06 March, 2015

In the Footsteps of Earth Shakers Along the Dirty Sacred River

[Link to the previous post]
The Louisville Teach-In
I couldn't do anything like this without her love, support, and spark.

When I decided to re-enter the harrowed halls of higher education , it was not without some hesitation. None of the problems that caused me to leave had been resolved... and, as a matter of fact, had gotten worse. The corporate take over of higher education has essentially infiltrated every aspect of the grand institution to the point that the powermongers are getting their fingers into the classroom. Because that corporate mentality dictates that money trickles up while shit and labor trickle down.

Being a passionate educator is doing the Good Work of the World. I believe that as firmly as I believe that Capitalism does more harm than good that the only thing the government ought to be doing is divesting itself of power and dumping all of the money wasted on congressional salaries into schools, hospitals, homes for the homeless, jobs for the jobless, and help for the helpless. I also believe that the corporate take over of education is nothing short of an attempt to undo the last bits of Democracy existing in our grand corporatocracy.

When I decided to re-enter higher education, I promised myself that I would do more than be an armchair anarchist, more than some philosophical fondant, the acceptably compromised and disaffected liberal -- that niche of teachers who made me as sick to my bones as the neofascists out at Arizona State University. It's not enough to wear the hat, to talk the talk of (r)evolution.

I knew I'd have to put up or shut up.

 Me at the Teach-In Courtesy @ElizabethLGlass

I've been keeping my ear to the ground to get a sense of noise. Kentucky is a notoriously anti-union state and it's only getting worse with the Randian/McConnell push for "right-to-work"* legislation. Fear of reprisal and job loss keeps a lot of union-minded teachers quiet while the Libertarians strut around misleading people into believing that all unions are bad and that the power paradigm cannot be shifted. In other words, folks are adopting the same attitude that made the Middle Ages so fun and full of warmth.

When I heard the rumblings of National Adjunct Walk-Out Day (#NAWD) I knew that was an opportunity to finally start having the discussion in public that I'd been having in group offices, Facebook feeds, emails, and in bars for more than a few years.  I knew it would be a hard way to go all by my lonesome.

But I knew I wasn't a lone. Not really. Amanda, true love of my heart, cast her lot in with me knowing full well my inclinations. When I told her about #nawd and my intention to organize some event, she immediately thought it was good idea.

FW Kate. Courtesy, Patrick Danner
It wasn't long before I met other like-minded and action-oriented folks, Fellow Worker Kate Lafferty,
her boyfriend FW Patrick. I met Elizabeth Glass, who is no stranger to tilting at windmills and other large social causes. When Kate and I started talking about #nawd -- to be honest, I don't remember who brought it up -- I immediately discovered a friend who would do more than talk. There is nothing more comforting for a would-be organizer than to find other like-minded people.

We not only got the college president to vocally and publicly support the Teach-In, we organized simultaneous events at two campuses; got endorsements from the Kentucky IWW, Kentucky Jobs with Justice, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and the SEIU; the put together materials so that our colleagues could present in their classes on the day of; attracted enough attention to merit the attention of one local media outlet, as well as being included on the #NAWD map

We spoke to a decent sized crowd at JCTCS, and there was a small meeting at the University of Louisville, led by FW Reagan and Daniel Runnels, a part-timer in the Spanish Department.  It was an important and declarative first step in what is nothing short of (r)evolution.

Margaret Mead is often quoted as saying "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." I'd say that's about right.
*Right-to-work: really means the right of the boss to fire you without reason, pay you less than what you're worth, and strip you of your right to free assembly in a union.

05 March, 2015

Confluence Along the Dirty, Sacred River: The Cone Man Saga

Note: For Illustration Purposes Only

[Dedicated to: Amanda AKA Traveller's Angel; Stacy T., who doesn't take shit from anyone; and Comrades Kate L. and Elizabeth G. Also Dedicated to the memories of my father and my Grandpa Parsons, neither of whom took shit from anyone, either.]

