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Sunday, January 17, 2021

Sunday, January 17, 2021

This is the second of two papers from an MLA panel on "Organizing University Labor," organized by Eva Cherniavsky at the University of Washington-Seattle. The first, by Thomas Winningham, is here. This piece explains why collective bargaining has worked better for faculty at Western Washington (pictured) than shared governance.

by Bill Lyne, English Department,  Western Washington University

The legislation allowing faculty at four-year public universities in Washington state to unionize passed in 2002.  Union organizers from NEA and AFT arrived on our campus at Western Washington University the next fall, and three years later, after a lot of organizing work and a series of relentless, baseless and tedious bargaining unit challenges from our administration, our faculty voted to unionize as the United Faculty of Western Washington, affiliated with both NEA and AFT.  The university president--who was near retirement, had argued vigorously against our unionizing, and took our vote very personally—hired the law firm of Jackson Lewis (a firm famous for their scorched-earth approach to unions) to bargain our first contract.  

After 18 months of bargaining, stalemate, and arbitration, we declared impasse and the lawyer went home to Seattle, no doubt convinced that he had earned his hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.  Four days after he left, one of the vice presidents from the administration bargaining team called me and she and I settled a full tentative agreement in a three-hour session on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.  When the expensive lawyer was informed of the details of our deal (which included basic things like grievance to arbitration and a stable workload), he strenuously urged the Board of Trustees not to ratify it. The trustees, about to hire a new president and fed up with a process that had taken so long, wisely chose to ignore him and support the university’s faculty and administration.

For the next ten years, we amiably bargained successor agreements (one of which NEA called “the best contract in America”) without the benefit (or expense) of a union-busting lawyer sitting between faculty and administration.  Our relatively short experience with collective bargaining has revealed both its value and its limits and clarified quite a bit about the predicament of public higher education in the 21st century.  If nothing else, it has helped us understand who’s really on what side and why.  

When we first began to organize, the university president met us with the standard tale of academic romance.  Collective bargaining, she argued, would wreak havoc on our cherished values of collegiality and shared governance. Deans and faculty would no longer be able to say hello to each other in the grocery store or compete on the same bicycle race teams. Our august faculty senate would be rendered impotent.  One administration spokesperson even suggested that something called “the union” might make us all wear uniforms. The whole campaign resembled that of a 1960s southern sheriff warning that Yankee agitators were coming to put crazy ideas into the heads of the local happy Negroes.  

This tone deafness showed how disconnected the administration had become from faculty life on the ground and how ripe we were for unionization.  Our salaries were in the 19th percentile of our peer universities, tenure and promotion decisions had become increasingly mysterious and arbitrary, tenure track faculty lines were disappearing and carloads of new administrators seemed to be arriving every week.  The faculty senate had devolved into a bi-weekly forum for complaints about parking.  An actual voice in the running of the university—the thing that the administration argued we would lose with unionization--was the thing it was clear we didn’t have.  We spent a lot of time in committee meetings and doggedly fulfilling the requirements of empty process, but all real decisions, especially about the deployment of university resources, were made without faculty in the room.  

All of that changed with collective bargaining.  When recommendations from committees that administrators are under no obligation to follow metamorphose into binding and enforceable contractual agreements, the administration-faculty relationship changes dramatically.  Shared governance was the impotence of faculty resolutions followed by the omnipotence of administrative decisions. Collective bargaining is nobody gets to leave the room until we have an agreement that recognizes the interests of both sides.  That legal requirement made it imperative that both sides start paying more real attention to the predicament of the other.  If we were going to get to a good, workable contract, we had to stop pretending that we were all on the same side with the same interests.  The formal exchange of proposals that each side would actually have to live with forced both the faculty and the administration to crawl out of their own echo chambers and actually listen to the other side.  

While bargaining sharpened and clarified our differences, it also began to show how much we actually had in common.  And for that we owe a debt to the union-busting lawyer that the administration hired for that first contract. He was a formidable fellow, with a wealth of labor law experience, but he had done very little public sector bargaining and had no experience with higher ed bargaining.   What he didn’t understand was that, unlike his private sector clients, his current client actually had a lot in common with the faculty that sat across the table.  This was not a situation where one side’s goal was to squeeze as much blood as possible from labor and the other’s was to retrieve as much of the fruits of their labor as possible.  Our trustees were mostly business types, but they had no obligation to shareholders and most of them vacillated between idealistic and clueless about public higher education.  The administrators who sat across the table from us were certainly subject to the neo-liberal pressures that bore down on all university bosses, but most of them had been faculty at one time and even the most mendacious among them probably still cared about students.  We watched them grow frustrated and bored with their lawyer’s strategy of stonewall and delay.  The members of their team who engaged us in actual conversation or nodded too sympathetically at our points suddenly disappeared from the bargaining room.  

The university president had been right in her warning that collective bargaining would put a third party between administration and faculty, but that third party turned out not to be the union thugs she was imagining, but rather the mercenary lawyer she had hired.  Once he was gone, the rules and responsibilities still remained for both sides, and that structure along with the legal equality of the two sides at a bargaining table forced us to stop hurling blow-off platitudes past each other and get down to cases.  Collective bargaining has brought us better salaries and working conditions, but perhaps the most important thing it has delivered is a vastly improved working relationship.  We now have a respect for each other and a problem-solving working relationship that we never would have achieved under the old myths of shared governance.  

This kind of class collaboration as the pinnacle of faculty union achievement has sent and will continue to send shivers down the spines of my faithfully radical colleagues, and rightly so.  Just as collective bargaining has revealed the bankruptcy of shared governance, it has also definitively shown us that college professors are not a revolutionary class.  We are mostly the children of the professional and managerial classes, our jobs require us to spend a lot of time alone with our books so solidarity does not come naturally to us, our professional training has conditioned us to suck up to authority, our political and ideological commitments vary wildly across disciplines, and within our larger class we are divided into comfortably upper middle class tenure-track professors and a large proletariat of contingent faculty who still live better and have more prospects than most Americans living below the middle class. Even those of us who teach from a radical or Marxist perspective have mortgages, drive Subarus, and contribute to a 401(k) plan.  Ultimately, we are much more of a guild than a union, at least as a union might be imagined by the Third International or the IWW. 

In this, of course, we are no different from our parent companies at NEA and AFT, who both have multi-story buildings blocks from the White House, complete with outsourced cafeterias and human resources departments.  Higher education unionization fits squarely into what is left of the U.S. labor movement.  We are part of a slightly left-liberal consensus, carefully regulated by state and federal labor law (the sturdy framework created by the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, amended by Taft-Hartley in 1947, and perpetuated through a series of Supreme Court decisions up to and including Janus), designed to give U.S. business relative labor peace.  We raise millions of dollars in PAC money and are a reliable phone banking army for the Democratic party.  

So it should come as no surprise that the conditions always exist for faculty unions and university administrations to work and play well together, especially when administrators can be convinced that it is worth it to trade a little bit of power for a more content faculty.  And it just may be possible, especially in the current moment, that these conditions could allow faculty and administration to collaborate on something relatively radical that goes beyond guild wages, benefits, and working conditions.  

