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Posts Tagged ‘#offthecouch’

Note: On Monday of this week I posted an article about plans to cut 40 jobs, including 22 faculty members at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. Earlier today, I posted another article on the situation at Clarion on Raging Chicken Press. This article features an interview with the President of the Clarion chapter of the faculty union, APSCUF. An excerpt is posted here. You can continue reading the entire article by clicking the link at the bottom or go there now

In the wake of the devastating cuts proposed by the Clarion University administration and President Karen Whitney, it took a few days for faculty, staff, and students to shake off the initial shock and disbelief. Shock and disbelief has given way to a mobilization effort to save the three programs slated for immediate cuts and to prevent the firing of 22 faculty and 20 staff members. On August 15th, shortly after students learned of the cuts, a “Save the Clarion Department of Music” facebook page was created by students to “join music education and music business students past and present, and all who participated in performing organizations at Clarion University, so together, we can unite to Save the Department of Music.” Shortly afterwards, Clarion University alum, Jed Millard, started an on-line petition to urge Whitney to put a halt to the cuts. As of this posting, the petition already has 2,021 signatures.

Faces of Retrenchment Day 1 - Leah ChambersYesterday, faculty launched a “Faces of Retrenchment” campaign, as a way to highlight the fact that President Whitney’s “bold, ambitious workforce plan” has direct, material consequences for real people with real families. Many of the 22 faculty slated to lose their jobs have been at Clarion for years – some for decades. In the next several days and weeks, Clarion University’s campus will be bustling with activity and not just from the annual arrival of thousands of students on “Move-In Day.” Clarion University will be bustling with the sounds of organizing.

What the Hell?

If Clarion President Whitney’s slash-and-burn workforce plan shows a disdain for the academic mission of the university, the process by which this plan became known to the university community is down-right sickening. I wanted to know more about how people first learned about Clarion’s new workforce plan, so I called Beth MacDaniel, Chair of the English Department and President of Clarion’s chapter of the faculty union, APSCUF. What MacDaniel told me should set off alarm bells for anyone who gives half a damn about shared governance and democratic process.

When I asked MacDaniel if Clarion’s administration had given any indication that such drastic cuts were on their way, MacDaniel said:

Absolutely none. In fact, a couple of weeks ago we were at State APSCUF for a State meet and discuss [regular meetings between leaders of APSCUF and PASSHE administration in Harrisburg]. They didn’t give us a single clue that it was going to be anything like this. It was…it was…it blew my mind.

MacDaniel did not learn of the university’s “bold, ambitions workforce plan,” until the morning of August 15th when she and leaders from all the other unions on campus were called to special meetings with the university President and Provost ahead of a previously scheduled meeting.

The president has what she calls “university governance meetings,” where she meets with the leaders of different unions on campus. That was set for 1 o’clock this past Thursday. She was told that contractually she ought to meet with the leaders of each of the unions prior to that so they could see specifically what was happening with their bargaining unit members. And so, at 9 o’clock in the morning I met with the President, the Provost, the HR guy, and the financial guy. I had asked two other APSCUF leaders to go with me…I figured it wasn’t good for me to go by myself.

We were given copies of the workforce plan – that’s the first we saw of it. And then we were asked if we had questions.

We [APSCUF] went at 9, AFSCME went at 10, and SCUPA went at 11. At 1 o’clock in the afternoon, all of us met together with the President and Provost at the meeting that had already been set up. People who hadn’t received the workforce plan were given copies of it and then they asked for questions. People were pretty much still in a state of shock.

If you have not checked out the actual workforce plan yet, you should. It’s a 32-page document filled with charts and graphs and a fair share of inconsistencies. And, there is some rather oddly placed happy talk. For example, on page 5  just before the plan calls for the elimination of Academic Enrichment – the department that runs academic support for students who may need tutoring or mentoring – it says, “the plan is intentionally broad and shapes the workforce across all areas of the university in order to ensure the unique culture of learning at Clarion where we believe in the potential of every student, and strive to help our students achieve their academic and career goals.” Really? Really!?!?!?!?

Or, how about this gem on page 12. The administration identifies the BS in Music Entrepreneurship as a potential growth area. Clarion does not have a BS degree in Music Entrepreneurship and the “proposed program” has not made its way through the university’s curriculum bodies. That’s a BS degree for sure, just not one you can get a job with – especially given that the plan calls for cutting actually existing music classes.

“They couldn’t have come up with this overnight,” says MacDaniel. That’s not to say that the administration had not expressed concerns about “budget shortfalls.”  It was no mystery that Clarion, like most of the other 14 universities in the PA State System of Higher Education, was hit hard by deep cuts in State funding thanks to a Governor and right-wing Republican dominated state legislature seemingly hell-bent on destroying public education from kindergarten through higher ed. In an upcoming article on Raging Chicken Press, I will report on some of the root causes of PASSHE’s “budget crisis” that raise troubling questions about how seriously the Board of Governors, University Trustees, and university presidents are taking their fiduciary responsibilities. MacDaniel and other members of the union’s local meet and discuss team had been trying to have frank conversations about the President’s plans for dealing with a projected $8 million budget deficit.

