Thursday, September 5, 2019
September 5, 2019: Academic Labor: SSN and the Promise and Cherish Acts
[Usually around this time I’d be sharing Fall Semester Preview posts. I’m on sabbatical, so no teaching for me this Fall; instead I thought I’d connect Labor Day to issues of academic labor this week. Leading up to a special weekend tribute post!]
On two important pieces of proposed legislation, and how academics can get more actively involved in supporting them.
I’ve been writing pieces for my Saturday Evening Post “Considering History” column every two weeks for more than a year and a half now, but one of my favorites was this one from March 2019, on both histories of public higher education in American and contemporary threats to public higher ed (with my institution of Fitchburg State University as an example for both topics). As usual I tried to end that post on a more optimistic note, and when it comes to those issues Massachusetts offers a couple particularly salient reasons for hope: the Promise and Cherish Acts, two proposed bills in the state legislature that would redress funding inequities and disinvestments for both the secondary/primary and higher education systems in the Commonwealth. You can read more about all their details at those hyperlinks (among other places) and of course come to your own conclusions on them; for my purposes here, suffice it to say while no single law could engage all the factors in either or both of these complex trends, to my mind these represent a couple of very significant steps in increasing and equalizing educational funding in Massachusetts (and as potential models for all states).
For most of my life, including much of my professional life, I would have said that the best an academic (or any private citizen) could do to support such pieces of legislation (or influence any political debate or decision) would be to take individual actions: calling a legislator’s office or if we were more ambitious meeting a legislator in person; writing a letter to the editor or if we were more fortunate getting an op ed published; and so on. Certainly there’s still value in all those actions, and I’ve taken the first one (calling a legislator) multiple times over the last few years (let’s be real, who hasn’t??). But over those same years I’ve also become part of a scholarly organization, the Scholars Strategy Network (SSN), which is dedicated to finding ways to connect scholars and their voices and work to policymakers and legislators (along with other political, organizational, and media contacts and conversations). After a few years of working with SSN as one of their Members, for the last two years I’ve served as one of the SSN Boston Chapter Co-Leaders, and in that role have been particularly focused on finding ways to connect SSN Boston and its Members to various legislative initiatives in the Commonwealth, including the Safe Communities Act and the Fight for $15 as well as the Promise and Cherish Acts.
There are lots of reasons why I believe an organization like SSN is valuable for any scholar hoping to connect with and contribute to such conversations, including those elements of community and solidarity that I highlighted in yesterday’s post on other scholarly organizations (and perhaps even more so with SSN, as it’s a given that every scholar who has joined is overtly interested in making these kinds of public connections). But one of the best things about SSN is that its goals are never simply to connect scholars with policymakers (or whomever), but rather to create opportunities for scholars to share their ideas and research with those audiences. In the coming year, one of the central goals that me and my two co-leaders (Tiffany Chenault and Natasha Warikoo) have identified for SSN Boston is to create precisely such opportunities when it comes to the Promise and Cherish Acts—to find ways to connect both individual Members and the Chapter overall to not only lawmakers and political figures, but to other organizations (such as Tuesday’s subject the MSCA, for which Tiffany is the Salem State Chapter Director) who are engaged in the same fight. The scholars and research in that equation aren’t in any way limited to SSN Members or New England-area folks, so if you have work that could help in these ongoing political and social advocacies, please let me know!
Last Labor week post tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?