Statement by the Africana Studies Dept. Regarding Faculty Layoffs and Health and Safety Concerns for Reopening the Campus in a Time of Covid-19

Note: this is a collective statement issued by the Africana Studies Department that we are reposting here. We encourage you to take the same initiative with your respective departments. Please contact us at umb.cdu at gmail dot com if you’d like your departmental statement to be posted here as well.

The Covid-19 Global Pandemic impact has been one of devastation and disorientation for members of our learning, teaching, and research community. The long range impact is unimaginable, but we must be resilient, persevere, and uphold our core values of solidarity, justice, and compassion! 

As the University contemplates how to navigate this national and international crisis, the Africana Studies Department believes two core principles need to guide how and in what ways we move forward as a community:

After the administration leadership has acknowledged the tremendous work done by faculty and staff to transition our campus to remote learning, we find it hypocritical and unconscionable to lay off the very Associate Lecturers and Lecturers who undertook this Herculean task and made this transition, and its successes, possible! We find this to be a cruel and thankless way of addressing our present situation. Indeed, laying off workers only expands the current economic crisis caused by this pandemic. 

The administration must provide Safety and Protection for all workers and students if the University returns to campus in the Fall 2020 and must therefore meet the American College of Health Association (ACHA) guidelines

The Battle for the Future of Higher Education; Battling for May Day – videocast

Presenting an episode from a weekly videocast series called Shelter & Solidarity: A Deep Dive with Artists and Activists, hosted by Joe Ramsey (Senior Lecturer, English and American Studies). The first hour covers the future of higher education and the second hour is on organizing for this year’s recently passed May Day.

About the episode: The COVID19 pandemic has created a new set of uncertainties and challenges for higher education, while compounding existing problems, inequities, and struggles already afflicting our colleges and universities.  How can and how are faculty responding to the challenges–both the dangers and opportunities–of this pandemic moment?  As educators?  As workers? As organizers?  

What are the threats we face right now in higher ed, and how can we come together, on and across campuses, to confront them, both politically and pedagogically?  What are the strategies and tactics in this moment that hold the most promise for protecting and projecting further what is most valuable about higher learning in this moment?

Guests included:
*Anna Kornbluh (University of Illinois Chicago) author of the recent Chronicle of Higher Ed article “Academe’s Coronavirus Shock Doctrine”
*Barbara Madeloni (Education Director of Labor Notes & former MTA President)
*Ben Manski, a long-time organizer for democracy in education, UC Santa Barbara Ph.D. candidate active in the University of California wildcat strikes.
*Chris Newfield, (UC Santa Barbara), author of The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and What We Can Do to Fix Them

For more information on this episode and the Shelter & Solidarity series, please visit and/or contact Joe at Joseph dot Ramsey at UMB dot com.

A Call to Put Students, Staff, Faculty, and Community Needs First at UMass Boston

Please join with other Umass Boston faculty, and campus and community allies in endorsing the following call. It is addressed ultimately to all who hold power over higher education. To show your support, please sign on to our call at The Action Network here.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has claimed over 180,000 lives worldwide and disrupted the global economy, making “business as usual,” in every sense, neither possible nor desirable. UMass Boston, one of the great institutions for promoting equity in the Commonwealth, has already been severely impacted by the crisis:

  • Students are struggling to continue their education under extreme health and financial stress as they face job losses and rising healthcare costs at home.
  • Staff are struggling to keep themselves and the university afloat.
  • Faculty are working from home, teaching and mentoring students, many of whom are in crisis, while managing their own family obligations.
  • Communities of color and low-income communities–at the core of UMB’s Urban Mission–are being disproportionately affected.

In the face of this pandemic, we must be clear about our principles and values. While we are only at the beginning of this crisis, an extremely dynamic global situation, we must assume that as global and local economies continue to suffer so will our students.

