Summary: Drawing on experiences with Occupy CUNY, the Adjunct Project, and teaching an ‘Occupy Class’ at Brooklyn College, Steve M. shares insights into the conditions for organizing around universities today. In the face of the challenges of divisions of race and class between students and workers, and across the segregated city, Steve highlights the potentials for bringing militant co-research into coalitions and into classrooms themselves.
Drawing on first-hand experience, Matthew Evsky* shares a recent history of student and labor organizing at and around the City University of New York (CUNY), including the Adjunct Project, Campus Equity Week, the CUNY Time Zine, Occupy CUNY, and the Free University of NYC. He delves into the complex relationships between students, contingent faculty, the broader faculty union, and the confusing processes of university exploitation. The emergence of Occupy CUNY burst into a week of action with a student sit-in that was violently repressed by campus security. Although seeing undergraduate organizing as the driving force behind a revival of campus activism, Occupy CUNY connected radicals with each other and built supportive direct relationships across divisions of workers and students. Emerging from a working group on radical pedagogy, the Free University of NYC has enabled people to transform classrooms into spaces of radicalization.
An adjunct discusses her experiences with using ‘service learning’ in classes to engage students in militant co-research and community organizing. Such projects can build radical relationships across universities, public schools, and marginalized communities, but require a lot of work – the challenge of building ‘the urban commons.’ Such work must also grapple with the dangers of recuperation in academia. Beyond the university, she discusses her engagement with urban commons in neighborhoods, such as through co-operatives. What kind of advantages and disadvantages does the flexibility of adjunct labor offer? From the position of precarious work and life, how can we organize for mutual aid across our workplaces and communities? Continue reading
Dr. Anna Feigenbaum gives her thoughts on radical teaching and organizing within and beyond the university. Against education that tries to transmit radical politics to students, she recommends an approach that starts with students’ experiences and works with them through the difficulties and challenges they face—and witness—in their everyday lives. Revolutionary pedagogy can be embedded in art and creativity, engaging students through playful, reflexive and collaborative projects. Rather than getting caught up in puritanical self-flagellation over what cannot be achieved, struggles can be seen from a more ecological perspective, one that works both inside and outside institutions simultaneously: chiseling the university’s walls while building cooperative alternatives.
Summary: From the wilderness of adjuncting to university occupations and the Quebec student uprisings, professor Alison Hearn (U. of Western Ontario) discusses how we can create organizing grounds in the ruins of universities. The classroom presents possibilities for connecting pedagogy with organizing, while grappling with the tensions of context, faculty authority, and student resistance. Rather than falling into either authoritarian or hippy-dippy, de-professionalized modes of teaching, Hearn talks about how an ethically responsible approach can escape the academic capitalist rat race and build relationships across divisions of workers and students.
These are reflections on being a radical (to be precise: an anarchist) and teaching at a university. They are personal and subjective. I do not claim to having been very successful. My teaching was much less radical than I always dreamt of. This is annoying, because I think radicalism—the willingness to look at the roots of social phenomena—and a critical approach—contrary to an uncritical acceptance of the given—are necessary attitudes for serious social scientists; that differentiates them from ideologues and theologians. But I hope my teaching so far has not been totally pointless, I hope it had at least some subversive consequences, and I hope my reflections are of use for good people.
Sharon Irish | April 2012
I will be 60 years old in November of 2012. I identify as white, female, heterosexual and middle-class, and I try to be cognizant of these social locations. I grew up in a mobile, middle-class family, the youngest of three daughters. My father was a sociology professor; my mother, who was the family anchor in many ways, worked very hard for not much pay at the jobs she was able to get each time we moved for my father’s job–in child care or in clerical work.
In 1985, after seven years of coursework and somewhat ambivalently-conducted research, I earned my Ph.D. in art history from Northwestern University. My ambivalence stemmed from my difficulty balancing a passion for art history with an awareness of the urgency and necessity for social justice. I have to admit it took me about twenty years of part-time, adjunct teaching to come to terms with my love of art history and how teaching in that area might support social justice work. A national conference of the Women’s Caucus for Art that I attended in 1990 was my first “aha” experience in understanding that feminism and visual culture offered myriad and powerful ways to intervene in US socio-political structures.
I offer two stories out of my teaching experience, since I think some specific examples might be the most useful to others.
by Turiddu Kronstadt
When hired at an entry level university post, whether postgraduate, precarious, or tenure-track, one is often confronted with teaching courses beyond one’s background and/or interests (besides a complete lack of or very limited institutionalised pedagogical experience). That was somewhat the situation for me when I started teaching entire courses by myself under the ever deceptive title of Teaching Assistant. If I wanted a stipend (any stipend, really, at that point) and avoid being encumbered with even more loans than I had already accrued, I had to accept whatever was thrown at me.
It happened to be a lab in introductory physical geography (see syllabus here). I had no college-level teaching experience and had just decided to move away from physical geography after my MSc, so as to concentrate on social theories. The prospect of becoming a dishwasher for tenured faculty unwilling to teach introductory courses was not only irritating (and one must quickly learn to hide such irritation under such relations of power), but overwhelming. It would and did set me back in my studies as a result of having to dedicate many hours to a subject that was to me of little interest at that point. At least I had studied enough physical geography to be competent and to make the (it turns out) typical error of piling readings and gratuitous complexities in the curriculum, all for the sake of completeness and, ultimately, to cover up intense self-doubt or insecurity regarding my competence. Regardless, my involvement in anarchist and other anticapitalist groups (e.g., founding the short-lived Atlantic Anarchist Circle, joining the IWW) could not have been further removed from my institutional education work.