The NCCFT Executive Committee is back from the AFT’s Higher Education Organizing Conference in Detroit, where we had a chance to listen to some meaningful and motivating talks on the state of higher education today, as well as to participate in two workshops that had direct relevance to issues we are dealing with on our campus.
Of the talks we heard, the one we’d most like to tell you about was given by Dr. Tressie McMillan Cotton, author of Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy. As you know, not only is Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos a big fan of for-profit education at all grade levels, but she also does not believe that student loan borrowers ought to be protected against predatory lending practices. In her talk, Dr. McMillan Cotton pointed out how both are attacks on public education, asserting that the debate over charter schools and such things as Purdue University’s recent purchase of Kaplan University is in fact part of a much larger debate about what the nature of “public” means in the first place. You cannot, she asserted, have quality public education without an improved social contract. Moreover, she went on, in the absence of such a contract, privatized higher ed is nothing more, and nothing less, than commodified social inequality.
The first workshop we attended was called “Organizing a Sanctuary Campus,” an issue that the Academic Senate took up when it formed an ad hoc committee to respond to both SUNY’s January 24th resolution called “Affirmation of Support for Undocumented Students” and the statement of the Faculty Council of Community Colleges, “Statement Supporting Campus Inclusivity and Civil Discourse.” As per SUNY’s policy, we are not using the term “sanctuary campus” here at NCC, but the issues we are dealing with are the same: protecting the rights of all our students, especially those who are undocumented, making sure all our students feel safe and welcome on campus, and preserving the integrity of the educational community our students count on us to be. Charged with making recommendations to the Academic Senate about the measures NCC should take to achieve those goals, the ad hoc committee, chaired by NCCFT Secretary Richard Newman, has been meeting regularly during the past two months and will continue to do so in September.
The second workshop we attended, “Mobilizing Members to Protect Free Speech, Academic Freedom, and Academic Integrity,” focused on strategies for campaign building in the face of assaults on those values. Free speech, academic freedom, and academic integrity, after all, form the foundation on which our professional missions of teaching, research, and service are built, and, as the workshop description says, they have increasingly become “a target for those who would see the academy transformed from an independent center of inquiry and learning into a partisan vehicle for pushing a political, cultural and economic agenda that is at odds with these values.”
Given recent events on campus, specifically those dealing with the proposed revisions to the bylaws of the Academic Senate, we were most interested in the parts of this workshop that focused on campaigning for shared governance. While we continue to believe that ratifying the proposed revisions in their current form is both the wise and prudent thing to do now, we are mindful of the fact that we are not the only ones who see these revisions as a living document, one that can be revisited at a later date. Dr. Keen himself suggested as much when he acknowledged in front of the entire Senate that the process of arriving at, deliberating, and voting on those revisions would, under normal circumstances, have taken a good deal longer than it has. Moreover, again at a Senate meeting, he acknowledged the legitimacy of some faculty concerns, when he agreed that the Board of Trustees exceeded its authority in resolution 14/15-22 by arrogating to itself the right to prescribe the content of our degrees.
That Dr. Keen made these statements in front of the entire Senate, essentially inviting further discussion of them, is no small thing, suggesting his willingness to discuss, once we are done with Middle States, the reasonable amendments that have been put forward by some of our colleagues. That discussion, unless it enters contractual territory, is the sole purview of the Academic Senate. The second conference workshop we attended in Detroit gave us important additional tools and strategies for supporting the Senate, as we have done throughout this entire process.