Archive for the ‘Context’ Category

[Edit: Jason Del Gandio is an alum of SIUC. He’s done significant scholarly work in the rhetoric of activism.]

Occupy Your Education:
A Note to Students about Changing the World
by Jason Del Gandio

The current Occupy Movement has captured people’s imagination and refocused the national discussion on issues of economic injustice, social stratification, and corruptions of American democracy. Contrary to what some people might think, the Occupy Movement is not composed solely of “young, idealistic college kids.” People of many different ages, ethnicities, and ideological persuasions are involved. But there is no doubt that many — but surely not all — Occupy participants attend, will attend, or have attended college. This raises an interesting question: What role does higher education play in the formation of the Occupy Movement and/or social movements in general? I want to specifically address current and future students: Should your college education help you organize and participate in social movements? Should your college experience help you become an agent of social change? What is and what can be the relationship between higher education and attempts to change the world?

At first glance there appears to be no inherent connection between a college education and social justice. Universities are organized around different areas of study, many of which have nothing to do with social movements. While sociology and political science departments might offer courses in gender inequities and/or transnational global movements, math and science do not. Other departments — like business and marketing — might actually resist or ignore such social/political issues. While some schools do cater to issues of justice, democracy, and political transformation, this is neither common nor obligatory. College is about education rather than radical social change.

This is not to ignore the rich history of campus activism: the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Students for a Democratic Society, and the whole anti-Vietnam War era; the Latin American solidarity work and the Campus Outreach Opportunity League of the 1980s; the United Students Against Sweatshops that began in 1997; the Campus Antiwar Network and the New SDS of the mid-2000s; California’s statewide protests against cuts to education in 2009 and 2010; and the current call to Occupy Colleges (


Question: Randy, can you explain why the concept of tenure is so important to teachers in universities? I understand somewhat its origins in the 60s and 70s and the desire of teachers to speak freely, but what makes teachers different than other professions?

Answer: Tenure is much older than the 60s or 70s. It goes back to the teens. The troubles began in the 1890s when college faculty members were routinely fired for advocating unpopular (often new, often true) ideas. There were a number of cases, such as Sheldon who was fired from Boston University for unpopular views on the Bible, and culminating in a series of cases in the teens. The American Association of University Professors formed to advocate the value to a free society of protections for persons who were likely to be generating ideas that were uncomfortable to those benefiting from the status quo. The institution of tenure was devised to protect academic freedom. It isn’t a perfect plan, far from it. But a free society requires some ways of safe-guarding the free flow of ideas among those who have earned the right through diligence, productivity, loyalty to their institutions and students, to enjoy some protection for speaking the truth as they see it. That protection now traditionally belongs to tenured university and college faculty members, among whom I am to be counted. Assuming I live a morally acceptable life beyond the academy, and that I perform my assigned duties, I can express my opinions within my discipline without fear of reprisal for their being controversial, or threatening to the beneficiaries of current received opinion, or even if those views are radically out of line with what is now regarded as knowledge. Knowing me as you do, it may not surprise you to learn that I say unpopular things that could get me fired if I were not protected, but I do not say them to stand out; I say what I honestly believe, and I expect to have those views tolerated and never censored. I have earned the right to this protection, and unlike most people, I earned it twice, at different institutions. I do not take my speech lightly, and I intent to do whatever is within my power to insure that people like me, who have earned this kind of protection, are still able to speak their minds without fear of petty or unjustified reprisal, in the future. As Sarah says above, if they can stifle me in Illinois, at a public institution, they can much more easily stifle people in benighted places like Oklahoma. (I speak from extensive first-hand knowledge.) Our struggle here will have implications all over the nation. Illinois has the best labor law in the country, from a worker’s point of view. If we can’t protect tenure, no one can. You asked.

Posted today on

The key issues in the strike flow from SIU Chancellor Rita Cheng and SIU President Glen Poshard’s attempts to impose a “corporate education” model on the school. As one student and Navy veteran asked in an open letter, “Is SIUC just after my government benefits after all? Like [the for-profit] University of Phoenix?”

“What is at stake here,” said striking professor Jyostna Kapur, “is the education of working class and middle class students. The administration wants to cheat our students of a good education by trying to make us work for more and more with less and less at a time when working class and middle class students are going into debt for this education.”

Read the full article.

You may have heard mention of an infamous incident in SIUC’s history related to another administration’s lack of respect for its faculty and tenure. Some aspects of this incident sound awfully familiar:

“This is a very grim and unfortunate thing that no one on this campus wanted,” said Southern Illinois University President David R. Derge. It is just about the only statement that has been made recently on the Carbondale, Ill., campus with which everyone can agree. The event that Derge referred to: as a result of a budget cut, the university fired 104 faculty and staff members and then, in a move that at first glance seemed to add insult to injury, immediately filed a class-action suit against six of the dismissed teachers.

Source: Time Magazine. (The full article requires a subscription, but those of you who haven’t had your ID blocked can access it for free through Morris Library’s website.)

