The Invisible Faculty

By Joe Ramsey, English and American Studies

(Originally published at The Chronicle Review. Art by James Yang.)

Walking to my bike recently after four hours of teaching, I had to pass through one of those fancy catered events in our new, spangled Integrated Sciences Complex. It was an administration event held to celebrate newly tenured faculty — I could see the PowerPoint slides with all the names up on the giant projector screen, complete with what looked to be an open bar, and trays of hot appetizers circulated on the shoulders of workers in black tie. A dark curtain I’d never noticed before was pulled across the cafe, dividing the food-preparation area from the party. Workers in the back scrambled, as folks in front lifted glasses of well-earned wine, toasting the proud Professors of UMass-Boston.

Here was a room full of my colleagues, an event celebrating academic achievement: teaching and research and service — all things that I hold in high esteem. No doubt I would be among the first to celebrate the work these folks had done. And yet, my gut was seized with ambivalence. Despite my six years of full-time service to UMB, I felt radically excluded. Like I was walking through a country club of which I was not a member.

A memory flashed up from UMB’s convocation in September, where our Save UMB Coalition interrupted the proceedings in protest of plans to jack up parking fees so high that working-class commuter students might be pushed out. At UMB, we take community inclusion seriously.

But I was remembering a less remarkable moment from convocation, during the opening speech by our interim chancellor, Katherine Newman, her first formal address to our entire university community. It was a good speech, in many ways, full of statements about the progressive public mission of UMB, and sincere remarks about our sacred commitment to serving our diverse first-generation, low-income, predominantly working-class student body. Even as I was preparing to stand and protest the parking-fee hike, I couldn’t help but be moved by Newman’s words: so many shared values, articulated so well.

But then Newman took time to introduce all the “faculty” that were joining us at UMB that year. Each new faculty member from each college got a personalized and detailed introduction from their respective dean at the podium. They stood and we clapped and they were acknowledged, and then they sat, and the next one rose, and so on. Each new faculty member receiving their due.

And here’s the thing: There was not one mention of us nontenure-track faculty the entire time. Not one acknowledgment of the people — newbies or veterans — who compose more than half of the UMB faculty, we who do the majority of the actual teaching of students at our institution. (Here at UMB, a typical full-time nontenure-track person teaches four courses per semester to the tenure-track person’s two, and we don’t get sabbaticals. Contrary to the misnomer, most of us are not “part-time;” more often we are “double-time.”)

Over and over the term “faculty” came off Newman’s lips, and each time it meant not me, not us. It meant only the tenure-stream faculty. Hundreds of hard-working, devoted, degree-holding, self-sacrificing, decades-committed but, alas, tenure-barred faculty were rendered invisible in the very moment when ostensibly our new chancellor was paying homage to the sacred teaching and research mission of our public urban university.

Remembering this, I thought about an article I had just completed for Labor Notes on the struggle of 1,500 local gas workers who are standing up to the utility giant National Grid, specifically by refusing to allow their employer to deny future workers the benefits that they themselves enjoy. Before they were locked out, these United Steelworkers expressed a willingness to strike rather than give in to the company’s demands that new hires won’t get the same health benefits and pension package that current workers get. The gas workers did so not only because it was the right thing to do, but because they saw clearly that allowing the company to degrade the conditions of future employees would ultimately undermine their own power as well, and their profession as a whole.

Imagine if the tenured faculty of our profession followed their example and refused to accept the management plan for reproducing and expanding a two-tier academic labor system.

Imagine if tenured folks a generation ago, or those protected by tenure today, recognized that by allowing university administrations to create more and more teaching positions without benefits, livable salaries, job security, or support for research, they were ultimately undermining their own power on campus, as well as the future of their profession.

Imagine if these protected and relatively privileged academic workers had the foresight, the solidarity, and the courage to stand and refuse to disown their present and future colleagues — not to mention their students — coming up behind.

Wouldn’t we be in a radically different place today?

