30 July 2015

The Waiting Game? Already Lost

Waiting room icon.svg
"Waiting room icon" by PanierAvide - Own work.
Licensed under 
CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

"We, politically progressive members of universities and college should no longer wait. We should step up our game and move to other more effective modes of action."  I didn't click on the link until about the fifth time I saw it posted on Facebook: "'Waiting in the Neoliberal University: The Salaita Case and the Wages of an Academic Boycott."  This essay from my colleagues Ellen Moodie and Martin Manalansan IV appeared first in Savage Minds, now it's on Academe Blog.   Tl;dr (as the kids say): we need to keep doing what we've been doing, just more of it.

Were we still "waiting" for anything?  The Urbana campus of the University of Illinois is officially censured by the AAUP and Prof. Salaita is off to Beirut for a year.  The outcome of the lawsuit still lies before us, and a few more anger-bombs may detonate as additional FOIA'ed documents come forward, but it's been over for a while.  Moodie and Manalasan gave us some bones to pick over: Is academic freedom inseparable from the BDS movement?  Was the boycott prompted by forces inside or outside the university?  These have been rich talking points on Facebook this past week.

I'm more interested in what can be salvaged from a fight we've already lost.

Profs. Manalansan and Moodie conclude thus:

We suggest the boycott of UIUC be superseded by an expansive coalition and a multi-stranded set of actions to oppose the virulent and revanchist state apparatus and the increasingly imperial/neoliberal university. Concerned citizens of higher educational institutions in this nation must now fight directly and more forcefully with clearer agendas and goals. Waiting is no longer an option.

Don't get me wrong: I'm all for opposing the virulent and revanchist state apparatus and the increasingly imperial neoliberal university.  But if all the "concerned citizens of higher educational institutions" needed to beat it back were "clearer agendas and goals," Prof. Salaita would be on the payroll at Illinois right now.  The "concerned citizens" of higher ed who read Academe and Savage Minds have no power.  Whole departments, disciplinary associations, and the AAUP have weighed in here on a fairly minor issue--the hiring of one guy--and gotten nowhere.  Meanwhile, we see the lights going out in higher ed in Wisconsin and North Carolina.  

Concerned citizens of higher ed (let's be precise: faculty in the humanities and interpretive social sciences and their handful of scattered STEM allies) need to stop pretending that talking to each other makes a difference.

We in academia tend to go for our guns when we hear the word "stakeholder."  That's usually the point at which an administrative shill is justifying the diversion of resources from teaching, research, and service in order to pander to some business interest.  It's time to claim the term for ourselves.  

I suggest that the boycott of UIUC be superseded by a multi-stranded set of actions to identify the stakeholders in higher education who don't hold faculty appointments: students, future students, families of students, taxpayers, alumni, K-12 teachers, politicians at all levels of state and local government.  I also suggest that we name, in clear language accessible to this non-academic audience, the harms that will come about as a result of the "virulent and revanchist state apparatus and the increasingly imperial neoliberal university" (we should probably start by calling it something else).  And here's the hard part: we need to articulate a better, alternative vision of the purpose of the university, one that will respond to the needs of those stakeholders, not to our own revanchist dreams of a mythical R1 past where flourishing graduate programs and the accolades of our fellow scholars justified our existence.


  1. NTT faculty, graduate students and clerical/technical employees have actually worked towards a unified pro-education coalition at UIUC and across the state. NTT faculty at UIUC launched a union in the past year, and began collective bargaining. Certified faculty and grad. students' unions now exist at all U of I campuses! TT faculty at UIUC faculty have paid scant attention. The sustained organizing effort which these unions are now coordinating brings together students, parents and teachers is a concrete way to work for both long term change and immediate relief.

  2. When the undergraduate masses rise up, the Teachin will appear.