Service in the Humanities

The November-December issue of Academe looks at faculty service. It is perhaps the most ambiguous of the traditional triad along with teaching and research, and the articles in this issue seek to describe the different ways that faculty conceive of service, and the different ways that service is (or is not) recognized. Read the issue here.

In the two lead articles in this issue, two professors describe their history of service–for Kirsten M. Christensen, it was with the Modern Language Association, where she contributed many long hours and many long miles of travel because their goals of shaping the humanities are so important. Anna Nardo has also worked with the MLA, and in her article, she talks about how its resources helped her and her colleagues at different stages of their careers. She also helped start and lead a faculty union on her campus. Both authors demonstrate the importance of service not only in their own careers, but in helping sustain the humanities and their disciplines for the future.

Read Kristen Christenen’s article, Shaping the Humanities through Sustainable Service, and Anna Nardo’s, No Choice but to Serve.

First-Year Composition: Teaching or Service?

The November-December issue of Academe looks at faculty service. It is perhaps the most ambiguous of the traditional triad along with teaching and research, and the articles in this issue seek to describe the different ways that faculty conceive of service, and the different ways that service is (or is not) recognized. Read the issue here.

When faculty teach introductory writing courses, should that count as “teaching,” in the traditional sense, or “service”? It seems absurd to suggest that teaching students is anything other than teaching, but consider: many of these classes are required for all students at a university, which means English departments need to scramble for instructors. Since everyone takes them, not all students will be as interested and involved as in a higher-level English class. Linda Adler-Kassner and Duane Roen discuss these and other issues in their new Academe article, “An Ethic of Service in Composition and Rhetoric.”

Fighting Austerity Education

[This comes from Barbara Bowen of the Professional Staff Congress, the faculty union of the City University of New York and Terrence Martell of the CUNY Faculty Senate.]

Dear Colleague:

Please click here to sign a petition calling for a moratorium on the implementation of an austerity curriculum at CUNY. And please forward this message widely to your professional networks throughout the nation and the world.

This is a watershed moment for higher education.  The “reform” agenda that brought relentless testing and widespread privatization to K-12 schools has surfaced in higher education.  Forty years of public policy focused on access to college is being replaced by a single-minded demand for increased graduation rates—whatever the cost in academic quality.

The battle for educational quality is being fought hard by faculty and staff at The City University of New York (CUNY), long a focal point in struggles for educational justice.

CUNY’s educational mission is under attack.  Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and the CUNY Board of Trustees, led by Benno Schmidt, Jr., are trying to impose a diluted system of general education, “Pathways,” that seeks to save money at the expense of students’ learning.  Facing intense faculty resistance, the CUNY administration has resorted to threats and intimidation.  Under the pretext of easing student transfer and increasing graduation rates, Pathways will deliver a minimal curriculum for CUNY’s working-class students: it removes science lab requirements, limits foreign language requirements, and cuts back on faculty time with students in English classes. Pathways is an attempt to move students through the system more quickly even as budgets are cut—by reducing academic requirements. Pathways is austerity education for an austerity economy.

With your help, we can defeat Pathways and achieve a victory for educational quality that could have national implications.  Please add your voice to ours and take a stand for the integrity of higher education.

Barbara Bowen
President, Professional Staff Congress/CUNY

Terrence Martell
Chair, University Faculty Senate

Open Education for Writers

Back in September 2012, when Governor Jerry Brown of California signed legislation that supports the creation of 50 free textbooks for common undergraduate courses, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) critiqued the idea of free textbooks, suggesting California’s proposal would cost “tens of millions of dollars to develop, distribute and maintain.”  More recently, Flatworld Knowledge announced it will no longer provide free access to its digital textbooks after January 1, 2013.

But what happens when writers–particularly academics–write textbooks for their students and make them freely available? How expensive is it to produce a book-length OER (Open Education Resource)?

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“Not only . . . but also.”

The pace of change is accelerating within American higher education.  The debates raging over MOOC’s, the impact of specific programmatic strategies like Coursera, the role of for-profit providers, and the arguments laid out recently in defense of the liberal arts tradition illustrate this point.  The Obama Administration’s efforts to increase access and college-going rates and their bully pulpit criticisms of high tuition sticker prices suggest that federal officials will force themselves more directly onto center stage.   It is likely that new federal priorities put forward in the second term will extend federal influence and establish clear policy and funding priorities.  The new realities go well beyond Pell grants, subsidized loans, tax exemption and government regulation.   The implication now is that there will be winners and losers.

Vartan Gregorian’s call last week for a presidential commission to guide U.S. higher education at a moment of dramatic change indicates the seriousness of the situation.  Dr. Gregorian suggests that there is a need for a guiding hand to shape 21st century higher education policy.   He believes the impetus should come from the federal government and be national in scope.  Dr. Gregorian’s position, as president of the influential Carnegie Corporation</a>, carries weight and brings these new realities into a harsher light.