Having failed to fight together for the next generation (with too few exceptions), tenured professors now find their numbers, and thus their power, dwindling, and their service loads rising, in the face of aggressive administrations bent on running colleges like corporations. Assistant professors, and those seeking that special status, hustle full-time, desperate not to fall back into the invisible ranks of the adjunct. Meanwhile, most of the actually existing full-time faculty in the United States scramble to make ends meet, working at two or even three institutions at a time, often not knowing where we will be teaching a year from now. Why is it that so many our most esteemed professors can’t see what the unionized steelworkers see so clearly: that an attack on the future generation is an attack on the profession as a whole — and on the public we serve?

I am thankful to be at a university where we have a union, one that tries to represent all faculty on campus. I am thankful also to be in a department where I am treated with respect, like an actual colleague — even if my teaching schedule often makes it impossible to attend department meetings. But even here, at UMB, nontenure track faculty still have no representation on our Faculty Council, are not eligible for various pockets of travel money (regardless of the research we are doing), and are often denied equal pay for equal work. We have a long ways to go.

Where to begin? How about here: Too many of us, even those I see as model comrades and allies on other fronts, tacitly accept the idea that the two-tier system dividing higher-ed faculty is something natural, to be accepted and adapted to — at best something to be ameliorated — rather than something to be abolished.

I look forward to the day when I can raise a glass to tenured achievement, standing beside all my honored colleagues, without this gnawing ambivalence in my gut.

Stand Together For Commuter Equity and the Urban Mission!

PLEASE JOIN UMB FACULTY and the Caucus for a Democratic Union (CDU)

AS WE STAND TOGETHER IN SOLIDARITY 

WITH UMB STAFF & STUDENTS 

AGAINST THE PARKING FEE HIKES

AND IN SUPPORT OF EQUITABLE CAMPUS ACCESS!

The faculty Caucus for a Democratic Union (CDU) invites all members of the UMass Boston community to stand together this week in opposition to harsh and unfair parking fee hikes that threaten our campus and its urban mission. Together, we fight for fair and equitable access to our public campus for all commuting students and workers.

Wednesday, Dec 12 & Thursday, Dec. 13

from 11am to 2pm

Join us in the UMB Catwalk, 

by the Healey Library 

(We’ll see how long we can extend the solidarity line for!)

A Pledge to Staff & Students who Stand with Us: Faculty will come prepared to serve you Coffee, Cocoa, and/or Donuts, both to help fuel & warm you for this difficulty last week of classes, and as a small symbolic expression of solidarity for the struggles ahead, next semester and beyond.

We–all of us who care about the public urban mission of UMass Boston–are in this together.  #SaveUMB

The CDU is an independent group of faculty members who seek to promote greater democracy, empowerment, and participation in the UMass Boston Faculty Staff Union (FSU).  Check out the CDU blog athttps://caucusforademocraticunion.wordpress.com

Tentative Agreement on Parking: Why we should vote NO

The Caucus for a Democratic Union believes FSU members should not ratify the tentative agreement on parking for the following reasons:

1) The agreement undercuts solidarity with our sister unions by weakening their bargaining position; It makes future joint union resistance more difficult.

2) The agreement sets a precedent for excessively high parking fees for other members of the community, including students. The urban mission of UMass Boston depends upon affordability. At a campus where over 90% of students are commuters, parking must be affordable.

3) This agreement constitutes a reduction in FSU members’ wages, and disproportionately harms lower earning members of our bargaining unit.

4) The administration should not be balancing its budget on the backs of the people who work and go to school here.

5) A YES vote will be a DEFEAT with long-term negative consequences:

  • Ratification of this agreement will be interpreted by administration and the campus community as an endorsement of a process and outcome that is unacceptable.
  • If we ratify this agreement, we will open the door to the imposition of future demands as administration struggles with debt accrued over decades of mismanagement and inadequate state funding; The union will have demonstrated an inability to organize meaningful resistance against such demands.

See also the following letter from our staff colleagues:

Dear faculty,

We write to tell you that your decision to accept a better parking deal for yourselves rather than bargain with the staff unions is, in our opinion, unconscionable. As has often been noted, the administration views faculty and staff very differently. They care more about the faculty and have more respect for them and their work. Well now the staff knows that you, the faculty, feel the same way. The decision to bargain separately, to only look out for yourselves, and to get the best deal you could even as it hurts others sends a very clear message: we are not your people and you are willing to sacrifice the good of the whole for the benefit of the few.

