Thursday, December 25, 2008

Responding to an open letter

The following was sent out today from a YUFA member. I've stripped identifying information, as the letter is not public. However, the arguments contained in it are sufficiently bad that they need a response:
I am one of the signatories of the letter referenced by the letter below. Here
is my response; it is in addition to my early letter at the beginning of the

[anonymizing snip]

The bottom line is that I would not have continued in a position I did not want. I wanted to be [academic field] so I could do my writing and research, and if the job I had did not offer me that, then I’d do something else. I certainly cannot imagine myself choosing a path I did not really want, and then demanding that the world change it into the one I really did want while in the process, holding a community of 50,000 and the University’s reputation hostage as well.
Poor reasoning on many levels. Here's a few. First, not everyone has other options: they take a path because that's the only path there is. (And, please, no existentialist nonsense about how everyone has a choice about what to do. Some options are non-viable; we can always "choose" to starve and die, but that's hardly a reasonable choice; no more is it reasonable to bear a crushing debt load to achieve a graduate degree, then go and bag groceries for minimum wage. No, shut up, it isn't. There should be fewer folks admitted to grad school such that the options never become this constrained.)

Second, demanding change is how institutions improve. Up and leaving is how labour conditions stay bad; it fills the ranks with those people who have no other options. The only way up and leaving can work is if it strips sufficient numbers of able folks from the ranks. That's not the case in the academy. We all know there are more graduate students every year, and thus more people looking for academic jobs every year, with increasingly high debt loads and thus limited options for their futures. So, even if every single TA and contract faculty member left today, there would still be enough (although it might take a few weeks to find 'em all) to fill the void. Thus, the labour conditions would not improve, and all that skill and education would be wasted.

Third, who's a hostage? Undergrads? They can demand their money back (by deregistering) and enroll somewhere else. Why is it reasonable to insist that contract faculty quit if they don't like the labour conditions and yet not reasonable to suggest undergrads quit if they don't like the strike? The latter are clearly more mobile than the former.

Who else is a hostage? The University's reputation? Isn't that really the University's problem? Perhaps the lousy reputation is a result of its regular inability to deal with a significant chunk of its labour force. Or its unwillingness to fund research at a reasonable level.

Who else is a hostage?
For that matter, I believe the contract faculty are also holding York’s graduate students hostage for their own, and sometimes contrary, ends.
Oh, for goodness' sake. (Appropriate, eh?)

Grad students have, IIRC, a three- or four-to-one advantage in CUPE 3903 over contract faculty. If grad students are being held hostage, then they are quite willing to be so held. This is obvious.
Contract faculty took positions knowing full well what they were, and now want them to be something different. You demand permanent slots, which you have de facto already, and will then demand lower teaching loads and time for research which you have not earned in open competition.
This last bit I agree with. But the former -- about full-time position "which you have de facto already". If the positions are de facto permanent, where is the objection to their being de jure permanent?

Answer: there isn't one. If it's a fact, why not admit it? Because the University wants to retain the power to treat its contract faculty as if this were never a fact. Admitting the reality is the first step to realizing how poorly the University has been managed over the years.
A separate non-research stream means nothing less than the college-ization of the university.
So, wait: on the one hand, contract faculty haven't earned research positions -- I grant that (although I attribute it to lack of opportunity more than anything else). On the other hand, there shouldn't be a pure teaching stream, because then the University would be "college-ized". (I imagine this being said with a nose in the air sneer -- at least, if I didn't know who wrote the letter. Since I do, I find the comment difficult to fathom.)

In short, contract faculty should continue to be used as disposable, temporary labour -- and like it! Am I the only one who realizes York is already a poor excuse for a research university? And should either do something about that, or admit it?
The contract faculty have work [sic] very hard; there’s o [sic] question about that. There are many fine teachers among them, and even some decent researchers. But getting through graduate school does not guarantee a position as a faculty member, and it should not do that.
Blatant non sequitur. There's a lot of space between the privileges of a tenured faculty member and the exigencies of a contract faculty position, and this space includes such things as a full-time non-research stream. Why not take seriously the possibility of filling in that space? After all, as the writer concedes, we already as a matter of fact have these people at York. So, what's wrong with recognizing that?
Let’s please just get back to work.
I don't think this will happen until the debate becomes a little more honest and open. Right now, I see a lot of privileged folks -- undergrads and full-time faculty alike -- taking shots at folks with little power or privilege -- TAs, GAs, and contract faculty.

It would be sad if I weren't so deplorably cynical.

Yeah, yeah. Merry whatever.

No comments: