Two deft rhetorical maneuvers.

10 03 2011

You’ve probably heard the bad news out of Wisconsin already, so I won’t go into it further here. I do, however, want to note an interesting historically-minded statement that State Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller released last night:

In thirty minutes, 18 State Senators undid fifty years of civil rights in Wisconsin.

Their disrespect for the people of Wisconsin and their rights is an outrage that will never be forgotten.

Everyone agrees that the right to bargain collectively is a right, but you don’t often see it referred to as a civil right. Maybe it should be.

American labor law is much more friendly to civil rights than the right to organize. Fire someone because of their race and you will (rightfully) get sued. Fire someone because they want to organize a union and you’ll never have to see them again.

Perhaps the polls have been so friendly to Wisconsin Democrats because people understand the difference between budgetary issues and the freedom of association. They might not like the bargains unions make on behalf of their members, but they certainly recognize that people have a fundamental right to try to make them. Stamping public unions out of existence isn’t good fiscal policy. It’s authoritarianism pure and simple.

Perhaps we in academia should try a similar rhetorical maneuver in order to increase support for contingent faculty. This article by Mary Ann Mason has much to recommend (and indeed my friend Historiann really ought to blog the whole thing up right away), but I’m only going to use this piece of it:

Women are most well represented at community colleges (both those with and without academic ranks) and least well represented at doctoral-level institutions. Women make up 50 percent of the faculty at community colleges, 41 percent at baccalaureate and master’s degree colleges, and 33 percent at doctoral-level universities. Most women are not obtaining jobs at the more prestigious and higher-paying research universities where they earned their degrees.

And women are greatly overrepresented below the tenure track in the low-paying, nontenured positions. Women make up 58 percent of instructors and 54 percent of lecturers, and hold 51 percent of unranked positions.

Considering that women only started making up more than 50% of Ph.D.s very recently, those numbers are way out of whack.

Suppose we started referring to the exploitation of contingent labor not as an education problem or a class problem, but as a gender problem? At the very least, it might cause a few more of the old white guys who run academia to sit up and take notice.


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