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The Point: No Austerity for Rage


Greetings, Colleagues,

Remember last Monday?  Me neither, not much anyway. 

But I do remember sending out our weekly blast under the heading “No Austerity for Grief.”  And I stand by the central claim of that missive--that our work in the midst of these dual pandemics will be dramatically undercut if we “do not develop healthy protocols for working through the material and affective crises together.”  This week I want to suggest that the collective mobilization of our grief must work in synergy with a healthy measure of productive anger. Anger is not easy to deploy constructively, of course:  I find myself thinking about Adrienne Rich’s poem “The Phenomenology of Anger” with its final reminder that “Every act of becoming conscious….is an unnatural act.”  

Why this focus on anger?  Well, to begin I had the opportunity to observe FSU’s bargaining session with the administration team this past week as part of the (silently observing) expanded bargaining team.  If you haven’t joined one of these sessions yet, I implore you to think about doing so in the future. I know you have already heard from the core bargaining team about this but I want to underscore what they hint at but maybe are too polite to emphasize: the administration team had literally not done their homework.  When it comes to classroom practice I am the kind of teacher who believes in flexible due dates, multiple routes to fulfilling course requirements, and so on.  But one thing I am very strict about is being a good citizen when presenting findings from group work: it is never acceptable to show up on the day of presentations having neglected to do your share of the work.  

How shocking it was to appear at the agreed upon time for bargaining and discover that the administration team had literally not bothered to craft substantial responses to FSU’s clearly delineated proposals, nor bothered to present (counter)proposals of their own.  Let’s be clear: a number of the FSU proposals have to do with urgent and substantial workplace conditions facing NTT colleagues--workload, remuneration, job security, and so on.  What did the administration counter with? Nothing much really--just scare words like “furlough,” “course caps,” and “parking fees” (Wut? Who wants to tell them we have gone remote?) 

Waving these red flags, the administration of UMass Boston signals that it plans to enlist in the army of austerity that is attacking colleges and universities around the country. When pressed on what sacrifices they will make, one administration representative described the pay cut she will take this year; the amount she described is essentially equal to what my department would pay for eight courses taught by a new NTT colleague at the associate lecturer level. Our enrollments are surging: any chance we can have some of those sections? 

Perhaps even more troubling was the interim provost’s manifest inability to rise to the occasion when one NTT colleague on the bargaining team suggested it was long past time for administration to acknowledge--in material ways--the service burdens and research activity taken on by contingent faculty.  That is great, the interim provost said, but it is not what you are hired to do. And then of course she noted that of course the university holds these contributions in high “esteem,” reminding us (as workers at Harvard argued so long ago) you can't eat prestige. The FSU will have to continue educating administrators about the mission-crucial work that NTT colleagues do on and off campus in the ongoing struggle to make sure that work is recognized and supported. 

Administrators fetishize the rhetoric of teamwork as a matter of strategy: it is time for us to challenge the hegemonic work that rhetorical formation does.  (I was at another meeting this week that included upper administrators, TT and NTT faculty, and graduate students, at which one campus leader suggested that he is always a faculty member at heart and only sort of, incidentally, an administrator: in response to that I simply invoke the great song “In the Ghetto,” by Eric B. and Rakim, which turned 30 this year: “it ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.”)  Our most important “teammates” going forward will likely be students, our colleagues in the chairs’, staff, and graduate student unions, community activists, and engaged legislators. 

I recognize that disorganized anger directed at the local administrators of austerity on our campus won’t get us far: I spend loads of time every day reading about austerity and inequity and know we must focus on the decades-long assault on funding for higher education and not get overtaken by the frustration we might feel in response to the obstructionist tactics of our own administration. I am heartened by the activism and consciousness-raising efforts of non-tenure track faculty on our campus (see here and here) and around the country and accept the challenge they are making to tenure stream faculty to join this movement for labor justice.   

Getting stuck in anger won’t solve anything--but trusting what we experience every day through our own processes of observation in an authentic, human way might help us all discover some sources of energy we will all need to tap into.  UMass Boston has been lucky to have Dorchester’s own Akrobatik--an incredible rapper, community activist, and educator--teaching on campus over the past few years.  In his 2003 song "Remind My Soul" Akrobatik mused about how every day he had to “empower myself to be my own authority.”  Mining our own righteous anger at systemic injustices might turn out to be an important step on that journey. 

This is your union: please tell us at what at our university is making you angry right now and how you think we should all mobilize around it! 


Jeffrey Melnick 

Graduate Program Director, American Studies Department 

Communications Director, Faculty Staff Union Executive Committee 

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