A brief look back to resistance in South Africa, 1985, on this National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality, via the archive of the Black Consciousness Movement at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. #O22 #blacklivesmatter
A brief look back to resistance in South Africa, 1985, on this National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality, via the archive of the Black Consciousness Movement at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. #O22 #blacklivesmatter
Opening a new front in the City University of New York's repression of Palestinian-solidarity activism, John Jay College president Jeremy Travis issued a campus-wide email late yesterday afternoon asserting that Palestinian-solidarity activism "fuel[s]" anti-Semitism. His statement comes after the CUNY Graduate Center administration asked the Doctoral Students' Council to pull the BDS resolution the body has been considering since mid-September, and after a top CUNY attorney denied that the university has sought to repress the efforts of Students for Justice in Palestine chapters, which a group of CUNY faculty had warned about in a collective letter to CUNY administration.
Scroll down for the complete statement, which was issued at 5:33 p.m. yesterday and went to John Jay alumni as well. After stating that John Jay is "dedicated to our mission of 'educating for justice'"—an obvious appropriation of "Students for Justice in Palestine"—Travis went on to say that he is "deeply troubled, both personally and professionally, by recent reports that Jewish students at John Jay College have felt intimidated and harassed on our campus." He intensifies the rhetoric in the next paragraph, asserting that
These instances on our campus occurred at a time when other parts of our country, and countries in Europe, are witnessing a rise in anti-Semitism. Universities are often a focal point for organizing activities that have fueled these trends.
The rest of the statement employs the kind of platitudes automatically used to dress up such repression in the guise of "encourag[ing] free and open discussion," the particular phrase Travis uses. But let's be clear: this is the latest example that free and open discussion of Palestine, and the Israeli occupation and colonization of it, is not as free and open as CUNY administrators pretend that it is.
Furthermore, this statement is also an example of how opponents of Palestinian-solidarity activism turn claims against them into claims against the organizers. Just today a CUNY student held a news conference at the Brooklyn courthouse to detail what happened to her while recently protesting the Brooklyn Nets' game with an Israeli team, when she was punched by an interloper, who was then allowed to escape with the help of the NYPD; the assailant later claimed he subsequently experienced a hate crime, which was circulated in sympathetic press outlets. And at the beginning of this semester, after an SJP die-in at Brooklyn College, an SJP member was spat on by a fellow student.
John Jay College's SJP recently held its own die-in, and we see the angry response, this time from the college's president.
Click the image below for a closer view of Travis's statement.
This week in English professor Kandice Chuh's class "Black, Brown, Yellow: On Ways of Being and Knowing," we're reading, among other texts, Hamid Dabashi's Brown Skin, White Masks (Pluto Press, 2011), in which, among other interventions, he critiques Arab and Muslim "comprador intellectuals" as the opposite of the Saidian exilic intellectual, or, that is, an intellectual or knowledge producer who serves the state and empire rather than contesting them.
Indeed, he quotes Joseph Massad—whose academic freedom was violated when he became the subject of a well-known anti-Palestinian repression campaign several years back at Columbia—on the Palestinian version of this figure as such:
Palestinian intellectuals who previously opposed the occupation, PLO concessions, and US hegemony, but now support, wittingly or unwittingly, all three....Palestinian intellectuals, attuned to the exigencies of political power and the benefits that could accrue to them from it, traded in their national liberation goals for pro-Western pragmatism. (42-43)
Ghaith Al-Omari of the American Task Force on Palestine, who's having a "conversation" with an adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry tomorrow (Monday, October 20th), seems very much to fit this description. Not only has he worked closely with the accommodationist Palestinian Authority—the successor to the PLO—but his employer is principally committed to the "United States national interest" over that of Palestine or Israel, per the American Task Force on Palestine's mission statement.
In other words, the conversation that's happening tomorrow is about U.S. power, and upholding it, and therefore will have very little to say about the prospects of achieving "peace"—that is, an end to the occupation and colonization of Palestine and related issues—especially given that the U.S. funds Israel $3 billion annually. Indeed, nine groups, a majority of them Jewish-identified, called for an end to this funding, among other demands, in a full-page ad in the New York Times last month, about which I previously posted.
Finally, a note about conversations—that is, "dialogue"—re Palestine and Israel. Dialogue implies that the two sides have equal status, and, further, that the Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestine is normal, both of which are untrue. To this end, I want to share two passages about so-called "normalization" from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel's site:
For Palestinians in the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, any project with Israelis that is not based on a resistance framework serves to normalize relations. We define this resistance framework as one that is based on recognition of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people and on the commitment to resist, in diverse ways, all forms of oppression against Palestinians, including but not limited to, ending the occupation, establishing full and equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and promoting and advocating for the right of return for Palestinian refugees – this may aptly be called a posture of 'co-resistance' . Doing otherwise allows for everyday, ordinary relations to exist alongside and independent of the continuous crimes being committed by Israel against the Palestinian people. This feeds complacency and gives the false and harmful impression of normalcy in a patently abnormal situation of colonial oppression.
'[D]ialogue' and engagement are often presented as alternatives to boycott. Dialogue, if it occurs outside the resistance framework that we have outlined, becomes dialogue for the sake of dialogue, which is a form of normalization that hinders the struggle to end injustice. Dialogue, 'healing,' and 'reconciliation' processes that do not aim to end oppression, regardless of the intentions behind them, serve to privilege oppressive co-existence at the cost of co-resistance, for they presume the possibility of coexistence before the realization of justice. The example of South Africa elucidates this point perfectly, where reconciliation, dialogue and forgiveness came after the end of apartheid, not before, regardless of the legitimate questions raised regarding the still existing conditions of what some have called 'economic apartheid.'
