Thursday, March 24, 2016
March 24, 2016: NeMLA Recaps: The State of the Academy
[This past week, after many years of planning and many posts in this space, I helped host the 2016 Northeast MLA convention in Hartford. It was an amazing four days, and I could write much more than a week of recap posts—so here I’ll focus specifically on the new initiatives I brought to the convention. If you were part of NeMLA 2016 in any way, please share your own recaps and responses in comments!]
On three distinct but interconnected issues that came up in Saturday’s series of President-sponsored sessions on current issues facing higher ed.
1) Adjunct faculty unionization: Many of the sessions focused specifically on adjunt and contingent faculty, thanks in large part to the efforts of both our CAITY Caucus President Emily Lauer and the amazing Charli Valdez of UNH. Those sessions covered a range of topics, but consistently came back to one focus, also the subject of the CAITY Caucus Special Event: the goals, challenges, and strategies for unionizing adjunct faculty. I was particularly interested to learn at the Special Event, from both Charli and from Stony Brook Community College’s Katelynn DeLuca, about two distinct kinds of such unions: those that include only contingent faculty (as is the case with Charli’s) and those that link them to tenure-track faculty (as does Katelynn’s). There seem to be pros and cons to both approaches, but I have to admit that as someone who believes we are all faculty, full stop, my instinct is to support the communal type. Please share your takes, though!
2) The defunding of public higher ed: Along with academic labor, the state of higher ed funding and support was another prominent topic, particularly in a roundtable featuring Emily, the University of Connecticut’s Chris Vials, and the amazing Marc Oullette. There’s no way I can do justice to the layers of the issue as that roundtable presented and engaged with it, but I will note that Chris did a particularly clear job highlighting one of the most frustrating factors linked to it: that as corporate profits have continued to rise, corporate (and upper-bracket income) taxes have gone way down, leaving most states in a serious financial hole (Connecticut has a more than $200 million budget shortfall) that makes it very difficult to fund (much less increasing funding for) public higher education. Only one factor, but one that’s far too often left out of the discussion, and I was really happy to hear Chris raise it so convincingly.
3) What we can do: All the sessions and presenters considered this topic, and of course the prior two points relate to it: both unionizing and other labor activism and analyzing, raising, and making public budget problems and priorities are vital steps we can and should take (as organizations like NeMLA as well as institutions and individuals). But on the session “Rethinking Humanities Pedagogy,” all three presenters—David Sloane, Kerry Driscoll, and most especially Jocelyn Chadwick—engaged even more fully with the question of what we can do in our classes, departments and programs, and educational institutions in response to these contemporary crises. Their presentations touched on many steps and solutions, from rethinking reading in David’s talk to bridging the gaps between higher ed, secondary schools, and the public in Kerry’s; but it was Jocelyn’s call for us to break down the silos of specialization, think in fully interdisciplinary ways, and make the case for what we do to all of our students and communities that I found especially inspiring. As we move forward in navigating all these and many related issues, her talk and ideas, like all those on this great day, can help light the way.
Last recap tomorrow,
PS. Thoughts on this post? Other NeMLA follow ups you’d share? I’d really love to hear them (and feel free to email them to me if you prefer)!