The real reason that public higher education faculty need unions is the same reason that public higher education administrators behave like corporate bosses: the defunding of public higher education that began in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  At about the same time that organized labor was fully defanged, college campuses became the center of progressive and radical organizing in the U.S.  In the 1950s and 60s, in the wake of the GI Bill, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Women’s movement, students of diverse races, classes, and genders began showing up in public colleges in significant numbers for the first time.  They brought civil rights, women’s rights, and free speech movements to campus and began demanding respect and curricular change (Ethnic Studies Programs, Women’s Studies Programs) in ways that began to fundamentally rearrange colleges and universities.  

Business elites quickly began to recognize colleges as a problem.  Lewis Powell, in his now-famous “Powell Memorandum” to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, devoted several pages of his conservative blueprint to “The Campus,” offering a detailed plan to regulate textbooks, make the faculty more conservative, and influence graduate schools of business.  This turned out to be overkill, as most of his objectives could be achieved by simply defunding public higher education. Up until this time, public higher education had been essentially free. But as soon as Black and Brown, first generation and working class students began arriving in numbers, states, led by Governor Ronald Reagan’s very public attack on the University of California (especially the Berkeley campus), began the systematic disinvestment in public higher education.  As the percentage of white students in public higher education has declined over the decades so has state funding, at almost exactly the same rate.  This massive, nationwide act of structural racism has led to public tuition rising to private school levels and created the bankers’ paradise of massive student debt.  

Turning public institutions private has also no doubt shaped the careers and mindsets of college administrators.  We should never mistake the time when public higher education was available to only white men as a golden age, but the job of college president in a time when the campus was fully funded by the state was surely more academic and faculty oriented.  It was a job for which someone with a PhD in Physics, English, or Political Science might be relatively qualified. Today, the academic training a college president receives when they are still planning a career as a teacher and scholar has little relevance for the CEO job they have ended up with. A day filled with courting donors, building marketing campaigns to attract premium-paying out-of-state students, managing the debt-financing of fancy dorms and gymnasiums, and negotiating food service contracts with private prison vendors is a long way from that dissertation on Hawthorne or that article about molecular biology. The recent history of public higher education is what has turned administrators into managerial overseers and faculty into labor costs, putting us on opposite sides of a divide that is best bridged with collective bargaining.  

And it may be that the relationships we’ve developed in that bargaining have prepared us to work together on something bigger than the labor/management dance.  Here in Washington, the last few years have brought tangible signs that the ground of higher education may be shifting.  In 2015, the Washington State Legislature, led by the Republican-controlled Senate, reduced tuition at Washington’s public universities by 20%. This would not necessarily be that remarkable were it not for the fact that they also replaced the lost tuition revenue with an equal amount of new state appropriations. In 2017, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation began funding the College Promise Coalition, whose goal is to increase post-secondary degree attainment to 70% of Washington citizens. In 2019, the legislature instituted the Washington College Grant as an entitlement available to all students who qualify. Under this entitlement, anyone from a family of four making $50,000 or less can go to any public college in Washington for free. Any student from a family making $96,000 or less receives some grant support. This grant is funded by a tax on businesses, a tax that was strongly supported by both Microsoft and Amazon.  

At the same time, there are signs that voters and policy makers are beginning to come around to the idea of higher education as a public good.  In a 2020 poll conducted by the College Promise Coalition, 70% of voters, perhaps fed up with the chaos that ignorance brings, said that the most important thing higher education can do is produce well-rounded citizens who make our communities strong.  And in our tech-heavy state, so far the digital giants don’t seem to be trying to use the pandemic as a way to move all education online. Most people seem to be recognizing that online education is a ghost of the real thing and that digital divides create huge educational inequities.

A confluence of accidents, consequences, and intentions has brought us to a place where a fairly broad consensus is developing around the idea of making public higher education more public.  In this context, we might convince our administrations that instead of hiring a token vice president for diversity, they should recruit many more low income Black, Brown, and Native students. Together we might convince state legislatures to fund food, housing, and childcare subsidies for those student for whom free tuition is not enough.  And perhaps at the bargaining table we can agree that committing to a larger percentage of tenure track faculty is the best thing we can do for students, especially those from the neglected regions of capital.  If we can convince our administrative friends that we are in a place where running a college more like an educational institution and less like a business will bring them praise rather than pink slips, we might be able to turn the institutional battleship just a little bit.  The revolution we will have to leave to our students.   

United Faculty of Washington State blog is here.

Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 0

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

by T.E. Winningham, Syracuse University

This is the first of two papers we're posting from an MLA panel last week, entitled "Organizing University Labor," put together by Eva Cherniavsky at the University of Washington- Seattle (her most recent post here was on the gutting of the humanities in WA). I thought of both papers under the title "After Shared Governance," as both discuss non-Senate modes of faculty control while also taking a critical look at faculty unions.

From the moment Joe Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee right up to election night, Cornel West’s stated position, which he repeated almost as a mantra on every platform that would have him, was: The Left must do everything possible to defeat Donald Trump, while at the same time we cannot lie to ourselves about who Joe Biden is. Which is to say, he is no friend of ours.  And I begin with this because there’s never been a day in this country when the labor movement was not under attack, so unions must be defended. Defense, though, does not preclude legitimate, robust critique, and we cannot ignore the structural flaws in our labor unions as they actually exist.

Indeed, just as a Biden administration provides more advantageous terrain for struggle, having a union is overall better than not—virtually every metric shows this to be true—but we’re still in a fight, and unions, far from being the end point, are just another battlefield. Because despite romanticized ideals of workers coming together in democratic self- determination and so forth, national unions are bureaucratic institutions with their own internal hierarchies, and in many ways collaborate with employers in a class war against their own membership, while at the same time working tirelessly to contain a growing militancy within the working class.

First a brief overview of my own experience. Between the Fall of 2015 and Spring 20l8, I was a Lecturer in the University of California system, represented by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), first for two years at UC Riverside in the University Writing Program, then a year at UCLA in the English Department. “Lecturer” is the term for full- and part-time non-Senate Faculty. Tenure-track this obviously was not, but working conditions were decent—certainly better than in many contingent positions. A full teaching load at UCR is eight courses per year, which is a 3-3-2 on their quarter system, with a base salary of around $53,000 plus benefits, with 1.5% deducted from each paycheck for collective bargaining fees under the fair-share provision of California law. In other words, this was a comfortable second-tier academic job.

No one approached me, but I formally joined AFT Local 1966 right away, since membership aligned with my political beliefs and there was no extra cost.

I’d initially been hired at the very last minute and given three classes for the Fall quarter. Shortly thereafter, it became apparent I’d also be needed for Winter and Spring, at which point the collective bargaining agreement required that I be appointed to an annual-year contract, and I was back-paid to the previous July. Over the winter I reapplied for my job—a full application complete with cover letter, teaching materials, letters of recommendation, and so on—and near the end of spring I was rehired on another annual-year contract, which was great as there’d be no gap in my income over the summer.

So, again, there were real upsides overall, but I use the term “rehired” intentionally, as I’m sure many of us are familiar with the stress and uncertainty of self-terminating contracts. The union had negotiated a “Continuing Lecturer” designation, which secures ongoing employment after 18 quarters in a single department, but that’s still six years of reapplying for your own job, and a number of departments within the UC had reputations for excessive turnover, particularly around the 14th or 15th quarter to avoid granting ongoing status. I was told this was a priority for future negotiations, but it seemed nothing else could be done.

