New Book: Working for Social Justice Inside and Outside the Classroom

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I am pleased to announce a new book just published by Peter Lang, Working for Social Justice Inside and Outside the Classroom: A Community of Students, Teachers, Researchers, and Activistswhich I co-edited.

Working for Social Justice Inside and Outside the Classroom delivers critical counter-narratives aimed at resisting the insatiable greed of a few and supporting a common good for most. The book reflects the efforts of a hopeful community, the Rouge Forum, which has been working against perpetual war, corporate education reform, the destruction of our natural environment, increasing poverty, and social inequalities as they fight to preserve democratic ideals in a just and sustainable world. Written teachers, researchers, and activists, this collection is a tapestry of social justice issues woven in and out of formal and informal education.

The Rouge Forum has endured for two decades, a group of educators, students, parents, organizers, and activists who persist in working for social justice, democratic education and a common good. Founded by social education teachers, scholars, and activists, the Rouge Forum moves like waves that, once set in motion, are unstoppable. This remarkably inclusive community has been sustained with hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Rouge Forum website, annual conferences held throughout the United States and Canada, and many of the original founders continuing to ride the waves of change.

The Rouge Forum is uniquely inclusive. Educators, scholars, students, writers, union organizers, artists, and many more gather each year for dialogic interaction and learning together. Membership crosses cultural, national, racial, and class boundaries in the struggle for a just and sustainable world.

Rouge Forum conferences aim to foster dialogue among participants rather than stand-and-deliver speeches. Panel and roundtable discussions are encouraged. As one student said after presenting on a panel at the 2014 Denver Conference, “As we went one by one, you could tell that our confidence continued to rise. When we completed our panel, the crowd kept the conversation going with questions …about our ideas…on how to have dialogic discussions and [build] communities….” She continued saying that the participants were not asking questions about what they knew, how much they had prepared for their panel presentation, instead they wanted to know what those students thought. She ended by saying “…this experience was one for the books.”

This book was written for those who fight for democratic ideals and work against perpetual war, the destruction of our natural environment, and increasing poverty and social inequalities. As the world watches the skewed mass media portrayal of the 99%, the people of the Rouge Forum stand together to delivering a counter-narrative.


Nancye McCrary & E. Wayne Ross: Working for Social Justice Inside and Outside the Classroom: A Community of Teachers, Researchers, and Activists

Nancye McCrary: The Last Teacher

Staughton Lynd: What Is to Be done?

Susan Ohanian: Against Obedience

Alan Singer & Eustace Thompson: Pearson, Inc.: Slashing Away at Hercules’ Hydra

Faith Agostinone-Wilson: Relation of Theory and Research to Practice in Social Justice Education – On the Urgency and Relevance of Research for Marxists

Four Arrows & Darcia Narvaez: Reclaiming Our Indigenous Worldview: A More Authentic Baseline for Social/Ecological Justice Work in Education

Rich Gibson: Why It Is Possible and Imperative to Teach Capital, Empire, and Revolution – and How.

Dave Hill: Class Struggle and Education: Neoliberalism, (Neo)conservatism, and the Capitalist Assault on Public Education

Doug Selwyn: Social Justice in the Classroom? It Would Be a Good Idea

Patrick Shannon: Poverty, Politics, and Reading Education in the United States.

Glenabah Martinez: Counter-Narratives in State History: The 100 Years of State and Federal Policy Curriculum Project

E. Wayne Ross: Broadening the Circle of Critical Pedagogy

Leah Bayens: Social Justice Education Outside the Classroom: «Putting First Things First»: Obligation and Affection in Ecological Agrarian Education.

Tara M. Tuttle: «Barely in the Front Door» but Beyond the Ivory Tower: Women’s and Gender Studies Pedagogy Outside the Classroom

Paul Street: Our Pass-Fail Moment: Livable Ecology, Capitalism, Occupy, and What Is to Be Done

Brad J. Porfilio & Michael Watz: Youth-Led Organizations, the Arts, and the 411 Initiative for Change in Canada: Critical Pedagogy for the 21st Century.

Working for Social Justice Inside and Outside the Classroom, is the second book published in the Peter Lang book series Social Justice Across Contexts in Education.

Read the read the preface and introduction here.

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Theory into practice: Social justice, solidarity & AESA

The American Educational Studies Association is currently facing a dilemma that forces its leadership and membership to decide just how committed they are to the principles of social justice, principles upon which the organization has built its reputation.

How much are the organization’s principles worth?

Should AESA members cross the picket lines and hold its 2016 meeting at the Grand Hyatt Seattle to save itself from an $83,000 cancellation fee? Or, bite the financial bullet in the name of walking the talk on social justice, solidarity, allyship?

Yesterday the AESA membership voted to punt these questions back to the leadership. But before that decision was made there was a long and sometimes puzzling discussion of these issues. Below are some musings on that discussion.

Spot the similarities: AESA 2015 / CUFA-NCSS 1998

Similarities between the AESA’s financial versus principles dilemma and the one CUFA-NCSS faced in the 1990s are striking.

I was deeply involved debates/actions related to the boycott of California in the 1990s in response to the racist, anti-immigrant Proposition 187. Prop 187 was passed in 1994. The College and University Faculty Assembly of National Council for the Social Studies was scheduled to meet in Anaheim in 1998.

At its 1994 meeting in Phoenix, the membership of CUFA-NCSS voted to boycott Anaheim and then lobbied NCSS to do the same. NCSS, which is a profoundly conservative organization, rejected the boycott arguing that it had “contractual obligations.”

Despite that fact that CUFA leadership had four years to make arrangements for an alternative meeting site (CUFA is an affiliated group of NCSS and while it meets in conjunction with the larger organization, it functions as an autonomous group), it took no substantive action.

The delay tactic worked, creating a crisis situation.

In 1997, the combined efforts of the leadership of CUFA and NCSS convinced the CUFA membership to rescind its boycott and meet in Anaheim. Every African American member of CUFA-NCSS (and a few others) in the room quit the organization the night of the vote.

NCSS did not condemn the racist, xenophobic Prop 187 until 1997. It also promised not to meet in California while Prop 187 was in effect, with the exception of the 1998 meeting in Anaheim.

With their actions the NCSS-CUFA leadership was boldly saying something like:

Sometimes doing the right is inconvenient, so we’ll make our commitment to social justice when it doesn’t hurt our pocketbook. Don’t you know we have contractual obligations!

