All across America, faculty are uniting to advocate for students and the profession—and the future of higher education is brighter thanks to heroic efforts to bring about authentic structural change and preserve the integrity of our public institutions. Faculty bravery and activism ignite the fight to raise standards and, together, faculty have called attention to the student debt crisis and for-profit industry, they are fighting for investments in public higher education, and investing in underrepresented faculty and faculty of color. In short, faculty activists nationwide are changing the narrative and landscape of higher education, and collectively—the movement is stronger every day.
Though there is more work ahead, there’s also a lot to celebrate this season; for example, student debt is part of the national dialogue thanks to efforts on multiple fronts to expose the $1.3 trillion crisis. The link between teaching and learning conditions is also established and without doubt quality education that leads to student success depends on an investment in instruction and job stability—instructors cannot teach effectively when they live in fear and poverty.
In “Higher Education at a Crossroads,” The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) argues: “Over the long term, efforts to improve the security of the faculty can yield benefits for students, communities, and our nation—and, ultimately, strengthen the economic status of the profession.” Organized efforts to stabilize the profession are indeed critical to the present and future of higher education.
The cumulative weight of contingency is unbearable, and it’s time to put an end to the exploitative business plan and practice that guarantees economic hardship for the majority of professors who perform the core mission of the institution while some others profit off faculty labor and love for students and teaching. Now more than ever, the noble thing for faculty to do is to fight for our profession and students—to educate for freedom and success.
This is why thousands of faculty activists and allies are united on the front lines, taking the battle to the streets as part of the Fight For $15 movement for quality jobs, too. The entire economy is burdened by what Jason Grunebaum calls “the corporate cannibalizing of everything,” and that sort of toxic appetite will not cease to exploit without organized public pressure and foolproof regulations. Let’s keep up the pressure.
Faculty Forward Network activists are also digital humanists, connecting with colleagues in virtual communities and pioneering new forms of organization to take on the crisis in higher ed. Social media is particularly vital for faculty who may experience physical isolation given their location, and more often than not ideological isolation that stems from contingency status and job insecurity. Together, we’re breaking down the barriers of communication that divide us, and creating pathways to win through collective action. We won't be divided or silenced.
Faculty independence from poor working conditions is in the best interest of our students, our workforce, and our economy—this should be a bipartisan national priority. With the exception of elite institutions banking substantive endowments, the destabilization of the profession has depleted the quality of education, which directly affects morale and outcomes. Additionally, state divestment threw a hard curveball that impacts the complexity of university management, including decisions to raise tuition to offset the loss. Clearly, there are several contributing factors to the crisis in higher ed and it’s time for all involved to take on the responsibility of recuperating higher ed for future generations.
With the crisis that state divestment helped create nationwide, Federal Title IV funds are increasingly needed; indeed, they are flowing into institutions such that 85% of first-time undergrads receive financial aid, according to the “2016 Condition of Education” report, and this is a significant reason why institutional financial responsibility and transparency are necessary to sustain the quality and opportunity that higher education promises to deliver. The stakes are high and this is why we must hold institutions accountable for ethical working conditions, an investment in instruction, and necessary student services.
Increasingly, the public argument for investment in higher ed is gaining momentum and it’s crucial to tap into that and argue fiercely for positive change and resources. Let’s not forget that higher ed is big business, though. By measure of federal and private student loan debt, it’s a $1.3 trillion dollar industry for a reason: higher ed is in demand, no—it’s the pillar of our national psyche. Most prospective students must choose between a dead-end job or a lifetime of debt for a degree and shot at economic prosperity that may lead to financial security. This is unacceptable and we need to fix it.
It’s too late to entertain traditional or corporate status quo arguments for slow-and-steady reform that are effectually counterproductive given the record number of ed debtors who choose financial ruin over the roulette odds of job security without a degree in our gig economy. We all need to be fighting for $15 and a union, economic recovery, and pathways for people to get quality and affordable education as a public good and human right. It’s time to take a stand for higher education and defend the American Dream.