In my case, late in the summer after my second year I received a department-wide email announcing that unless we’d already heard otherwise, we were not being rehired, and that this included “several experienced Lecturers.” Obviously, we were in competition each year with the entire applicant pool. The union could not or would not protect our positions, and all those nice union benefits were out window as I was out of a job.

Late in August 2017, I was hired by the English Department at UCLA, and though I was part of the same bargaining unit, that department viewed the Lecturer position more as a gentleman’s postdoc for their own PhDs who’d failed to secure tenure-track jobs upon graduation, and never hired anyone for more than a year or two at most. I was only brought in because one of their medievalists backed out last minute to consult full- time on a television series then in production. Such is Hollywood. And as another unspoken rule, the UCLA English Department did not hire anyone full-time, so I was given their standard 2-1-1 for the year. To be fair, this is a 57% appointment and thus benefits eligible. But I had to supplement my income with courses across town at USC, and neither of these unwritten rules were known to me until well into my time there.

This also happened to be the lead-up to the Janus v. AFSCME decision, which everyone correctly anticipated would rule fair- share fees unconstitutional and spread the free-rider problem to the 20 states where these fees were then legal. No longer would the AFT automatically collect that 1.5% of every Lecturer’s paycheck; they would now have to incentivize workers to join the union.

I signed up to help with some outreach, paired with a union staffer. This turned out mostly to involve chasing down Lecturers between classes and confronting them with a sales pitch that basically started and ended with: You’re benefiting from a contract the union negotiated, be grateful, and feel guilty for not signing up. To be blunt, it was a shockingly lazy, patronizing effort. 

Jane McAlevey, a veteran organizer and now a senior policy fellow at the UC Berkeley Labor Center, extensively documents her experience and frustrations with national unions in her first book, Raising Hell  “Today,” she writes in her second book, No Shortcuts, “attempts to generate movements are directed by professional, highly educated staff who rely on an elite, top- down theory of power that treats the masses as audiences of, rather than active participants in, their own liberation” (9). She goes on to outline three approaches unions take to bring about change and engage their members: Advocacy, Mobilization, and Organization. Advocacy takes place at the level of policy and political lobbying. Mobilization relies on large numbers of workers at rallies and photo-ops, but still “staffers see themselves, not ordinary people, as the key agents of change. To them, it matters little who shows up, or, why, as long as a sufficient number of bodies appear” (10). 

But in true organizing, as McAlevey defines it, “the primary goal is to transfer power from the elite to the majority… Individual campaigns matter in themselves, but they are primarily a mechanism for bringing new people into the change process and keeping them involved” (10). Few unions today invest the time and resources into organizing, first, because it takes those time and resources, but also because it decentralizes power away from the union leadership that has worked so hard to consolidate its power.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the AFT campaign. While the histories, memoirs, and how-tos of the labor movement focus on the challenges, rewards—the excitement—of unionizing a workplace, our bargaining unit had remained unchanged since 1984, and relations between the UC administration and the union had long since stabilized.

So aside from the obvious—hoping people would sign up—what were we doing? Certainly not organizing, and not mobilizing to put any pressure on the administration. Even in a contract year, the negotiations were just tinkering around the edges, and more importantly they were a thing that happened elsewhere, at some conference table behind closed doors, among people neither these prospective members nor I would ever meet.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was experiencing the culmination of decades of labor concessions and institutional inertia--much of it the result of fair-share fees and exclusive representation, both products of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. Shaun Richman, a former organizing director for the AFT and writer for In These Times, explains some of this in his book, Tell the Bosses We’re Coming:

From their inception, mandatory union fees were never intended to compensate unions for the financial costs they bear for bargaining and filing grievances. Mandatory union fees are the compensation for the political costs of representing all the workers in a shop and maintaining labor peace… It is the combination of exclusive representation and the union shop that enables unions to agree to “shared sacrifice” or just plain old concessions and do the heavy lifting of selling them to the workers as being “good for the company” or the long term viability of jobs.  (33, emphasis in original)

This is precisely how unions have defended mandatory fees and the structure of the National Labor Relations Board itself in court, right from the start. Richman again: “Unions were there defending the NLRB on the basis of collective bargaining’s stabilizing effect on the economy” (64). This is the same line of argument that union attorneys used in Janus v. AFSCME.

David Frederick, attorney for Illinois AFSCME Council 31, argued: “The key thing that has been bargained for in this contract for agency fees is a limitation on striking. And that is true in many collective bargaining agreements” (Kishore). He went on: “The fees are the tradeoff. Union security is the tradeoff for no strikes." 

Illinois Solicitor General David Franklin went further in supporting the union’s position, claiming the state has “an interest… in being able to work with a stable, responsible, independent counterparty that’s well resourced enough that it can be a party with us” (Kishore).

And here is Randi Weingarten, President of the AFT, whose salary is around $450,000 a year, in the Washington Post

Collective bargaining allows employers and employees to forge agreements on the basis of shared interests that address both parties’ priorities and concerns. Without bargaining rights, educators are left with few options to have their voices heard and are forced to take more public actions, such as protesting to lawmakers, to have their priorities addressed.”

 Heaven forbid, we might take it upon ourselves to protest to lawmakers.

It doesn’t get much clearer; in their own words, the state and the union are partnering to collude with employers to suppress worker opposition, and the union’s main concern—”union security”—has nothing to do with workers and everything to do with consolidating its own power to mirror, organizationally, its counterpart.

In their article "Intergroup Solidarity and Collaboration in Higher Education Organizing and Bargaining in the United States," Daniel Scott and Adrianna Kezar of USC write:

Bureaucratic unions shifted their organizational structures and procedures to be more formal, pursuing survival through efficiency as they became more organizationally similar to the employers they negotiated with. They … hired additional administrative staff, and many adopted rigid procedures for addressing grievances… so that the union could evaluate and respond to grievance issues one-by-one. 

This trend had the effect of strengthening the union’s position as mediator between employer and employee, while limiting the individual worker’s ability to collaborate with others and take other forms of active involvement in addressing their concerns (Clawson and Clawson 100). (Scott 106)

As David Graeber points out in The Utopia of Rules, “a bureaucracy, once created, will immediately move to make itself indispensable to anyone trying to wield power, no matter what they wish to do with it” (150). This is why the AFL-CIO opposes the Green New Deal and why AFSCME, the AFL-CIO, and UNITE-HERE are resistant to Medicare For All: negotiating healthcare being one of their main reasons for existence.

The AFT has built a robust infrastructure within the UC system. It made itself an indispensable mediator between administration and non-Senate Faculty, contained labor unrest through no-strike clauses while extracting fees from the entire bargaining unit, and locked in an academic underclass of limited-term, contingent faculty. This is not out of character for a national union, as the United Auto Workers is infamous for a 2007 concession that created a two-tier wage system for hourly employees, with the lower tier maxing out at $10 less per hour than higher-paid workers. From the AFT’s perspective, too, individual Lecturers are interchangeable. Remember, “it doesn’t matter who shows up." Thus the bargaining unit, the overall entity, is not contingent: between 2015 and 2018 there were about 3,000 Lecturers and the number now somewhere just over 4,000. The bargaining unit is not just stable but growing.