In the AESA 2015 business meeting (held in the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt San Antonio), many folks offered up similar lines of reasoning as CUFA-NCSS leadership on why the organization can’t take a stand in solidarity with the workers at the Grand Hyatt Seattle:

  • contractual obligations / sizeable cancelation penalty
  • financial hit would have deleterious effects on the organization
  • let’s wait and see what happens
  • boycotting the hotel will not accomplish anything
  • boycotting the hotel will hurt the workers
  • let’s illustrate our solidarity by our academic discourse, not a boycott
  • not all organizations are boycotting, etc.

In addition, as was pointed out at yesterday’s meeting, AESA’s leadership has been aware of the union boycott of the Grand Hyatt Seattle for years, but never developed any viable alternatives.

To be fair the AESA Executive Council (EC) offered up several options, including a “shadow conference,” but none of these were thought through. There was not even a detailed assessment of the impact of the cancelation fee on the AESA finances. (Although one EC member stated AESA has the funds to pay the cancelation fee, which was supported by the financial report distributed to members).

Rather than providing concrete details to members about risk factors and logistical options, the EC members raised the spectre of members having to cover the costs of the cancelation fee via increased conference/membership rates and the difficulty of finding alternative spaces for the Seattle meeting, implying that honouring the boycott meant cancelling the 2016 meeting.

Perhaps the most appalling leadership tactic was a long harangue by an EC member that argued Grand Hyatt Seattle workers already had a pretty good hourly wage and being able to form a union would not increase their wages much. This EC member also offered up the twisted logic that drinking coffee from un-unionized Starbucks wasn’t much different from crossing a picket line at the Grand Hyatt Seattle … and everybody drinks coffee from Starbucks, right?

The leadership of AESA is correct that there’s not much time left to make a plan for an alternative site for the 2016 meeting, which begs the question of what they’ve been doing the past 4 years. Likely, just hoping that situation would resolve itself and save AESA from having to make a tough choice.

In some ways the membership endorsed that strategy by refusing to take a vote on the motion to honor the boycott and instead kicking the issue back to the EC.

Some EC members repeatedly stated their concern for the Hyatt workers and their desire to be responsive to members who support the UNITE HERE Local 8 boycott. But, these sentiments were weakened in the face of repeated statements that the EC wanted to investigate the circumstances of boycott before they took any action.

Which side is the AESA EC on? After yesterday’s meeting I have a strong feeling this is a repeat for the CUFA-NCSS California boycott debacle.


AESA is an organization whose members frequently write about social inequity, privilege, and allyship. But there was a stunning lack of sensitivity to these issues in the business meeting discussion of the boycott.

I am convinced that if one substituted people of color or LGBTQI folks for the members of UNITE HERE Local 8, many of the comments made in the business meeting would be immediately rejected by most AESA members has reflective of the privileged telling oppressed people what their problems are and how they should be solved.

Indeed many comments were the opposite of allyship:

  • UNITE HERE Local 8 wants to make this an either/or question and it’s not;
  • We want to support the workers, but I don’t think the boycott is the best way;
  • The union is not interested in other ways we can support the workers.

These kinds of expressions ignore what the workers have requested of would be allies, namely not to eat, sleep, or meet at the Grand Hyatt Seattle.

Many members of AESA obviously think they have better ideas for how they might support Local 8, and are offended when the union isn’t interested in what they think.

As the Anti-Oppression Network argues:

allyship …is a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people. Allyship is not self-defined—our work and our efforts must be recognized by the people we seek to ally ourselves with …

Is There Potential for an Organizational Split in AESA?

I heard lots of talk at AESA about holding an alternative meeting (and protesting) if AESA goes ahead with its plan to meet at the Grand Hyatt Seattle.

The circumstances have significant differences, but the CUFA-NCSS boycott collapse was a significant factor in the creation of the Rouge Forum, which worked within CUFA-NCSS for a years, but ultimately went its separate way.

While remote, I do believe there is possibility of a faction within AESA looking elsewhere if the current plans for AESA 2016 are not changed. At the very least there might be reduced commitment to the organization by some members if AESA cannot find the will to walk its talk.

Based upon yesterday’s dialogue, some members of the EC seem quite sincere in their pledge to lead AESA out of this dilemma, while preserving its credibility as an organization committed to social justice.

What AESA needs right now is a little less conversation and a little more action.


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UNITE HERE Local 8 and the AESA 2016 meeting in Seattle

The American Educational Studies Association is meeting in San Antonio this week and the key issue of its business meeting on Saturday was how the organization should respond to the ongoing union boycott of the site of its 2016 meeting in Seattle.

UNITE HERE / Hyatt Dispute and Settlement

Several years ago AESA entered into a contract with the Grand Hyatt in Seattle for its 2016 meeting. The Hyatt hotel chain has for some time been an organizing target of UNITE HERE, whose 265,000 members work primarily in the hospitality industry.

In July 2013, an agreement was reached between Hyatt and UNITE HERE that ended a years long stalemate between the union and Hyatt as well as ending a national boycott of Hyatt-managed properties.

Doug Patrick, senior VP of human resources for Hyatt said of the agreement:

The national agreement between Hyatt and UNITE HERE is great news for our associates in markets where they haven’t seen wage increases in four years … The associates will see the increases in wage and benefit enhancements they deserve.

UNITE HERE described the key provision of the agreement as establishing “a fair process,” which includes a mechanism for employees at a number of Hyatt hotels to vote on whether they wish to be represented by UNITE HERE.

David Sherwyn, associate professor of law and academic director for The Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration has described the deal as good for both sides. He told Hotel News Now (HNN),

What it also shows is the belief of the inadequacy of the NLRB election. UNITE HERE was adamant that they didn’t want to go to an NLRB election where you can do all kinds of mean and nasty stuff.

HNN reported that that Hyatt didn’t want to authorize card-check voting. According to Sherwyn, Hyatt wanted employees to go into booths to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for elections. Card check involves a lot of peer pressure because voting is done in public, which Hyatt was against.

“(UNITE HERE is) giving them an election, and I’m sure that they set some sort of ground rules about what they can and cannot be said and how the election is going to be done and so on,” Sherwyn told HNN. “What I’m inferring is that Hyatt feels good because at the end of the day their employees are getting a vote.”

The rub for AESA’s 2016 meeting in Seattle is that the national agreement applies only to Hyatt-managed hotels and the the owner of the Grand Hyatt Seattle, Richard Hedreen, has refused to allow employees access to that fair process (e.g., card check).

The response from UNITE HERE Local 8 in Seattle has been to ask customers to boycott the Grand Hyatt Seattle (and Hyatt at Olive 8).