Well, I think that this President and Provost have a particular idea, a vision of what they think the university should be. We kept asking at local meet and discuss, “what’s your vision. What’s your vision.” And all they did was parrot back the vision and mission statements of the university posted on the web page. They had to have had an idea all along…for several months at least…about how extensive they wanted this to be. And they didn’t give us a clue. They kept on saying, “we don’t know the numbers, we don’t know, we don’t know, we don’t know. Clearly they knew.

And it seems President Whitney was committed to keeping anyone outside of her inner circle in the dark. In an August 8 prepared statement, Clarion Provost Ronald Nowaczyk delivered the smoke-and-mirrors:

The university is still reviewing any cuts in personnel or related actions, and no decisions have been made.  President Karen Whitney confirmed the changes that will be made will not impact students who attend Clarion this fall.

While the university’s prepared statement indicated that the Provost had “met with state APSCUF leadership, along with the associate vice president for finance and administration and members of the chancellor’s Office of Labor Relations, to discuss the status of the university’s workforce plans, as required by the collective bargaining unit,” no one in that room on the faculty side left that meeting with any indication that Clarion was about to drop a bomb.

When asked whether he had any indication that Clarion was about to see a 10% cut in its faculty and over 40 jobs lost, APSCUF Vice President, Ken Mash said no way. “We were really blindsided,” he said. “We were not sure that they were going to have to retrench at all. Nobody saw 22 coming. It’s not like we’re stupid. They were at meet and discuss and they did not give any indication that they were looking at anything quite like this.”

Give credit where credit is due, however. Clarion’s president was not hiding the fact that she had no interest in hearing from faculty, staff, or students as she was preparing her “bold, ambitious workforce plan.” The administration was pretty clear in that August 8 prepared statement that it was going to issue changes by decree:

Leaders of the various employee bargaining units have not been involved in the process, but Nowaczyk said they are being advised on the status of the process via regular meetings with the president.

Presumably, “advising” means parroting back the vision and mission statements from the university’s web page.

Read the entire story on Raging Chicken Press

Hear Beth MacDaniel, Clarion-APSCUF President on the Rick Smith Show

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It’s about 3:30 am and I am up preparing for today’s PASSHE Board of Governors meeting in Harrisburg. I am printing out the last faculty letters to the Chancellor that I received late last night, reviewing my notes for my 90 seconds before the Board of Governors, rechecking Google maps directions to ensure I can return to KU in time for my office hours and afternoon class, and hoping that enough faculty members from our 14 university system will make the trip to Harrisburg today to pack the Board of Governor’s meeting. As an academic – especially one that teaches writing and advocacy rhetorics, I am compelled to accept the persuasive power of rational discourse and I hope that the words of my colleagues and I will have some degree of impact on the Chancellor and the Board of Governors. I want to believe that we can help convince PASSHE administrators to bargain in good faith and help us secure a good and lasting contract.

However, the activist in me, the labor unionist in me, is also compelled to recognize that the persuasive power of words – yes, even in an academic context – have power only insofar as they are backed by people willing to act up on those words. Words, by themselves, are constrained by context – e.g. if there is no one listening, or a decision has already been made, or there are no institutional rules that require those in power to listen. If words are not empowered to be meaningful in any given institutional context, then their source of power must come from outside that institutional context. As Frederick Douglass memorably put it:

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

For sure, Douglass was no slouch when it came to a commitment to the persuasive power of words. However, he was also no fool. His direct experience with slavery and racism taught him otherwise.

Late yesterday we found out that the Chancellor’s Office has limited the public comments section of today’s meeting to three speakers. Each speaker will be limited to three minutes. Then, that’s it, comments are cut off. The Chancellor’s Office limited public comments to three speakers at least once before – when cafeteria workers from IUP, represented by SEIU, were protesting the Board of Governor’s meeting because of Sodexo. The take away? When workers in the PASSHE system – from cafeteria workers to academic workers – seek to make their concerns part of the official discussion, the Chancellor’s Office turns off the mic after providing just enough time for comments so they can claim to have been “open” to public concerns, but not enough time for any substantive discussion. It’s not about discussion after all. It’s about control.

I will be splitting my time with our local APSCUF-KU President, Paul Quinn. Before hearing that the Chancellor’s Office was going to limit debate, each of us had three minutes. But, we’ll take what we can get. I will deliver faculty letters and I will make some brief remarks. But, in the end, what will matter is if the Chancellor and the Board of Governors see that they are not up against three or four faculty members, but hundreds. The power of our words will be measured by the number of faculty members packing the meeting room and manning the picket lines outside the Dixon Center.

