We are introducing a new blog editor, Inger Stole, who will be collaborating with Susan Davis in keeping us posted with CFA news.
Inger is a member of the CFA Communications Committee, and she not only has great ideas for writing about working and learning conditions at UIUC, but she’ll be doing interviews with faculty at unionized campuses.
Inger is Associate Professor of Communication at UIUC, and she is an expert on the history of advertising, war-time propaganda, and consumer culture. Welcome, Inger.
My past few days have been spent in the academic blogosphere where good news is a rarity, at best. Tales of expanded workloads, shrinking benefits, expanded class sizes, and elimination of “cost inefficient” courses and programs seem to dominate the discourse. All of these issues seem inter-linked in a race to the bottom for our working conditions and our students’ learning experiences. Demanding work conditions and stresses that traditionally have been part of adjunct professors’ burden are now trickling up to assistant professors. Those in more established careers have been less affected by the new “austerity measures” but we should not fool ourselves into thinking that tenure is a protection against future administrative quests for efficiency.
It is true that in Illinois, with its grievous economic situation, we never seem to be able to offset the dwindling income from state and federal sources. The administration is eager to show the Board of Trustees and Springfield that it CAN cut its way to a leaner University. The question is for whom and for what purpose. Programs that are less attractive to outside corporate funders are particularly affected by the ongoing “austerity measures” while the administration itself seems to have missed (or not read) its own memo about saving money.
As faculty members emphasized at the recent meeting with the President and Chancellor, many are frustrated by the lack of fiscal and decision-making transparency. We can only guess about the administration’s ultimate goals, but it looks as if the tough economic times have given it a golden opportunity to change the university’s future in much more privatized, corporate direction. Surely I am not alone is having noticed that no one from the administration promises better times, improved benefits, and better working conditions once the “economic crisis” is over. As Norman Denzin said at the faculty meeting, the administration offers no vision or dream for the public university, no big idea we can hang on to about education’s role in a good society. But I think we the faculty can offer one.
Only faculty, be they tenure track or non-tenure track, know what it is like to teach at this university. We are the closest to the students and their learning experience. It is up to us to push the academic administration to join a dialogue about public higher education and its future.
So, I hope this blog can be a place of meaningful discussion about learning and working at the UIUC, and what we can do to improve it. Techno-fixes in the form of “I-clickers” and other ways of digitally managing students are not the answer. Neither do we need to commission new (and costly) image campaigns. The people of Illinois already hold their public university in high esteem. Thus, we need to protect the institution and improve it through our own ways of taking back responsibility for its shape and direction, and make it financially affordable for students to attend.
What is happening in your school or department? What does that mean to your students? How would you improve it? What are you doing in the classroom or laboratory or community that helps your students learn, rather than merely pass assessments?
And specifically, I want to ask: what difference a union would make to faculty at all levels, and to the University as a whole?