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07/13/2015

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Dan S Wang

Given that academic tenure has become a way of dividing the whole of the academic labor pool into membership in either an ever-shrinking select group that enjoys protections comparable only to federal judges with lifetime appointments, or a vast and growing army of underpaid, part-time, contract, and contingent faculty with few and uneven protections, I find it difficult to defend the tenure system as it is. A serious reform that addresses this labor inequity, at the very least, is necessary. A radical demand for universal tenure would be even better. The right wing recognizes the existing divide and exploits it, knowing that those without tenure will not spend time and energy defending those who have it, same as how the non-unionized will not spend political capital defending those who are unionized. The left will never outflank the right without building a new basis for unified resistance.

That said, the cross-institutional analysis is super important. The "peer institution" trope is more than a concept, it is living construct, with organizations that officially group institutions together. Flows of scholars, students, and administrators jump from one university to another, forming webs of relationships and cross-institutional experience. Some big donors give to more than a single school. So what are the inter-institutional strategies and bodies of resistance and movement building? Perhaps now is the time for a detailed mapping of current nodes and possibilities.

As for the Salaita case, my interpretation is that the "unhiring" was punishment for political speech, ie not even a matter of academic freedom. He wasn't speaking in any official capacity, and it was not about published research or classroom conduct. It was about political opinion and the rhetoric of outrage, ie the freedom of speech granted every US citizen, no more and no less. As a precedent applied to the UW context, this is even worse than a controversy over academic research, given the vindictive ways of Scott Walker and his forces. And yet, ultimately it might be a gift. Freedom of political speech is defensible as a universal right in a way that the exisiting tenure system is not. Maybe somewhere therein lies a unity of resistance that has thus far eluded the left?

Karma Chávez

Hey Dan, I completely agree with you on the point about tenure being a divisive concept, one that protects the elite few, meanwhile increasingly vast amounts of university teaching and research labor are conducted by the many who are unprotected. I have no illusions about the university as is. And as we've talked about, I'm not looking to preserve the status quo. The question for me is what should we be fighting for, how should we be organizing. And I think part of it is to have an acute and macro sense of how the university works. Of course, I'm not always sure I want to do that work. After all, the university is my job, not my life. But what's the distinction? These are the things I've been thinking through, among many other in the midst of this moment.

That distinction though and the blurriness therein is where I slightly disagree with your take on Salaita. I think for academics speaking publicly about the subjects for which they also write and research, its unclear where one is being marked for political speech as a citizen and academic speech. In my read the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is somewhat unclear on this too as they suggest that faculty speaking as citizens is also a matter of academic freedom protections. That blurriness is also made clear as the reason he was unhired was not because of whether he had the right to say and do as a citizen but because Zionist donors claimed that they feared he would create an uncivil and unsafe environment in his classrooms and with Jewish colleagues on campus. So, it was about his ability to perform his academic duties.

I am intrigued by your question at the end... but then again, so much appears to elude the so-called left...

Hawi Moore

I am in agreement with you

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