From the Lecturers’ perspective, though, the situation is far different. I, we, didn’t complete a dozen years of higher education to cycle through a one-year job, and yet that is what is increasingly happening. Unions have indeed faced a coordinated, decades-long assault by both business and government. But the decline in union membership throughout the country, as well as the resistance I saw from fellow Lecturers, is also fueled by unions’ willful impotence.

In that same Washington Post article, Weingarten admits: “Fifty-two percent of teachers say they feel their perspective is only ‘somewhat’ represented, and 20 percent say their perspective is ‘not very much’ or ‘not at all’ represented by their unions.” That’s roughly three disaffected teachers out of every four. And how could they not be, when they have no say in the priorities, strategies, or tactics of their union?

With fair-share fees now unconstitutional, unions are forced to convince workers of their value, but what does that process look like? Can a union deliver the kinds of working conditions we want? In my ideal university—and given the current political situation I want to be careful with talk of revolution or overthrow—but in my ideal university we expel nearly all administration and return to faculty governance. Perhaps our employment would be built around a traditional tenure system, but regardless we would work full-time and we’d bring an end to self- terminating contracts.

Here’s where it gets tricky: according to the NLRB, if you have a say in the operation of the workplace, as you’d have as a member of a functioning academic Senate, then you’re considered management and not eligible for union representation. And no formal union will help us reach a point that dissolves its own membership.

Further compounding the problem of organizing is the fact that the academic labor force is divided into not two, but three tiers--tenure-track, full-time non-tenure track, and adjunct--or actually four tiers if you count graduate students, who over the years have shifted more and more from TAs toward teaching their own sections.

Three of these tiers comprise their own unique bargaining units, and it’s not an apprentice or seniority system in which we toil for a certain amount of time in the lower rungs before moving up to a better position. As my own experience showed, even Lecturers in slightly-less exploited union jobs are still, every year, part of the reserve pool of adjunct labor. 

Universities, as a class, determine the overall size of that pool, by virtue of awarding PhDs academia controls its own labor market. This is a problem to be sure. But complaining about the overproduction of PhDs misses the point. In my current department, a full teaching load is 4/4. With a sane and pedagogically appropriate load my department would double in size.  I’d argue that’s the case nationwide.

So how then to organize? Our first responsibility is to the most exploited and precarious among us, and that includes not just contingent faculty but our fellow workers in custodial and dining services, groundskeeping, and so on who make our jobs possible. “Wall-to-wall” unionization is one possible answer, in which everyone in the institution—graduate student workers, faculty, and staff—are represented collectively, as Arizona State University workers just announced would happen. 

But organizing takes time and a commitment to investing in individual people. With contingent faculty, even if you convince someone to join the fight they might well be at another university next semester or next year.

Non-union associations like New Faculty Majority seem to be a good start, but they appear to be operating mainly on the level of advocacy: writing policy papers and op-eds, circulating petitions, tweeting, and fundraising.  We don’t need more petitions (or conference papers) so much as we need more strikes. So I fear they will encounter the same organizational incentives of other top-down nonprofits, the most important being that when your salary depends on a problem it becomes difficult to solve that problem.

One of the more interesting approaches, it seems, and one deployed with success by SEIU in Boston, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, St. Louis, and Washington D.C., is the Metro Strategy. In this, organizing is based not on institution or department or bargaining unit, but instead on metropolitan region. In Los Angeles, there are three UCs, seven Cal States, and well over a dozen city colleges within driving distance of downtown, and I'm counting only public institutions.

As Scott and Kezar write, the Metro Strategy is

particular[ly] effective for contingent faculty and other types of contingent workers because it follows the distribution and flows of contingent workers, rather than starting with the individual university and inevitably leaving many workers at other institutions out (Berry and Worthen 436–38). . . . [This] increases the mass of workers who are organized, so they can negotiate with multiple employers and have an impact that goes beyond an individual site. (119)

Both “wall-to-wall” and Metro strategies organize within existing union infrastructures, of course, but build solidarity across larger sections of the academic working class—particularly throughout the adjunct labor market of a fixed location—and provide far more leverage and potential for escalation.

Escalation is key, as strikes get the goods. More importantly, strikes beget more strikes. To quote Richman again: “It is the visible resistance of organized workers that inspires people to join the labor movement” (58). We’ve seen this in the Red For Ed strikes that spread across the country in 2018, and the credible threat of strikes during COVID-19 that are inspiring more and more workers to stand up for their own safety. 

We can expect, however, that any increased militancy or strike attempts will be vigorously opposed by union leadership, whose class interests are not our class interests, which puts us in the same dilemma faced by the broader Left with respect to the willfully impotent Democratic Party: is it better to organize within and attempt to take over a neoliberal institutional apparatus, or to build power from below and challenge existing structures from the outside? 

As a popular meme asks: Why not both?

Works Cited

Graeber, David. The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Melville House, 2016.

Kishore, Joseph. “Union lawyer tells US Supreme Court: ‘Union security is the tradeoff for no strikes.’” World Socialist Web Site. 28 Feb. 2018. Web.

McAlevey, Jane F. No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Richman, Shaun. Tell the Bosses We’re Coming: A New Action Plan for Workers in the 21st Century. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2020.

Scott, Daniel and Adrianna J. "Intergroup Solidarity and Collaboration in Higher Education Organizing and Bargaining in the United States," Academic Labor: Research and Artistry: Vol. 3 , Article 10, (2019).

Stone, Evan and Randi Weingarten. “As unions await a key Supreme Court decision, a simple plea: ‘Educators want their voices heard.’ Washington Post. 21 June 2018.

White, Jerry. “As teacher struggles spread, unions redouble effort to suppress class struggle.” World Socialist Web Site. 09 Mar. 2018. Web.

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Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 0

Monday, January 11, 2021

Monday, January 11, 2021

Letter from UC Riverside professor Dylan Rodriguez to the ASA community:

Dear Colleagues, Friends, and Loved Ones,

 

There has been an expected wave of statements from higher education administrators, academic departments, research centers, and prominent individuals affiliated with our fields of work regarding the armed deadly takeover of the United States Capitol by self-declared “patriots” on January 6, 2021.  I must be honest that i dread adding to this noise, which is why i have waited a few days to send this note.  I do not write on behalf of the ASA or its leadership body, but rather out of a humble sense of accountability to the communities of radical and abolitionist movement that nourish me.

 

Last week’s spectacular white nationalist coup attempt may have been exceptional in form, but (for many of us) was entirely familiar—utterly “American”—in content.  It is misleading, historically inaccurate, and politically dangerous to frame this event—and the condition that produced it—as an isolated or extremist exception to the foundational and sustained violence that constitutes the United States.  As the surging neo-Confederates in the Capitol building made clear, there is a long tradition of (fully armed) populist, extra-state, and (ostensibly) extra-legal reactionary movement that holds a lasting claim of entitlement on the nation and its edifices of official power. 

 

Further, the steady trickle of information from January 6 indicates that police power—including the prominent presence of (former) police and “Blue Lives Matter” in the coup itself—animated and populated this white nationalist siege.  Contrary to prevailing accounts, this event was not defined by a failure of police power, but rather was a militant expression of it. 

 

People in the extended ASA community have organized their lifework around practices of freedom, knowledge, and teaching that unapologetically confront this physical and figurative mob in, before, and beyond 2021.  I write as your colleague, comrade, and “ASA President” to urge you to invigorate and expand your scholarly, activist, and creative labors in this time of turmoil.  The ASA is but one modest apparatus at your disposal.

