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The Point: Accentuate the Positive

11/28/2022

Greetings, Colleagues,

Subject: Collective Wisdom and Thoughtful Action at UMB

Action: Keep the Pressure on about Potential University Reorganization!

It is not impossible that some of us might feel even more stressed out after the holiday than we did before, so we thought it would be best if—per our title this week—we endeavored to do like the song says, and accentuate the positive.  This holds particularly with respect to the heartening grassroots response to the provost’s poorly conceived and awkwardly communicated proposal to gut the College of Liberal Arts (CLA).

The short version is that a huge number of CLA faculty members (somewhere around 240 at the peak) came together last Monday to talk about—and act on—the provost’s reorganization plan.  It was comforting to hear the CLA Dean say unequivocally that he opposes the proposal to break up the college, and inspiring to hear so many colleagues speak with wisdom and passion about the work we do at UMB.  After much good talk, the assembled faculty voted overwhelmingly (with 96% in the affirmative) to adopt this motion:  

The CLA faculty opposes the current Provost’s idea of removing the Sociology, Economics, and Political Science Departments from CLA as an ill-advised proposal and favors instead, under current conditions, the “no change” option favored by the ART report. In addition, the CLA faculty supports a democratic process in which reasons behind any proposal and decisions for reorganization are done and implemented with ample participation from all the faculty, staff, and students involved.

To us, the vote was important, but perhaps even more meaningful was to hear faculty demonstrate why we—and our colleagues in the library and across campus—are the real stewards of the university’s mission.  This was revealed in many ways, but perhaps we can index this richness under three rubrics:

Institutional Memory: It was truly wonderful to listen to colleagues offer input at this meeting that was drawn from decades of service at UMB. It was good to be reminded of earlier instances of administrative fiat that dramatically reshaped the university without meaningful consultation with faculty, staff, or students.  Our union is constituted by faculty and librarians who commit themselves to UMB for the long haul.  In addition to having much more “skin in the game” than administrators who come and go, this also means that we have a well of experience to draw from and guide us thoughtfully into the future.

Student Centrism: The reports that have issued after the provost visited the most directly affected departments (Sociology, Political Science, and Economics) were disheartening for a number of reasons.  Perhaps most chilling was that the provost seems unable to offer any rationale that has to do with pedagogical strategy, curricular innovation, or student retention. It was not surprising, but it was energizing, to hear faculty members repeatedly try to get the focus back on the actual engine of our collective project—our undergraduate and graduate students. 

Expertise:  How wonderful to see real time displays of our colleagues’ disciplinary and interdisciplinary vigor!  We mean this in at least two ways: faculty members made it clear that college structure actually matters to practitioners of sociology, political science, and economics.  Scholarship, teaching, and advising are carried out within consequential frameworks and along carefully-drawn routes.  But it was also thrilling to watch in real time as faculty members (especially but not exclusively) in the affected departments applied their own very particular analytical acumen to the problem(s) in front of us. Administrators too often act as if we operate in some kind of one-dimensional universe where some narrowly-construed issue must be met with a similarly narrow solution. But our colleagues did a great job of reminding us that we live in a social world, and are actually facing challenges that are framed by the realities of political economy.

We hope we have done a sufficient job of accentuating the positive, but we would be remiss if we did not end on a more explicitly critical note: while the provost’s proposal to eviscerate the College of Liberal Arts might appear as a somewhat panicky and ad hoc response to a complex set of local issues, it actually draws heavily from a reigning higher ed management orthodoxy.  We know it is hard to find time to read extra-curricular materials, especially this time of year, but if you have a few spare minutes take a look at this chilling overview of the work of Nathan Grawe, the “leading spokesperson” of the “emergent discourse of demographic crisis.”  Grawe’s work has captivated upper administrators—including, apparently, ours—who have wholeheartedly embraced the borderline eugenic logic of “birth dearth” and what it means for higher education. 

We promise that if you read this LARB piece, you will find much of the national rhetoric that is being anatomized is all too familiar on campus.  But for now, we want to remind you, as Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt, has put it, that the “biggest losers in the diminution of the liberal arts on college campuses are underrepresented and first-generation faculty and students” who “have made long-term commitments to engage in fields of inquiry to advance understanding of intersections of  race, gender, ethnicity, citizenship, language, sexuality” and more.  It is absolutely incumbent that all of us in the FSU continue to work to protect these hard-won gains for our community.

This is your union. Please let us know at fsu@umb.edu how you think we can all best work to build on the accomplishments of our faculty, staff, and students at UMB.

Sincerely,

The Communications Committee:

Lynne Benson, Senior Lecturer, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Jessica Holden, Librarian III, Healey Library

Linda Liu, Lecturer, Sociology

Jeff Melnick, Professor, American Studies

For information on the FSU, links to our contract and bargaining updates, and a calendar of events, see the FSU webpage