This is how the administration wins. This is how we get steamrolled again and again. Separating the unions is the first step in defeating them. The fissures that this will create in the relationships between faculty and staff will not be repairable. We will not forget that you were willing to abandon us in this fight in order to save some money for yourselves. You have helped to perpetuate a two-class system. We always knew the administration felt that staff are second class and when you vote to ratify  this deal, we will know that you feel that way, too.

Very sincerely,

The Staff


Finally, here is a statement passed by the Faculty Council this week:

“Be it resolved that the Faculty Council of the University of Massachusetts Boston moves that the parking rate increases the university plans to implement are an undue financial burden on many faculty as well as staff and students; it encourages faculty not to be on campus unless necessary and, for some, the entire proposed faculty salary increase will be consumed by parking. The proposed parking rate increases are reflective of rates at private institutions which is discordant with a public institution for education. We continue to assert that faculty, staff, and students should not be made responsible for the necessity of a new garage nor do we accept an obligation and burden for the garage costs and the debt service.”

 

 

Rediscovering a Past Community through Present Labor Struggle

By Phil O’Connor, UMB Alumnus and Lynn Public School Teacher

Sauntering down Boylston Street on the last warm day before fall takes hold, I am filled with a mix of feelings as I head to the Solidarity Rally with Local 26 Striking Marriott Workers. Not a hotel worker myself, I am a union member (Teacher, Lynn Teachers Union), and I empathize deeply with the demands of this three-week strike: adequate wages, essential benefits, and the job security necessary to afford to live where you work. Such conditions have caused many full-time hotel workers to work multiple jobs, leading to the strike’s slogan, “One Job Should be Enough,” a message that resonates with countless Boston area workers, teachers like myself included. For this, I am willing to expose myself to a large, potentially raucous crowd, despite my longstanding anxiety.

It’s easier knowing I won’t be alone. I plan to reconvene with my former UMass Boston Professor, now mentor and friend, Joe Ramsey, who has spread the word of the strike through social media posts and his informative, Dig Boston article, “If we don’t get no contract–you don’t get no peace.”

I arrive at the scene, where several hundred hotel workers and supporters, adorned in vivid red apparel commanded the courtyard, chanting the strike’s slogan to the background of classic fight songs. Dozens of strike supporters have created their own drumline using orange, all-purpose buckets from Home Depot, adding rhythm to the chants.

Inspiring as the rally is, my uneasiness begins to set in. Normally, at this point, I would escape without hesitation. Determined to stay, I retreat to the outskirts of the crowd.

Just then, I spy a tall, slender man, donning a grey shirt reading “FSU: Faculty Staff Union, University of Massachusetts-Boston.” I approach him, pointing to the shirt and blurting: “I went there!”

Without pause, the man reveals himself as a Professor of American Studies at UMB who is attending the rally due to the social media posts and article by Ramsey. I tell him I am a class of 2016 alum who now teaches middle school science in Lynn. Thrilled to meet a former UMB student, now teacher, he tells me about a summer “institute” at UMB for educators seeking to develop their teaching.

As we chat, a colleague of his approaches, asking him to join the rest of the UMB contingent present at the rally. The Professor graciously invites me to join.

We join a group of about 20 UMB folks, some with their own homemade signs supporting the struggle. Ramsey arrives with his partner and fellow professor-activist, Linda Liu. While we embrace, I notice another familiar UMB face, Jon Millman, my former Economics Professor and academic advisor. Unsure if he would remember me, I reintroduce myself, reminding him the year I graduated while offering my hand to shake.

“PHIL! How are you doing?” Millman replies in a brisk, Brooklyn accent, ignoring my handshake and coming in for an affectionate bear hug. He asks if I am still teaching and whether I enjoy it, to which I reply that I am—and it’s true; it’s what I believe I’m meant to be doing. His happiness for me is obvious, and he asks for my contact info to join him at the year-end Economics Department dinner.

My anxiety about large crowds has dissipated. I am no longer alone, rediscovering a community from my past. Rather than view their students as mere consumers seeking to “invest in their personal capital” so as to get a “good job,” UMB faculty have always made clear to me the importance of a holistic connection within pedagogy: one predicated on a genuine desire to develop critical thought, not solely for academic exercises, but for broader social issues outside the classroom that inevitably impact our lives at work and beyond.

