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Michigan is at war against research/teaching assistants

March 14, 2012
English: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

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There are times when, in the course of my reading, that an item comes along that I just cannot let go unaddressed.  This is just one such item.

Rick Snyder, Michigan’s governor, today signed into law a bill that outlaws attempts of teaching assistants at public universities to unionize.   Read that again…slowly.  It is now against the law for a research assistant, who is getting paid by the university, to attempt collective bargaining.

Let’s go side by side…the dumb side and the right side.  Dumb side first: the argument goes that graduate students cannot be recognized as employees, therefore have no right to unionize.  According to Michiganlawyerblog:

The state Public Employment Relations Act, or PERA, defines a public employee as someone who holds a position by employment or appointment in state government, in the government of a political subdivision in the state, in a public school or in any other branch of public service

I was a graduate student in a public school.  I received money from the school to teach Intro Comp.  I was, in some sense, an employee.  I did not receive benefits (like that was going to happen), but I was remunerated for my services.

Michiganlawyerblog goes on to say:

House Bill 4246, sponsored by state Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, adds an exception to PERA by clarifying that the position of graduate student research assistant at universities does not fit the definition of a public employee because they primarily are in school to learn from their professors and earn advanced degrees rather than to earn a wage, according to the governor’s office. However, graduate student teaching assistants are considered employees, and are unionized at the U of M.

Because they are not considered public employees, graduate research assistants are not entitled to union representation or collective bargaining rights. (emphasis added)

That has to be one of the stupidest quotes I have ever read…students choose to read over eating or living in a shelter.

The counter side will be presented in U.S. District court (which is good because the state courts are bought, part and parcel, by the current Michigan ideology).

Final evil actor in this farce is the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a propagator of the ideology of oppression, which presents the law as a victory over enforced unionization.  Patrick Wright states:

People pursuing graduate degrees are clearly students, not government employees. Our clients look forward to getting back to their studies and research, free from the looming threat of forced unionization.

Dink.

The Center is providing legal counsel for Melinda Day, a graduate researcher finishing a dissertation in Life Sciences.

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The MLA has absolutely no idea of the state of the English workplace

November 17, 2011

I look, each year, to the MLA conference with a sense of expectation saturated with dread…perhaps this will be the year, like a forelorn Cubs fan, that the MLA will pull their collective head our of their collective (insert orifice of choice) and address a matter that actually, well, matters.

This year, I was not disappointed.  That is, the MLA, once again, disappointed.

The e-mail note popped into my box, and I hurriedly clicked the link Council Statement on Student Debt.

Here is what I found:

Public attention has been directed recently to the educational debt students accumulate in the course of undergraduate, as well as graduate, study. A major contributing factor has been the increasing portion of educational costs students must bear in the form of loans. To reduce debt burdens in the future, we call on Congress, state legislatures, and institutions of higher education to calibrate educational costs and student aid in ways that will keep student debt within strict limits. We also call on them to hold in check tuition increases, which often far outpace inflation, and to ensure that degree programs allow for timely completion.

I am going to take a few minutes to parse this statement down a bit.  To begin, why begin in such an apologetic manner… “public opinion” thinks debts are too high, so we are going to issue a strongly worded statement.  OR, perhaps they could have stated what the MLA thinks–student dept is crippling our workforce, and it shall not be tolerated! (Does the keyboard at the MLA Executive Council even have an exclamation mark?)

So, after noting that the issue is of public notice (or explaining why they are finally issuing a statement–due to the embarrassing nature of public pressure, we will issue a strongly worded statement), we get a causal argument as to what the public has noted: students take out loans that are really high–sorry, they don’t say that.  They say a major factor is that students cover more of their educational costs through loans.  If this were a freshman essay, I would critique and point out that their argument has not been properly delineated.    How does the proposition that students use loans to cover more of their expenses show/demonstrate anything?  What are we talking about here?  Where is the thesis?