The BDS resolution before the Grad Center's Doctoral Students' Council will be taken up again this coming Friday. I'm hoping GC students, in particular DSC reps, will be able to see past the fog of the opposition.
Earlier today on the contingent-academics listserv adj-l, Cary Nelson complained about an article critiquing his support of Steven Salaita's ouster from the University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign. His complaint rested on two charges: the first, that the Electronic Intifada had perpetrated "vicious slander" against him for describing his monitoring of Salaita's tweets as "monitoring" (which the article in question referenced), and, secondly, that the listserv member who posted the article exhibited "deep hatred" for Nelson simply because he circulated the article, one of numerous circulating critiques of Nelson at the moment.
Other listserv members rallied to our colleague's side, including one who called for Nelson to recant his remarks, another who posted a number of readings on Nelson and the Salaita case, and a third who questioned Nelson's denial that he monitored Salaita's tweets. I also responded to Nelson, a response which I include here along with his statements to the listserv (the original one and a follow-up) as well as the quote from the article that caused his ire. I have redacted the first names of listserv members, except when I have received permission to include them, so that they aren't dragged publicly into the current debate vis-a-vis Nelson because I chose to post my response publicly.
A link to the article in question was posted along with this quote:
Professors and educators, who are experiencing a steady erosion of academic freedom along with pay and job cuts, should take Nelson's involvement in the Salaita case as a warning. They can put no faith in a "union" whose most prominent member publicly boasts of monitoring the statements of a new faculty hire and defends that hire's dismissal on grounds of objectionable speech—even when university administrators are not openly making such a claim. [Emphasis in original.]
Nelson responded as such:
This "monitoring" charge is a vicious slander by The Electronic Intifada, now amplified by [redacted] in McCarthyite style. I have been writing about the BDS movement for a year and have just completed editing a book titled THE CASE AGAINST ACADEMIC BOYCOTTS OF ISRAEL. I try to keep up with the work of all the major BDS supporters, from Judith Butler to David Lloyd to Steven Salaita, etc. I READ their books, I read Steven's essays, I read his tweets. I explained all this to The Electronic Intifada when they asked me how long I had been READING (their word) Salaita. They then turned this into "monitoring," which [redacted] has now amplified into a broad political charge. In the past I've "monitored" Adrienne Rich, monitored W.S. Merwin. On this list I "monitor" [redacted]. I guess the rest of us are doing so as well, but all of you apparently read, while I "Monitor."
Although [redacted] and I have had our differences in the past, I've always respected his energy and dedication. I didn't realize he'd developed a deep hatred for me.
Later, after the first round of reaction to the above, Nelson responded as such:
I understood [redacted] to be agreeing with and elaborating on the "monitoring" remark.
I discovered Nelson's intervention in the list when I was copied on a response to the listserv, which I saw upon checking my email about an hour ago. I responded to Nelson, and the listserv, as follows:
It's amazing but unsurprising that Prof. Nelson brought his "McCarthyite style" "vicious slander" campaign, currently deployed against Steven Salaita, here to this listserv to accuse [redacted] of the same. [Note: Upon rereading Nelson's original statement, I see he accused the Electronic Intifada of "vicious slander," but as he explained in his follow-up statement, he "understood" the listserv member as "agreeing with and elaborating on the 'monitoring' remark."] Not only that, but then to claim that "critique"—and by a third party at that, since [redacted] was quoting from a source—is somehow equivalent to "deep hatred."
This is incredibly troubling rhetoric from someone who apparently played a role—though he's yet to fully disclose it—in the firing of an academic for his political views and the consequent upheaval in that academic's—and his family's—life. Please don't play the victim card, Prof. Nelson, when it's you that has caused so much damage.
As Ana [M. Tamayo Fores, of Adjunct Justice and this petition] avers, Prof. Nelson was quoted directly as follows in the Electronic Intifada piece about his "monitoring" of Prof. Salaita: "There are scores of tweets. I have screen captures. The total effect seems to me to cross a line." If that's not "monitoring," then apparently its definition has changed—but given that Prof. Nelson doesn't believe that Gaza is under Israeli occupation, as he also stated in the Intifada piece—in contradiction of all accounts except for Israel's mystifying "facts on the ground," of which Prof. Nelson is a chief promulgator—he's not necessarily referring to material reality when he discusses Palestine, Palestinians, and their advocates such as Prof. Salaita.
Among the readings [redacted] helpfully posted, the CCR one makes clear that an individual's constitutionally protected political views cannot be separated from the manner in which they're conveyed, as the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled. And Corey Robin's itemized account of Prof. Nelson's contradictions on "civility," academic freedom, and academic boycotts is especially helpful in seeing how far Prof. Nelson has drifted from his days of embracing justice, not, as he does now, working against it.
To these resources I will add Mondoweiss's extensive review earlier this year of Prof. Nelson's longtime machinations regarding Israel, especially vis-a-vis his role at AAUP.
As Noura Erekat put it today on Facebook, "Opponents to Palestinian freedom, liberty, & dignity have made a policy of censoring & punishing scholars who dare to speak on Palestine. Supporting Steven [Salaita] is also about resisting entrenched practice in academia that has harassed/stifled scholars for decades."
I stand with the countless others who reject Prof. Nelson's—and the Israeli government's and its global lobby's—campaign against Palestine, Palestinians, and their supporters, and I join [redacted]'s call for Prof. Nelson to retract his vicious ad hominem against [redacted].
I will also be posting this to my blog to document and circulate Prof. Nelson's actions here.
I'll post and circulate any further responses by Nelson.
