Why Activism Matters

Why Activism Matters

Why Activism Matters

Someone recently told me that the most radicalizing experience is to try to work inside academia to affect change. It’s taken me years, literally years, to come to an understanding about the corrupt corporate model of higher education that has so swiftly taken over public and private colleges and universities across the country. Now all the staff and student services employees at my university wear a special uniform, they look like they are ready to go to work at McDonald’s. It appears this happened over night. One day I walked into work and everyone had on matching shirts and “Ask Me” buttons. I don’t remember the day, but it happened very rapidly. And with that transformation has come the terrible backlash on professors: adjunct and tenured.

And guess what? Adjuncts don’t even exist here at my institution. We consider ourselves instructors, or part time instructors, or full time instructors. It seems likely that as a group we will be the first to be fired in the current Illinois budget impasse. It’s simple, we will not be hired back. The only thing that we really want is a job in 4 ½ months so we can pay our mortgages, and afford daycare or college for our kids; we want to hold onto our teaching jobs because every year there are more PhDs looking for university jobs no matter what the job conditions are. Even though many of us already have PhDs they’ll never consider us because we’ve already had the scarlet letter “A” emblazoned on our foreheads!

We love our students, our disciplines and our community here. Adjuncts want a chance to teach after we’ve invested many years preparing a discipline and honing our teaching craft that has served so many of our students to go out in the city and get meaningful jobs. I have come to understand and believe that the only way these issues in higher education will come to light is for every instructor to acknowledge that adjunctification harms the entire academic community, students, and faculty. I hope this day is fast approaching.

This is an important and fundamental human rights issue in the world today. Education is a human right: students deserve access to a good education and teachers deserve to be paid for their important work. Teachers are the ones who impart their knowledge on to the next generation and in that transference in classrooms across the world teachers become empowered in their true calling to lead others in the natural group process of inquiry. You don’t need a PhD to be a great university professor, but you do need a real job. A job that is not constantly under attack by the sheer avarice of corporate sharks who care about lining their bank accounts. You need to know that when the end of the semester comes to a screeching halt that your paycheck is not up for grabs the next semester. Believe it or not, adjunct professors and Walmart employees have a lot in common: low pay and job insecurity.

Politicians can make education scot free, so students from poor and middle and upper class neighborhoods can go to college on scholarships that will empower them to follow their dreams for a career that is beckoning them forward. But how are these same students going to get educated if their own teachers have lost the will to teach anything of substance because they’re treated as second class citizens and are so exhausted from unpaid labor? How will that empower the next generation of classroom teachers in the public schools when their own teachers have lost hope that there ever will be a classroom that values free inquiry and self-expression?

This is a crisis of faith. This is the crisis that beats all the other ones, because without teachers that have the freedom to plan and work freely in the college classroom there really isn’t a future society to look forward to, because society itself will lose meaning. We will fight this battle and we will win because increasingly students are fighting along beside us. Everyone knows that teaching and learning is a human right and this situation for teachers and students in higher education is untenable. This is why I am taking action on April 14th, 2016.

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(This is taken from a longer work “The Radicalization of an Adjunct Professor in Three Parts”)

Lydia F. Snow is an instructor in Vocal Music Education and general education classes such as Contemporary Music Education K-6, The Musical Experience, Music Concepts and World Music at Northeastern Illinois University.

In the summer of 2012, she taught at Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development as an instructor in the early childhood program. For several summers, she was the music instructor at the Evanston Arts Camp through the city of Evanston. She has taught classroom general music for over 20 years in private and public schools in the Chicago area. In the summers of 2004 and 2005, she was the Movement and Recorder Instructor for Level 1 Orff Certification at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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