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Trusting myself

I pursued higher education with the goal of being able to work on the questions I was genuinely interested in. As a doctoral student, I would bring proposals to my advisor with the questions I wanted to study and he would always rebuff them with various objections. He often told me, in asides, about various questions he was interested in, but it took me more than a year to realize that this was his way of telling me what kinds of questions I was supposed to study for my dissertation. When I was visiting one time, my brother Phil said, "I've got to show you this cool thing". He took me to his office where he had a Sun workstation with a huge CRT and opened up a window with a grey background. He said, "This is a file on a server in Switzerland, but if you click these blue words [click] NOW we're looking at a file that's here in Champaign. And if you click these words [click] NOW we're looking at a file on a server in Minnesota." It was an early version of Mosaic, because he knew Eric Bina and some of the other people that were building the first graphical web-browser at NCSA. When I got back to Western, I set up perhaps the first webserver on campus and created some webpages for the laboratory activities we were building in our computer lab. I wrote up a proposal and took it to my advisor and said, "Now I know what I want to do. I want do do my dissertation on the educational uses of hypertext." He made a grimace and said, "Well… I don't know much about that and this whole 'world-wide-web' thing? Nothing might ever come of that." Eventually, I got the hint and worked on what he was interested in: An Account of Expert Phylogenetic Tree Construction from the Problem-Solving Research Tradition in Science Education. It was a good dissertation and I learned a lot. And it got me my position. But I think if I'd graduated in 1996 with a dissertation on the topic I was originally interested in, it might have been more timely and relevant. And taken me farther. So when I write a proposal and someone with an administrative role tries to tell me how, rather than working on what I'm interested in, perhaps I should work on what they're interested in, it doesn't go over so well. Nope, nope, nope. No.

Structure of Public Higher Education in Massachusetts

One topic that came up at the NTT gathering yesterday is the need for a chart, diagram, guide, or infographic, that concisely explains how governance and collective bargaining are organized in higher ed in Massachusetts. It's an incomprehensible alphabet soup until you learn how things work.

For example: in public higher education, the "board" might be the Board of Higher Ed, which governs higher ed -- except for the UMass system that has a Board of Trustees instead. Both UMass Lowell and UMass Amherst have unions called "MSP" to represent faculty, but they're totally different organizations. By contrast, UMass Amherst has MSP and UMass Boston has FSU, but they actually are legally one entity called JCC that bargains for both. UMass Amherst has three separate unions: MSP, PSU, and USA that cover faculty, professional and classified employees, but FSU does all three at Boston. Lowell, Amherst, and Boston are all affiliated with MTA, but Dartmouth is in AFT. Eventually, you learn all this stuff, but its impossible for someone who doesn't know it to understand how things work.

I think it would be a great idea to have a big chart or infographic that could show governance (from the top down, of course) and then union representation (from the bottom up) with names, acronyms, and leadership info. I think it might really help people get up-to-speed on the structure of things.

NTT Gathering

Last year, I attended the first NTT Gathering that brought together non-tenure track faculty from across the UMass sytem to talk, primarily, about issues of equity. They met again during the summer, when I was out of town, and again today. I drove with a colleague to Boston to attend the meeting.

It was a smaller group this time, but represented a sampling of the activists from Amherst, Lowell, and Boston -- as well as several community colleges. It was interesting to hear what's going on on each of the campuses.

Amherst just held an NTT summit where faculty came together to establish positions for bargaining. I was also able to report about the conversation I had with Marty Meehan last spring after our first NTT Gathering and read the letter I had drafted to him.

Boston has been struggling with a budget deficit where the administration was directed to make deep cuts in their NTT faculty. The union has been pushing back with actions to raise visibility and highlight the nonsensical false economy of cutting the NTT faculty that actually generate the vast majority of the revenue of the campus.

The Lowell group is drawn primarily from the adjunct faculty that have been trying to negotiate their first contract as a new union under very trying circumstances. They've made some progress, but talks have mostly been stalled for more than a year.

There was also a community college group that spoke to the challenges of organizing the adjuncts because it tends to be composed of three populations: (1) people who are full-time but teach an extra course or two to earn a little additional money, (2) people who are in business or a profession and want to teach as a hobby, and (3) people who are trying to make a living as an academic. Since these groups have very different interests, they're difficult to organize or mobilize toward common goals.

We talked about how to move forward and how to organize the group. I recommended avoiding the model of having a "board" with "officers" as I thought that was mainly necessary to provide oversight of money or assets, which we don't have. I suggested a steering committee with a chair whose members could serve as conduits to the other committees we might organize. I suggested it be less formal, but the sense of the group was to have equal representation with two from each UMass campus and a couple more that could represent the state universities and community colleges.

We set future meetings for November, February, and April with some goals to aim for to refine our message and plan some actions to raise visibility for the issues. I'm pleased to see it happening and, although I resisted efforts to get dragged into being on the steering committee, agreed to help draft the mission statement.

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