Last fall I focused the introductory composition class I taught at CUNY's Lehman College on stop-and-frisk and racial profiling at large. The course received the 2014 Diana Colbert Innovative Teaching Prize, awarded annually by the CUNY Graduate Center's Ph.D. Program in English. I post the materials I submitted here in the interest of open access: all of the following, except for my specific words, is free to use. If you've taught a similar class, let me know—perhaps we can build a site for such pedagogic and teaching materials. (Above image: "End Stop and Frisk" by sainthuck, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.)
Black and Latino young men are highly disproportionately stopped-and-frisked by New York City police officers, particularly in the Bronx and Brooklyn. (For representative New York Police Department data collected by the New York Civil Liberties Union, see here and here.) Although the stop-and-frisk program has been in place since at least 2002, debate over its propriety and effectiveness reached a peak last summer due to the city's mayoral election, the media attention to now-mayor Bill De Blasio's "mixed-race" family, and a federal court's finding that stop-and-frisk violated both the 4th and 14th Amendments. At the same time, the George Zimmerman trial, which concluded with Trayvon Martin's killer being found not guilty, amplified controversy about racial profiling and state power. So, too, did widely noted cultural representations such as Kanye West's Yeezus album, with songs such as "New Slaves" and "Blood on the Leaves," a re-working of the anti-lynching anthem "Strange Fruit," and Ryan Coogler's film Fruitvale Station, about 22-year-old Oscar Grant, slain by Oakland transit police in 2008.
Given these various cultural texts and discourses concerning racial violence, spanning—at a minimum—the white-supremacist terrorism of the "old South" and the everyday subjugation of black and Latino New Yorkers, it seemed an especially rich conjuncture to focus my English composition class at Lehman College on stop-and-frisk and the longer history of racial profiling in the United States. Indeed, given Lehman's Bronx location, the higher rate of stop-and-frisk in the borough (not to mention lingering grief over local teenager Ramarley Graham, killed by a cop in 2012), and the college's predominantly Latina/o and black students (see Lehman's data here), I knew that many, if not all, of my students would be affected by the program, whether the young men targeted or their family members and friends. I also knew they would have experienced racial profiling in its other forms, whether the school-to-prison pipeline in operation at New York City public schools, the general entrapment of the prison-industrial complex and its attendant political economy, or the surveillance of department-store staff and their collusion with police (as experienced by a CUNY student that fall in a high-profile incident).
My pedagogy centers on connecting with students on their terms in order to facilitate critical thinking and discussion about the links between their individual and collective experiences and larger political, social, and economic problematics at local, national, and global scales. This scrutiny extends to the classroom and university, marked by its ongoing exclusion of racialized students (see, for example, here), and disciplinary methods and knowledges (see, for example, Rod Ferguson's The Reorder of Things), including the very notions of "standard" English and normative academic writing that orient an introductory composition class (see Kevin Brown's "Rhetoric and the Stoning of Rachel Jeantel," the first assigned reading).
Indeed, the Zimmerman trial, for instance, in addition to showing the limits of the criminal-justice system for social justice, also highlighted the ongoing subjection of minoritized English speakers, as Martin's friend Rachel Jeantel was roundly mocked for her testimony. As such, the composition classroom is an ideal space to attend to the verbal dimensions of racial profiling at the same time as its other manifestations.
In this way, the first course readings (see below for full list) addressed the profiling of Jeantel's rhetoric, affect, and appearance in the context of the authors' personal experiences vis-a-vis profiling, thus framing the objectives of the course as a whole: a two-fold dynamic in which the students' own experiences could serve as the initial ground on which to contest hegemonic discourse on race.
This unit, which included Roots' drummer Questlove's viral Facebook post about his experiences being profiled, culminated in the first paper assignment, a descriptive/narrative essay in which students intervened in a particular debate over racial profiling using their lived experience as the primary form of evidence. Subsequent units, each tied to a different type of essay writing, focused on multi-modal comparative analysis of popular music and music videos, expository analyses of mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex, and various arguments opposing stop-and-frisk specifically and racialized security mechanisms generally. The final paper prompt connected the course's overall discussions to praxis, asking students to make an argument, supported by information from any two course readings, about what aspects of U.S. policing or prisons need to be changed.
Finally, although the oppositional capacity of social media was central to both class discussion and participation (students were required to submit reading responses via Tumblr), I also emphasized social media's citational limits—that is, the ease with which correct attribution can go awry. This risk was the subject of the first class meeting, in which I handed out copies of a Facebook post quoting "bell hooks on the Zimmerman trial" that went viral —except the quote, from hooks’ 2001 book All About Love, does not specifically address the Zimmerman trial but rather white supremacy at large. Once again, though, it was a prime opportunity to discuss both racial profiling and composition practice.
Per Lehman College English department requirements, English Composition I is not predominantly literature-based, but with this second paper assignment, I introduced literary elements in the form of the lyrics to "Strange Fruit," originally performed by Billie Holiday in 1939 and later covered by Nina Simone in the mid-1960s, and the lyrics to "Blood on the Leaves," the 2013 Kanye West track that features Simone singing the lyric "Strange fruit hangin' from the poplar trees / Blood on the leaves" for its chorus. The paper assignment was to compare and contrast the two songs, which offered the critical challenge of how "Strange Fruit," based on a poem by Bronx school teacher Abel Meeropol and recorded by Holiday in protest against lynching and revived by Simone at the height of the civil-rights struggle, related to the concerns West raises in his song, namely the complex intersections of romantic relationships and consumeristic bourgeois desires. As such, students had to think about both the literary aspects of each song's lyrics as well as the differing, but related, historical contexts—that is, the history of U.S. racial oppression in service to white economic power. This history was further emphasized when West performed "Blood on the Leaves" at the MTV Music Video Awards in silhouette against an image of a tree Steve McQueen photographed while making 12 Years a Slave—a performance that generated fresh attention to the song right at the beginning of the semester.
