“Go Big or Go Home.”

The words quoted in my subject line are taken from a tweet by a participant at Occupy Cal events this Monday and they express a sense of frustration with the faculty in the University of California system for doing so little in response to the beating and pepper spraying of peaceful protestors at Berkeley and UC-Davis.  Aside from a few courageous souls such as former poet laureate and Berkeley Professor of English Robert Hass, most have been content to passively serve the machine.  Then, as if to add insult to injury, they pass resolutions or statements of condemnation.

One of the more recent entrants in this growing circus of bad faith is the Modern Language Association (MLA), whose President just issued a statement today condemning the actions of police on the UC campuses and calling for greater vigilance in the protection of free speech.  As another member of the Twitterverse notes, “Search all your parks in all your cities / You’ll find no statues to committees.”  You also won’t find great historical changes effected by words alone.  Without the Union army, what good would have the Emancipation Proclamation done the slaves?  Faculty are either blind to their power to effect change on campus or choose not to use it.  Either way, they are letting students down during their hour of need.

Here in Chicago, somewhat ironically, violence has not been a problem on our campuses as much as crushing student debt and cutbacks to services.  But again, faculty inaction has proved a plague to meaningful change.  The only members of the faculty who seem willing to agitate are also the most vulnerable members of the institution–the Adjuncts.  When I go out to Occupy Chicago and Occupy Colleges related events, I see hardly any tenured or tenure track faculty amongst the ranks.  Instead they seem content to live in a bubble, writing and teaching on issues of social justice and freedom without actually participating in their defense.  What are they so afraid of?  Tenured faculty in particular have a job security of which I can only dream.  Yet I put my livelihood on the line because I am scared for the future of my country as education becomes a scarce resource available only to the superrich.  What will it take to stimulate them to action?  Does their job have to be outsourced too?

Sometimes it seems like the majority of those in academia are indeed sitting in an Ivory Tower, looking down upon the current dysfunction in the land.  I refuse to be one of those who simply shakes his head and waits for Godot because he’s not coming.  We are Godot.  The time to act is now while there is still something left to save.

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  1. #1 by Brianne Bolin on November 29, 2011 - 9:46 am

    Amen, John. My respect for you grows by the day. It’s faculty inaction on the part of the adjuncts, too. As newbies, we were pleased to get a job, and are happy simply to be teaching. We looked around at the mid-level and senior adjuncts in our shared office as if they are some kind of failures of the system. We thought that we would surpass them, while they struggled with jagged courses at multiple universities and colleges like they were keepers of a great timetable that they barely maintained control over. We believed that their fate would not be our own. We wrote curriculum, got great student evaluations, and learned to care for the departments we worked under. We believed we were part of a larger community.

    We began to see that we, too, after years, were still in the adjunct office, without hope of a full-time position. We applied to the local four or five openings for full-time lecturers each year, disappointed when none of us received a call back. We began rethinking the myth that the combination of diligence, hard work, and a degree will secure a future. We helped prepare our students for the hardships ahead, helping them to acknowledge the seriousness of our current economic and academic situation.

    We have begun speaking out to others. We have stopped waiting for Godot. We have started demanding what is ours with and without communiques. We have become involved in our communities. We have recognized that it is far beyond time, and that all who do not act when the time has come are only part of the massive ailments of our broken system.

    The time is now, folks. I’m with you, John. Onward and upward.

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