Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Morning Thread

by Molly Ivors

I'm actually kind of hopeful about the reform of Stanley Fish and what it means for the rest of us and what I'll call the Wisconsin Effect.
In over 35 years of friendship and conversation, Walter Michaels and I have disagreed on only two things, and one of them was faculty and graduate student unionization. He has always been for and I had always been against. I say “had” because I recently flipped and what flipped me, pure and simple, was Wisconsin.

When I think about the reasons (too honorific a word) for my previous posture I become embarrassed.... The big reason was the feeling — hardly thought through sufficiently to be called a conviction — that someone with an advanced degree and scholarly publications should not be in the same category as factory workers with lunch boxes and hard hats.

Snobbery, pure and simple.

Now, it's hard to be a snob if you've spent any time as an adjunct (maximum annual salary caps out at maybe $20K, and that's stringing a bunch of not-very-sure things together and driving a lot), or as a prof at a non-elite school (in which I include all community colleges, most state schools, and a good proportion of private, four-year liberal arts schools): we teach the kids of the working class, hopefully giving them the skills they need to get decent jobs in the future, jobs which offer them a shot at the middle class.

Side note: It's starting to look like we've been lying to them. Egypt, here we come.

But as far as the Wisconsin Effect goes: Fish seems to realize here that everyone is, well, not him. "[F]or a small percentage of academics there is something like a free agent market: another university comes calling and you’re in the nice position of being able to pit your current employer against your suitor and wait to see who will come up with the best package. But most of us are not in this position, and so it doesn’t pay (quite literally) to conceptualize our situation as if we were all stars."

Fish is a star, or has been, partly because of his willingness to be a House Academic for the Wingnut Hordes, making them feel smarter because "even Stanley Fish is a conservative!" (NB, dunno that anyone ever said that, as such, but how else does he merit NYTimes editorial page space? It's not because of his seminal role in developing Reader-Response Criticism.) And his stardom does disprove the whining of conservative academics who want to be loooooooved more.

But if Fish, who benefits disproportionately from the system as now gamed, can see the point of what's being accomplished by our Badger friends, then maybe we are at a tipping point and people will start to see that collective bargaining is a right and a necessity in a nation increasingly governed by the savage rapacity of corporations, which colleges are starting to resemble.

Hey, a girl can hope.