We must therefore take a stand now, to reclaim the public commitments of our Urban Mission, reunite ourselves with the communities we serve, and declare:

1. Student fees and tuition must be waived for Fall 2020.

2. All jobs (including student employees, staff and all faculty) must be protected, without furloughs.

3. Class size must be preserved (or even reduced) to ensure students and faculty can succeed and flourish.

4. Public higher education must receive a robust federal and state bailout that also directly funds work study and internship programs linking students with community organizations and local businesses.

Interview with Eduardo Siqueira on the Covid-19 crisis

CDU’s own Eduardo Siqueira, Associate Professor of Environment and Public Health, on the Covid-19 crisis.

Topical timestamps:
2:50 – Likely scenarios in the future and how we can prepare.
9:00 – On the different strategies of states in handling the crisis and opening their economies.
14:15 – The impact of the crisis on higher education and UMass Boston.
20:10 – What can the Faculty Staff Union do?
26:06 – Final thoughts: increase social networks and solidarity through tools we have.

Questions and comments for Eduardo: Carlos.Siqueira at umb dot edu.

We welcome your input and suggestions to continue the dialogue! Please contact us at cdu dot umb at gmail dot com.

“The Urgency of Now”: Navigating Our Time Together in a Moment of Profound Global Uncertainty

Many of us are seeking ways to respond to the current crisis and relate to our students. The following is a letter to students written by Tony Van Der Meer (Senior Lecturer II) and Keith Jones (Visiting Assistant Professor) of the Africana Students Department. The CDU blog is interested in hearing what other faculty are doing and if you’d like to share, please feel free to contact us at: umb dot cdu at gmail dot com.

As educators, we deeply believe that education should be liberatory. We take guidance and direction from what Paulo Freire calls the oppressor/oppressed contradiction, which involves always knowing who you are and where you are in relation to the racialized, classed, and gendered hierarchies that govern our everyday lives and the entire global system.

We are in a period of profound crisis and will not and cannot pretend that we can just “carry on” as if things were normal. We see the Corona pandemic as an historical event without precedence, and it requires our analyzing it in the kinds of clear and precise ways we would a text. As educators, one of our roles has been preparing you critically to think about and understand how to approach a crisis of this kind. What we are facing, of course, is the extreme vulnerabilities that people experience in a crisis of this magnitude when there are not safeguards like universal health care, stable and dignified employment, livable wages, strong unions, and communities that are invested in and supported.

We understand that you, our students, are a population that represents some of the most vulnerable people impacted by this crisis. We want you to know that we are in solidarity with your circumstances and have no interest in imposing unreasonable pressures upon you this semester.

We understand that you must protect yourselves in the midst of this pandemic; that you will need to self-quarantine and stay whole and healthy in body and mind and not entirely (or not even remotely) in circumstances of your own choosing.

Because we understand this and support you, we are aligning our values and core beliefs as educators with the actual situation of your lives and intend to help you navigate these new and profoundly uncertain times that we are now all in whatever our circumstances. In other words, we are here to support you and see you through this in ways that not only keep you whole but also give you the clarity and strength to overcome this.

In light of these incredibly uncertain circumstances and given that we are transitioning very abruptly to on-line learning, we aim to take it slow and be attentive to your hardships, and to the particular stresses you are now under.

We want to encourage your ideas in helping us better prepare, protect, and educate you as we all navigate this new world. But because it is also a new world for us, we ask you to be patient with us as we learn what it means to teach in these circumstances given that we ourselves are also at strain to protect our own health as well as the health of our families and communities.

While all of your syllabi in the Africana Studies department (and in your courses throughout the university) will need to be amended and revised, we especially want to emphasize how deeply the concepts and ideas of our courses are critical to rethinking the crisis we are in and how it relates to your lives and the lives, historically, of your communities.

We view this as an extraordinary moment to reflect upon and practice Dr. Martin Luther King’s notion of “dangerous unselfishness,” which asks us not to think or act selfishly, as if we were isolated individuals, but rather to risk in protected ways the practice of caring for others and creating and acting as if you belonged to what Dr. King called the “beloved community.” So while we strongly encourage “social distancing,” we also strongly encourage you to engage in spiritual alignment—caring for your elders, your neighbors, and for those more vulnerable than you both within your own communities and throughout the globe.

We want to encourage you to use this opportunity to build networks in your community. We encourage you to be in contact with those who might need immediate assistance and support while also being mindful that we also have to practice self-care and safety in these times.

What we need above all else is to become active participants in creating systemic changes, actively advocating and supporting the critical needs of our communities, and thinking and acting clearly in ways that help us bring about the kind of world we want and the kind of future we want for ourselves, for our children, and for our children’s children.

We deeply encourage you to hold your local and state elected representatives and senators accountable to protecting and serving the needs of all the people.

Now is the time for you to apply in crucial and meaningful ways your capacity to think critically and analyze how to address the current crisis we are in. But clear analysis also requires action and active civic engagement. We must continuously learn to educate ourselves in order to liberate ourselves. An important dimension of our responsibility as educated citizens and as scholars is to keep our publicly elected officials accountable—not only to the will of the people but to the welfare of the people. We must additionally be open to working on behalf of and learning from the experiences of others.

The activist and documentary filmmaker Michael Moore recently posted an episode on his podcast that we found very important and instructive. We encourage you to listen to it and consider how Moore reflects on our own moment in light of what Dr. King called “the urgency of now.” See:

We also encourage you to use your smartphones as tools to keep watch on those who are elected to serve the public welfare:

  • We encourage you to call your Senators at this number: 202-225-3121. If you do not know their names, just tell the switchboard operator what state you are from.
  • We encourage you to call your Congresspersons at this number: 202-224-3121. If you do not know their names, just tell the switchboard operator what your zip code is.
  • We encourage you to call Governor Baker’s office: (617) 725-4005.
  • We encourage you to call Mayor Walsh’s office: (617) 635-4500.

Let the elected officials hear from you directly. Remember that you can make a difference, and do not allow them or anyone to take you for granted. Keep us updated on what you do if that is your desire.

We are deeply committed to hosting a Zoom forum to talk about and discuss any and all of the issues and concerns relevant to your lives, to your communities, and to the larger global situation of our present moment.

In solidarity, and with our very best wishes,

Tony Van Der Meer, Ph.D.
Senior Lecturer II, Africana Studies Department

Keith Jones, Ph.D.
Visiting Assistant Professor, Africana Studies Department

A Message from the FSU President-Elect

Dear Faculty and Librarians,

Hope you are all doing well during this tumultuous time.

I’ve heard from a lot of FSU members in the past two weeks about a range of concerns: about how we, as faculty, can (or cannot) develop fully functional online courses within a week as our workplaces and lives are upended; about our students, who face a range of challenges as they attempt to finish the semester and keep their lives together; about our staff, who have raised serious issues around workplace safety, working conditions, and job security as we move to working remotely.  The challenges are immense.  There is nothing normal about this rapidly changing situation.

As many of you have noted, now is the time for compassion and flexibility – for ourselves, for our students, and for all those within and beyond the university community.   It is more important than ever that FSU members remain engaged in our union and work with students as well as other campus unions — the PSU, CSU, GEO and DCU — to push the administration in this general direction.  This is true regardless of the specific issues that may emerge, whether we are talking about expanding P/F options for students; extending tenure clocks for junior faculty; insuring job security for all faculty, and particularly NTTs; making sure that staff are given the freedom and resources they need to do their jobs remotely; or any number of concerns that will inevitably emerge as this fluid situation shifts.

My term as FSU President does not begin until the end of May, but I look forward to working together through and beyond this semester in order to insure that all faculty and staff remain employed, fairly compensated, and sufficiently supported; that we work under safe and respectful conditions; and that we are able to help students not only receive an education, but navigate these difficult times.

Please stay tuned for information from the FSU about how to “attend” the union’s Annual Meeting on April 30th.   Although we will not meet in person this semester, this meeting remains an important chance to discuss the future of our union and university.  In the meantime, I can of course be found on email!

Be well.