 

Finally, i encourage a collective embrace of an ethic and practice that is common to some, though underdiscussed by far too many:  collective, communal self-defense.  This robust ethic and practice is not only central to abolitionist, liberationist, Black (feminist, queer, trans) radical, and Indigenous self-determination traditions of mutual aid and community building, but is also a necessary aspect of “campus life” for many of us in the ASA.  The need to develop well-deliberated, mutually accountable forms of self-defense cannot be abstracted, caricatured, or trivialized in this moment of asymmetrical vulnerability to illness and terror.  Get your back, and get each other’s backs, in whatever way you can. 

 

Peace

 

dylan

Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 0

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Thursday, December 31, 2020

While UC campuses weighed current-year budget cuts in the range of 6 to 15 percent, the Board of Regents contemplated a vision of equilibrium. When the UC Office of the President's November presentation was done, a regent invited chancellors to respond. UC Riverside's Kim Wilcox (at left, perhaps showing the size of his budget gap) started a courteous series of dissents from the junior campuses, with a timely assist from Berkeley's Carol Christ. Wilcox was featured in Teresa Watanabe's LA Times story that covered the disconnect between celebrating UC's racial diversity (done) and actually funding it (not). The effects of cuts are swaddled in confusion, a confusion seeded by UCOP's budget narrative and planted in the fertile soil of the regents' modest knowledge of their university.

1. UCOP

Each November, UCOP proposes a budget to the Board of Regents for the following fiscal year. In November 2020, they proposed a budget for 2021-22, which the regents then voted unanimously to approve. The result becomes the University's official budget request to the governor and the legislature. 

Here's the summary attachment of the request. Noteworthy items include the request for a full restoration of the state legislature's cut to UC's 2020-21 budget of about $300 million, a second year of pay freezes for faculty and most unrepresented staff (merit increases are funded), and a 1.5% wage increase for a category of non unionized frontline staff.


The dominant narrative is . . . a balanced budget! (Same for Finance and Capital Strategies.) Each item is an increment on an invisible base. Nearly all the items are personnel costs, in keeping with the perennial narrative element that workers are the cost albatross around the university's neck.  The failure of the state to fund capital projects is given the artificially minute price tag of $15 million (debt service).  The exception is deferred maintenance, featured as mostly an investment in cost savings, and expressed as a one-time sum, with no definition of total need (likely 100 times larger) or notice that DM is in fact the opposite of a one-time thing, by its very nature. The request for a state funding increase ($217.4 million, oddly parceled into four items) is not defined as a percentage of a general fund base or as a response to specified campus conditions. The amounts are very small, and have no obvious connection to the mass of current operations.

The budget document (B4) was presented to the regents by the two budget officials who do these honors at regular two month intervals, Nathan Brostrom and David Alcocer. They are both highly competent people who are genuinely devoted to the wellbeing of UC: my comments are not about the individuals but the narrative.  The presentation began about 2'15" into the last session (bottom video on this page; perma-archive of audio is here).  UCOP framed the current year cuts with a full "V-shaped" recovery.


The shortfall is minimized as "near-time," even though these non-core operations are, on campuses, forcing cuts to the educational core.  The term "bridging strategies" suggests losses have been contained, the further implication being no damage to the workforce and no need for better state funding support. As we have often noted in this space, the virtue signaling of self-reliance lets the state off the budget hook.

In presenting this slide, Brostrom noted the campuses have different shortfalls and different strategies for filling them.  This slide looks at the system aggregate.


The main message is, again, the balanced budget. The state cut UC $300 million in the middle of a pandemic when it was losing $2.2 billion in revenue and incurring an additional $431 million in Covid-19 expenses. This reality disappears.  In the UCOP story, cuts don't really matter because the cuts were made up with a bunch of harmless-sounding stuff, like attrition and using reserves. 

Same thing for next year.


The state's cut to UC funding is permanent, so it shows up again. The current year's cost increases do too--so they apparently weren't actually covered as shown in the previous slide.  There are some new "savings." These are really self-imposed cuts: the 10-year UCPath fiasco (a systemwide personnel transactions platform), in which IT "efficiencies" have really meant "morale-crushing rigidity and huge new costs," should have ended UCOP's annual invocation of such savings. But the regents don't seem to know operations realities like UCPath's impacts on staff, so there they are again.  Non-resident student tuition is assigned a full bounce back, and the rest is supplied by restored state funding (though Brostrom noted verbally that this would be "one-time"). It all adds up to the standard budget narrative of equilibrium.  

In reality, it doesn't.  It adds up to cuts on every campus, and a scramble to maximize alternative revenue streams that, in another unstated problem, move workforce effort away from the state-funded educational core.  The actuality of cuts surfaced briefly when the opening regental questioner, Michael Cohen, said about the phrase "cost savings" that "I think you probably grabbed a sentence from some prior documents from the last decade or so," and then asked what long-term savings they mean. Brostrom noted that NRST is capped now, and new high-tuition programs are already in wide use. Translation: the budget patches of the 2010s are now used up. In fact, that leaves workforce cuts, delicately phrased as "attrition and others."  (Cohen also got Brostom to move the number for reserves on the core budget from $174 million to $2 billion, although the issue died there.) In short, "cost savings" mainly means "workforce cuts."

Before we get to the Riverside dissent, let's tote up the core budget story elements:

  1. Budget cuts happen, but they never cut UC's world-leading excellence.
  2. UCOP cannot stop these budget cuts, but has already neutralized them.
  3. All fund sources are basically the same: private is as good as public; borrowing is as viable as state funding.
  4. The burdensome costs are personnel (not capital projects, deferred maintenance, or internal subsidies for sponsored research).
  5. Campus budgets have inherent differences that the campuses are handling differently.

November brought the latest installment of the "wait and see" policy advanced in every budget presentation during the 2020 Covid period. Covid will fade, and the business cycle will bring UC back to normal. In this story, no new framing, no new thinking, no new policies, no new advocacy, no new mobilization is needed. 

2. The Chancellors

Cohen's question was followed by one from Lark Park, who noted that the system budget doesn't always reflect the campuses and asked if one or two chancellors would like to speak. Enter UC Riverside's chancellor Wilcox.

A lot of people have talked about the pandemic as a magnifier of differences. . . . Its true that we haven't raised resident tuition in many years. And we are a campus that is almost exclusively resident students. That part of our budget has been fixed for many years. . . .And of course that's in the face of the same kind of cost increases that everyone else has faced.  This has been a serious challenge for us at Riverside. To give you an idea, we have now people on campus suggesting that we eliminate the entire athletics program, shut down the study abroad program, our UCDC participation, and our UC Sacramento participation. And that's simply so we can preserve the dollars so we can maintain the core of the university. And ironically the last three . . . are because of our low participation rate, which, ironically, is because our students have fewer resources to participate. So for us, this is a dire situation. There are 6 FTE employed in the chancellor's office at UC Riverside.  I'm one of those six. We anticipate next year there will be 4.  We're cutting everything we can to manage this budget situation. While I appreciate the perspective of Nathan and David on the total being balanceable, the impact on the ground is significant. (2'44'':45 - 2'46":30)

Two other junior campus chancellors backed Wilcox. Juan Sánchez Muñoz at Merced added that his local community depends on campus services that are being curtailed. Cynthia Larive at Santa Cruz noted the added burden of the very high cost of housing in that coastal location. Finally, Berkeley's Carol Christ chimed it to say that although Berkeley's budget is completely different from that of the younger, smaller campuses, "this is the most severe crisis I've ever experienced in my career in higher education. It is a really challenging crisis for the campus.  . . .We have a deficit measured from March 2020 through June 2021 of 340 million dollars." She described a few sources and added, "our losses in athletics are catastrophic."  While there are differences around the UC system, she concluded, "it's not a question of not having budgetary duress on the campuses." (2'55" - 2'56")

The regents' responses made it clear that they do not know what Covid costs and losses plus state cuts are doing to the the campuses. At the end, Regent George Kieffer said, "if we maybe think about a working group, a smaller group, to understand how the process works within UCOP. . . [Formulas for campus allocations] are something I think that the regents have not understood--that I have not understood for most of my term."  Kieffer is the immediate past chair of the Board of Regents.  This admission suggests that the vast majority of the governing board has no real idea of how budgeting works or affects the campuses over which they have complete fiduciary responsibility and control. 

