The Handoff

In case this is the first time someone lands on this blog, which I have been slow in getting up: Last year about this time, Joe Berry and I sent in the ms for our book, Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the Contingent Faculty Movement in Higher Education. It came out from Pluto last August (2021). Turns out, we had good timing. But we are old (I am 78 and Joe is 73) and it was time to say: “OK, here you go, read this and email Joe if you have any questions.” That’s why we wrote that book.

Sort of “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning,” if anyone remembers that old line.

However, “Call me in the morning” is exactly what is happening. It takes a variety of forms which I hadn’t foreseen. We are being used for long background interviews (like the one in the LA Times, which quoted us). We are featured on zooms (like with the Marxist Education Project earlier this month). We are being asked to talk at conferences (like the Washington State AFT contingent faculty conference in February). And then there’s podcasts, like one coming out of Toronto, which hasn’t been posted yet.

However, there’s a catch: These are actually more work for us, not less.

It’s not like we could wrap up this book and then go home, make dinner and watch Netflix. Nor is it as simple as just doing a publicity thing for our book. In fact, when Joe writes to some publication and asks them to review our book, they come back with asking us to write something new, or give them an excerpt from our book that we can publish. We have already done this several times. You’d think it would be easy, but it takes time.

Another consequence of trying to do a hand-off is that we have to show up at places where the people to whom we are trying to hand off the movement (imagine saying that!) congregate. The two most important that I’m aware of are the weekly Labor Notes higher ed group and HELU, Higher Ed Labor United. HELU is preparing a second summit for February 23-27. Both of these involve young people who are seriously pursuing the goals of the movement, all the while dealing with their own situations. These are the people that we mean when we say, “We are the moving party.”

I will write more about HELU later. It’s at if you want to see their website now, which is still under construction.

This is on top of Joe continuing to do the COCAL Updates. And he’s still on the E-Board of the AFT Local 2121 at City College.

In the meantime: two items posted today on Inside Higher Ed, the first dismaying but not surprising, the second a nightmare. But both make me want to repeat: We are the moving party.

Jan 28, Colleen Flaherty in Inside Higher Ed:  
Nationally, total enrollment in teacher preparation programs declined by more than one-third between 2010 and 2017, even as overall undergraduate enrollment increased over the same period, according to a 2019 analysis by American Progress. Oklahoma fared worst in the state-by-state portion of the analysis, with an enrollment crash of 80 percent.

She mentions two other universities (UC Davis and U of South Florida that were going to cut their teacher ed programs but backed off.)

Obviously, if people don’t want to be teachers any more, society will have to figure out how to do without them. This includes higher ed. Today (Jan 28) Inside Higher Ed also posted an Opinion Piece by Arthur Levine and Scott van Pelt, oddly dated October 4, 2021, that lays out a vision of the future of higher education that is a tech dream of a fully disrupted industry: Totally focused on consumer demand and the technology available to create and market the products that will feed that desire (I’m using that word on purpose).  The vision is fully populated by markets, products, and the tech that will make and deliver those products.  In between, where we might expect to see something about teachers and teaching as a job, there is zero.  It’s as if AI is going to create and deliver.  Which maybe it could. So it’s a question of what kind of world do we want to live in. 

Compare that with the vision statement of HELU.

Finally, “Other people’s children”

Heather Cox Richardson quoted Ron Johnson (R-WI) on the Child Tax Credit, saying,  “I’ve never really felt it was society’s responsibility to take care of other people’s children.”

That’s enough for today (as Heather Cox Richardson says). I’ll try to include photos eventually, like her.

Published by helenaworthen

Labor educator, retired from University of Illinois, taught at TDT University in Ho Chi Minh City in the Faculty of Trade Unions and Labor Relations. Co-author with Joe Berry of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the contingent faculty movement in higher education, forthcoming (August 2021) from Pluto Press.

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