Hardest hit by the firings, which included 64 faculty members and 40 professional staff members and program directors, were the humanities–English, philosophy and history.

[Assistant Professor of English Robert] Harrell contends that this is part of a general restructuring of SIU away from the humanities and into a technically oriented vocational school to serve industry.

Source: Tthe Milwaukee Journal.

Nicknamed “The Carbondale 104”, the fired professors and their colleagues fought back, eventually restoring tenure protections. Some of those fired were reinstated, but the administration’s decision led to a lingering climate of distrust that affects SIUC to this day.

Chancellor Cheng’s version:

“7. Back to Work Agreement – Neither the University nor the Association shall retaliate against any employee or student who participates or refrains from participating in the strike. The University will not agree to reimburse the lost wages or benefits for any Faculty member participating in the strike.”

quoted from

FA’s version:

“Back to work agreement. The Board’s punitive back to work proposal is an insult to the faculty exercising their legal right to strike under Illinois law. Particularly insulting are the Board’s broad implications that faculty have been engaging in threats and misconduct during the course of the strike. Inflammatory language will only inflame tensions on campus. The FA believes that an important goal for a back to work agreement is to build a better relationship between the faculty and the administration.”

quoted from the FA blog

Why this matters, from Randall Auxier: “Heads to the picket line. Having read the Chancellor’s last missive, I can confirm that it is accurate as far as it goes. It’s what she’s not saying about their language that’s the problem. If we sign… off on their language, they will have the contractual power to furlough us every year from now on, and we will essentially lose our lawsuit against the university for illegally imposing furloughs this past year. We cannot contractualize this irresponsible and destructive practice (furloughs) at SIUC. Their language also empowers them to use any kind of pictures or recordings of the strike to discipline anyone who was on strike, but they don’t define discipline as retaliation. We have to keep going until they see reason.”

A current sticking point in ending the Faculty Association strike is the right the administration seeks to discipline individual faculty members for their participation in the strike. The language the Board of Trustees seeks to authorize this right is very vague, amounting to a license for witch hunts and reprisals against outspoken faculty exercising their legal rights.

The Board of Trustees is implying that striking faculty threatened students. None of us are omniscient; no one knows what every faculty member said to every student. But there are existing procedures for you already if you feel that your grade and/or safety were threatened. It’s important to note that these procedures also protect you if you felt threatened or intimidated by faculty or administration officials who did not support the strike and attempted to limit your freedom. It’s interesting that the Board does not seem to acknowledge that possibility—the other side of the coin.

So let’s talk about that for a moment:

  • Has the administration threatened you or interfered with your freedom to participate in and/or support the strike?
  • Did the administration cut off your professors’ email so you couldn’t communicate, not just about class but about family emergencies and the need for letters of recommendation?
  • Did the administration send you email telling you that if you didn’t go to class there would be consequences, even ones that weren’t outlined in the original course syllabus, your contract for the course?
  • Did the administration censor your efforts to contribute even to civil dialogue about the issue in social media like facebook?
  • Did the administration describe you as the faculty’s pawns who didn’t know your own minds?
  • Did the administration attempt to silence and limit inquiry by the DE, your student newspaper?

You’ve reported all of these things, documented, shared, and spoken out against them in a thousand and one ways. Even if you elected to go to class, and to stay because you appreciated the information your substitute was providing or simply sat quietly doing busy work to get "points," each of these issues has been a part of your life and the lives of your friends for the last few days.

You may remember reading about "projection" in a psychology or other course. It names those times when, afraid we are guilty of something we can’t face up to, we accuse others of that something. It’s a classic defense mechanism in hard times, and these times are certainly hard for all of us.

If some of you felt threatened by a faculty member on either side of this issue, talk to them as the first step in reaching an understanding, and if the issue isn’t resolved, pursue your department’s mechanisms for clarifying and insuring your rights.

But also, whatever perspective you have on the strike, if you felt intimidated by email warning you not to miss class, sudden changes to the syllabus you agreed to by taking the class, censored by the administration, and/or harmed by its efforts to constrain your student newspaper, by all means, call the administration and tell them you think they’re being just a little hypocritical:

  • Board of Trustees 618-536-3357
  • Chancellor Cheng 618-453-2341
  • President Poshard 618-536-3331

You can also document your experience with substitutes by emailing Doing so helps others understand what you’ve gone through.

It’s time for the administration to examine their own conscience on the issue of threatening, intimidating, and censoring students. Please, call them and ask them to offer a fair back-to-work agreement that protects all of us who spoke out.

Let’s put SIU back together.

Jyotsna Kapur connects the dots.

While SIU is currently involved in a strike over transparency in definitions of “financial exigency” for purposes of furloughs and layoffs, our colleagues around the country have also had experience with this issue. Helpful perspective about the importance of transparency in this process is available in a report released by the American Council on Education. See especially the section “Faculty Consultation in Times of Budget Crises,” which begins on page 16 of the report, available at the link below. Throughout that section, the council articulately advocates for the importance of faculty participation throughout the process of creating and applying standards for layoff and other decisions related to financial exigency. This is required reading for all of us.