I prepare to drive to Harrisburg knowing full well that the Chancellor’s Office has already stacked the deck against us. That the only reason I am  being given time to speak is because the Chancellor’s Office needs to appear to to be open to public comments. I don’t have any illusions about that portion of today’s meeting. I am going to Harrisburg to stand with my colleagues from across the state who, through their physical presence, are saying, “Enough!” I am going to Harrisburg to provide the Chancellor’s Office with a small taste of what a picket line looks like. I am going to Harrisburg to begin a process of demonstrating what gives a union power at the negotiations table  – not simply the negotiation skills of the people at the table, but the collective power of our more than 6,000 members across the Commonwealth. I am going to Harrisburg to begin a process of putting limits on the aspirations of would-be, petty tyrants.

 

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For those of you who don’t know, in the spring of 2011 I launched a progressive media site called Raging Chicken Press. While I described the site as a “side project,” it is really more of a place where my teaching and scholarship meet in practice.  For example, this semester I am teaching ENG 316 Rhetoric, Democracy, Advocacy and next semester I will be teaching a Special Topics class ENG 390 Activists Writing Media: Composing Democratic Futures. I’ve published on activist rhetoric in  Democracies to Come – co-authored with Rachel Riedner of the George Washington University, as well as articles on “Viral Advocacy” in Reflections: A Journal of Public Rhetoric, Civic Writing, and Service-Learning and rhetorics of labor advocacy in Seth Kahn and JongHwa Lee’s fantastic collection, Activism and Rhetoric. I’ve always had the need to do more than teach and write about rhetoric. I’ve found it critical to also be a practitioner. In fact, I would argue, my teaching, scholarship, and practice are all intimately related and in dialogue. Raging Chicken Press has been my latest site of practice and it has taken off faster than I could have imagined.

Last week I launched a new series called “Smashing Apples: Shock Doctrine for Public Education.” The series focuses on the attacks upon public education in PA and across the region and nation. I wanted to let readers of the XChange know for a couple of reasons. First, I am always looking for new writers, photographers, videographers, cartoonists, and podcasters interested in contributing to the site. Given APSCUF’s continuing contract fight, I thought there might be some of you out there who have got some things to say, and who are looking for a place to say it. While our APSCUF-KU efforts are currently focused on letters to editors and to the Board of Governors and Chancellor, Raging Chicken Press might give you a space to contribute in different ways.

Second, I wanted to let you know of some of the articles we have recently published in which you may be interested. Here you go:

Hope you find some these articles compelling and if you’re mad as hell and can’t take it any more, consider submitting to the Raging Chicken

 

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In a new blog post, APSCUF explores the question: Where is the Chancellor?

Chancellor John Cavanaugh sits on the Governor’s Commission for Post-Secondary Education. He testifies annually in front of both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees about the State System’s budget request. He is the leader of State System and should be its biggest advocate. So what is his vision for PASSHE’s future?

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Some of you may recall a couple of posts I wrote a ways back about the budget crisis myths that the Kutztown University administration had been circulating as truths. For years, President Javier Cevallos claimed that KU continued to face budget crises, even though the numbers didn’t quite add up (check out APSCUF-KU’s “Show Us the Money!” presentation from spring 2011).

KU managers have also continued to claim that they have not received any raises in years. Sure, we know President Cevallos got his nice increase, but the official line has been that managers as a whole didn’t receive raises. Welcome to the wonderful world of half-truth and myth.

At this past weeks’ meet and discuss, APSCUF-KU received a document showing managers salaries for the past several years. AND???  Well, turns out TECHNICALLY managers have not receive raises. TECHNICALLY managers from contract specialists to executive directors to chiefs of staff have received JOB RE-CLASSIFICATIONS that have given managers increases of nearly $17,000 in a single year. Some individual managers have received over $20,000 increases due to job reclassification since 2007.

So, you see? Managers didn’t received any raises. It was magic, magic I tell you! In the real world, we ask to see the proof. Here’s what reality shows us:

Manager RAISES since 2007

Got that warm and fuzzy feeling yet?

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It seems like getting the February issue out took FOREVER! I don’t know if that’s what it felt like for all of you out there, but it was certainly my experience. But, the important thing is that it’s out!  And, it’s kind of cool that we published the February issue on the one year anniversary of the first mass protest of the Wisconsin Uprising against governor Walker’s attack on working families. We are STILL Badgers! I’ll give you a little sense of what’s been going on behind the scenes; but, for the moment, here’s what you’ll find in the February issue:

Reminder: Subscribe and Be Entered in the RCP Monthly Give-Away!

