April 20, 2018
I never planned to be a union organizer. When I was growing up my parents, almost daily, encouraged my brother and me to go to college. Enlisted military personnel who earned associate’s degrees during their careers, my parents never finished their bachelor’s degrees, but they took a friend’s advice very seriously: tell your kids often that they should attend college, and they will.
So like the other dutiful children of the Reagan generation, we went to college. Higher education was an investment in our future, a promise for a better life and a ticket to something my parents were never able to enjoy: a stable life without worry. But what I didn’t fully understand until I was deep into graduate school was how one-sided that investment actually was.
Toward the end of my Ph.D., as my student loan debt reached insurmountable heights and the academic job market loomed, my pivot to union organizing reflected a sharp shift in my perspective. Our deeply exploitative economic system is preying on my and the next generation’s hopes and dreams, and we’re compromising our future.
While I entered the academy genuinely hoping to make a positive difference in the lives of my students, and to do research that contributes to a more just and fair society, I haven’t been able to shake a consuming concern that those motivations are less and less compatible with higher education today. The political classes that control education policy in our country are fundamentally changing our institutions and, by extension, our profession. Elected leaders have enacted an austerity regime that systematically underfundshigher education, cuts programs, undermines tenure and shifts the risks in the system to an army of unprotected, underpaid faculty members. I started organizing because we absolutely have to change this trajectory.