Steve Striffler
FSU President-Elect
Director, Labor Resource Center

PSU, CSU & GEO Letter to Interim Chancellor Newman RE: Coronavirus Crisis

CDU supports our fellow UMB unions and would like to further publicize the below communications jointly sent out by PSU, CSU, and GEO:

PSU Pulses
Dear PSU members,

Each day brings a new challenge, and you are all rising to meet each one.  That is why the email we all received from Interim Chancellor Newman last night felt so destructive and undeserved.  Along with the CSU and GEO, we have responded to her (see below). And we will continue to fight for UMB to do the right thing by adopting policies that prioritize protecting all of us and stopping the spread of this virus.  We, along with the other unions on campus, will be bargaining with the administration next week over these policies. We will keep you fully updated on our proposals and the administration’s responses.
In addition to fighting for health, safety and respect on this campus, unions across the UMass system are coming together to call on President Meehan and Governor Baker to do right by all working people and families across the Commonwealth.  Add your voice on the Action Network website.
It is essential that none of us lose track of what is truly at stake — the millions of lives that can be saved if we #FlattenTheCurve.  To do that, we need as many people as possible to stay home, we must protect all workers who cannot stay home, and we must keep our economy working by getting paid. As one economist said on a webinar today: “Our job is to stay home.  And the government must make sure that everybody is paid to do that job.”
As always, we are here to support one another. 
Stay safe,
Anneta, Sarah, and the whole PSU crew

Letter to Interim Chancellor Newman:

Dear Chancellor Newman,
We, the leaders of the UMass Boston campus unions, strongly object to both the disrespectful tone and message of the March 18 communication that you sent out to UMB staff and faculty and some graduate employees (see here). We’ve heard from many of our members who are likewise appalled by the tone and content of your email. 

Not once do you recognize or express gratitude for the efforts and devotion that YOUR staff are showing during this unprecedented crisis. Not once do you express concern for the health and welfare of your employees. Instead you hastened to implement new onerous reporting procedures, and in doing so insulted our integrity and ethics. We have told you before how low morale is on this campus, and how we–the people who keep this whole institution running–feel disrespected and unheard. Your email yesterday only deepened and confirmed those feelings. 

We think you should be aware and proud of how the entire UMB community has responded to this crisis. UMass Boston’s employees have worked extraordinarily hard to prepare our programs, departments, and the entire campus to weather this unprecedented storm. We have seen so many examples over the past weeks of how deeply UMass Boston staff and faculty care about and prioritize students, even at a cost to themselves. We have more than earned the trust that we will continue to do what we always do–serve the students, community and institution to the very best of our abilities. 

Now is the time for you to show that you value us: prioritize our health, safety and security, rather than your productivity measures. Instruct your administration to actually bargain with our unions over how to address this national health emergency.

Chancellor Newman, we call on you to do the right thing.

In Solidarity,

Janelle Quarles, Classified Staff Union
Anneta Argyres, Professional Staff Union
Sarah Bartlett, Professional Staff Union
Warren Hinckle, Graduate Employee Organization
Chris Whynacht, Graduate Employee Organization
Email from Interim Chancellor Newman

Reality Check

Originally published at DigBoston.

By Steve Striffler, director of the Labor Resource Center and professor of Anthropology and Avi Chomsky, professor of history at Salem State University

Screen Shot 2020-01-29 at 11.18.14 AM

Massachusetts as a failed state, Boston as a failed city?

The idea that Massachusetts is a failed state and Boston a failed city sounds a bit absurd on the surface. Massachusetts is one of the wealthiest US states, boasts a highly educated population, and has a robust economy driven by technology, financial services, biotech, and some of the leading universities in the world. Massachusetts is also known as a liberal bastion, touting a commitment to the public good while boasting a progressive social agenda. And, in many ways, the city of Boston leads the way. A thriving metropolis, Boston sees itself as a leader in intellectual innovation, climate change initiatives, and healthcare reform, and is also proud of its progressive values.