I want to make sure to remind everyone out there to subscribe to Raging Chicken Press. If you subscribe by Monday, February 20th, you will be entered in this month’s Subscriber Give-Away! This month’s Give-Away includes two books hot off the presses: John Nichols’s book, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest from Madison to Wall Street and regular contributor to Raging Chicken Press, Lee Camp’s new book, Moment of Clarity: The Rantings of a Stark Raving Sane Man. All you need to do to subscribe is to enter your email in the subscription form on the right-hand side of the page. Subscribing doesn’t cost you a thing, but it does ensure that you will receive notifications of all new Raging Chicken Press content right in your inbox. Really, can you think of a downside?

Fundraising Campaign: Can You Help? 

I’ve been squawking about this for a while now, but we’re into the thick of it now. Twelve days ago, we launched our first ever fundraising drive on a web platform called WePay. We are attempting to raise $25,000. Yes, that’s what I said, $25,000. I’ve gone back and forth as to whether I should even try to raise this kind of money at this point. It’s a lot of money, I know. But, here’s the deal. I’ve said from the very beginning that I am building Raging Chicken Press for the long haul and I intend on building it in away that is both realistic and sustainable. That is, up until this point Raging Chicken Press exists on whatever money I can stash away, sales in the Raging Chicken Press store, and the affiliate programs we are using. While these sources help, they are by no means sufficient for developing a serious progressive, activist media site.

The $25,000 number comes from thinking about what I’d like to do with RCP in the next few years and what it would take–financially–to make that happen. I’ve talked about some of these projects before, but here’s a flavor of the kind of things I think Raging Chicken Press can do if we get the support:

  • Annual Best of Raging Chicken paperback book and eBook, featuring the best articles of the year. Ideally, we can have the first edition ready for our one year anniversary in July.
  • Three paid internships a year: 1) a fall internship on issues in PA public and higher education; 2) a spring issue focusing on PA policy and budget issues; and, 3) a summer internship on PA environment and sustainability.
  • “Broadside” editions of each issue of Raging Chicken Press to be distributed to regional coffeehouses, bars, hangouts, etc.
  • Annual presence at the PA Progressive Summit and Netroots Nation.
  • Payment for contributors to Raging Chicken Press based upon similar progressive publications’ payment structures.
  • Press passes for Raging Chicken Press reporters.
  • Promotional materials including a banner, fliers, and Raging Chicken Press swag.
  • Shifting t-shirt sales from our Zazzle.com store to locally produced, union printers (the issue here is that in print t-shirts locally in unionized shops, we need to buy larger quantities of shirts and to keep stock on-hand. Buying large numbers of shirts is a chunk of change).
  • Establishing a brick-and-mortar presence on Main Street (or close to it) in Kutztown as a base of operations, meeting space, and store front for t-shirts, buttons, posters, books, and other progressive materials.

This is not a comprehensive list, but representative of some of the major initiatives I’d like to move on in the very near future. Some of these items will require on-going fundraising and grant applications (which I am also working on). The brick-and-mortar presence is a perfect example an initiative that needs up-front money AND a fairly predictable budget.

There is an additional reason for beginning a fundraising drive at this point. I’ve wanted to avoid having to go the advertising route as a way of sustaining Raging Chicken Press. I think the potential strength of this project is dependent upon a decision progressives in our communities deciding to support the development of this progressive, activist media site. In short, I need to know if progressives in PA and beyond believe this project is worthwhile. Are you willing to help build this site? Do you think it is valuable to build progressive alternatives to mainstream media? Do you think it is valuable to have media site that gives progressive writers, videographers, podcasters, artists, and activists an outlet for their work? Those are questions that I don’t have the answer. I need to know from you: Can you help? Can you help build a regionally focused progressive, activist media site?

You can contribute any amount over $2. EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS! We hope that there are enough of us out there who want to join with us to help build progressive media alternatives. I, for one, think we are going to need it.

Call for Submissions for March Issue

Yeah, I know we just published the February issue, but I’d like to get a jump-start on the next issue. Give the deep cuts being proposed by PA governor Tom Corbett and the ramping up of the election cycle, I want to put out the call for the March issue sooner rather than later. Here’s the deal:

Deadline for Submissions for March Issue: Saturday, March 10th. 

If you think you’ve got something to send our way, check out our submission guidelines. If you still have questions, drop me an email at ragingchickenpress@gmail.com.

Wrapping Up for Now

I’m going to leave things there for now. There are a couple more things that I want to tell ya, but this post is long enough already. I will say that I will be looking for your input for the 2011 Best of Raging Chicken Press book pretty soon! Look for your chance to help pick which Raging Chicken Press articles will make it into our first-ever “Best of” book!

Bread and Roses,

Kevin Mahoney
Founder and Editor Zero, Raging Chicken Press

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