Preparatory class work for writing the paper included lectures by me on the particulars of lynching under Jim Crow, augmented by multi-modal texts available on the course Tumblr and shown in class; close readings of the lyrics and their contexts (aided especially by the annotations of "Blood on the Leaves" on RapGenius.com); and intensive comparative discussion across several class sessions, which yielded an in-class exercise I designed on the basis of the students' analysis to further hone the possible arguments that could be made (click on the following image for a clear view of the handout).
In the end, although some students remained resistant to seeing any connection between the two songs, everyone was able to see the historical continuum of black pain, on the one hand, and white economic gain, on the other. This lesson effectively set up subsequent class lessons on the continuance of racialized social control in the U.S., including current forms such as stop-and-frisk and mass incarceration. At times it was also entertaining, as all the students had an opinion of West, and they enjoyed discussing pop culture.
Course Readings for Each Unit
Unit 1: the narrative/descriptive essay
Unit 2: the compare/contrast essay
Unit 3: the expository essay
Unit 4: the argument essay
Supplemental readings/texts available on the course Tumblr.
We are still actively receiving and inviting signatories to this open letter, but it has moved here. Please click the preceding hyperlink and leave a comment with your name and academic affiliation (if you have one). All are welcome in this effort to hold the union leadership accountable at the largest university by enrollment in the U.S.! Real democracy now!
I write as a union member and CUNY contingent faculty member to express my great dismay at your statement of May 9th praising Mayor De Blasio for his CUNY budget and singling out "full-time faculty and student support staff" as needing "investments" while entirely omitting mention of adjuncts and graduate student workers.
In addition to the questionable negotiating strategy of such mayoral sycophancy—and your bizarre contention that CUNY is the "solution" to "inequality," when CUNY reproduces, and contributes to, the inequality of New York City at large—I don't understand how you could ignore the needs of adjuncts and graduate student workers, who teach the vast majority of classes at CUNY and are the majority of union members and agency-fee payers. Furthermore, I don't understand how full-time faculty need "investments" more than adjuncts and graduate student workers, who make a pittance compared to full-time faculty, work under worse conditions, and lack job security. What kind of message does this send at negotiating time?
Indeed, it seems to me that any "investments" in faculty the union wins from the city should go to adjuncts and graduate student workers and not to full-time faculty, given the extreme inequality between contingent faculty and full-time—inequality that has occurred in large part because of the priority full-time faculty have received by union leadership since the beginning of the Professional Staff Congress and which, quite evidently, continues under your leadership.
I wish I could say your out-of-touch statement is an aberration, but unfortunately it conforms to the sense so many of us adjuncts and graduate student workers at CUNY have about the union's neglect of us and our issues. It's certainly been clear to me in my tenure this academic year as an Adjunct Project coordinator, in which you and your leadership team have either ignored or outright stymied our efforts for greater union representation of adjuncts and graduate student workers and our issues.
Union leadership has been unable to respond to or move forward our simple request from December that adjuncts and graduate student workers have a choice of which chapter to affiliate with; our demands for the bargaining agenda were sat on by you, also since December, until a meeting with my colleagues on April 10th, and we've received no follow-up from you, including on your promise to include adjuncts and graduate student workers in the bargaining meetings; and our newly reconstituted Graduate Center chapter—an initiative the Adjunct Project proposed at its October 2013 organizing meeting—contains only two student workers on its slate of 12.
Meanwhile, the UFT deal, which will set a precedent for the rest of the city's bargaining units, including our own, has been heavily critiqued by the Movement for Rank and File Educators caucus, which is waging a struggle against an entrenched, monopolistic party much like the New Caucus, which commands every (or nearly every) chapter of the PSC. At the moment, I feel more allegiance to MORE than I do to our union, given your De Blasio statement and inaction on the above issues.
I am hoping you will find this letter jarring enough to immediately redress these issues, at least the ones you have full control over: namely, the addition of our demands to the bargaining agenda, the inclusion of adjuncts and graduate student workers in the bargaining meetings, and the change in chapter-affiliation policy.
Furthermore, to enable the participation of CUNY adjuncts and graduate student workers in this summer's COCAL conference, which is being organized by the PSC and taking place at CUNY's John Jay College, I ask that the union cover the $250 registration fee for 30 adjuncts and graduate student workers at CUNY.
I look forward to your response, Barbara. If you don't respond, however, I will not write again, as it shouldn't be my job to convince you of the merits, ethics, and fairness of genuine union democracy and the concomitant representation of adjuncts and graduate student workers and our needs.