The thesis lies in the third sentence, buried in the phrase “debt burdens.”  Oh, the debt, incurred by students to cover their educational costs (nothing has been stated/shown that these costs have risen in a disproportionate manner than earlier generations, inflation, other standards of measure–any of which would show that it is a new and unique burden) burdens the students in some undefined way.

So, with an inferred thesis about student debt, they offer a “solution”: tell the government to “calibrate” costs with educational institutions.  Really?  Their solution is to ask the government (both state and federal) to balance a budget?  And they ask institutions to freeze or reduce tuition?  Why not ask for a pony for Christmas while they are at it?

As a “statement,” I give the MLA Executive Council a failing grade.  They should know, and write, better.

Where are the comments/observations on the saturated job markets due, in no small part, to graduate programs producing a glut of graduates–to such an extent that the numbers far outpace the available positions something like 10:1?  Where are the calls for the old guard, which were supposed to retire en masse in the 1990’s, to retire and open up positions?  Where are the calls for better working conditions for all of the adjuncts that, through their low-wage, high-work, institutionally-important, low-level classes keep programs/institutions afloat?

Taking on Peer-reviewed Journals

July 19, 2011

InsideHigherEd.com posted an article calling for a peer-reviewed journal App-Killer.  Here is my reply.

Tenure. Because of tenure, professors need easily recognizable (by the committee) “achievements” in order to check the proper box on the tenure review form. Peer-reviewed journals, along with monographs, are the easiest and most widely used.

Tenure, for academics, equals money/security/prestige. So, until another method of securing food and ego comes about, Peer-reviewed Journals are here to stay.

(I will save the discussion of whose opinion matters to another post–not everyone’s opinion should matter equally vs. there needs to be room to upset the paradigm)

What is needed is NOT a peer-review killing app, but an app that allows access through the pay-walls. Google Scholar, a nice tool, only provides a list of sources…the bulk of which rest comfortably behind the pay-wall. This is not a big deal for those with university pass-throughs, but if a mass-user revolution is to occur (like the example in astronomy above), then I say to you, “tear down those walls.”

(My god, I quoted Reagan…)

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March 25, 2011
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is-law-school-a-losing-game: Personal Finance News from Yahoo! Finance

January 12, 2011
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If you are feeling like the Humanities are the only losing degree, think again.  Legalites will now join us adjuncts in a moment of silence, in which our crushing dept will slowly crush our educated minds into a numb, pasty pudding.

is-law-school-a-losing-game: Personal Finance News from Yahoo! Finance.

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News: Do Caps Help Adjuncts? – Inside Higher Ed

April 22, 2010
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Perhaps one of the most cogent comments on the state of the adjunct job market came from a response to IHE.com’s article News: Do Caps Help Adjuncts? – Inside Higher Ed.

And I quote:

To tell adjuncts you’re looking out for their futures by limiting their present incomes is the equivalent of hitting them on the head with hammers while purring, Yes, but it will feel so good when it stops.

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Getting not-hired at the University of Phoenix

February 8, 2010
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A recent post by Joshua Kim, blogger at InsideHigherEd.com’s “Technology and Learning” section, noted that he had not been allowed to progress through the University of Phoenix’s online instructor course.  In short, he was told he was not UofP material.  I think he should wear that as a badge of honor–you have a soul, dear sir, and we don’t want that sort around here…

Here is what I said:

The UofP is not interested in academics.  They are a business and business succeeds on conformity, of following orders, of passing the item on down the line.  Or at least that is one version of the business model, which is the one promulgated by the UofP.

Don’t feel poorly about not being let it–it is not a club you would much care for.  They don’t like free-thinking, will over-monitor your class, and, over time, suck your free-thinking spirit from you (watchOffice Space for some pop-reference insight).

The students at the UofP, at least the older ones (and there are a lot of non-trads) know the system, probably better than you, and a class can often twist into a management of policy (did I log in enough, did I write enough, my group didn’t do any of the work…).

Consider it a dodged bullet.

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