And yet, it is precisely Massachusetts’s wealth and progressive character that makes the failure of government so glaring. Two of the defining features of “failed states”—something typically associated with conflict-ridden countries in the Third World—are the inability to provide public services and the lack of democratic institutions that allow for meaningful citizen participation. In many cases, as in Massachusetts, these two failures are directly connected. The state’s inability to provide core public goods such as transportation, housing, education, and healthcare is a result of a closed political system that serves entrenched interests and undermines the political will of the people. And, here again, Boston is the leader. The city’s unrivaled economic inequality, its reputation for racism, its traffic, and its crumbling system of public education are all tied to state and local institutions that are effectively closed boxes shut off from public input or influence (whether it be the legislature, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the MBTA, etc.).

This failure has been a long time coming, but its visible manifestations have recently become particularly acute for a simple reason: All of our fundamental public goods and services—transportation, housing, education, and healthcare—are simultaneously in crisis. And crisis in one area tends to compound or expose crisis in others. A crumbling transportation system, for example, puts further stress on already debilitated systems of education, housing, and healthcare. We are in a downward spiral that is making the path out more difficult by the day. What is even more troubling is that despite the clarity of the crisis, our government remains closed off from meaningful popular participation and therefore not only lacks the will and capacity to fund public goods but to pass legislation that addresses the fundamental issues at stake. Massachusetts is a failed state.

Take transportation. Massachusetts political leaders have for decades doubled down on a car-first vision, leaving Boston with the worst traffic in the nation and a system of public transportation that is inadequate, unreliable, out of date, and even unsafe. Failed public transportation, in turn, forces more people into cars and onto roads, intensifying a race to nowhere that has us stuck in place while breathing toxic fumes. It also serves to undermine the state’s limited efforts to combat climate change.

To the extent that we are moving at all, it is in the wrong direction. While other states and cities are confronting transportation crises throughout the nation, Massachusetts political leaders are either missing in action or driving us off the cliff. Gov. Baker and Mayor Walsh have essentially abdicated leadership, in effect opposing efforts to incentivize people to drive less and use public transportation more. Under current conditions, taking the bus, subway, or rail is to run the risk of arriving to work late, getting stranded completely, or falling off the tracks altogether. Political leadership is precisely what is needed if we want to make the changes necessary to make public transportation a realistic option for most people.

On the one hand, congested roads and dysfunctional public transportation serve to raise housing costs in urban areas as people concentrate in certain locales to avoid soul-crushing commutes. On the other hand, outrageous housing costs force working people out of the city and farther from work sites, driving cars they cannot afford greater distances in order to secure rents that allow them to survive. Yet, despite the fact that voters throughout the state consistently point to the housing crisis as the most important issue facing the Commonwealth, politicians have done little to address the problem in any systematic way. Last year Gov. Baker proposed a bill that lawmakers failed to pass because it didn’t go far enough—and so they did nothing.

Mayor Walsh has at times talked a good game and helped create over 30,000 homes with tens of thousands more in the pipeline. But far too few are affordable, and there seems to be little political will to confront the problem or even recognize that government has a responsibility to ensure people are adequately housed. The consequence of inaction—of letting the free market and backroom deals through an old boy network reign—is a development landscape that reproduces inequality through glittery monstrosities such as the Seaport District while forcing more poor people into homelessness. The state’s homeless population jumped 14% in 2018. Working families are struggling to survive as their income is devoured by rent and the dream of home ownership slips away, and even the upwardly mobile are leaving the region for more affordable and transit-friendly locales.

Nor can we take solace in our educational system. To quote a Boston Globe headline, “Beacon Hill lawmakers have been shortchanging the education of students nearly $1 billion a year,” a fact that has disproportionately hurt low-income students, students of color, and recent immigrants. Less than one in three black and Latino fourth graders read at grade level, and only 28% of low-income eighth graders are on grade level in math. This is not entirely surprising. Massachusetts “is no longer among the states that direct more state and local dollars to the districts serving the most low-income students,” and Boston schools are more segregated than they were when the tumultuous process of desegregation tore apart the city decades ago.