Sean M. Kennedy, Graduate Center, CUNY
Elizabeth Sibilia, Graduate Center, CUNY
Wendy Tronrud, Graduate Center, CUNY
Dadland Maye, Graduate Center, CUNY
Öykü Tekten, Graduate Center, CUNY
Erica Kaufman, Institute for Writing & Thinking, Bard College
R. Josh Scannell, Graduate Center, CUNY
Preeti Sampat, Graduate Center, CUNY
Peter Matt, Brooklyn College, CUNY
Margaret Hanzimanolis, City College of San Francisco, De Anza College, Cañada College, California Part-Time Faculty Association
Debangshu Roychoudhury, Graduate Center, CUNY
Jack Longmate, Olympic College
Monique Whitaker, Hunter College, CUNY
Anna Spiro, retired CUNY adjunct
Rafael A. Mutis, Hostos Community College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Jennifer Prince, Graduate Center, CUNY
Esther Bernstein, Graduate Center, CUNY
Héctor Agredano, City College, Bronx Community College, and Graduate Center, CUNY
Collette Sosnowy, JustPublics@365, Graduate Center, CUNY
Megan Paslawski, Graduate Center, CUNY
Kristen Hackett, Graduate Center, CUNY
Fang Xu, Lehman College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Christina Nadler, Graduate Center, CUNY
Kristin Moriah, Graduate Center, CUNY
James Anthony Phillips, Kingsborough Community College, CUNY
Ana M. Fores Tamayo, Adjunct Justice
Tristan K. Husby, City College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Erin Michaels, Graduate Center, CUNY
Cameron Pearson, Queens College, CUNY
David Tillyer, City College, CUNY
Amy Martin, Graduate Center, CUNY
Colin P. Ashley, Doctoral Students' Council Co-Chair for Business, Graduate Center, CUNY
Ian Foster, Graduate Center, CUNY
Derrick Gentry, alumnus, Graduate Center, CUNY
Melissa Phruksachart, Graduate Center, CUNY
Maureen E. Fadem, Kingsborough Community College, CUNY
Alec Magnet, Graduate Center, CUNY
Erin M. Andersen, Graduate Center, CUNY
Ashna Ali, Graduate Center, CUNY
Jerry Levinsky, Member UALE, COCAL Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor
Michael A. Rumore, Graduate Center, CUNY
Makeba Lavan, Graduate Center, CUNY
Conor Tomás Reed, Medgar Evers College and Graduate Center, CUNY; Free University-NYC
Kathryn Moss, Graduate Center, CUNY
David Spataro, Graduate Center, CUNY
Kenneth H. Ryesky, Queens College, CUNY
Betsy Smith, Cape Cod Community College; member of MCCC, MTA, and NEA
Isabel Cuervo, alumna, Graduate Center, CUNY
Jennifer Chancellor, Graduate Center, CUNY
Luke Elliott, Graduate Center, CUNY
CUNY Adjunct Project
Alan Trevithick, La Guardia Community College, CUNY
Ann Kottner, York College, CUNY
Vanessa Vaile, Precarious Faculty Network
Mary Carroll, Lehman College, CUNY
Linda Neiberg, Baruch College, CUNY
Brian Unger, Graduate Center, CUNY
Ian Green, Graduate Center, CUNY
Eric Lott, Graduate Center, CUNY
John Sorrentino, John Jay College, CUNY
Hulya Sakarya, Mercy College
Allison E. Brown, Graduate Center, CUNY
Rayya El Zein, Medgar Evers College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Melissa K. Marturano, Brooklyn College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Ross Borden, SUNY–Cortland
Frank Reiser, Nassau Community College
Dominique Nisperos, Graduate Center, CUNY
Amanda Matles, Graduate Center, CUNY
Lavelle Porter, City Tech and Graduate Center, CUNY
Lauren Tenley, College of Staten Island and alumna, Graduate Center, CUNY
Mary N. Taylor, Graduate Center, CUNY
Edwin Mayorga, Graduate Center, CUNY
Charlotte Thurston, Graduate Center, CUNY
Robin Hizme, Queens College, CUNY
Sue Clark-Wittenberg, Director, International Campaign to Ban Electroshock
Wilson Sherwin, Brooklyn College and Graduate Center, CUNY
James D. Hoff, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY
Mark Drury, Graduate Center, CUNY
Anton Borst, Hunter College, Graduate Center, CUNY
Jason Schulman, Lehman College, CUNY
Wilma Borelli, Lehman College, CUNY
Daniel Nieves, City College and Lehman College, CUNY
Elizabeth Bidwell Goetz, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Maria L. Plochocki, Baruch and College Now, CUNY
Sara Jane Stoner, Graduate Center, CUNY
Anna Gjika, Graduate Center, CUNY
Alicia Andrzejewski, Graduate Center, CUNY
Paul Hebert, Queens College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Patrick Reilly, Baruch College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Kara Van Cleaf, Graduate Center, CUNY
Harry T. Cason, College of Staten Island, CUNY
Kylah Torre, Graduate Center, CUNY
Kate O'Donoghue, Queens College, CUNY
Keith Hoeller, editor, Equality for Contingent Faculty; co-founder, Washington Part-Time Faculty Association
Karen Gregory, City College and Center for Worker Education, CUNY
Michael Friedman, Queens College, CUNY
Heather Heim, Lehman College, CUNY
Marnie Weigle, San Diego City College
Austin Bailey, Hunter College, CUNY
Leigh Somerville, Queens College, CUNY
Lindsey Freer, Macaulay Honors College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Lydia Pelot-Hobbs, Graduate Center, CUNY
Nathaniel Sheets, CUNY Graduate Center, Hunter College
Brianne Bolin, Columbia College Chicago
Sean Collins, trustee, Troy Area Labor Council
Meyer A. Rothberg, alumnus (1958), City College, CUNY
John Martin, chair, California Part-time Faculty Association
Jonathan R. Davis, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Marga Ryersbach, Queensborough Community College, CUNY
Andrew Akinmoladun, Bronx Community College, CUNY
Thomas Smith, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY
Tyler T. Schmidt, Lehman College, CUNY
Sarah Davis, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Reid Friedson, Adjunct Faculty Union
Emily Nell, Graduate Center, CUNY
Vakhtang Gomelauri, Global Center for Advanced Studies
Brenden Beck, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Brandon Kreitler, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY
Alex Kudera, author, Fight for Your Long Day, Clemson University
Aysenur Ataman, College of Staten Island and Graduate Center, CUNY
Anthony Galluzzo, Queens College, CUNY
Jenna Gibbs, Florida International University
Ryan Daley, former NYCCT adjunct; Red Hook Initiative
David Parsons, Baruch College
Rebecca Schuman, all-purpose higher-ed loudmouth
Daniel Levine, alumnus (2013), Baruch College; writer
Stanley W. Rogouski
Kelly Eckenrode, Lehman College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Danny Sanchez, Queens College, CUNY; member, Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee
Michelle Chen, Graduate Center, CUNY
Amid the responses to [Wednesday's] news about the supremely cushy terms of Paul Krugman's hiring at the CUNY Graduate Center, three have stood out:
1) that the average adjunct salary per course at CUNY is ~$3,000, and Krugman will earn 75 times that to teach one seminar per year (and no teaching labor at all in his first year);
2) that Krugman's salary of $225,000 per academic year is either appropriate to his scholarly and public stature or that he's being underpaid at that rate; and
3) that his salary is actually a bargain because it will be well returned by virtue of the Graduate Center's enhanced profile and an attendant increase in private donations.