A remarkable summation of the board's competence came from Park, speaking between Wilcox and the other chancellors.

Chancellor Wilcox I appreciate your candor on this. I know it can't be easy. I am surprised to hear this news, but I guess maybe in some ways I shouldn't be. There was a speaker in public comment this morning who alluded to the per-pupil funding disparities. [At the presidential search town hall at Riverside], we did hear an earful from faculty at the time, about how they felt undervalued in terms of per-pupil funding.  I guess I'm kind of taken aback by this. It's kind of ironic because I remember a presentation you gave, this time last year even, we heard about all that Riverside has achieved. And if we could just tell the Riverside story and the Merced story, it would be tremendous and we'd just get so much state support--in terms of the kind of students we're trying to support. I'm really worried that we are doing a real disservice here. And it worries me--I think that rather than advancing our interests on equity we're actually impeding it when we let the disparity continue to exist. I guess I should look to myself too--I've heard this and I've seen the numbers, but it just hasn't struck me as much. I do know it's tough times across the board because of Covid. But just as we know that some populations are struggling more than others in the real world here, I think that if we don't come to grips with this, we're not serving the system well. I think we need to figure out whether our formula advantages the already advantaged, which is something that goes against a lot of principles we've stated in the last year when we've done away with SAT when we endorsed Prop 209  [sic]. I just think we need to go beyond this veneer, to get at what equity really means. . . . I appreciate your being candid with us and I appreciate the speaker who spoke in public comment. It reminded me of what we heard in Riverside.  I just would like to see this discussion continued in the very near future. I think we have to solve it. I think we have to decide that we want to do more than talk about equity, that we want to put our money where our mouth is. (2'47" - 2'50")

Of course Park is right: the regents have been giving lip service to racial equity and inclusion because they have never bothered to insure that equity was budgeted. They seem not to study before the meetings, nor do they appear to read widely and think independently about systemic issues, even those overlapping with their expertise in finance, construction, and the like. The information is widely available. The Senate's UCPB produced a version of the campus funding disparities chart (via UCSD professor Andrew Dickson) around 2006.  The Santa Cruz chancellor's office injected a similar chart into budget negotiations with UCOP in 2009-10. A state audit thoroughly investigated the situation in 2011, and here at the blog we did a detailed, two-part post on the racialized funding inequities (2011-12; Part 2).  The Riverside campus hosts leading scholars of US and educational racism, structural and otherwise; one of these is Dylan Rodriguez, current president of the American Studies Association and immediate past chair of Riverside's divisional senate. The immediate past chair of Riverside's Council for Planning and Budget, physics professor Harry Tom, could produce an eloquent, comprehensive campus budget summary with an hour's notice. A former president of the Council of UC Faculty Associations, Pat Morton, teaches at Riverside. The current systemwide Senate chair, Mary Gauvin, teaches at Riverside, and was at the regents' budget presentation. And so on.  The information is out there for the regents to find: it's just not found for them by UCOP.   Unfortunately, this "disengagement compact" at the top of UC has hurt 21st century UC students, particularly the very high share of disadvantaged students that are relegated to the poorest campuses.

Chair Pérez concluded item B4 by saying, "I did hear very clearly a desire from regents to dig down, and get a more granular view of the budget, so I will work with the president's office to figure out how we can achieve that."  The regents almost made it a full 50-minute hour on the UC budget proposal for 2020-21 (2'15"-3'03"). With some collective effort, it could be a turning point.

3. The Story

Here are some key elements of the better budget narrative that UC and other public universities desperately need.

A. Big picture context: In contrast to current practice, each budget proposal must be compared to the previous regental request (November 2020 to November 2019).  (November 2019's B4 was a better presentation because it included metrics that nearly touched the third rail of UC politics: budget-driven quality declines.)  The year-on-year pattern should then be put in historical context.  Here's an example from our "essential charts" post in May.


The state underfunds UC (red line) compared to the state personal income benchmark (blue line), and falls dramatically short of funding that tracked both income and enrollment growth (yellow line). State government has been saving money on the UC system for 20 years, and the regents can't see sub-standard campus resources without this context.  

In addition, the inadequate net revenues from past tuition hikes and the terrible effects of new unfunded costs need to be factored in to grasp net per-student funding. UCOP could produce a more authoritative version of this effort:



In the calculation, net educational revenues (green line) follow the clearly inadequate state funding (red line), not higher gross figures the regents see (details are at the post linked above). This is a very bad situation that is redefining the quality and nature of UC. It of course won't be fixed until it is faced.

B. Tie budgeting directly to its effects on policy priorities.  Today's board is rightly obsessed with racial equity and inclusion. It's fairly easy to show a prima facie racist correlation in state funding for UC (from our "First Black President" post).


This should be used to shame the legislature out of its practice of giving half the per-student funding to today's minority-majority UC that it gave to white UC. 

C. Clearly explain funding allocations to the campuses, including "rebenching." 

Here's a down payment on an explanation the regents need to have. Rebenching was UC's response to a state audit back in 2011. The audit identified funding inequities that it set forth as racialized ("Racial Patterns of Campus Budget Inequality").  Not only had UCOP allowed campuses to keep all their non-resident student tuition, which "advantaged the already advantaged," to cite Regent Park, but was giving less state general funding to the newer (and browner) campuses.  The plan was to increase the average per-student allocation to the highest level (UCLA's) with new money.  It took about six years, and here's the theory of what happened. 


Here UCOP has told the regents that the campuses now live in budgetary equality. So why was Riverside Chancellor Wilcox saying his campus gets the least money per student?  

Because of how rebenching actually worked.  Rebenching carved out some kinds of campus specific state earmarks and gave each campus a fixed base, so not all state funding was rebenched. Secondly, students were weighted by type, with doctoral students counting 2.5. For example, UC Berkeley had 41,891 students (headcount) at a census point in 2017-18. But it has a high share of doctoral students, so its "weighted" enrollment was 49,894. Berkeley gets the same rate of $6000 and odd per student, but for 8,003 students more than it physically has. Riverside moves from 23,279 unweighted to 26,338 weighted, or an increase of 3059. Berkeley's increase is 19 percent relative to its unweighted base; Riverside's is 13 percent.    This in keeping with the other features of the formula leads to "advantaging those already advantaged."