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Family Matters

The following is a guest post by Donna Potts, chair of the AAUP’s Assembly of State Conferences. She is also a contributor to the newest issue of Academe. In this post, she expands on the issues in her Academe article. 

Watching the movie Taken, in which Liam Neeson’s daughter is abducted into the sex trade and heroically rescued by her father just in time, my mother exclaimed, “imagine if that were your daughter.” Imagine that.

In “Service, Sex Work, and the Profession,” I wrote about Kristy Childs, founder of Veronica’s Voice, an organization that offers support to prostituted women. She works hard to get people to understand that women, as well as the children who have more often been the focus of media and public policy attention, have been coerced into sex trafficking, and they’re all somebody’s daughters. Childs recently asked me to organize a letter writing campaign in hopes of finding a celebrity spokesperson for the cause. Neeson was first on my list, with actresses like Dolly Parton (Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) and Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman) trailing somewhere behind, because whereas his film suggests the horrors of prostitution and recognizes the degree to which it is coerced, many others romanticize it to the extent that women who have survived prostitution can’t even bear to watch them.

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University Governance Doesn’t Represent the People

[Guest Blogger Walter Brasch is a syndicated social issues columnist, the author of 17 books, and a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor. His latest is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, available at,, and bookstores. Dr. Brasch was a university professor of mass communications and journalism for 30 years.]

About 800,000 Pennsylvanians are members of labor unions, and the state has a long history of union rights and activism, but neither of the two largest university systems has a labor representative on its governing board.

The only labor representative on the Board of Governors of the State System of Higher Education (SSHE) in its 29 year history was Julius Uehlein, who served 1988–1995 while Pennsylvania AFL–CIO president. The appointment was made by Gov. Robert P. Casey, a pro-worker Democrat. The SSHE, a state-owned system, has 120,000 students enrolled in 14 universities.

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What We Mean by a Fair Shake: Part I. Unions Are the U.S. Economy’s Polar Ice

The 98% of scientists who have been warning of climate change that is perilously close to becoming irreversible have pointed repeatedly to the rapidly shrinking polar ice caps. Unfortunately, “global warming” predated “climate change” as the term for this crisis. So, despite considerable video evidence of the ice sheets sliding into the sea, if it snows more than six inches several times over the course of a given winter, too many Americans feel free to dismiss the crisis as something fabricated by “radical environmentalists.”

Unfortunately, much the same sort of irrational leap has shaped too many Americans’ attitudes toward unions. Over the past three to four decades, the size, composition, and influence of American unions has dramatically changed, reflecting some major changes in the American economy and causing other equally dramatic changes. Although some union leaders have clung too long to dated postures and rhetoric, most have clearly adjusted their priorities and adapted their strategies to current conditions and in anticipation of future realities. But, in striking contrast, those who seek to eliminate unions entirely continue to rely on much the same postures and rhetoric that were used by opponents of unions during their heyday. That incongruity should in itself be reason for progressive political leaders and American workers to reconsider their attitudes toward unions.

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Five Basic Reasons to Support Actions by Walmart Workers

1. Walmart has 8,500 stores in 15 countries. In 2012, it was the international corporation in terms of gross revenues, at $447 billion. The corporation’s net income was $12.7 billion. To put those numbers in perspective, its gross revenues slightly exceed the GDP of Argentina, which according to the International Monetary Fund has the 27th largest GDP among nations of the world. Its net income is as large as or larger than the GDP of 69 of the 184 nations recognized by the United Nations. In addition to being the largest retailer in both the world and the U.S., Walmart has become the largest U.S. grocery chain.

2. The Walmart family still owns 48% of Walmart’s stock. Their combined personal wealth was estimated in 2010 at $89.5 billion. To put that number in perspective, the Walton family’s wealth would place them 63rd on the list of nations by GDP. Their wealth is the equivalent of the annual economic output of the entire state of Nebraska. The Walton family’s wealth is the equivalent of the combined wealth of the bottom 41.5 percent of American families.

3. Each week 100 million, or almost one in three, Americans shop at a Walmart.

4. Walmart employees more than 2,000,000 Americans. The median pay of a Walmart employee is $10.78 per hour, or $22,422 per year. So half of Walmart’s employees earn less than that hourly wage. Since many are given slightly less than a 40-hour work week, health insurance and other benefits are not available to them. In addition, most of the workers in Walmart’s extensive system of warehouses are hired through temp agencies at even lower wages and usually with no benefits. It has been estimated that Walmart employees cost  the federal government and states $1 billion annually in basic assistance such as food stamps and Medicaid.

5. It has been estimated that for every 210,000 jobs that Walmart has created in the U.S., 200,000 American manufacturing jobs have been lost to China alone. In addition, for every two jobs that Walmart creates in the U.S., one job at another retailer is lost. Between 1992 and 2007, the period of Walmart’s most aggressive expansion in the U.S., 60,000 independent retailers in the U.S. went out of business–not all solely because of Walmart, but except for a brief recession in the early 2000s, that was a period of extended economic prosperity.