To these responses I'd like to add:
a) that there are 13 different funding levels for students at the Graduate Center (GC), ranging from zero dollars to $27,000 (as of last fall's data). Krugman's primary attachment will be to the GC's Luxembourg Income Study Center, the mission of which is to support the study of, among other phenomena, poverty and income inequality.
The contradiction between these objects of study and the very subjects of poverty and income inequality at the GC is worth continually highlighting. Graduate students at the GC are at the mercy of funding—the funding inequities among us are the direct result of GC decision-making and priority-setting, working within the two-way interface with CUNY Central. Just last Friday we were at a meeting in which Interim President Robinson—the GC leader who fawned so over Krugman in the numerous emails that were released—told us, yet again, that there was no money available for increased funding—not even for those students who have no funding at all, either because they came in with no funding or because they are now outside the five years of guaranteed funding of the most lucrative packages.
There is, however, $225K a year to give Krugman for just, essentially, hanging around. What if, instead, that money went to the GC students who need it the most? Sure, at an annual rate, Krugman's salary would only equal 12.5 $18K fellowship packages, the deal that many GC students have who entered before the current academic year (including me). But another way to think about it is as 75 $3,000 grants to students sans funding, so that they could teach one less class as an adjunct, thus allowing a much-needed diminishment in pressure and the possibility, maybe, to get through another dissertation chapter because of it.
The larger issue, of course, is that the terms of Krugman's hire represent a fundamental contradiction in the hegemony of the "lack of money" that rules the practices and discussions of public higher ed. Indeed, there is always money to be had, at CUNY as elsewhere, whether it's to hire a celebrity prof to add value by virtue of his name, or to build a $350-million "world-class" science center. (Note that Krugman is also "world class." CUNY's desperate for world-class status, even if it means running its students and faculty into the ground.)
And this is just to consider the situation of graduate student workers at the GC. The CUNY system at large is rife with inequality due to the state's and university's spending priorities, which reflect the overall neoliberal political economy that has decimated public higher ed over the last 40+ years. Indeed, at CUNY in particular, as much as the 1969 student, faculty, and community occupation of City College was a watershed victory against structural racism and/in higher education, it also galvanized the reactionary policies that have led to the increased exclusion of working class students of color in recent years.
b) As for Krugman's salary, whether he's being paid appropriately for his stature is beside the point. I mean, does anyone know how much money he makes from university employment versus his NYT gig versus his books versus his speaking gigs, etc.? In a bitter irony, it would seem that university employment is actually adjunct labor for him, in the way that it was for most adjuncts back in the day, who taught to supplement their income and not for their entire livelihood, as they must today under the penury of academic capitalism.
Furthermore, CUNY's last celebrity hire, David Petraeus, cut his salary to $1 after a similar outcry last summer over his comparably less cushy terms (he had to teach—wait for it—two courses a year). As Petraeus's representative put it at the time, "Once controversy arose about the amount he was being paid, he decided it was much more important to keep the focus on the students, on the school and on the teaching, and not have it be about the money."
Considering the above, is Krugman more or less ethical than Petraeus?
c) Finally, if Krugman's hire results in more private donations, fine. But to what would those donations go? There is currently no accountability mechanism at the GC (that I'm aware of at least) to measure, on the one hand, incoming donations and, on the other, what those funds are being used for. If Krugman's position at the GC spurs donations that will then be put to student funding, that would be great—all for it. But something tells me that's not what's going to happen...
To be clear, I'm not against Krugman per se—I'm against the political economy that rewards elites while immiserating everyone else (given that the middle class is increasingly an illusion). For all Krugman's own utility, such as it is, as a scourge against center-right economics, the terms of his hiring at the GC are an unfortunate symbol of all that's wrong with public higher ed.
Originally posted at the CUNY Adjunct Project.
Towards the end of Walking With the Comrades, Arundhati Roy makes explicit a dynamic hitherto implicit in her account of Naxalite/Maoist/adivasi resistance to the Indian (corporate) state: the relationship between tactics and contexts.
"People who live in situations like this do not have easy choices," she writes (207). "They certainly do not simply take instructions from a handful of ideologues who appear out of nowhere waving guns. Their decisions on what strategies to employ take into account a whole host of considerations: the history of the struggle, the nature of the repression, the urgency of the situation and, quite crucially, the landscape in which their struggle is taking place."
After all, she adds, for "Gandhian satyagraha" "to be effective, it needs a sympathetic audience, which villagers deep in the forest do not have."
Putting aside the question of violence for the moment, I want to think about the tactics Roy deploys in her representation of adivasi resistance, particularly in the book’s eponymous central narrative, and what the audience is for her intervention. Indeed, in my current seminar on postcolonial ecologies and their representations, we’ve seen three rather different attempts at representing indigenous/autochthonous experience and resistance: Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide, the three stories of Mahasweta Devi’s Imaginary Maps (translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak), and now Roy’s text.