A final factor is that only a campuses enrollments at the start of the rebenching period were actually rebenched. (I am inferring this from the fact that was not able to reproduce the UCOP chart above, and got an approximation only by holding enrollment constant.) Sometime during this period, UCOP decided to accept a "surge" of resident students to compensate for the political liability that high non-resident enrollments had created. New resident undergraduates were given whatever amount was cooked up in a Brown-Napolitano deal in a given year ($5000 one year, $0 in another, etc.). Here's actual (weighted) enrollments look like:


No convergence. Flat funding. And Riverside bumping along the bottom. (I assume UCSB did better because it grew less in this period.) The surge's underfunded resident undergrads were the price UC paid for rapid non-resident tuition growth, meaning that campuses like Riverside paid for NRST revenues at campuses like Berkeley.

Each campus experiences its educational quality through total available revenues. Adding tuition (including the non-resident tuition and for-profit masters programs (SSPs) at 3x resident rates to state funding looks like this:


This confirms Wilcox's claim that Riverside has the least revenues per student. UCOP in effect is sending poorer (and mostly URM) students to the poorest campus in defiance of UC's professed values, to say nothing of standards of educational and social effectiveness.   You can also see here the chronic problem of "Two UC Systems," separate and unequal, which the enrollment surge intensified.

D. Tell the budget stories from the bottom up.  Wilcox disrupted budget orthodoxy by talking about his campus for 105 seconds.  The other chancellors spoke for around 60 seconds each.  These vignettes changed the Board's budget perceptions, at least temporarily. They could and should be multiplied a thousand-fold and turned into coherent stories.  Faculty, staff, and students could create a different master narrative by laying out what is happening in classrooms, grad student cubicles, libraries, and laboratories. It would fundamentally change budget perceptions, and also, over time, public understanding and budget politics in a bewieldered state. 

Many other people need to tell their alternative budget stories. You other people. All kinds of campus people. Neither the regents nor UCOP can or will do this on their own.  They don't know enough, and they aren't correctly placed.  You actually do know enough.  This knowledge can overcome the current stumbling blocks: top-down governance, and the absence of a UC opposition party to put forth a New Budget platform for UC.  The Senate hasn't done it. CUCFA hasn't done it.  Even AFSCME, whose Claudia Preparata has done the best independent analysis of UC reserves, hasn't done it.  The pieces of alternatives are a good start but aren't enough. Individual work can always be marginalized in the time-honored UC tradition of shunning the messenger and ignoring the message.  (Even tenured faculty fear shunning, since it makes them feel devalued and also blocks the possibility of an administrative appointment that, during decades of sub-par salaries, is the main way to get a significant raise.) A complete rebuilding of a broken budget model is too important to keep delaying the day regular campus folks start pooling their experiences, saying the way things ought to be, building the story line, and detailing how to fund it.

Warmest congratulations for getting to the end of 2020.  Happy 2021 to one and all.


Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 0

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Stories may seem feeble compared to big data or political power.  This is a false impression. In reality, data and power operate through stories and their effects are determined by them. Your budget slides or whatever have to have the proper story.

The strongest stories in 2020 were abolitionist: abolish student debt, abolish college tuition, abolish grad student rent burden, abolish the police. Abolish the at-will firing of abolitionist scholars. These stories always get out in front of the means of achieving their goals. This is a feature not a bug. Their point is to imagine and concretize the goal itself, and rally people to figure out how to achieve it. The same goes for abolishing Covid-19. Full eradication of pestilence of all kinds is what makes people jump out of bed in the morning.

My approach is chronically materialist and institutionalist, so I chronically focus on finance and budget.  We don't have the same abolitionist power with these narratives, and generally haven't found narrative power in other forms. I'm going to look at the national budget picture here, and then, in Part 2, turn to a local university budget insurgency that should be put to use. 

The Covid relief bill arrived six month late, with fractional funding for higher ed and nothing for the states that fund it. Its support for the overall public is a shadow of the need. The failure of the federal government to meet the basic requirements of its population is a two-party creation. The Democratic contribution has been an unconvincing narrative grounded in a failed economic model.  The compromise deal emerged from moderates from both parties who share the disastrous "safety net" model of government, and who agree that government's collective action produces no real value, just remediation. The Democratic leadership had no better storyline of mass enablement or intelligence working in common, so politics is trapped in the Victorian logic of public assistance, and treats a raging pandemic with quarter measures.

The glaring example of narrative success is Ronald Reagan's hydra-headed narrative, for which the series title was, "government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem." Thousands of smaller stories fleshed out this master plot. They had a stock cast of characters that were themselves compressed political types, like "welfare queen."  The Reagan machine perfected this narrative with remarkable discipline for decades. It dismembered the New Deal, discredited the civil rights movement, and turned every public system into a remedial function, the very opposite of what created economic value and national greatness. Public education became a problem rather than an asset, and public colleges and universities did not escape.  Reagan's story was a fabrication. But it changed the course of U.S. history.

Barack Obama has been known to quote Martin Luther King quoting Theodore Parker that "though the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends towards justice." It's more accurate to say, "the arc of the moral universe bends towards narrative."  

This week's example is the $900 billion relief finally passed by Congress, that is, allowed to pass by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. (It is likely to survive Trump's possible veto, with still more delay.)  The deal offers important material relief, but it is also the vehicle for a Republican story, to be told in Georgia.  The story has a goal, which is to keep the Republican Senate majority by delivering both special election seats to the Republican candidates, so McConnell can remain our shadow POTUS. 

The story is this: "Republicans like Kelly and David offered a helping hand to regular Georgians struggling with the pandemic. The delay was (not because they were busy insider trading with confidential Senate public health testimony--that's fake news, but) because we had to fight Democrats who wanted to take your money to bail out failed blue states." The story has to convince a lot of voters that Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, two of the most plutocratic, anti-Black, self-dealing members of that body, really do care about them.

The secondary story is, "the moderates saved the stimulus." The press is obliging with articles about how Romney, Collins, Manchin, Warner et al. produced a "road-map" for governing under Biden. Sanders, Warren et al failed to get a deal: the future is the bi-partisan center.  Unfortunately, moderation means no money for states and one-fifth of the economic stimulus envisioned by the "liberal" Pelosi in May.

What could help people buy these stories? The lack of a radically different and compelling alternative. That lack is being constructed as I write. For example, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is NOT authoring a narrative saying this: 

Senate Republicans gave you half a CARES act for a quadrupled pandemic. Mitch McConnell gave you that fraction of a loaf. The bill is crap compared to actual need, and crap compared to what the American people deserve, and it's crap entirely because Mitch McConnell controls the Senate, not me. Let me describe the great version the Democrats wanted that will rebuild the country, and if you want it you need to get Kelly and David the heck out of the Senate.

Republican values, Schumer could explain in the LP version, dictate mistreatment of regular people, because they oppose government, which is the only way to treat everyone fairly when we all need the same thing. In reality, Schumer reframes it as an "emergency survival bill" and promises to fight again next year. But that's not a story. That's an adaptation to defeat.  

