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The Point: The Year in Review


Greetings, Colleagues:

As a scholar (and fan) of popular music I spend a fair amount of time in December reading various “year in review” articles.  While these top ten lists provide loads of good leads for hours of good listening, what I like most about them is how they end up serving as a kind of unruly history of the year: politics, technology, hierarchies of racialized cultural and economic power—all that and more can be read in and between the lines of these think pieces.  We are always—pace Michel Foucault—in need of good histories of the present, chronicles that weave coherent argument and careful archeology. Part of our job as scholars, teachers, and union colleagues is to make sure we are developing narratives of our moment that have contemporary social currency and political salience. 

It wasn’t only all the top 10 lists that got me thinking along these lines: I also recently stumbled upon an interview with Barry Mills, who was interim chancellor at UMB for a hot minute a few years back.  In this Q and A, Mills is asked how a college leader—a president or dean or provost—should define success.  Here’s Mills’ first response: “The glib answer is that faculty isn’t complaining.”  (Sidenote: it is fascinating to track the work and rhetoric of former administrators isn’t it? Kind of makes you want to go back and think about what they did when they were here, doesn’t it?) I cannot imagine what golden age Mills is remembering or conjuring up in which faculty members are or were silently doing the work of the university without contemporaneously offering critique: that’s our job, isn’t it?

Thinking back over this year I’ve been struck by how faculty “complaining” has helped establish some of the most compelling and consequential challenges to business as usual at UMass Boston, during this year of dual pandemics.  Perhaps most far-reaching of all has been the call to transform UMass Boston into an antiracist and health-promoting institution.  That work originally grew from a call made by a small group of faculty and graduate students working under the umbrella of the Restorative Justice Initiative of the Academic Continuity Task Force.  The work has continued with a slightly reorganized group of faculty members taking the lead: many hands have contributed to this effort, but through it all two of our non-tenure track colleagues in Africana Studies, Professors Keith Jones and Tony Van Der Meer, have, with astounding energy and impressive expertise, taken the lead. 

I think every day about the hierarchies of power that structure life at UMass Boston: how stark that these two colleagues donated hours of unpaid labor to this crucial social movement on a campus where our upper administration has more than once reminded the FSU’s bargaining team (of which Professor Van Der Meer is also a member) that NTT faculty can do whatever service they want, but still will only be paid for their work in the classroom.  As if that can be cleanly separated from all the other work of the university!

The FSU Executive Committee has tried to use The Point as a way to call the membership’s attention to all the ways that existing taxonomies of power get reproduced every day—on our campus, in the surrounding community, and in the nation.   Addressing the broad-based threats of academic disaster capitalism, on the one hand, to thinking through more local concerns having to do with surveillance technology and biased course evaluations, on the other hand, the goal of The Point is to try to offer some kind of a snapshot each week of a relevant concern that we have a responsibility—as teachers, scholars, and union members--to address. 2020 has been a nightmare on so many levels; doing this work with all of you has been a dream.

And about those top 10 music lists?  I won’t bore you with mine but I will note that according to the online music streaming I use, the song I listened to most this year is one that goes “I won’t end up anywhere good without you.”  So: a toast to our ever-growing solidarity!

And a wish that you all enjoy the best of health and some time away from your screens in the coming weeks.

This is your union: please tell us at how you think we can work together to build on all of our successes of 2020 in the new year!


Jeffrey 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