I tend to see the first as a principally aesthetic treatment, the second—complicated by various translation issues—as didactic, and the latter as descriptive or journalistic, but these are admittedly contingent categories. Put another way, what are the impacts, or potential impacts, of these authors' interventions given their respective forms?
Of the three, Roy's is specifically non-fictional, of course, in keeping with the bulk of her output since her first (and only) novel The God of Small Things. And yet the stakes of Walking With the Comrades clearly seem to be in pushing back against the overwhelming political imaginary, perpetrated by the corporately controlled state and media and any number of individual functionaries, that the Maoists are terrorists or extremists who need to be put down for the sake of the "public good" (175).
To the contrary, Roy asserts: the so-called public good would be better served by letting people keep their land and by abandoning their "annihilation" and, with it, their "different imagination—an imagination that is outside of capitalism as well as Communism" (214). This imagination—I want to also call it knowledge—is of an ethical practice committed to the land and of people's relationship to it and each other. Roy transmits this ethical practice in concentrated bursts, such as in the quote on the book's cover about the sustainability of the Maoists' encampments.
But the cover, and the choice of this particular quote, so easily reduced to a northern discourse of "sustainability," brings me to the role of the global publishing apparatus, itself deeply capitalist, and its reliance on "star" authors such as Roy, who indeed are seen to "transmit" material realities, whether in the guise of fiction or not. (And Penguin, the book's publisher, has recently been embroiled in a transnational political scandal in which extant copies of Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: An Alternative History were recalled and "pulped"…)
But northern audiences, as ever, are getting only pieces of adivasi material realities in Roy's account, since those realities can probably only genuinely be conveyed in adivasi language and cultural practices. In contrast, my sense is that we get a closer replication of adivasi/indigenous experiences in the Devi and Ghosh, but these authors' respective formal tactics, it would seem, reach different (though perhaps overlapping in some cases) audiences, thus yielding different impacts.
However, though a multiplicity of representational tactics is as important as in any set of oppositional tactics, I find myself wanting to know which representational tactic is most "effective" in yielding the biggest impact: political change. On this question, if we narrow the scale to the Indian elite/bourgeoisie, it seems to me that Walking With the Comrades is/has been more effective than the other texts. It may not have effected political change any more than the Maoists have, but Roy’s account may have indeed won smaller—and no less important—victories on the representational landscape in the way that the Maoists have on both the representational landscape and the material landscape of central India.
"For the 32 page article derives its strength from its lucidity and readability. Roy’s prose and her style, however, conceal the essay’s disdain for acceptable norms of logic. It needs to be deconstructed primarily for this reason. It seduces an unsuspecting reader. It induces one to lowers one’s critical guard. As a result one is apt to be carried away by Roy’s air of righteous indignation. It makes one to suspend disbelief…"
That seductive readability might indeed carry away more than a few readers to "suspend disbelief" and embrace the ecological-ethico practice of adivasi communities, against the violence (material, discursive, imaginative) of both the state and the Maoists. But is that the case with the Ghosh or Devi too?
Certainly I've learned from the work of all three authors, and the foregoing is mere speculation (though preparatory for a fuller examination of form and praxis centered on these particular texts). But in resisting capitalism and the state's—whether the Indian state's or the U.S. state's—machinations on behalf of it, I wonder anew whether a descriptive representation of resistance is more impactful than an aesthetic, or aestheticized, one. If capital has saturated media, the perhaps a mediatized account such as Walking With the Comrades is most able to intervene in that discursive field.
I've been pondering what seems to be the heterotopic claim for fiction Roy makes in a Paris Review interview about the book:
[Interviewer] You’ve said before that it is a struggle to find the time and space to write fiction and that you feel you need to invent a language to bridge your political and creative concerns.
[Roy] Yes, what is most difficult for me is that just as certain and as real as these battles are right now, writing fiction is proportionately uncertain. Fiction is such an amorphous thing, you can’t be sure that you’re doing something important or wonderful until you’ve done it. So, because of the position I am in now, to work on fiction I have to create some sort of steel barriers around it. Fiction is something that involves so much gentleness, so much tenderness, that it keeps getting crushed under the weight of everything else! I still haven’t figured it out entirely—but I will, I will. [Emphasis hers.]
Is this "I will" a moment after change—after revolution? I note her use of "steel," one of the industrial products national and transnational corporations would like to make from the mineral resources embedded in adivasi land. If steel is what's needed to write fiction, it's a measure of how much those of us who write, let alone write fiction, for a living depend on capitalist economic privilege to do so. What is the resistance to this material reality?
Following are the remarks I prepared for the closing plenary of the MLA Subconference last Thursday, on which I appeared, on behalf of the CUNY Adjunct Project, with Chris Newfield of the University of California–Santa Barbara, Kyle Shafer of Unite Here!, and Jimmy Casas Klausen of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Though I veered from these particular words—I'd quickly handwritten them, in my near illegible script—the views are the same as I expressed in person, as you'll see on the archived livestream (which you should check for the other panelists' remarks and subsequent discussion).
The photo above, by Lee Skallerup Bessette, shows an image, presented by Shafer, of hospitality workers in a vending machine—a specific depiction of how capitalism renders people in general: disposable. If we are to resist precarity, we must resist capitalism and its various deployments, as I try to show.
First of all, and again, I want to thank the organizers of this very generative convening. Thank you all for inviting the CUNY Adjunct Project to appear, and thank you for your generously donated labor. And, frankly, it shouldn't be our job, as graduate students, to change the university. We have enough other things to do—research, write, teach, attend conferences on money we don't have—the list goes on—that we don't have time, let alone resources, to solve all the problems facing higher education too. But since the people with available time and resources—tenured faculty and faculty unions, administrators, disciplinary organizations and other academic bodies—apparently have no interest, nor ability, to fix these issues, doing so must be our work as well. And so I thank everyone here in this newly formed collective, and I look forward to continuing this mobilization, in particular in coordinating actions across our various campuses between now and next year's gathering in Vancouver.