Someone smarter than me -- not to mention a hell of a lot better looking -- once pointed out that life is a series of small indignities. My problem, though, is that after a point, all the little indignities pile up into one large massive gaping maw of an indignity. Add to that I was born without a patient bone, and the fact that while I try very hard to respect people, I have no respect for institutions, for ego-feeding pomp or for for unnecessary ritual. Add to THAT my natural contrariness and my need to somehow, in some small way, make the world a better place.

That, Dear Readers, is the formula for the origin of Cone Man.

Security camera footage of Cone Man. Check out that snazzy hat!
Sometimes when I pull into the secure faculty parking lot at one of the institutions of higher learning where I teach, there are parking spaces blocked off by cones.

Now, if you know anything about parking in higher education, you'll know that parking is one of many things that it is short supply. Parking passes (TP)  are handed out based on an algorithm using the number of students, faculty, and staff  -- also referred to as Cogs (Ct), the number of classes -- also referred to as Product -- offered(P), the number of total parking spaces available (TS), and the median average number* of people who come and go in a given day on a college campus (M). The formula probably looks something like this
 TP = C x P / .75xTS ($) + Factor X** / M = You're Totally Screwed.
More beautiful beard footage.
Because I teach in the morning, these things rarely inconvenience me personally. But anyone who knows me knows that I firmly embrace and live the IWW slogan AN INJURY TO ONE OF US IS AN INJURY TO ALL OF US. It's not just about me, my comfort, or my sense of indignation. When spaces are blocked off, they are blocked for the "Important People" -- dignitaries, friends of the administration, ecetera. These are people who do not do the Good Work of the World. These are those people who see themselves as special -- or are identified as special by the Powers-That-Be who oversee the exploitation of part-time instructors like me and 75% of the people who teach college courses.

Typically, I move the cones when I see them. I realize this is not setting the administration building on fire, but as they all probably have a secure bunker to run to the event of fire, flood, Armageddon, or surprise zombie army attack, setting a fire would only drive them out of the light. I move the cones so that my colleagues will have some spaces to park when they come in to do the Good Work of the World. I move the cones, not to give myself a place to park, but to quietly, peacefully, but directly thwart those who place others above me and my colleagues without so much as a "Please" or a "By your leave."
This last time, however, Dear and Faithful Readers, I was caught on tape.
Apparently the cones I moved caused parking problems for friends of the college president, the mayor, and the governor.
If you're going to aim high unintentionally, Friends, aim high.
I sat before the division dean and my department chair, carefully -- and with as much good humor and deference as I could muster while eating an orange -- explained my inexplicable infraction of the assumed authority's authority  I wasn't entirely sure of the outcome, and I would be lying if I didn't say that I half expected to be shown the door. After all, my time in and out of the American work force has shown me the single most immutable truth of Capitalism:
I am -- like most everyone else -- entirely and easily replaceable. 
My students might have missed me, briefly. But if they had given  a trained monkey a textbook, a syllabus, and a grease board marker they would have probably shown him the same amount of deference.
It wouldn't have been the first time that the more pernicious parts of my personality landed me in trouble. As a matter of fact, I've been the proverbial dog wagged by that particular pernicious tail for most of my life. Ask anyone who has ever known me even moderately well, and they will attest that I possess a character that presents as a mercurial and capricious personality. When things are going well, and when the best possible course of action is to keep my head down, do my job, make no complaints and attract no attention, I will be the one who finds a way to take a giant, colonic dump on every chance of success I may have built up.
In this case, I was trying to imagine how I'd explain this to Amanda, my mom, her parents. Then again, neither Amanda nor my mother would be surprised. They know me too well.
The division dean was flabbergasted. Such behavior honestly eludes her understanding, which probably accounts for the reasons why she is a dean. My department chair was trying desperately not to laugh, which probably accounts for why she is a pretty amazing department chair who is smart enough to not want to be dean.
In order to soothe the way and try and seem far more collegial than I actually am, I offered to apologize to the appropriate people. First of all, I wanted to deflect as much blow back as I could, while fully embracing the consequences of my actions in order to reduce any potential collateral damage.  I was in the midst of helping organize a Teach-In as part of National Adjunct Walk-Out Week and did not want any negative light cast on those efforts.
And besides, I did feel a little bad; apparently some of my colleagues in the nursing department were pulled out of class and made to move their cars so that those poor, poor dignitaries could park.
Let that one sink in a minute. Then remember that the purpose of National Adjunct Walk-Out Day was to highlight the exploitative and unjust treatment of part-time instructors. The people for whom they were made to move their cars were on campus to discuss ways to salvage the old seminary building... big money, in other words... and someone teaching people HOW TO SAVE LIVES was pulled out of class so that friends of Governor Beshear didn't have to walk the same distance most students and a lot of faculty walk.
So I emailed the college President, Tony Newberry and one of the instructors who had to move her car. The instructor was gracious and college President was impressed with the tone of my letter. He was also open to discussions about adjunct issues. A meeting was set within a week that ended up including Yours Truly, Comrade Kate L., the division dean, my department chair, the Provost, and the Dean of Academic Affairs.
And all because I moved some cones.
Consequently, he was NOT aware that faculty was pulled out of class to move their cars, and he promised me  he would take steps to ensure such things would never happen again.
Here, for your entertainment, I am including exact wording of the email I sent to Tony Newberry:

President Newberry,

There are, I suppose, worse ways to introduce oneself to a college president; and while there are ideas that come to mind, none of them exist outside of a National Lampoon movie. Therefore, for lack of a better introduction: 

I am Cone Man.

I apologize for any stress, or inconvenience, or unintended embarrassment I may have caused. As I explained yesterday to both [division dean] and [department chair] (cc'd), my reason for moving the cones was simple. I am a teacher, the son of a retired public school teacher. Education is one of the few noble professions left, and, as far as I can see, one of the few with such social, political, culture, and personal impact. I hold my profession and my colleagues in high esteem. On those occasions when the limited parking we are afforded is cut down even more, the absence of consideration or respect (albeit unintended) bothers me. We have very little to show for our passion, our time, and our concern about our students. Parking, and our access to it, while not generally listed as a benefit, most certainly is  -- especially when one considers the city's near predatory parking policy.

So, I moved the cones.

However, it was not my intention to embarrass you personally or the college as a whole. I simply did not want my colleagues put out when it is the faculty and staff who do what I consider to be the Good Work of the World. 

I am aware that in trying to make what I considered a small, generally harmless statement, I not only inconvenienced you, but also three of my colleagues, who were dragged out of class and made to move their vehicles. I am deeply sorry to have had such a wide spread and negative impact on the work day of my colleagues and their students.

Please be assured that I will not engage such behavior again.

I understand from [department chair] that you have been made aware that some of us are organizing an event around National Adjunct Walk Out Day on February 25th. I would love the opportunity to discuss this with you in more detail. I promise not to park or to keep others from parking in an inappropriate manner.


Look for an installment tomorrow, Dear Readers, all about the Louisville-Teach-In, and about some new things on the horizon.

 * Median Average Number is a general term based on a national average that may or may not reflect the actual number of students on campus at any given time. But since this is a generally accepted number derived from another algorithm so esoteric that only Pascal, Stephen Hawkings, Spinoza, and my high school algebra teacher Mr. Rudd  could ever understand it, no other campus specific research has been done out of fear it will implode the known universe.
** Factor X is, like the Median Average Number, an arcane and difficult to nail down number derived purely from the emotional glee created amongst registrars and admissions counselors when they intentionally (or unintentionally) misdirect current or potential students through complex paperwork, badly worded regulations, and insulting paternalistic behavior reminiscent of Reconstruction Era Carpetbaggers.