Perhaps my K-12 colleagues and I can learn from this, changing how we interact with our students. Too often, as the result of the ever-growing influence of standardized testing, I feel pressured to associate my students with some kind of demeaning numerical score or label. Such categorizing pushes us to view our work (and subsequently, our students) as a means to an end, numbers that can either benefit or hurt our careers. But teaching should be so much more than that. What if we saw our students not as short-term means to a bureaucratic end, but as life-long partners in learning and shared efforts to change the world?

No longer their student, I realize I still have much to learn from my UMB Professors. Together, we take photos and share thoughts, not merely as students and teachers, nor even just as colleagues, but as allies.

As the rally shifts to the streets we begin to march.

Join the Coalition to Save UMB for a Halloween Parking Parade

By now you know UMass Boston Administration is threatening to impose an outrageous parking fee increase on our community. For our workers, this amounts to wage theft in disguise and for our students this is yet another financial burden they will be paying off for years to come.  The proposed parking fee increase will have a devastating impact on students, staff and faculty and threatens our efforts to protect UMB’s affordability, accessibility and urban mission.  This is a fight we must win! We need faculty and librarians to be visibly involved!  

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 5.49.04 PM

The Continuing Struggle for Inclusion

By Tony Van Der Meer, Africana Studies

[The following is a transcript of a talk given as part of the Financing Public Higher Education panel at the Invest in Minds Not Missiles Forum at UMass Boston. Full video of the forum is below.]

While I was invited to participate in this forum, I was then dis-invited, and eventually re-invited. So it’s safe to say that the question of inclusion is a constant struggle, especially for people of color.

I must say that I was outraged that the president of my union, FSU, would actually politic to exclude me from participating in this forum. Maybe I could be wrong – that free speech and my first amendment right, particularly at an academic institution, is something a president of a union would uphold. Maybe I could be wrong – that inclusion of faculty ideas, despite their different views, is something that we uphold in the academy.

However, I am in full support of increasing federal and state investment in higher education. At the same time we need to be certain that those resources are used equitably to also assist underserved urban student populations of color to successfully matriculate at this and other public universities. We need to make sure that all faculty are paid and treated equitably. We need leadership in our unions, among our students, staff, and faculty, as well as elected officials to ensure education is viewed as a right and not a privilege just for those that can afford it.

The deepening privatization of public education is becoming a factor along with private universities in the gentrification of our urban neighborhoods. Not only is this having an impact on students, it’s having a deep impact on our staff and faculty. But the impact is the greatest on working class communities of color whose education and income further marginalizes and limits them from being able to live decent lives.

According to a study by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, the net worth of a single black female is only $5. The National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) points out that 73% of children in poor families live with a single parent. With the high rate of single mothers, how are they able to provide the basic necessities for their families? How do we expect students that come from these families to not only concentrate on their studies, but to also successfully matriculate without incurring burdensome debt?

As students, staff, faculty, and administrators, how can we allow the state and federal government to spend public money to profit corporations while public institutions and infrastructures deteriorate?

We clearly need accountable and transparent leadership. We also have to do our parts – to ensure that there are consequences for negligent and incompetent leadership unable to properly represent its constituency.

We can’t be naïve to assume that those in power will do the right thing. It is absolutely absurd that according to the Pentagon, it’s costing the US Government $45 BILLION dollars per year for the war in Afghanistan. Yet, our universities are not adequately funded. We have to organize ourselves from the very bottom of the most disenfranchised groups to ensure that their voices are heard and that their needs are included in our agenda and program of action. Our continuing struggle is to change the power relationship to one where the central needs of ordinary working people are met. This means we have to also engage urban community organizations, churches, and neighborhood groups in this process. It is their children and communities that are impacted by the lack of public resources. They are also an important base that will make elected officials accountable.

With the engagement of local communities we need to organize a mass democratic and inclusive movement to force state and federal government to fully fund public higher education. We (UMass Boston) need to set an example that other states can follow.

Video of the Invest in Minds Not Missiles Forum

Shared Admin Services Model – ANNOTATED

Submitted anonymously by a longtime UMass Boston employee in response to Interim Chancellor Newman’s email

*Note: original text of email is in black and the employee’s translation is in red.