UNITE HERE Local 8 says the Boycott of Grand Hyatt Seattle is based on the following issues:

  • Heavy workloads. Hotel housekeeping work is difficult work that can lead to debilitating pain and injuries. Hyatt at Olive 8 Houseman Yuan Ping Tang reports that he turns over up to 38 rooms a shift.
  • A slippery slope of subcontracting. In the past year, the Hyatt at Olive 8 has used more temporary, subcontracted workers, a precedent that can threaten full-time jobs.
  • Workers want their say. Workers at the Grand Hyatt Seattle and the Hyatt at Olive 8 have called on the hotels’ owner, Richard Hedreen, to give them a fair process to decide for themselves whether they want a union. This is a process that Hyatt agrees will be implemented if and when Mr. Hedreen gives the OK. So far Mr. Hedreen has refused.

Discussion at AESA 2015 Business Meeting

At the AESA 2015 business meeting this afternoon in, ironically, San Antonio’s Grand Hyatt, I made the motion that “AESA honor the UNITE HERE Local 8 boycott and not hold its 2016 meeting at the Grand Hyatt Seattle.”

There was a long and vigorous discussion of the issue, with many members stating their support of the motion and others offering supportive sentiments for the Grand Hyatt Seattle workers, but arguing against the boycott because of the financial implications for AESA (which, because of contract provisions, would be on the hook for over $80,000 if they canceled).

After a long debate, the members in attendance voted to refer the boycott motion back to the Executive Council of AESA, thus stopping the discussion among the general membership and by-passing an up-or-down vote on the motion.

Previously, AESA members had participated in a straw poll on honoring the UNITE HERE Local 8 boycott, with the anti-boycott position winning by a slim margin, although fewer than 100 members participated in the poll.

Read more about the boycotts of Grand Hyatt Seattle here:

Attorneys honor Hyatt boycott rather than attend Bar awards | October 4, 2013
The Stand
Hotel Workers Say: Boycott Hyatt! | August 30, 2013
Seattle Gay News
Update! Hyatt Hotel Owners Respond to Boycott | August 30, 2013
The Stranger
Union activists call for boycott of 2 Seattle Hyatt hotels | August 28, 2013
The Seattle Times
Hyatt workers urge boycott of Seattle hotels | August 28, 2013
The Stand
Workers Call for Boycott on Two Seattle Hyatts | August 27, 2013
The Stranger

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New York Times “Letter of the Year Award” goes to Prof. Seth Rockman

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Read Brooks’ article here.

See all letters published in NYT in response Brooks here.

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More bucks than brains: James Ramey and the ruination of the University of Louisville


What was he thinking? - University of Louisville president posed for photo in sombrero, poncho at the his 2015 Halloween party

University of Louisville president James Ramsey  posed for photo in sombrero, poncho at the his 2015 Halloween party

In the late 1990s, Kentucky’s legislature initiated a program to upgrade and reform the state’s postsecondary education system, it was called “Bucks for Brains.” (The state’s promotional tagline at the time was “Open for Business.”)

I was recruited to the University of Louisville in 2001 and spent two-and-a-half years on the faculty there as a department chair and distinguished university scholar, which gave me an up close and personal experience with a university administration that’s, as they say where my family’s from, sigogglin.

John W. Shumaker, a classics scholar, was UofL president when I arrived and he proved to be an incredible fund raiser, increasing the university’s endowment from under $200 million to $550 million.

Of course, the UofL has long been the recipient of corporate largesse, especially from the Louisville’s corporate giants Brown-Forman (one of America’s largest spirits and wine companies); Brown & Williamson (which chemically enhanced the addictiveness of cigarettes, remember whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand? No? Well I’m sure you remember Russell Crowe playing Wigand the blockbuster movie The Insider); Papa John’s Pizza (UofL football Cardinals play in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium); and Yum! Brands (“feeding the world” crap food via KFC, Pizza Hut, and, of course, Taco Bell, more on the Mexican connection later).

The Brown & Williamson Club at the University of Louisville's Papa John's Cardinal Stadium

The Brown & Williamson Club at the University of Louisville’s Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium

After Shumaker left to head up the University of Tennessee (where he resigned in disgrace after 3 years), he was replaced by James R. Ramsey, who had been Kentucky’s state budget director under Gov. Paul E. Patton (who became wealthy by exploiting Kentucky’s coal miners).

Patton’s major achievement as governor was overhauling postsecondary education in the Kentucky. But Patton’s political career was de-railed by duelling scandals: (1)  an extramarital affair and a sex-for-favors scandal; and (2) pardoning four of his political advisers who were indicted for violating Kentucky’s campaign finance laws and for allegedly abusing his patronage powers.

All of this is just everyday Kentucky politics, so Patton wasn’t distracted enough to forget he had to find a soft-landing for his budget director, thus Ramsey, with no university administration experience, became the 17th president of the University of Louisville.

Since Ramsey has been in office the UofL, in endowment has continued to grow and is now pushing the $1 billion mark, which is really the only logical explanation for why he hasn’t been bounced because Ramsey’s administration has more ethical lapses than Carter has liver pills, pretty much proving that the UofL has more bucks than brains.

Robert Felner: Former Dean, Convicted Felon

Felner arrived in Louisville with some spiffy credentials: PhD in psychology from Yale; former head of the department of psychology at the University of Illinois; a CV packed with pages upon pages listing his publications in top journals and, most importantly for the UofL administration, a staggering number of grants.

Despite several red flags about Felner’s candidacy for dean of UofL’s College of Education and Human Development, Ramsey and his long time provost, Shirley Willihnganz, couldn’t wait to get Felner on campus.

Ramsey was in such as rush to land Felner he and Willihnganz forgot to tell the interim dean (and other finalist for the position) they hired Felner, so he was left to discover the decision when Felner call his secretary and started giving her instructions. So much for that HR seminar!

Things in CEHD soon started to fall apart.

I resigned from my department chair position two weeks after Felner took over as dean and later moved to UBC.

Within a few years, there had been 30 grievances filed by faculty and students against Felner for a wide range of abusive managerial practices and a faculty vote of no-confidence in Felner’s leadership of the CEHD. Reasons given by faculty for the vote of non-confidence included:

Public humiliation of faculty, work place harassment, retaliation for voicing opinions, little or no governance, decisions that hurt College, unacceptable and unfair hiring practice; rude, offensive, unethical behavior by CEHD representatives; denial of support for research to those who differ in opinion; and extreme inequity of pay. (See CEHD meeting notes published here.)

Despite the abominable conditions in CEHD, UofL Provost Willihnganz and Ramsey both supported Felner publicly.

One year after the vote of no-confidence, Felner announced he was leaving the UofL to become president of the University of Wisconsin, Parkside.

