Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Part of the Union...

I have long been a union man. Before I attended college I worked in an Overhead Door factory and was part of the union. When I was in graduate school I was part of the union. When I started teaching I became part of the union. Thanks to the union I had great health care, great dental care, and great vision care. What I didn't have, however, was a union that backed me in the face of arbitrary corporate (a category I put educational institutions in) malfeasance, manipulation, and bullying.

In the 1990s I was hired by CETL, The Centre for Education, Teaching, and Learning, to teach courses in a new programme they had developed, Project Renaissance, at good old SUNY Albany. Project Renaissance was established to provide students with an the Oxbridge living and learning interdisciplinary experience. The interdisciplinary subject at the heart of Project Renaissance the year I was hired was to be the exploration of questions relating to identity. When the posh toff faculty in the programme couldn't agree on how to approach the issue of identity, however, they split into two groups. Apparently university teachers are as sectarian as Christianity and Marxism. Unfortunately, the group I was placed in without any input from me wasn't my cuppa. My perception was that Project Renaissance should be small scale, almost tutorial, and innovative programme. The posh powers that be, however, envisioned large scale lectures of more than one hundred students supplemented by small scale discussion groups of twenty or so taught by me and other members of the lumpen faculty. My group, from my perspective, was hardly innovative in approach. What they wanted to do seemed to me to be essentially a rerun of World History courses that were already taught on campus. When I made my feelings about my Project Renaissance known to the dictatorship at CETL and when I drew up a syllabus that I felt took the interdisciplinary nature of the programme seriously and which included a section on gay and lesbian identity I was canned. I was then shuffled into menial computer work and eventually canned halfway through the school year. CETL's elite claimed they had no monies to keep me on. I soon discovered communications, however, that showed that CETL's toffs wanted to use the monies that funded me for other purposes that didn't involve me.

Angry at my arbitrary monarchical like treatment by CETL's powers I went to the graduate student union of which I was a member for justice. My union representative--he who shall remain unnamed--I don't recall his name anyway--didn't do much to obtain justice for me even after I showed him the incriminating communications written by CETL's empress. He talked to CETL's princess about taking me back but only halfheartedly. So much for union solidarity and the union quest for justice for the working class. So much for union power.

My experience with arbitrary bosses and limited union representation didn't end with the CETL affair. As an adjunct I have seen again and again the limited interest of the union when it comes to seeking justice for adjuncts. Yes the union has helped adjuncts in the SUNY system get health care. Yes it has included adjuncts in its negotiations with SUNY's corporate bosses. But the union, the UUP, the United University Professions, hasn't helped adjuncts get a fair wage--SUNY Oneonta, for instance, pays a paltry $2500 dollars a class to adjuncts, the same wage level before union and management negotiations last year, a wage even worse than that at Walmart when the time involved in teaching is taken into account. Can I get an amen for academic liberalism. Additionally, the union hasn't really established rules and regulations as to how adjuncts can be hired and fired. From my experience the hiring and firing of adjuncts revolves basically around that same old same old, networks of relationship.

So while I am part of the union, I am part of the union in which union leadership seems to have more in common with corporate toffs than with the lumpen adunctitariat, I am part of a union which seems to know that there are limits to union power or has grown cynical about union representation in the belly of the corporate beast. Perhaps a separate union that represents only adjuncts is the solution to the fact that full time faculty unions like the UUP only represent powerless adjunct cogs in the machine lumpen proletariat in the ivory tower up to a point. There is one thing I do know. The UUP is certainly not the solution to the low pay and overwork of the lumpen adjunctitariat in the academy.

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