Most people in this country are in trouble--unfed, sick, evicted, unemployed, lied to, and about to be further abandoned by their bankrupt states.  In building the true and motivating story out of this one, it's worth bearing in mind how tired people are of half-measures and excuses. Take the half-stimulus check.  $1200 (the CARES Act level) may have meant that you could pay a month's rent and focus entirely on your 12 other major problems.  $600, the new version, means you can pay half your rent, and have to keep "rent" on the top of your list of 13 things while you find the other half, who knows how. If you find it, you don't thank the Democrats for fighting for a new stimulus since May: you thank yourself, for scrambling for the other half.  

People are engaged in a continuous low-level resistance to weak support. Democrats don't seem to get this, and they are walking into an ambush in Georgia.

There are countless books and papers on narratology, like Paul Waldman's on politics; there's a whole discipline that studies narrative and affective engagements-- my home field of literary criticism. One general lesson is that it's essential to critique the false story, but critique is just the start.

First, the critiques, which are widely available: David Dayen drills into details and pronounces the stimulus to be not enough. It is, after all, about a fifth of the $4.3 trillion HEROES Act the House passed in May. The one-time stimulus check is half of the CARES Act's ($600 per person); extended unemployment is cut from 16 weeks to 11; the eviction moratorium extends only to the end of January. Jessica Haberkorn describes other ornaments on the Christmas tree.  

Eric Kelderman does the drilling for the higher ed elements: colleges and universities get $25 billion of a $125 billion need. The student debt moratorium, already running through January 31st, was not extended, leaving that up in the air at least through Joe Biden's inauguration.  Since the bill has no money at all for states and local governments, they will struggle to avoid more cuts to K-12 and higher ed. By undermining government employment and spending like they did after 2010, Congress is priming the country for Great Recession 2.0.

Some good things do happen: the ridiculous FASFA form for financial aid applications is greatly simplified, some loans to HCBUs are forgiven, and the bill finally extends Pell eligibility to formerly incarcerated students. There's more--but only a drop in the money bucket. On this point, Kelderman cites Ted Mitchell, president of the higher ed advocacy group, the American Council on Education: “The money provided in this bill will provide some limited relief, which is welcome news to struggling students and institutions. . . . But it is not going to be nearly enough in the long run or even the medium term.”

These are fundamentally important critiques and need to be widely circulated.  But they don't generate an alternative story.

A true counter story would have a feature that the UC Berkeley linguist George Lakoff, prolific author on the Democrats' inadequate framing and narrating, calls the "truth sandwich." You set out your own view, you then critique the false or opposing view in the context of your framework, and then state your truth or vision again. 

I started to illustrate this with Schumer above, though I had it a bit backwards: Schumer should start with the glories of the House's HEROES Act, and all the problems it would solve, then blast Mitch's phony, bail out-a-Republican Senator plan, then describe the better future of Builder Biden working with strong progressive Congressional support. 

The more radical and inspiring narrative won't come from above. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were exceptions at the national level, but they too had to devote themselves to counterpunching the Washington establishment.  Sanders is in fine form denouncing McConnell's fake Covid medicine, but of course this isn't a left alternative. It's missing the compelling social philosophy that has to do to bipartisan Reaganism what Reaganism did to the Great Society and anti-racism movements.

Abolitionism reminds us yet again that narratives of a new society are going to come from us--not from above but from below.  Sanders did enormous good putting free college and student debt cancellation on the political map, but he did this by advancing concepts developed by scholars (like UCSB's Bob Samuels early on) and activists. This bottom-up process works, but it needs a fully engaged and activated base, in real numbers, to work at the required speed. 

Where is that base?  I'll turn to a current university example in Part 2.



Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 0

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thursday, November 26, 2020

by Cathy Gere and Adam Aron,  professors at UC San Diego

Much has been written about the problem of denial of climate change science. But the University of California exemplifies another, possibly much tougher, problem: How do you go from acceptance of the science to action? 

The UC is a leader in climate change research and policy. And yet, its ten campuses emit more than a million metric tons of CO2 every year from burning natural gas, a fossil fuel, to provide heating, cooling and electricity. Many in the current generation of UC students -- increasingly aware of the extent to which global heating poses an existential threat to their futures -- are asking themselves why a university that has done so much to raise the alarm about greenhouse gases has done so little to curb its own emissions.

In 2013, then-UC-president Janet Napolitano launched the ‘Carbon Neutrality Initiative.’ This unfunded mandate, handed down from the Office of the President to the individual campuses, promised that the university would go ‘carbon neutral’ by 2025. 

In the first few years, the focus was on energy efficiency measures, such as better insulation, and lights that turned on with movement sensors. These efforts were successful in reducing emissions, but those savings have now been erased with a dramatic new building plan at the UCs. While the efficiency gains were an achievement, the low-hanging efficiency fruit are now all picked, and the emissions goals set by President Napolitano are still way out of reach.

Three quarters of the university’s energy is supplied by natural gas, a fossil fuel, obtained by highly toxic hydraulic fracturing methods that emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The UC looked into replacing fossil natural gas with biofuels, but that is, at best, a limited solution: there are serious problems with price, scale, and supply. 

A group of experts concluded that the only path to genuine decarbonization lay with electrification of the campus energy systems, but that was rejected as too expensive. Meanwhile, billions of dollars were found for new buildings.

So, with minimal investment in genuinely decarbonizing the university’s energy systems, the Carbon Neutrality Initiative is planning to make up the shortfall with inexpensive "carbon offsets." These are schemes to which institutions and individuals contribute, to try to "make good" on their own greenhouse gas emissions: for example, UC continues to burn natural gas while paying for forest preservation somewhere else. These carbon offsets have been called ‘licenses to pollute’ and likened to the ‘indulgences’ of the Catholic church (a pay-for-prayer scam). Thus, for the UC, ‘carbon neutrality’ does not mean reducing its emissions; it means paying people elsewhere (generally in low-income countries) to reduce their emissions while we go about business-as-usual.

Along with many members of the wider climate action and climate justice movement, we object to offset in principle and in practice.

First, we object to offsets in principle. The idea that we can pay someone in a poor part of the globe to reduce their emissions so that people in the richest country in the world can continue to burn fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases is morally bankrupt. Even if it works exactly as promised (which we very much doubt), all that ‘carbon neutrality’ achieves is the maintenance of the status quo. The IPCC 2018, backed by the world's governments, was very clear: we need to reduce emissions by about 50% by 2030 from 2010 levels to have a chance of keeping global heating to only 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. So the UC must stop burning natural gas. It can also, at the same time, support reforestation projects. The latter is no substitute for the former.

Second, we object to offsets in practice. To take just one example of an offset program that the University has already mooted, indigenous reforestation in Ecuador, this can hardly be computed in terms of sequestered tonnes of CO2. 

For such a scheme to work, trees have to be planted across an enormous area and reach maturity. Wildcat logging, mining and agricultural encroachment have to be held at bay. Political agreements have to be honored without corruption. How likely is it that all these things will hold true at a time when the climate emergency is accelerating and countries are experiencing increased instability as a result?

The UC is currently soliciting feedback about the carbon offset program from members of the university community. We are urging the administration to abandon the offsets program publicly, and to redirect the resources set aside for it into planning for electrification of the campus energy systems. 

Any path to stopping global heating must pass through genuine decarbonization of our infrastructure. Investing in a false accounting of ‘carbon neutrality’ is a form of climate denial: it denies the reality of our emissions and our responsibility to curb them. The UC prides itself on being a climate leader; we want the university to lead the world in real solutions, not in greenwashing.

Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 0