

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