After four days of union training, I find myself thinking about rhetoric. Three options:

1) The union tends to talk in adversarial terms; it’s a fight against the administration — no, let’s call it a fight against the status quo, because some of the faculty have dinner with the provost, and quite like the guy — but regardless, a fight, a fight against the forces of neoliberalism and corporatism and capitalism…

2) Often the conversations around the eroding of the professoriate (the attacks on tenure, on shared governance, on fair pay) are couched in terms of pity for the poor adjuncts’ plight, calls for compassion, stories about the adjunct professor who died in her car, of overwork, the ones who live on food stamps despite working full-time (or more) hours…

And there’s truth to both of those, but honestly, those aren’t the rhetorics that move me the most. I find the aggressive battle language off-putting, and the New Englander in me is surprisingly resistant to anything that smacks of charity, of helping out some poor soul (with the often concurrent implication that it’s at least in part their own fault for having made bad choices going into academia). I want to see structural change that levels the playing field, that gives everyone a truly fair shot (from early childhood on up).

3) The narrative that resonates for me is one about what the university is meant to be. Like the library, the university is a public good. The free state university is ESPECIALLY a public good. With such an institution, anyone, from any stratum of society has at least the chance, through hard work and determination, to become a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer — a world of possibilities is open to them.

Without such a place, what you mostly get are the children of privilege succeeding to their parents’ privilege — doctor’s children becoming doctors, lawyer’s children becoming lawyers. (Privilege = private law, which was the law of the land until very recently. Laws only for some, not for all.)

So when we talk about what our university should be (free, for one, with well-resourced faculty who can really serve students for another), I want to keep coming back to mission, to vision.

What is it that we want our future to look like? How do we commit resources, to ensure that we’re on the right path to get there?

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