From: Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman Marty’s appointee that has NO skin in UMB
Sent: Friday, October 12, 2018 12:36 PM
To: REDACTED
Subject: Shared Administrative Services Model What Amherst/Lowell, the “real” UMass campuses want to do or already have done..so we will make ALL campuses conform…especially that unruly, thorn in our sides: UMB

 

Dear Staff and Faculty,

I want to inform you about a UMass system-wide project to develop a shared administrative services model that you may be hearing about as it progresses over the course of the fall. We’ve being trying for years to move toward a “business model” AKA a pool of admins for academic departments so we’ll pretend we’re now collaboratively developing something.

Like many public universities, we are constantly challenged to maintain our steadfast commitment to excellence and student affordability in the face of rising costs and competition for state resources. Given those factors, the UMass system has embarked on a project to examine how to screw UMB again with more layoffs and budget cuts that won’t affect those of us in the upper level administration here a strategic shared services model can achieve cost savings while improving the services we provide to students, vendors, and other important partners.

According to the Education Advisory Board, implementing a more streamlined and unified process can achieve a 10 to 15 percent reduction in operating costs in relevant functional areas, which can relieve budget pressure on academic resources, faculty hiring, student financial aid, and other core mission priorities. Let’s not mention cutting the excessive number of upper level administrators at UMB vs the other campuses could probably achieve the same reduction in costs. Building on the work already completed through the system-wide Better Together initiative, the project will focus on accounts payable, payroll, and some aspects of procurement additional layoffs and foolishness like one printer per floor.

It is important for everyone to know that shared service models are not equivalent to centralization. I’ll say this, but let’s be real…I’m telling a big fat lie here. They put the customer at the center in the delivery of routine transactions which frees administrative staff to put their time into strategy, analysis, and continuous improvement. This pretty much defines centralization but readers of this email won’t be smart enough to pick up on it. A primary objective of the project will be minimizing impact on staff. This is, of course a throwaway line because we all know we have not/do not/will not care about the impact on staff.

All five chancellors, as well as the provosts and vice chancellors for administration and finance across the UMass system, strongly support the project. Marty appointed me and VC for A&F but let’s make it “look” like UMB has upper level administrators that are representing them. A cross-functional team of representatives from all of the UMass campuses is working collaboratively to create an action plan. Their work will involve identifying the best processes to be considered for shared services and an analysis of our data. We’ll have them come out with a report that says what we want and we’ll start to implement it.

The team will meet regularly through the planning phase, culminating in an action plan to be delivered to President Marty Meehan and the chancellors in December. It’s 7 weeks until December, we’ll have lunch a few times before the holidays, and then give the action plan to Marty in December so an announcement can be made about the layoffs and changes we’re instituting over intersession when the fewest people are on campus to cause a ruckus. In addition to Provost Emily McDermott and Vice Chancellor for A&F Kathleen Kirleis, UMass Boston will be represented on the project by Associate Controller KrisAnn O’Herron, Payroll Manager Amy Chin, Director of Procurement Peter Franciosi, Associate Vice Chancellor for A&F Chris Giuliani, and Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Marie Bowen. I’ll throw in some folks from UMB central administration to show how much this isn’t about centralization.

Transparency is critical to the success of this enterprise.  The team will share with you progress updates as well as information regarding decision-making and outcomes as it becomes available. Transparency is something they love so we’ll tell them what we are going to do and tell them we’re being transparent by telling them what’s going to happen. To be sure, change is hard, and it can be unsettling. Many questions will surface as we move through the planning process. You are encouraged to reach out to your supervisors or the individuals identified above with those questions. I also encourage you to provide feedback or ask questions by emailing bettertogether@umassp.edu, a dedicated communication point. The best way for us to ensure a thoughtful and collaborative process that is sensitive to the individual needs of our campus is to fully engage with it. Losing your job can be hard on people that actually have to work to pay bills in real life, so we’ll pretend to care and pretend to know the individual needs of the UMB campus.

Thank you in advance for your support of this project and for all that you do every day to make UMass Boston excel.

Sincerely,
Katherine Newman
Interim (I’m just a temporary Marty’s hack) Chancellor