BY CAPRICE LAWLESS
In its quest for top-down control and from a misplaced notion that our gritty, lonely and nearly despairing community college students will respond warmly to a more sterile environment, administration has removed almost all the bulletin boards on our campus. The college vice president has to approve anything that anyone might try to post on the few that remain. We also received a memo that anything put on a classroom wall should conform to the interior design, a rule so vague as to allow complete censorship by the administration.
In a related move to inhibit adjunct faculty communication, our faculty mail room – with its ratty but endearing bulletin boards, big tables that just invited sack lunches and conversation, and roomy mailboxes in which we could leave one another books, cookies and the occasional gift – were similarly sterilized. From that formerly fertile ground for friend-making and organizing, the architect has carved out yet another conference room and a tiny meeting space with a big doorway so the administration assistant can monitor anyone and anything going on in there. The carpenters downsized the mailboxes to tiny slots and moved them to the assistant’s office, so she can monitor mailboxes, as well. Also, as before, administration does not allow us to use faculty mailboxes for any AAUP messages whatsoever because of the way the state of Colorado allows our college system to interpret the First Amendment.
If your campus has not yet been similarly “improved,” count yourself lucky. If it has, of course there will be some comfort in reading Noam Chomsky, Henry Giroux, Benjamin Ginsberg, and any of the other brilliant minds accurately describing why and how corporatization of higher education is unfolding. Understanding why it is happening is crucial, but you also need to keep moving. If your campus has been invaded by “innovators” akin to ours, if you nevertheless need to get a message into circulation for a month or more, and posters are verboten, just ask yourself one question: “What would Colonel Hogan do?”
Hogan’s Heroes is the 1960s TV comedy that each week depicts imaginary, cagey WWII prisoners of war who conduct espionage for the Allies from their barracks. They do so while convincing hapless overseers Col. Klink and Sgt. Schultz that camp efforts at control are progressive and effective. Parallels between that TV program and life on our campus are too numerous to mention. But back to the problem on our campus: How could our AAUP chapter let peers know what we know and also solicit their membership? Channeling Hogan, we deployed Project Gesundheit.
The medium for message in Project Gesundheit is the generic tissue box. Our colleges are too cheap to supply tissue in classrooms. Especially throughout the winter months, that cost savings on their part is a glaring opportunity for our chapter. When you think like Hogan, you realize a tissue vacuum is a really a power vacuum just waiting for you. Almost everything wrong on our campus is an opportunity for our membership recruitment messages (faculty’s need for flu shots, indigent health care, winter heating, food banks, etc.). Our tissue boxes are unexpected and welcome additions to any classroom, and they stay in those classrooms all semester. Reading them is more fun than reading an e-mail, and the tissue – like the AAUP – is something essential, and right there when you need it! The boxes demonstrate to faculty and students that the AAUP knows they might need tissues and cares enough to put them there for them. It also helps normalize the acronym “AAUP” across campus. All of these are the messages we thus convey.
I hazard humiliation by mentioning all of this on the erudite Academe blog, but I want to give that background, and now, the how-to, in case any of you can use either. We pick up the generic, white, blank tissue boxes for $.89 on sale at Kroger’s. We pay for them from sales of The Adjunct Cookbook. We slap the colorful, round AAUP bumper stickers on both ends of the boxes. We print all the information we need on a letter-size sheet, and then cut that sheet as needed to tape onto the box. We use the sides, top, and bottom to carry statistics from our research, campy photos, a link to our website, and a link to the aaup.org website to join the AAUP. Each time a teacher or a student needs a tissue – which is often during our cold and flu-ey winter – they will see that AAUP sign, wonder what the weird pictures are about, and more often than not, take the time to read the copy on the box. These boxes are not fancy. They are not corporate. They are gritty, real, and smart – just like our faculty majority and the students we serve.
We tested Project Gesundheit two years ago to urge adjuncts to write to their legislators in support of our House Bill 14-1154: The Community College Wage and Benefit Equity Act. Project Gesundheit 2016 disseminates facts about the staggering wage inequality in our community college system, and makes a mockery of the recent pay raise of $4.80/week our governing board approved for adjunct faculty. We have posted the copy for Project Gesundheit 2016 on the CCCS Salary and Wage Information page of our website, if you want to take a peek. Try the idea on your campus. Let me know how it worked for you.