The Chronicle of Higher Education described Felner as “riding high” a couple of years into his deanship at UofL, well-paid, and having secured a $700,000 grant from the US Department of Education. However, he “pressed his luck” during his last weeks in Louisville.

Even though only $96,000 remained in the account, he implored Louisville officials to approve a $200,000 subcontract with a nonprofit organization in Illinois that had already received $450,000 from the grant. Perhaps, he suggested, the university could draw on a special fund that had been established by the daughter of a former trustee.

The Illinois group, Mr. Felner said, had been surveying students and teachers in Kentucky. That survey would “let us give the feds something that should make them very happy about the efficiency and joint commitment of the university to doing a good job with an earmark, as I know we will want more from this agency,” he wrote in an e-mail message on June 18.

But on June 20, his last day as Dean of CEHD before he headed off to Wisconsin, those big black SUVs with government plates (like the ones you see on Criminal Minds) rolled into the CEHD parking lot. US Secret Service, US Postal Inspectors, and UofL Police questioned Felner and escorted him off campus, along with his computers and records.

There was a simultaneous raid on UW-Parkside to confiscate material Felner had shipped ahead of his arrival there.

In October 2008, a federal grand jury indicted Felner on nine counts of mail fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion. According to the indictment,

the Illinois nonprofit group, known as the National Center on Public Education and Prevention, was simply a shell that funneled money into the personal bank accounts of Mr. Felner and Thomas Schroeder, a former student of his and the group’s “executive director.” Prosecutors say the two men siphoned away not only the $694,000 earmarked grant, but also $1.7-million in payments from three urban school districts, money that ought to have gone to the legitimate public-education center that Mr. Felner had created in Rhode Island.

In January 2010, Felner pleaded guilty to nine Federal charges, including income tax evasion.

In May 2010, Felner was sentenced to 63 months in US Federal Prison for his role in defrauding defrauding the UofL and the University of Rhode Island, where he had been director of the School of Education, of $2.3 million of US Department of Education funds earmarked for No Child Left Behind Act research.

aka Robert Felner

10775-033 aka Robert Felner was released from US Prison in May 2014

For a a short course on the felonious Felner see the summary of events. For a full course on the Felonious Felner and the incompetence and ethical lapses of Ramsey’s UofL administration click here. (Shout out to Jake at PageOneKentucky for excellent investigative reporting on Felner and the UofL.)

For Workplace Blog coverage of Felner click here.

And here is a Louisville Courier-Journal profile of Felner that pretty much sums up the guy that Ramsey defended until he pleaded guilty: Robert Felner profile: Arrogant, outrageous, abusive and duplicitous.

Felner Footnotes: Indians, John Deasy, Non-Disclosure Agreements & Ramsey as the Frito Bandito

(1) When Felner announced his resignation, UofL president Ramsey wroted to Felner and said he was worried about “letting the Indians get back in control of the reservation.” That’s some serious respect for university faculty and the idea of shared governance, eh?

(2) Los Angeles school superintendent, John Deasy, has had his academic credentials called into question. Deasy was given a PhD by the University of Louisville after he was enrolled for four months and received a total of nine credits.

Deasy’s doctoral advisor was, surprise, Robert Felner! Deasy had previously awarded $375,000 in consulting contracts to Felner, while Deasy was Superintendent of Santa Monica schools.

Ramsey appointed a “blue-ribbon” panel to investigate Deasy’s degree. The panel found that getting a PhD in four months at the UofL was not cause for concern, thus plunging the UofL’s academic reputation down into the neighbourhood of fly-by-night for-profit “higher” education.

Deasy is now working in an unaccredited training program sponsored by educational de-formers the Broad Foundation, which teaches school leaders business methods and supports charter schools and closing public schools.

(3) Ramsey has been making double retirement payouts to UofL administrators for their silence.

Records show that the school paid a full year’s salary to outgoing vice presidents Michael Curtin ($252,350) and Larry Owsley ($248,255) and to assistant to the president Vivian Hibbs ($66,391) to induce them not to “disparage, demean or impugn the university or its senior leadership.”

In March 2014, UofL made a $346,000.00 settlement with university counsel Angela Kosawha:

The University of Louisville is paying another large settlement in connection with the retirement of a high-ranking official — this time, $346,844 to its top lawyer. University counsel Angela Koshewa is on a three-month leave of absence before she officially retires June 1. Documents obtained under the Kentucky Open Records Act show the university is paying Koshewa — who has questioned some expenditures and proposals backed by President James Ramsey and Dr. David Dunn, the executive vice president for Health Affairs — twice her final salary.

It costs a lot for Ramsey to cover up details of his administration’s incompetence and shenanigans, but remember there are lots of bucks at UofL.

(4) Provost Shirley Willihnganz stepped down as UofL provost earlier this year. The Louisville Courier-Journal reported that

Under her watch, however, university employees have stole, misspent or mishandled at least $7.6 million in schemes at the health science campus, the law school, the business school and the athletic department’s ticket office.

Willihnganz also was criticized for approving about $1 million in buyouts for former high-ranking employees, some of which included agreements not to disparage the university or its leaders.

She also was forced to apologize to CEHD faculty in 2008 for failing to take any common-sense action against Felner for his intimidation, harassment, humiliation and retaliation against faculty, staff, students and alumni.

Willihnganz said at the time that she tended to dismiss the early complaints against Felner — including a no-confidence vote by faculty — because he was a “high performer” and because the complaints came from professors and staff “entrenched in their ways and resistant to change.”

She later told faculty at a meeting that she was sorry. “Mostly what I think I want to say is people have been hurt and something very bad happened, and as provost I feel like I am ultimately responsible for that,” she said.

No duh! She actually is directly responsible for the Felner disaster (along with Ramsey), that’s probably why she feels that way. And speaking of resistance to change …

(5) This next item has nothing to do with Felner, except that his former boss and advocate, James Ramsey, is also the long time boss of UofL basketball coach Rick Pitino who admitted to having sex with a woman in a swanky Italian restaurant in Louisville. Apparently that’s not a problem with Ramsey and the UofL because Pitino said it wasn’t rape.

And, now Pitino is using hookers and strippers to recruit high school basketball players to come to the UofL. See Dave Zirin’s pieces on the latest Ramsey supervised scandal:

(6) And I almost forgot. Remember the Taco Bell/Mexican connection. This week Ramsey had a little halloween party at the UofL. Ramsey goes racist (again). Yes, he dressed up like the Frito Bandito.