Nor are those students likely to catch up if they manage to make their way to the state’s underfunded public colleges and universities. Our political leaders cut funding for higher education by 14% between 2001 and 2017, the cost of which was passed on to students who now leave college with around $30,000 in debt. Average student debt has grown faster in Massachusetts than in all states but one, and the state ranks near the bottom in terms of higher education support per $1,000 of personal income. What that means is that despite being a relatively wealthy state, our political leaders have been very stingy when it comes to funding public higher education. Massachusetts is failing the students of working families at every stage of the educational process, from preschool through college.

Finally, if there is irony in an educational system that fails our students while boasting the best universities in the world, this is no less true when it comes to a cutting edge healthcare system that many people simply cannot afford. Passed in 2006, Romneycare—Massachusetts’s failed attempt at universal healthcare—was so plagued by increasing costs that legislators were forced to address it again by 2012. They whiffed the second time around as well. Healthcare costs continue to balloon, and although Massachusetts has among the lowest percentage of uninsured people in the country, more than a third reported going without needed healthcare despite having insurance, nearly half have trouble gaining access to care, and about the same reported financial problems due to healthcare costs. Despite the transparency of the crisis, the state’s policy makers continue to fail to take steps to address the fundamental contradictions in our healthcare system.

What this means, in short, is that the progressive reputation of Massachusetts and Boston is largely a facade that hides a meaner reality and helps allow the state and city to disregard their responsibility for the public good. The convergence of crises—the simultaneous failure of all our major public services—obviously impacts people with lower incomes disproportionately. Yet, in different ways, pretty much everyone who works for a living depends on publicly supported healthcare, education, transportation, and housing to survive and thrive. Even for the more affluent, who have become particularly adept at insulating themselves by opting out of public services (through private schools, healthcare, etc.), there are consequences. Fancy cars and private services only get you so far if you cannot breathe the air or get from one place to the next. More than this, we have to ask ourselves: Do we really want to live in a failed state where the rich and powerful ensconce themselves in a world of private schools and gated communities while a sea of dispossessed serve their needs and are locked out in every other way? We are on our way.

This failure, moreover, goes beyond lack of funding for basic services. Boston was quick, for example, to declare itself a sanctuary city in 2017, but the state still cannot pass common-sense pro-immigration laws (in-state tuition, drivers’ licenses, safe communities). Nor has Massachusetts managed to pass a wage theft bill to ensure that all workers get paid and immigrant workers in particular are not preyed upon. Likewise, Massachusetts is generally progressive on legal rights for the LBGTQ community and was the first state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004. And yet nearly a third of LBGTQ youth of color are unemployed and food insecure. We are at times able to pass progressive bills with important symbolic implications, but legislation that even moderately challenges the status quo or confronts powerful economic interests rarely sees the light of day.

This failure is not due to a lack of financial or human resources. We have the money. And there are plenty of hardworking nonprofits, labor unions, and other progressive organizations that have relentlessly agitated for meaningful public policy. They, in turn, have been supported by sympathetic legislators.

How, then, is it possible that these progressive forces nonetheless find themselves continually pushing the legislative rock up Beacon Hill only to see it roll back down year after year? Why can’t we pass and implement the sorts of policies we need and that most Massachusetts citizens support?

The answer is multifaceted and is not disconnected from entrenched interests who seek to control government for their own benefit. It lies at least in part on Beacon Hill and in a legislative process where power is concentrated in a few hands that prevent progressive legislation from making it to the floor for a vote or even debate. Progressive legislators have been trying for years to transform the rules in order to loosen the authoritarian grip of a small cadre of leaders such as House Speaker Robert DeLeo and essentially free up the legislative process. Similar efforts have been tried (and largely failed) with respect to the other major institutions that run our systems of healthcare, transportation, education, and housing. Our collective inability to democratize state institutions that remain closed off to public participation has contributed to a failed state that lacks the capacity to provide even basic public services. We deserve better. We should demand better.