At the end of his epic trilogy U.S.A., John Dos Passos writes: “A hundred miles down the road. Head swims, belly tightens, wants crawl over his skin like ants: went to school, books said opportunity, ads promised speed. . . . A hundred miles down the road.”
Today’s faculty members, and too many of our students as well, have long been that waiting hitchhiker, thumb out, watching America whiz by, expecting to reach that something down the road.
Instead, that something daily moves farther and farther away. We educators and those we educate sometimes remain stuck in the fantasies of the past rather than facing the reality of today’s “Camera Eye.” We pull the tatters of tenure around our shoulders, never understanding why we still shiver; the surety of the true believers about us obscures the light of academic freedom, and all we do is complain about the dark; deliberate pressures of time and action squeeze away shared governance, yet we squeal instead of pushing back. While some among us have organized into effective unions and other organizations that advocate for quality in higher education, too many are passive. Loud sometimes, but essentially passive.
We cannot wait for the drivers of our society to take pity on us and give us a lift. We need instead to create our own ride by helping ourselves, strengthening the powers we already have.
The message to us should not be defeat, standing in the roadside dust. In the words of Joe Hill, “Don’t waste any time mourning. Organize!”
All of us should be active AAUP members at the very least, participating either in an AAUP collective bargaining unit or in an advocacy organization, perhaps along with another local union. We should be reaching out to others to join, countering the antiunion and corporate forces that seek to disempower us. Ours should be more than a voice of complaint; it should be a voice of action.
Articles from the current and past issues of Academe are available online. AAUP members receive a subscription to the magazine, available both by mail and as a downloadable PDF, as a benefit of membership.