UofL President James Ramsey illustrating his knowledge of multiculturalism

UofL President James Ramsey says “Yo quiero Taco Bell.”

And you thought the HR training at UofL was bad, get that guy to the diversity office and cross your fingers that they’re better than the university’s accounting folks.

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Did UBC School of Kinesiology just scam its students to help fund a new building?

Tonight the University of British Columbia Alma Mater Society (AMS) Council—the elected student government—will consider approving results of a referendum in which undergraduate kinesiology students voted to increase their student fees by $250 to help fund a new building for the School of Kinesiology.

Yesterday, UBC Insiders reported that the School of Kinesiology spent over $40,000 on the referendum, including employing two people to work on the campaign. Based upon documents UBC Insiders obtained via a Freedom of Information request it seems clear that the the School of Kinesiology and its employees, including administrators, were the primary forces in the referendum, while the Kinesiology Undergraduate Society (KUS) was merely a veneer that made it seems as if the initiative to have students pay for UBC infrastructure on top of their already high tuition and fees was a grassroots idea and campaign .

According to UBC Insiders, the School of Kinesiology outspent the entire KUS budget on the student referendum:

In March 2015, the Kinesiology Undergraduate Society held a referendum for a new $250 student fee. This referendum was unusual for a number of reasons. First, the fee would go entirely towards paying for a portion of a new academic building on behalf of the School of Kinesiology. Secondly, it also became known that the KUS had little involvement in the referendum process and it was instead being led by a group called “Make Your Mark” (MYM). Thirdly, the MYM campaign carried the school’s branding and was being headed up by two individuals who were employees of the School of Kinesiology.

Despite these irregularities, the referendum passed. In May 2015, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request was filed asking for various records and correspondence about the referendum held by named employees of the School of Kinesiology. The results of that request, containing over 300 pages of records, can be downloaded here.

It’s quite unusual in the first place that a department of the university would be able to produce 300+ pages of documentation on a referendum supposedly run by a student group. Yesterday’s post contained a semi-narrative timeline of events outlining the School of Kinesiology’s involvement over 16 months.

Across its reporting on the referendum, which goes back to 2014, UBC insiders have identified myriad questions and concerns regarding the referendum (see four articles linked here:, including issues of ethics and conflicts of interest.

Here’s a summary of what UBC Insiders has learned:

The School of Kinesiology was involved in the planning and execution of a student referendum for a period of more than a year. It is an idea that had been contemplated by Bob Sparks, the school’s Director, as early as 2012. The School hired two employees who were specifically tasked with passing the referendum, and who reported to Bob. In doing so, the School likely spent more on this one project than the entire annual KUS budget.

Make Your Mark was a “yes” committee, led by employees of the school, that was allowed to write the very referendum question they were campaigning in support of. At various junctures, attempts to muddy the waters were made by trying to claim it was simply an informational campaign.

Bob Sparks and other employees in the School of Kinesiology were definitely kept in the loop of referendum-planning activities: helping to set up meetings, developing budgets, and encouraging faculty and staff to participate in the campaign. The involvement continued throughout, including approval of campaign materials, drafting of the referendum question, and asking UBC legal counsel for advice (presumably) on how to navigate the AMS. Even after questions were publicly raised about the appropriateness of the school’s involvement in the this referendum, nothing seemed to change, with school employees weighing in on media responses, and even editing the notice of referendum results submitted to the AMS.

The KUS, on the other hand, seemed to have little direct involvement in the referendum while it was being planned, a level of engagement which appeared to continue during and after the vote. It would be unfair to say that the KUS was deliberately marginalized from the campaign and referendum, but of everyone involved, the KUS seemed to have the least werewithal to run their own referendum, or even understand the process of doing so. The person eventually recruited to ensure elections rules were followed had been involved in the initial discussions with the school about hiring staff to organize the referendum campaign.

One narrative that has emerged from referendum supporters is that despite any issues surrounding how it was conducted, the results should be ratified because students voted in favour of the proposal. This point of view represents a willful blindness to the elephant in the room; if the student support expressed during this referendum is a genuine reflection of the opinion of the Kinesiology student body, why did the School of Kinesiology feel compelled to mount a $40,000, 16-month campaign? Beyond ignoring significant conflicts of interest and other unethical aspects of the campaign’s structure, this also implicitly posits that Make Your Mark had no effect on the outcome of the vote. On a more basic level, it manages to ignore the underlying fact that in the absence of MYM, there would have been no referendum. This referendum only existed because the School of Kinesiology wanted it to.

The issues raised regarding the School of Kinesiology student referendum demand a full accounting. I have requested that the conversation on these issue begin at the next Faculty of Education meeting on November 16, 21015. (The School of Kinesiology is a unit in the UBC Faculty of Education.)

In addition, I have requested that the Dean of the UBC Faculty of Education initiate an independent fact-finding investigation into the alleged conflicts of interests/ethic breaches related to the School of Kinesiology student referendum and deliver a report of its findings to the members of the Faculty of Education as soon as possible.

It seems to me the AMS council should at least ask some pointed questions, if not conduct their own investigation, before ratifying the referendum to raise the fees of kinesiology students.

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Professors in Poverty

An average of 51% of faculty are adjunct or working on a part-time only basis. 31% of those adjuncts live near or below poverty levels and are forced to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. Astonishingly, some make as little as $12,000 annually; meanwhile college presidents are making on average salary of over $400, 000. The corporate model is destroying the integrity of our academic institutions and has to stop. Help us fight for adjuncts and their right to a living wage by sharing this video.

Meet Dr. Wanda Evans-Brewer. She has been teaching for 20 years, has a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a PhD in Education. She is also living in poverty.

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Master/Slave questions … for teachers (and others)

Rich Gibson, guest blogger, presents some starter questions that few teachers are willing to ask in serious ways.

 What is it to be free, fulfilled, and confident that you will be able to meet your human potential?

 Are we free? Are we free at work, at school, at play? If we are not free: What would we need to know, and how would we need to know it, in order to be free?

Are there people among us who appear to be much more free than others? If so, what is it that makes them different? What do they have in common, worldwide?

Who is less free? What elements do they have in common?

Is freedom achieved through isolation, or friendly connections with other people?

If we are not free, in part because we are isolated from each other, often in ways that we do not see (the normalcy of segregated schooling), then what might we do to be more free?

These questions rise from the Critique of Tyranny. This critique has been applied to every society, ever since the first food surpluses made inequality possible, and it became possible to make an argument that separation from others might be a good thing–in contrast to early societies where those who behaved the most collectively survived longest and best. The critique was the interrogation of domination that, in ideas, forged the US revolution. It is absent from most social studies textbooks.

