Faculty Need Labor Organizing, Not Shared Governance

tags: academic labor, colleges and universities, faculty labor, shared governance

Eva Cherniavsky is Andrew R. Hilen Professor of American Studies and director of Graduate Studies in English at the University of Washington. 

THE CONCEPT OF faculty governance — that faculty should have a meaningful say in the management of the universities where they are employed — is a recent and relatively fragile thing.

Within the academy, faculty governance is viewed with skepticism by a significant proportion of the professoriate, in large part, no doubt, because the practice of faculty governance has been so thoroughly vitiated and its mechanisms (faculty senates and councils) so thoroughly commandeered by university administration.

Beyond the walls of the academy, where the default vision of the college professor is (still) that of an over-educated, privileged elite reveling in the outrageous luxury of career-long job security, no one at all is much concerned with the erosion of faculty power. Yet they should be, for the same reasons that we should be concerned about the dis-organization of labor and escalation of managerial power in the myriad public and private sector workplaces where basic public goods (such as education and healthcare) are provided.

 In these contexts, the exploitation of service providers (via understaffing, stagnant pay, and elaborate structures of managerial surveillance that further exacerbate workload escalation and erode morale) is directly connected to the under-provision of those who rely on these services (clients, patients and students).

In universities, labor is comprised of faculty and graduate students (those who actually conduct the research and deliver the educational product) and staff (who directly support their research and teaching mission). Over the past several decades, the governing boards and executive officers of universities nationwide have vigorously held the line against all three components of the university’s labor force.

This agenda has been realized (among other ways) through the exponential growth of the administrative ranks (administrators who, as Purnima Bose aptly notes in her contribution to this issue, often have no background in education whatsoever), the casualization of the faculty, and the reduction of faculty governance to so many pointless and time-wasting committee meetings.

My position in this essay is that (re)building faculty power is critical to protecting the interests of faculty and students alike, as well as necessary to forging real solidarity with graduate students and staff.

Yet I argue that such a (re)building must be grounded in a wholesale re-conceptualization of what we mean by “faculty governance.” In what follows, I attempt to sketch what such a re-conceptualization would require.

Read entire article at Against the Current

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