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The Point: See You in September!


Greetings, Colleagues:

As we enter this last week of classes I want to take a minute to wish you a relatively smooth finish to the 2020-21 school year. This is not the place to take stock of all the challenges we have encountered this year, but I do want to begin this last regular issue of The Point of the semester with an acknowledgment that we have lived through a remarkably difficult time, and with an appreciation for the wider and deeper bonds we have formed through the vehicle of the FSU.  From expanded bargaining sessions (see you this Wednesday?) to regular FSU-sponsored forums (see you this Tuesday and/or Thursday?) to a host of interunion activities so many have been engaged in, it is remarkable how vibrant our collective has remained in these stressful days of quarantine. I feel confident that I represent the entire Executive Committee when I say that we truly look forward to seeing you all in person again and working toward our shared goals when the gates swing back open! (On a personal note I want to send a note of gratitude to retiring colleagues and stalwart FSU members Professors Randy Albelda and Maurice Cunningham who have been role models and mentors to me since I first got here in 2010.)

Given how busy I know you all are, I thought I would use my remaining space offering up a quick digest of what I understand to be a few of the most pressing higher education issues I have read about in the past few months.

Graduate Student Strikes: From Columbia University to New York University to Illinois State University graduate student workers have authorized strikes. These most vulnerable colleagues have been energetic and brave in the refusal of the cruel and misguided logic of austerity, in the process also making it clear that major research universities simply cannot function without the labor of graduate student workers.  There are numerous ways to support these labor actions, from donating to strike funds, to refusing to cross virtual picket lines, to reaching out to colleagues you know at these schools to urge them to support these graduate student workers as they fight for livable wages and benefits, humane completion policies, neutral third party arbitration, and more.

Attacks on Tenure: For years contingent faculty have been urging tenure stream faculty to understand that austerity budgets and the increasing casualization of higher education would ultimately mean an attack on tenure as well.  Support more security for non-tenure stream faculty, came this call, if only out of enlightened self-interest.  We are now facing the predicted outcome: around the country tenured faculty members are being furloughed, laid off, or having their positions eliminated altogether. The recent gutting of City College of San Francisco is one recent, heartbreaking example, given how crucial that institution is to communities of color, recent immigrants, and other underserved populations.  Here at UMB things are nowhere near this dire, but we need to continue agitating for full transparency in our campus budgeting, especially with the huge infusion of money coming from the federal government: I am not sure exactly what “forensic accounting” means but if you do we are going to need your expertise! Tenure-stream lines remaining unfilled or being converted into NTT positions is not going to be a sustainable strategy if we are to remain committed to the goals of transforming UMB into a health-promoting and anti-racist institution.  And keep your eyes on the hometown paper: as I write this the Globe has discovered that the real challenge facing institutions of higher education right now is….tenure without term limits. This benighted position would be laughable if it didn’t align so terrifyingly well with current right-wing attacks on the academy.

Free Inquiry is Under Siege: Donald Trump may be out of office but Trumpism has not gone away.  In the past month or so we have seen (along with devastating state-based attacks on voting rights) a purposeful, well-funded, and organized attack on what right-wingers call “critical race theory”; again and again the loudest voices in this onslaught have demonstrated that they have not got a clue what critical race theory is even as they attempt to ban it. In fact they demonstrate with no shame that they do not really know much about what happens on a daily basis in most colleges and universities (or K-12 schools for that matter).  David Theo Goldberg has summarized well what is going on here:

CRT functions for the right today primarily as an empty signifier for any talk of race and racism at all, a catch-all specter lumping together “multiculturalism,” “wokeism,” “anti- racism,” and “identity politics”—or indeed any suggestion that racial inequities in the United States are anything but fair outcomes, the result of choices made by equally positioned individuals in a free society. They are simply against any talk, discussion, mention, analysis, or intimation of race—except to say we shouldn’t talk about it.

Thanks to the dedicated work of Professors Tony Van Der Meer and Keith Jones, and the amazing cohort of activist educators they have organized, it is clear that we will—and must—keeping pushing these conversations as far as we can, no matter how uncomfortable this will sometimes be.



Jeff Melnick

American Studies Department

Communications Director, Faculty Staff Union Executive Committee

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