The Critique of Tyranny leads to a question that can be asked of any society–to judge it: How does this society treat the majority of its citizens, invariably the workers, or slaves, troops, i.e., the common citizens, over time?

This reasonable question sweeps aside the notion that poisons conservative forms of postmodernism, which insist that there really is no rational way to judge any society, that one society or social movement or idea might be as good as the next, that all is mere viewpoint and, at the end of the day, maybe Mussolini was not such a bad guy after all.

Are teachers willing to ask these questions to students in their classrooms, not of abstract distant societies, but of their condition inside school? My experience is that most teachers are not willing to seriously pose the issue, in fear of lack of control.

Psychiatrist Robert Kaye says students in the world’s classrooms are not free, using a metaphor that suggests that compulsory attendance laws make them “incarcerated.” This would be a good place to start. Are we here because we want to be here?

Indeed, many teachers will insist that they live in a free society. But they will also agree that they cannot probe the question of freedom in school, or really speak their minds. The Bill of Rights, for example, stops at the door of most work places.

Most teachers are not free to interrogate the key issues of life:

  • Work–because it is illegal in most states to teach positive things about Karl Marx, about “all of history is the history of class struggle,” and it’s therefore impossible to say much about any labor movement.
  • Love–sexuality, because in most states it’s illegal to teach that sex is fun; rather it is taught as a matter of fear: STDs, unwanted pregnancy, exploitation.
  • Rational knowledge or reason as the Enlightenment can only be taught as an abstraction, one religion being as good as the next instead of “people make gods; gods don’t make people, there isn’t any magic and fairies are not dancing on the earth.
  • The relentless struggle for freedom and fulfillment–freedom non-existent in schools.

In examining a contradictory relationship, a unity and struggle of opposites in which unity is temporary and struggle perpetual, it is quite possible to not only probe historical reality, but the crux of how and why things change–as they do.

Here are some questions that students can work out themselves to, perhaps, better understand the foundation of most societies throughout history: The Master-Slave Metaphor.

In a “Let’s pretend” Master-Slave Relationship:

    What does the Master want?

    What does the Slave want?

    What must the Master do?

    What must the Slaves do?

    How do Masters Rule?

    How do Slaves resist?

    What does the Master want the Slaves to know?

    What does the Slaves want the Master to know?

    What does the master want the slaves to believe?

    What does the slave want the master to believe?

    Is truth the same for the Master as it is for the Slaves?

    Who has the greater interest in the more profound truths?

    What mediates the relationship of the Master and the Slaves-both in theory and practice?

    What elements within this relationship, as it exists, provide clues to how the relationship might be changed?

    How will the slaves get from what is, to what they think ought to be, without relying on magic?

    What will the Masters do in response to the struggles of the slaves?

    What would be the masters’ greatest victory–or the slaves’ worst defeat?

    Is it possible to end the relationship of Masters and Slaves, or are people trapped within this forever?

    What would be the Masters greatest victory?

    If people are not trapped in the Master-Slave relationship permanently, and if they should actually overcome it, what will preserve their common freedom?

Having conducted this exercise more than fifty times with college students, high school students, and veterans groups; the most difficult answer for most groups, the one they never get, is: What is the Masters greatest victory?

If you’ll do the exercise, send me what your group responds. I will be happy to send you expanded answers–if there are any.


On Tyranny, by Leo Strauss (the classic in the field)

Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond

Phenomenology of the Spirit, Hegel

Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Marx (and all of the rest of Marx’s work)

Alienation by Bertell Ollman (why we are estranged from one another and how we might reason our way out).

The Politics of Obedience, the Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, Etienne De La Boetie

Rich Gibson is an emeritus professor at San Diego State University. He is a co-founder of the radical schools group, the Rouge Forum, which involves teachers, professors, students and community people in the English and Spanish speaking world.

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Students and Teachers! The Unasked Question: Why Have School?

Rich Gibson, guest blogger, asks Why Have School?

Dear Students and School Workers,

Perhaps you can challenge your friends, teachers, and colleagues, or maybe torment the worst one, with a little exercise I use at the beginning of every class: Why have school? Why are we here?

I ask that question in class one, advising students that I will follow it with these:

  • What are the main things going on in school?
  • What are the main things going on in society?
  • What might your answers have to do with each other?

Having done the interactive dialogue frequently, I can usually predict most of the student responses–but never all, and sometimes not the funniest ones.

Part of your task as a real student is to seek answers to the question: Who am I in relation to others, and what shall I therefore do? Asking our key question may help.

One good scenario: you will recapture the view that most very young children have, fairly quickly fogged over by much of schooling: I can understand and change the world.

You might practice the exercise with classmates before school begins.

Fair warning: very few teachers have asked this of themselves. They may be reluctant to do it, even angry you posed the question. But “why are we here?” must be posed and answered in every class. It’s the teacher’s, and your, responsibility to reasonably answer it–beyond “truancy laws.”

At this point, please take perhaps ten minutes to think through, and make some notes about your answers to those questions just above.


Now (did you really, really do it?) I offer my thoughts which are radical, to-the-root analyses; more radical than most.

Why have school? Why are we here?

Let’s step back a moment in order to put school in its proper, social, perspective.

Schools are the key organizing point of de-industrialized North American life, and much of life elsewhere.

Evidence: There will be almost 50 million young people in k/12 schools in 2015. Nearly one-half of the youth in high school today will be draft-eligible for the next seven years. They’re just about all registered for conscription.

Numbers and positioning mean you are in a vital position to influence society–for better or worse.

Another 21 million mostly young people are in US colleges and universities.

School workers, not industrialized workers, are by far the most unionized people in the USA, more than 3.5 million union members. School unions are shrinking, but slowly, while industrial unions collapse, evaporate, because, in part, industry evaporates, and because industrial union leaders abandoned the idea at the heart of unionism—the contradictory interests of workers and employers.

The US will spend more than $629 billion on schools this year, about $12,300 per student. However, this average varies a great deal between states. California, once the finest and least expensive of state school systems, kindergarten through college, is now one of the worst, spending about half the national average. Then, as we shall see, there are remarkable disparities between districts.

What is going on in schools?

Elites sought greater control over schools since the wars on Vietnam accelerated a student-teacher-prof-veteran leftist movement that nearly upended what has always been a segregated and deceitful system of mis-education.

Once elected, the demagogue, Obama, invaded US schools with his Race to the Top (RaTT), a project personified by Chicago’s education huckster Arne Duncan. The RaTT, and later the Common Core, speeds what was already happening in capital’s schools under George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton before him–and adds a few factors for spice.