I also want to note my regret that Marc Bousquet can't be with us tonight as expected. Not only is he an alumnus of my very program at the CUNY Graduate Center, but his longstanding analyses of academic capitalism, particularly in How the University Works, have provided an important foundation for my own views on the political economy of U.S. higher education. Indeed, I love to quote his remark that the PhD holder is now the "waste product of graduate education," especially at department-wide meetings in which most attendees, professors and students alike, look at me like I'm crazy. But Marc is dead on about the expendability of laborers, who are eliminated, both symbolically and materially, under global capitalism. What is a prison, after all, except the housing of waste—of incapacitated workers deliberately left behind by the structural adjustment that has battered specific U.S. communities since Reagan? What is imperial war, of which the U.S. is the reigning arbiter, except the incapacitating of communities around the world?
Prison and war frame my remarks tonight not just because of their central relationships to U.S. governmentality and capital accumulation but also due to my institutional and geographic locations at the City University of New York, whose students are subjected to the whims of campus security when they're not being terrorized by the NYPD through its racist, violent stop-and-frisk program. Although the police target black and brown men, the costs of stop-and-frisk—and prisons at large—to individuals and neighborhoods are countless. And when youth of color make it to CUNY—that is, if they're not pushed out earlier by the school-to-prison pipeline or the brutal testing regime (both of which line the pockets of corporate executives and investors)—they are now offered a dubious stability in the form of military service, as CUNY has welcomed back ROTC after a 41-year absence—a military that has historically preyed upon the multiracial working class. Meanwhile, U.S. imperialism, safeguarded by the military, and the sturdy hegemony of the American dream continue to make New York City a hub for numerous diasporic communities. Indeed, the diversity of oppressed nationalities in the city led the American Enterprise Institute to recommend CUNY as a recruiting ground.
I was asked to speak tonight on one aspect of precarity, and how to resist it, and as this sketch of issues at CUNY indicates, I want to highlight the critical necessity of intersectional analysis and organizing. In other words, there can be no single-issue activism or research. At CUNY, the myriad intersecting issues—and I only briefly outlined a few—make it impossible to address change without also addressing the full complex of problems that jointly maintain the status quo. And this is the case across higher education, given the university's deep entanglement with processes and histories of colonialism, racialized social control, and oppression.
In practice, what this means for me, as an organizer for the CUNY Adjunct Project, is that I must also organize with and alongside organizers for racial and economic justice broadly, since academic labor, like labor at large, is shaped by structural forces that delimit not just equal opportunity but equal resources as well. It means I must collaborate with and stand beside organizers working to end stop-and-frisk, since that affects the students I teach as contingent faculty and the colleagues I work with inside and outside of class. It means I must work in concert with organizers demanding an end to the militarization of CUNY and its appointment of war-criminal David Petraeus, overseer of death squads and torture in Iraq and drones at the CIA. It means showing up at hearings and rallies for comrades disciplined by City College and turned over to the law on allegations of "almost" inciting a riot for protesting the seizure of the Morales/Shakur Community and Student Center, an autonomous space won by black and Puerto Rican people—students and residents of Harlem working together—in their—our—still-ongoing struggle to decolonize CUNY. It means demanding a parental-leave policy for Graduate Center student workers—currently none exists—so that they don't have to forfeit their teaching fellowships if they want to care for their newborn children. Again, the list goes on.
I am one of four phenotypically white, cisgender men on this panel tonight, an observation I make not to criticize but to think through critically. Indeed, this room is primarily white, and as such mirrors the prevailing whiteness of the academy, and marks how much work needs to be done to rectify the racial injustices of higher education. But we—and I mean those of us who are white, with all our racial privilege—need to be part of that work. Similar to how we want tenured faculty to use their privilege, and resources, to help us contingent faculty end the two-tier system of academic labor and concomitant exploitation—one of the many themes of this conference—those of us with the capital granted to us by white privilege must spend it—all of it—for the sake of racial justice. That is to say, we must work against our privilege, to undo it, akin to how my mentors at the Revolutionary Students Coordinating Committee, or RSCC—the rhyme with SNCC is deliberate—urge "class suicide" of the bourgeoisie, petit and grande. Only when whiteness is eliminated, and the capital it has accumulated by dispossession is returned, will there be an end to precarity.
In other words, we must fully reckon with the settler colonialism and chattel slavery on which the U.S. was founded and which destroyed communities—of people, of thought, of practice—all over the world. These paired legacies are alive at CUNY, as they are everywhere. As such, I believe we must reclaim the notion of contingency so that it names radical possibility as much as it does material vulnerability. The contingency I imagine would allow us to choose the labor we want to do, be with the people with whom we want to be, govern ourselves in the ways we want to be governed, travel to where we want to travel, and take care of one another in the manner in which we want to be taken care of. Legacies of such collective determination are also alive, even if they're often demoted to "cultural differences" by the dominant communities of the global metropole.
At the same time, we must also remember that the institutions that discipline us are precarious, as yesterday's presentation on private-bond-funded, tuition-backed campus construction showed. But when a protest can increase interest rates—and attendant debt-service payments that can run into the millions—it gives universities even more reason to crack down on dissent, as we have seen happen this last semester at CUNY, which is now codifying such repression.
Again, we must contend with militarization, and the capitalism it protects—and the communities harmed by both. To counter this violence, in the present and historically, we need to organize across divides and resist the colonial logic of separation. Only then will we be resisting precarity too.
(Cross-posted to the CUNY Adjunct Project website.)