Striking to fight the corporatization of CSU

“Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union
I’m sticking to the union ‘til the day I die”
— Woody Guthrie

My union, the California Faculty Association, is preparing to go on strike. The CFA represents all 30,000 or so faculty (instructors of all ranks, counselors, librarians, and coaches) from across all 23 California State University campuses. Ninety-five percent of union members who voted on whether to authorize a strike or not said yes!

Membership in the union is a big majority of all faculty, so it is blindingly obvious that the faculty reject the administration’s last offer and are willing to strike for the 12% raise and workload- and equity-related demands our bargaining team has put forward.

Some people may be surprised that there is collective bargaining at any institutions of higher education. The profession of college professor used to be highly regarded, honored by society, respected by students. No unions were needed. Today, we find faculty living in their cars, holding down part-time jobs at two, three, four or more universities (the “freeway flyers” you’ve heard of), never knowing from semester to semester whether they will have a class to teach; we have grossly inadequate numbers of psychological counselors, classes either over-enrolled or not “making it,” actual instructional needs underfunded, and many other manifestations of a system out of whack.

Many good things have happened in the modern American university. For instance, the long-standing stratification of the faculty, with women and people of color in greater numbers in the lower ranks, is slowly changing. Technology has provided a great complement to traditional instruction and helped research in many fields leap forward.

The founding of CFA more or less coincided with the creation of a new kind of college professor: the adjunct instructor or lecturer, for the most part temporary and part time. There existed lecturers prior to the mid-1980s, but they generally had defined, full-time appointments.  Those coming onto the academic job market in the late ‘80s and onward saw mostly advertisements for adjuncts to teach particular classes, not searches for new assistant professors.  How is this good for students? It’s not. They have a here today, gone tomorrow professoriate.

Meanwhile, the top managers are highly paid, and call themselves CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, and leaders. They have huge staffs. The administrative bureaucracy is byzantine.

How did our workplace get so unequal and oppressive? A paper published in 1998 by Oblinger and Verville, called “What Business Wants from Higher Education,” more or less summed up what many of us already knew was going on: the corporatization and colonization by business of the academy. We saw this in the growing number of consultants supporting or doing management-type activities (planning, evaluation and monitoring, hiring, reporting, etc.) at universities. Higher ed consulting became a cottage industry. Faculty were told how to teach, how to test students, what to have as objectives and outcomes, how to measure everything measurable and some things that aren’t. The language of “deliverology” and “restructuring” and “disruption” and other memes from business entered the manager vocabulary.

One of the main ideas in the “What Business Wants …” paper is that job preparation should be the main purpose of the university. They were not talking about this in terms of a general education in the major areas of accumulated knowledge, a familiarity with the main artistic or cultural accomplishments of humankind, a greater acuity of thinking and speaking, etc. They were talking about learning how to do particular jobs, hence, developing particular marketable skills. There was a presumption that a) we were not preparing students for work, and b) teaching anything else (critical thinking, history, literature, social science) isn’t worthwhile. The public accepted this malarkey! It’s so easy to think scholars are not doing “real work.”

We needed a union to combat both the little violations and injustices of our everyday work lives and the big sea change going on in the culture of higher education. We are not afraid of change; we just don’t like bad change. The corporatization of the university is bad for faculty, bad for students, and bad for society. That’s why we voted to strike. That’s why I’m stickin’ to the union.

Dorothy D. Wills, Ph.D., lives in Claremont and recently retired from teaching at Cal Poly Pomona as emeritus professor of anthropology.

The California Faculty Association is set to strike at Cal Poly Pomona and three other CSU campuses beginning December 4.


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