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The Point: No Austerity for Solidarity


Dear Colleague,

Sometimes you don’t know it is a trilogy until you get to the third one, right? 

In the past two weeks we’ve sent you The Point under the headings “No Austerity for Grief” and “No Austerity for Rage” and it wasn’t until rather late in the week that the third title—“No Austerity for Solidarity” presented itself as the obvious final entry.  But having just watched the third film in the Bill and Ted franchise, released some thirty years after the second film of the trilogy (SPOILER alert: they do indeed save the world), it became clear that you don’t always know it is a trilogy until….it is a trilogy.

Just to be clear up top: the mission this week is not to sugarcoat the state of higher education in the United States—public or private.  Across the country there is news literally on an hourly basis that university administrators have failed in what should be their most basic function:  leading efforts to provide safe, consistent, and excellent education for their students.  What we see instead is only as disheartening as it is predictable: hygiene theater, cruel blaming of students, 180 degree reversals on  possibility of face-to-face education, and devastating cuts to university staff.

This latter hit especially close to home recently as our sibling campus, UMass Amherst, announced indefinite furloughs for almost 800 employees.  The chancellor of that campus will keep talking about the necessity of these cuts—even after two economists on his campus published a convincing study of how investment in public higher education will have immediate short-term effects and remarkable long-term benefits.  But of course the UMA chancellor reads from a playbook written by the system president, who right on cue has begun talking about disruption. [Checks Austerity Thesaurus. Yep, turns out “disruption” is a synonym for “more online” and “fewer resources.”]  As we ready ourselves for the coming battle against austerity, we would do well to read this stunning report from colleagues at Salem State which punctures common mythologies about public university financing in the Commonwealth,  with a special focus on misconceptions that get circulated about debt service and campus reserves.

In the coming days we need to find ways to stand in solidarity with our co-workers around the system and to educate ourselves about how campus and system administrators, and members of the Board of Trustees and Board of Higher Education are thinking about the challenges wrought by COVIDFrancis Eanes and Eleni Schirmer have written recently that how “our universities get remade in the wake of a global pandemic is a matter of crucial public significance, fundamentally entrenched in questions of power, redistribution, and democracy. It should not be relegated to technocratic engineering and management. Now is the time to advance far-reaching egalitarian programs to align our universities with crucial public needs rather than market conceits.”

There will be no austerity when it comes to the opportunity to express and act upon our feelings of solidarity when it comes to our students, our most vulnerable academic colleagues, and the staff people who make the university run on a daily basis. From the #realcollege movement, to the colleagues at Tenure for the Common Good, to the numerous colleagues working under the banner of "bargaining for the common good", to the graduate student workers around the country (see here for instance) striving for labor justice, it is not hard to find places--in addition to right here in our own union--to get in the game.  The stakes are as high as they have been in my 25+ years of full-time teaching and while I continue to acknowledge the place of grief and rage in our current moment, I remain energized by the all the opportunities for to invent, nurture, and support those cultural synergies we call “solidarity.”

This is your union: please tell us at where you are finding the most productive outlets for solidarity right now and how you think we should join those efforts!


Jeffrey Melnick

Graduate Program Director, American Studies Department

Communications Director, Faculty Staff Union Executive Committee

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