03 June, 2015

Solidarity Along the Dirty, Sacred, River: The Virtue of Proportional Response

I had an entirely different blog entry planned.

The blog I was going write was going to regale you, dear friends and readers, with the terrible tale of #respondent53 -- a scab of the worst sort who was sneakily trying to undermine the attempts of myself and others to improve the work conditions at one of the places I taught here in River City.

The blog I was going to write was going to talk about adjunct activism and how I see it as a natural extension of the class war that is destroying unions, has decimated the middle class, and has demonized the poor and under-employed.

Instead, however, I find myself writing about how I got fired.

When I began even thinking about getting involved in adjunct activism, I knew there were risks. Kentucky is an anti-labor, anti-union state. The culture of fear and apathy among educational workers is pervasive.  I say among educational workers, but in fact, that culture of fear and apathy -- fear of reprisal and apathy that things can ever get any better -- is just as pervasive in any other segment of the work force.  That educational workers are not exempt from these feelings -- including adjunct instructors -- is part of what forced me to speak up. Everyone knows what the problems are and has pretty good ideas on what, specifically, needs to be changed.

But people are scared -- for every legitimate reason in the world.  No one wants to lose their spot at the table, or risk seeing their families suffer the impact of extended unemployment. We have so much to lose -- homes, position, respect -- that to stand up and demand reasonable change feels impossible.

Yet that is what I and others have done.

Some of you might recall this article in LEO about The Louisville Teach-In. The attention was generally good and did foster some not entirely bad results. One institution flat out called us liars and the other called for a committee to examine and make recommendations regarding the issue of adjunct labor. Not only was I named to the committee, I was elected one of the three co-chairs of the committee. My first action was to forward a recommendation that would give adjunct the same status and voting privileges as full time faculty. This was met with resistance and with interest, but I knew it was only a matter of time. One colleague in particular objected because voting was something full time people get paid for. Her solution was a lump sum pay increase.

After a cursory look at the annual budget summary, however, it became clear that there was no money for such an increase -- which made my voting proposal start to look even better since, on the face of it, it was what the bean counters call "budget neutral."

When I was on the way back from my honey moon, someone from human resources called to set up a meeting with the Academic Dean. I was told that the purpose of the meeting was "budgetary."

Walking into the meeting, I was bushwacked by the Academic Dean, the Provost and the Head of  Human Resources, who informed me that the TRUE nature of the meeting was a disciplinary one. It was brought to their attention  that I'd made comments on Facebook that they chose to interpret as problematic. They claim I violated a student's FERPA rights even though
  1. I never mentioned a student's name, and
  2. there was no mention of specific grades.
I was complaining about a hypothetical student's refusal to follow directions. This is something that a lot of teachers do, especially in the throes of a grading frenzy.

The thing about FERPA is that there are no two institutions that interpret it the same way. In places it is so vaguely worded that it is unclear whether instructors are allowed to discuss grades with students via email or whether that in and of itself constitutes a violation.

Another thing about FERPA is this: generally FERPA violations are handled with a stern warning and some in house "counseling."  Not only was I fired, but I have been barred from employment at all KCTCS campuses -- all 64 of them across the state.

I also know that my neither my department chair nor division chair were notified or included in this process; the department chair wasn't told she needed to staff the class I was prepared to walk in and teach on the same day I was fired until AFTER I was fired.

That gave her about an hour to find a qualified person to step into my place.

My firing and banishment was ordered from on high, from the central office legal division -- where the true seat of power in any corporate structure sits. The person who filed the complaint against me -- another adjunct who I have alluded to in social media as #respondent53 -- turned me in to the system PUBLIC RELATIONS OFFICE. #Respondent53, I have on good authority, trolled my page for a good 6 months trying to find something on me to use.

I call this person #respondent53 because when my co-organizer Kate sent out an adjunct survey -- to begin getting a system wide idea of where people's concerns were -- this person used the survey to attack us personally.  Regardless of whatever political disagreements people have with me, the fact is that making fun of how I dress is not an appropriate critical approach. It's insipid and juvenile and rooted in the very rot that is killing higher education and murdering the intellectual and creative spirit of the country as a whole.

My response to this event is that I plan taking action on multiple levels, legal and public. The excuse is flimsy and I have no doubt that the action taken against me is retaliatory.  I've already begun the process of exploring possible appeals -- because this attempt to silence me is not really about me at all.

The real issue is that when adjuncts stand up and demand to be treated with respect, they are systematically retaliated against in order to keep everyone else in line. It's true that progress has been made in other places across the country; but that progress has been hard fought and not without sacrifice. We're going to move forward with our efforts to organize and to unionize and to fight for change. Adjuncts deserve better. Students deserve better than bean counters who don't care about whether there's someone to teach the class. The public deserves an educational system that allows people to grow into active, productive, critically-minded citizens.





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