Wednesday, June 23, 2010

(Dis)Loyalty: Take Two

Or, Thanks, But I Don't Like Kool-Aid. I'll Have a Dry Martini Instead. A Double. Shaken, Not Stirred. Now, Let's Get This Meeting Started.

(Image Credit: Picked up here.)

My typist has continued to ponder the questions about institutional loyalty and disloyalty that she and other academic bloggers started discussing last week in connection with an unpleasant story about a (female) provost booted by a (male) president-for-life when she dared to allow herself to become a finalist for a similar position at another school. He relieved her from her duties as provost on the grounds that remaining in the search was evidence of disloyalty to her current employer. (Inside Higher Ed story is here. Our original post, with links to others on the subject, is here.)

In the case of the Fired Provost v. the Prez-for-Life, our sympathies, of course, are entirely with the provost, who was simply doing what high-level administrators with aspirations of moving higher have always done in the interest of bulking up their resumes, especially when the man at the top shows no sign of being in a hurry to step aside. (The prez in this case had held the top job since 1979.) Our first post spun off into generational differences that seemed to pop up in these conversations about institutional loyalty, with faculty under 40 (or so) coming out strongly against the idea that institutions of higher ed deserved any kind of loyalty at all, while aging geezer hippies (such as Moose and Goose) cling not so much to loyalty but to a sense of identification with the institution, to a belief that faculty still have the power to effect change on campus. We tied the generational difference to the shift in the academy from a decentralized administrative structure to the much more centralized, top-down model that has taken hold as universities have come to be run more like corporations in recent years. We deplore that shift in part because it encourages -- even, indeed, forces -- faculty to think of themselves as independent contractors rather than as members of a collective with a stake in the future of the institution.

We stand by the original post, particularly its call to invest (or reinvest) in the mechanisms of shared governance and other forms of collective action to try to save what's left of academic freedom and democracy on campus. (Yes, that is another plug for Cary Nelson's new book. Haven't you ordered it yet?) We revisit this topic, though, because we want to make it clear that loyalty might have been the wrong word for what we were actually talking about or that our definition of loyalty is what a lot of other folks might describe as, um, disloyalty.

In an exchange with Historiann in comments on the previous post, I suggested that critical engagement with the institution is probably a better way to describe what we were advocating and what the moms learned in the course of their training by a generation of feminist academics committed to transforming universities from the inside. In an off-blog conversation with Moose, my aunt Katie, an eminent feminist thinkosopher, suggested that what we are really seeking is a notion of empowered community, a space in which everyone has a say and a stake.

Within this (admittedly utopian, possibly nostalgic) framework, loyalty is not a matter of mindlessly drinking the Kool-Aid, of toeing the company line, of biting one's tongue in order to protect the brand. ("How did you like my piece in Inside Higher Ed?" Moose said to a high-ranking QTU administrator recently. "I didn't," came the terse reply. Moose was taken aback by the response but quickly ascertained what it meant. "I'm sorry to hear that," she countered, "but such things need to be said." By "such things," she meant: It is important to acknowledge that budget cuts have negative consequences. They hurt students. They undermine the quality of education. To refuse to acknowledge that is to live in a delusion or, worse, to collaborate in a lie.) Loyalty means speaking the truth, even if it makes the big wigs squirm in their ergonomically correct office chairs.

Loyalty means calling the powerful to account for their actions and decisions in this age of accountability in higher education. That's why we think our blog boyfriend Chris Newfield, of UC Santa Barbara and Remaking the University, is the loyalest guy in America, for the work he and his contributors do, week after week, documenting the cynical, systematic evisceration of the University of California system. Loyalty means mastering the arcana of budgeting and policy so that you can credibly talk back to the corporate hacks. Challenge them. Answer them. Prove that there is a better way. See, again and always, Chris Newfield.

Loyalty means that when times are hard you don't, like the useless poets in Springsteen's "Jungleland," "just stand back and let it all be." You stand up, like the courageous students this year from California to Puerto Rico who put their bodies on the line to protest budget cuts and the rising tide of privatization. You organize, like our faculty pals in Shampoo-Banana, who walked picket lines in solidarity with striking graduate student employees and organized a series of collective furlough days to call attention to the impact of the state's failure to meet its fiscal commitments to the university.

Loyalty means when the politician who's picked your pocket for the past two years has the audacity to ask for money to finance his reelection as he picks your pocket for a third year you politely say, "Sorry, sir, but I gave -- and gave -- at the office. I'm wondering when I'll be able to get, if you know what I mean."

Speak the truth, talk back, stand shoulder to shoulder with your allies, and refuse to collaborate with enemies who pretend to be friends: These are all forms of loyalty as critical engagement. Don't drink the Kool-Aid. Smash the pitcher and demand something better. I'll drink to that, comrades. Bottoms up!


  1. And hey -- profs at our wonderful alma mater have filed charges against RU for freezing faculty pay:

    June 25, 2010, 03:21 PM ET
    Employee Unions File Complaints Over Pay Freeze at Rutgers U.

    Employee unions at Rutgers University have banded together to file charges against the public institution for its decision to freeze employee pay to save money. The charges, filed with the New Jersey Public Employees Relations Commission, stem from the university's announcement this month that it would not give employees scheduled pay raises. Faculty members were scheduled to get a 2.75-percent raise on July 1. A hearing before the commission on the issue is slated for July 7.

    Would love to see some resistance at Queer the Turtle U. Even the Republican candidate for governor says he's against furloughs and that they don't save much $$$.

    Wake up Dems, before it's too late!

  2. My response has just been posted on the UVenus blog at:

    Before I had even read your blog posts on the subject of loyalty, I had a twitter rant about how I didn't owe my loyalty to any institution that treated me as a low-cost commodity. I want to change the university for the better, but at one point, I think that you have to stand up for yourself and vote with your feet.

    I ask, is it loyalty for many part-time, contingent faculty, or desperation?


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