Note that the 40 year education strategy has always been bi-partisan, as with war funding, and bank bailouts.

The RaTT’s predecessor, touted by Democrats and Republicans alike called the No Child Left Behind Act had at least these key factors:

  1. The development of a regimented national curriculum to promote nationalism;
  2. High stakes standardized tests to promote segregation, indifference to learning, and ignorance with a pretense of scientific backing and;
  3. the militarization of schools in poor and working class areas.

The RaTT makes  logical extensions:

  • Sharpened demands for a national curriculum–the Common Core– in more subjects (beyond literacy and math),
  • Merit pay based on student test scores;
  • Attacks on all forms of tenure (made palatable to the public because they know through experience that there is no shortage of incompetents in schools);
  • Layoffs, hits on pay and benefits, increases in class size;
  • Tuition hikes driving youth out of college with razor-like precision, typically rooted in inherited wealth;
  • Some privatization, but hardly only privatization (the corporate state–described below–reflects both the unity and contradictions internal to the ruling classes who have different short term views of profitability);
  • Calls for national service setting up a syphon for middle class opposition to a draft;
  • Intensified moves into cities and schools in crisis, like Detroit and New Orleans, demonstrating again the contradictory goals of social control and profiteering;
  • Ruthless competition between school districts and states for limited RaTT
  • reward dollars;
  • A harsh rule of fear and intimidation sweeping across all of capitalist schooling;
  • The abolition of union contracts by fiat–administrative or government “emergency” declaration (Detroit Public Schools, and many, many, more);
  • Suspensions and expulsions of students, a race and class based maneuver that, step by step, obliterates youths’ ability to begin to achieve their potential.

Indeed, fear, from all angles, is the core emotional value in schools today.

The Jeffersonian ideal of education for enlightened citizenry is long gone, replaced by schooling for jobs and war.

What is the social context of school?

The education agenda is a class war agenda, and an imperialist war agenda. One begets the other.

In 2012, the Council of Foreign Relations, led by war-hawk Condoleeza Rice (“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,”) issued its Education Task Force Report, demonstrating in clear terms that the education agenda is a war agenda: class and empire’s wars.

 Human capital will determine power in the current century, and the failure to produce that capital will undermine America’s security.Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy.1

Let us tick off the emerging realities of our times; the results of the many crises of capital contradicted by the promises of democracy.

The coming and recent elections should not only be studied as how voters choose who would most charmingly oppress the majority of the people from the executive committee of the rich: the government. It should be studied, more importantly, as how an element of capitalist democracy, the spectacle of elections, speeded the emergence of fascism as a mass popular force; that is:

  • The promise of perpetual war is real;
  • The US, incapable of defining a grand strategy (for example, harmony won through equality), is dying a death by a thousand cuts and organizing social decay–unable even to target a primary foe, dashing to hot-spots while other empires rise;
  • The corporate state, the rule of the rich, a near complete merger of corporations and government (2008 bank and auto bailouts);
  • The continuation of the suspension of civil liberties (as with renditions, police murders, mass incarceration, etc.);
  • The attacks on whatever free press there is;
  • The rise of racism and segregation (in every way, but remember the immigration policies);
  • The promotion of the fear of sexuality as a question of pleasure (key to creating the inner slave), and the sharpened commodification of women (Sarah Palin to pole dancers);
  • The governmental/corporate attacks on working peoples’ wages and benefits (bailouts to merit pay to wage and benefit concessions, to multi-tier wage rates);
  • Intensification of imperialist war (wars in Afghanistan escalates war on Pakistan which provokes war on Russia, etc, and the US is NOT going to leave Iraq’s oil);
  • Promotion of nationalism (all class unity) by, among others, the union bosses;
  • Teaching people the lie that someone else should interpret reality and act for us, when no one is going to save us but us;
  • Trivializing what is supposed to be the popular will to vile gossip, thus building cynicism—especially the idea that we cannot grasp and change the world, but also debasing whatever may have been left of a national moral sense;
  • Increased mysticism (is it better to vote for a real religious fanatic or people who fake being religious fanatics?);
  • One spectacle heaped on the next (celebrity worship, narcissistic electronics, etc.) and
  • Incessant attacks on radicals, isolating, discouraging, surveilling, and in some cases jailing those who not only practice radicalism, but who theorize to-the-root analysis.

Capitalist schooling exists within these social rising circumstances

Whose schools are these? These are capital’s schools.

This is, again, a capitalist democracy in which capital dominates democracy at every turn (bankster bailout, the auto-takeover on behalf of stockholders while auto workers’ lives were gutted, empire’s endless wars, etc).

Schooling is not education, the latter a “leading out,” the former, schooling,  a fethishized form of mis-education.

The capitalist market necessarily creates pyramid-like inequality, not only in the pocketbook, but in the mind.

Is there a single public school system in the US?

Actually, there is not. There are five or six carefully segregated school systems, based mostly on class and race.

The image of education in the minds of philanthropic economists is this: “Every worker should learn as many branches of labor as possible so that if…he is thrown out of one branch, he can easily be accommodated in another.” (Marx)

There is a pre-prison school system in much of Detroit, Michigan or Compton, California; a pre-Walmart/military system in National City, California; a pre-craft worker system in City Heights, California; a pre-teacher or social worker system in Del Cero, California; a pre-med or pre-law system in Lajolla, California and Birmingham, Michigan; and a completely private school system where rich people send their kids, like George W. Bush or Mitt Romney–or the Obama children.

Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education, also sends his kids to private schools.

Rich schools teach different realities using different methods from poor schools. In rich schools the outlook is: “This globe is ours; let us see how we can make it act.” In the poorest schools, the outlook is, “Tell me what to do and I will do it.”

What are schools designed to do?

Schools are huge multi-billion dollar markets where profit and loss influences nearly everything.

Consider the buses, the architects, textbook sales, consultants, the developers for the buildings, the upkeep, the grounds, the sports teams, salaries, etc. Cost is always an issue in school. This is, after all, capitalism.

It is more than fitting to use a church analogy: schools as missions for capitalism and empire, and the vast majority of school workers, its missionaries. The theology: nationalism.

The average salary for public school teachers in 2013 was $56,383. Salaries of public school teachers have generally maintained pace with inflation since 1990–91. (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2009)

Multiply $56,383 by the total number of school workers, above. That’s a tidy sum.

These relatively good salaries, in comparison to the crash of industrial wages and jobs, served as an imperialist bribe to educators, winning them to conduct the child abuse that is high-stakes exams and regimented curricula–and not protesting the wars that erode their kids’ lives, for example.

