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Friday, April 17, 2020

Friday, April 17, 2020

Two Upheavals, One Solution: A UC Faculty Survey


By Hannah Chadeayne Appel, Asst Prof of Anthropology, and Ananya Roy, Professor of Urban Planning, Social Welfare, and Geography and The Meyer and Renee Luskin Chair in Inequality and Democracy, UCLA

We are two of the faculty members who have written a survey that we are asking our colleagues to take.  It is about the relations between the UC graduate student strike and the covid-19 pandemic: how do you see this relationship, and how would you most like to respond.  The survey can be found at this link.  And here’s a bit more on the thinking that lies behind it.

Covid-19 lays bare a precarity that long predates it. The virus’ routes expose and deepen lived inequalities, demonstrating that the taking of human life is neither natural nor inevitable, but rather an outcome of political decisions that have ravaged social protections and hollowed out infrastructures of care.

As this blog has chronicled over the years, the formerly public university is paradigmatic of this hollowing out—increasingly reliant on the tuition of indebted students and the shamefully under-remunerated labor of adjunct faculty. As calls for rent strikes resound across the U.S., severely rent-burdened graduate students in the University of California system were already months into a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) wildcat strike. Precisely. Covid-19 lays bare precarity that long predates it.

Covid-19’s safer-at-home mandates, remote instruction, hiring freezes, evaporation of summer teaching and of broader job prospects exacerbate the pre-existing housing insecurity and financial stress that the COLA movement aims to reveal and remedy. Undergraduates as well as graduate students are asked to succeed as students in communities where they cannot afford to live and work. Now undergraduates find themselves lacking access to technologies, space, and other resources required for online instruction, while graduate students are expected to teach from living conditions not appropriately conducive to that labor. A COLA means compensation adequate to the cost of living, and this is even more necessary in a pandemic. If the COLA movement emphasizes that teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions, covid-19 exacerbates the inadequacy of all those conditions and foregrounds the urgency of addressing these problems together.

The Inter-Campus Faculty Solidarity Network is a group of about 40 tenured, untenured, and adjunct faculty from across the UCs who had been communicating weekly throughout the COLA campaign. We have continued to do so into the covid-19 crisis. This network is in turn generated by Faculty Organizing Groups and other bodies of long-standing faculty activism that emerged from previous moments of austerity. As the network watched covid begin to overshadow COLA, we felt that articulating their intersection and (re)mobilizing faculty was all the more pressing. Thus we wrote the survey you find here, which aims to better understand faculty concerns during this time and to organize potential future collective action to respond to those concerns – from support for the COLA demands to our own uncertain futures at a time of looming economic recession.

We cannot return to business as usual once the masks are off. We cannot sit by, again, as we are told, there is no alternative. There are alternatives. And it will not be administrators who envision them or build the power to champion them. It will be us – adjunct and tenure-line faculty and undergraduate and graduate students and student debtors – categories that blur increasingly for those of us who were schooled and indebted in neoliberal times. 

As Robin D.G. Kelley, Distinguished Professor of History & Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in United States History at UCLA said on the occasion of UCLA’s COLA rally: “This is bigger than a cost of living adjustment. You are on the frontlines of a broader struggle against a new university order that entails the casualization of labor; rising tuitions; the financialization of higher education resulting in unsustainable student debt and corporate profit; not to mention investments in institutions that violate human rights and hasten the planet’s demise. You are fighting for a different future, and as faculty who want a university that practices equity and ethical behavior, that can reverse its neoliberal trend, we have no choice but to stand in solidarity and to stand up.”

9 comments:

California Policy Issues said...

Still the best solution for the grad students: https://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2020/03/have-you-forgotten-grad-student-strike.html Dealing with the inevitable effects of the state budget crunch and its impact on UC is the priority now. The Regents are going to have to get out of their denial mode at the May meetings - only a month away.

Chris Newfield said...

@California Policy Issuesyes. The problem seems to be that president Napolitano has no interest in withdrawing the charges. The regents would have to break with her on this.

Sharon Traweek said...

From the past: July 2009 UC announced that most, but not all systemwide UC employees would have pay cuts [4-10%] and unpaid furloughs [11-26 day] for one year Sept 2009 through August 2010. https://regents.universityofcalifornia.edu/regmeet/jul09/j2pp.pdf
Those with the lowest salaries had smaller percentage cuts and everyone whose salary was over $240k had the same percentage cut. That is, it was a progressive tax with a limit that benefited the highest paid. [Some of us argued unsuccessfully to eliminate the pay cut for the lowest paid employees and raise it for the highest paid, at least.]

Sharon Traweek said...

Re the 24 Sept 2009 “UC Walkout” protesting the salary cuts, furloughs, tuition hikes, and mass layoffs http://ucfacultywalkout.wordpress.com
The AAUP endorsed the walkout and the University Professional and Technical Employees [UPTE] joined the strike. See more background information at http://www.upte.org/publication-mm/2009-08-31.html
In 2011 Bob Samuels, then president of the University Council–American Federation of Teachers and a lecturer at UCLA [now at UCSB], wrote about that 2009 walkout in “Facebook, Twitter, YouTube—and Democracy. The University of California protest movement shows that social media shape not only the new social movements but also the media as a whole.” He argued that the walkout led to a $500 million increase in funding for UC.
https://www.aaup.org/article/facebook-twitter-youtube%E2%80%94and-democracy#.Xpu7iZp7kXo

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