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The Point: Labor on the March! (Education Division)


Today’s Point was written by Jeff Melnick, Professor of American Studies and former VP and Communications Director of the FSU

Greetings, Colleagues!

Welcome back to campus after what I hope was as peaceful and restorative a break from campus as is possible in our current moment.

The FSU Ad Hoc Committee charged with producing the Point on a weekly basis thought it would be a good idea if we started the semester with a quick roundup of some labor news in the academic sector: it has been a very lively few weeks since we last spoke. We begin with a reminder—perhaps unnecessary, but always worth saying—that our strength as educational workers is always rooted in solidarity: we must actively seek out opportunities to support our comrades across the country and across occupational sectors on our own campus. One of the real lessons from the success of the Rutgers University strike last year, that even the mainstream press took note of, is that organizing across occupation is going to be the heart of labor success in the educational context going forward.

Let’s start with some good news, shall we?

  1. California State University faculty reach tentative agreement after one day strike

When I started thinking about this email blast this week, I thought I would just be encouraging us all to support what was generally being covered in the press as the largest higher ed strike in US history.  But guess what?  Too late!  After one day on strike the leaders of this 29,000 strong union came to a tentative agreement with the previously recalcitrant administration.  Of course the membership still needs to ratify the contract, and the details are sketchy at this point, but I do want to call attention to the fact that the agreement does dramatically raise the salary floor for lowest paid faculty across the system.  That is something that you will be hearing lots more about from our own bargaining team in the coming months.

   2. Our Neighbors at UConn Face Devastating Proposed Cuts

Our colleagues at University of Connecticut and the students they serve face truly dangerous cuts.  Unfortunately, here at UMB we already know all the words to the song that they are singing.  Revenue streams are solid and enrollments are way up but administrative bloat is out of control and top brass has recklessly thrown money at expansion projects that are not in the interest of the students, staff, or faculty of the university.  UConn administration also, chillingly, has hired the same corporate consulting company (Huron) that was directly involved in recent attacks on West Virginia University, the New School, University of Wisconsin, and so on. UConn’s AAUP President Jeffrey Ogbar has put the matter simply—in a way that should surely resonate for all of us at UMB: “The university’s budget cannot absorb these budget cuts and survive as a world class research…university.”  Please click on this link for a very succinct (and infuriating) breakdown prepared by the AAUP that explains how shortsighted and destructive these budget cuts would be for UConn.

    3. Our Colleagues in New York Are Also Battling the Arbitrary Depredations of Austerity

Proposed cuts to the SUNY budget are mindboggling and pose particular threats to faculty and students at regional branch campuses.   What even is a university that does not have a program in sociology?  Or Spanish? Or early childhood education?  A colleague who has done crucial work in his blog to explain the crisis in New York summarizes the situation in a line that could be about our Commonwealth: “Instead of funding and pricing the State University of New York (SUNY) and the City University of New York (CUNY) like the public goods they are, New York Democrats have engineered a massive decline in real-dollar direct state aid to both systems.” While very few of us probably have the time to read up on all the details of the attacks on higher education in New York—busy as we are with facing down our own problems!—I do want to recommend this blog to you for how efficiently it reminds us that our various “budget” crises are also, always, crises in shared governance.  Undercutting the historically-established and crucial role played by faculty in shaping the priorities of university life is a feature, not a bug, of contemporary top-down attacks on our workplaces.

    4. Speaking of Strikes!  Check Out Our K-12 Colleagues

Former MTA President Barbara Madeloni has written an incredibly useful summary of all the K-12 locals that have gone on strike in recent years.  The current strike wave that Madeloni covers stretches back to 2019, when Dedham teachers went out; this was, as Madeloni explains, the first teacher strike in the Commonwealth since 2007.  But since then?  Brookline, Haverhill, Malden, Woburn, and Andover (with Melrose sort of on the list: they “authorized a strike, but won all they demanded before they could walk out.”)  And here’s an amazing thing: Madeloni published this article just over a week ago, and since then we now can add Newton to the list as well.  The obvious takeaway on these actions is simple: strikes work.  Of course they are also “illegal” in the Commonwealth, and come, sometimes, with heavy fines for the locals in question.  There is a current bill to make strikes legal for public employees in Massachusetts but, alas, our Democratic governor does not support it.

     5. Free Speech and Free Assembly Under Attack on Campuses Across the Country

We simply must not ignore or downplay the serious threats to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly that are sweeping campuses across the United States.  Whatever work we hope to do—as teachers, scholars, union activists, and so on—is impossible if we cannot trust that our administrators will work to safeguard our basic rights of speech and assembly.  Those rights have come under organized and well-funded attack recently by a range of politicians and billionaires.  Our colleague at Harvard, the esteemed historian Walter Johnson, has written a devastating explanation of how this has played out across the river in a crucial essay titled "Living Inside a Psyop".  The details of the past three months at Harvard are too complex to relitigate here, but suffice to say, as Johnson explains, the realities of life on the ground at that university were terrifyingly shaped by the donor class:  “when billionaires insisted, Harvard acquiesced.”  In our own system, three students who peacefully engaged in a protest at UMass Amherst were not only arrested, but now, according to various reports, are being forbidden from studying abroad.  At Columbia University two student groups (Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine) have been banned from campus; most recently students at that university were attacked with skunk spray while peacefully protesting and the first response from administrators was to blame the students for holding an “unsanctioned” gathering. (Meanwhile it has become clear that the violations these student groups were punished for were as a result of administrators—by their own admission—altering rules on the fly and without following usual protocols for change.)  Whatever our political engagements and affiliations we must all commit to making sure that our campuses remain places where difficult conversation can happen in public, without fear of injury or discipline.

Nothing else we do is possible without this commitment.

This is your union!  Please get in touch with us with comments, questions, challenges, anything!


Jeff Melnick

Professor, American Studies