But, as economic break-downs caused by overproduction and war evaporated at least some of the ability to make the pay-off—and as school workers became more and more alienated from each other, their communities and students through those same processes—the bribes and jobs began to vanish–as we witness today. School workers then begin to complain about the symptoms of their problems, as with high-stake exams, and not the core: imperialism and capitalism.

The reality of the imperialist bribe is especially evident inside the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Both unions are deeply involved with American intelligence agencies, like the Central Intelligence Agency’s front Education International (the inheritor of the Cold War CIA education fronts).

Why? For a reason parallel to the reason the American Federation of Labor was born: US workers will do better if “outside” workers do worse, thus tying the interests of US school workers with the nation’s bosses, hence their relentless support for Democrats.

It is a direct payoff. Reg Weaver, former NEA president, made $686,949 in his last single year of office. He now is on the board of EI, along with other past NEA and AFT bosses.

In 2010, about 10,000 NEA members at their Representative Assembly voted about 9,900 to 100 not to discuss the empires wars. In 2011, NEA was the first organization of any size to endorse Obama. Scratch our back with jobs and income and you can abuse kids and make war.

There is, in schools unlike most factories, a tension between elites’ desire for social control and profitability. This can be seen in the contradictions within elite groups about the privatization of schools. It’s also evident in the production and sale of textbooks: social control vs profitability.

It can also be seen in the liberal and unionite response to the current school milieu: “Defend Public Education!”

This is to defend a myth, on the one hand, to wish to harken back to non-existent halcyon days of schooling when it was not teaching lies, not segregated, and truly public.

On the other hand, the false demand is designed to treat schools like middle class job banks, to lure school workers into attempting to tax the rest of the working class to “win,” the further mis-education of their children–as did the California Teachers Association in 2009 with a ballot measure that failed, deservedly, by 2/3rds.

Better to “Transform Schooling!” or “Rescue Education from the Ruling Classes!”

More answers to why have school:

Skill and ideological training. Under skill training we might list, of course, “the three r’s,” along with music, art, athletics, theater, science, etc. That list comes fast and easy.

Ideological training is another thing. Ideological grooming would include nationalism (the daily salute to the flag, school spirit, etc.) as well as the training in viewpoints established by teaching distinct curricular substance (political science, civics, has nothing to do with economics) in the segregated schools, using different methods.

Beyond nationalism, one clear purpose of most schooling is to make the system of capital natural, almost invisible, and to present it as the highest, last, stage of human development.

Further, students must become so stupefied that they see no real contradiction between nationalism and the other central tenet of capitalist thought: individualism. Me! Education, necessarily a social effort, becomes an individual commodity, often in the form of test scores, used as a weapon for merit pay and, by realtors, to fix home values.

NCLB and the RaTT eradicated history in poor and working class areas and, in other areas, eliminated any sense of resistance, even the traditional right of revolution written into the Declaration of Independence: unthinkable.

The upshot of capitalist schooling is that many students, surrounded by the unsystematic, incoherent, mystical world-views of both the curricula and most teachers, come away learning not to like to learn.

Curiosity, a birthright of all children, gets crushed. Parallel to that dubious success, children in exploited areas learn they cannot understand or alter the world. So, people in pacified areas become instruments of their own oppression.

Baby-sitting and warehousing kids.

Babysitting is a key role played by capitalist schools. One way to find out, “Why have school?” is to experiment; close them. In our case, teacher strikes serve as a good test subject.

In school strikes (no sane union shuts down a football program), the first people to begin to complain are usually merchants around middle schools–who get looted. The second group is the parents of elementary students, quickly followed by their employers. (These realities can help demonstrate to elementary educators their potential power along with setting up kids’ entire world views).

The baby-sitting role is, again, funded by an unjust tax system and serves as a giant boon to companies that refuse to provide day care for their employees–but are able to duck taxes as well. This is redoubled by the fact that unions, like the United Autoworkers, completely forgot their 70 year old demand for free day care.

Schools fashion hope: Real and false.

On one hand it is clear that societies where hope is foreclosed foster the potential of mass uprisings: France in the summer of 1968 is a good example of what can happen; uprisings starting in school and quickly involving the working classes nearly overthrew the government.

Real hope might be found in showing kids and school workers alike that we can comprehend and change the world, collectively, and teaching them how.

Ask, “Why are things as they are?” every day. Or, in demonstrating that we are responsible for our own histories, but not our birthrights. Must we be lambs among wolves? Does what we do matter?

False hope might be the typical school hype: Anyone can make it; all you must do is work hard. Trumpery. Inheritance is, more than ever, the key to understanding social mobility, or immobility.

To the contrarians: there is nothing unusual about elites picking off children of the poor, educating them, and turning them back on their birth-communities as a form of more gentle rule. Obama would be one example of such a success. Skanderberg, the Albanian rebel trained by the Turks, would be a failure.

Schools create the next generation of workers, warriors, or war supporters.

Automatons or rebels, or something in between, a process with some witting direction. Those workers need to be taught to accept hierarchy, to submit, to misread realities like class war and endorse nationalism (school spirit) or racism (segregated schooling products). They need to accept their lot, to be unable to notice why things are as they are; why some live in abundance while others have no work—when there is plenty of work to do—why drudgery is so much part of most jobs. The core project here: obliterate the possibility of class consciousness.

What Cannot be Taught in Capital’s Schools in the USA?

School workers who follow the official line in school are prevented from teaching the core issues of human life: work, rational knowledge, love (sexuality) and the struggle for freedom.

Work: it is not possible teach truthfully about work because it is illegal in California and many other states to teach favorably about Marx. Absent Marx, no grasp of the labor movement, alienation, and exploitation.

Rational knowledge: very few teachers will be able to take note of the historical fact; people make gods, gods don’t make people. While multi-culturalism, a mask for nationalism that is still in style, may promote interfaith “tolerance,” history suggests religion is the ideology of death, and current events underline that reality. Which teachers will say that in a classroom?

Love (sexuality): It is illegal in California to teach sexuality as a matter of pleasure. Rather sex education is steeped in fear of diseases, pregnancy. Teaching people to fear their own bodies is key to producing the inner slave–most religions understand that.

The struggle for freedom: While I think it may be easy to justify the importance of the three paragraphs above, this fourth is my assertion that people will persistently struggle to be free. At issue is whether or not they grasp why they are not free, a radical analysis, or they battle the phantoms that their adversaries toss in front of them.2

Students, like everyone, struggle to be free, but how much freedom exists in schools–for anyone? Not much, if any, and what there is will probably be produced by spontaneous action. School imbues the practice of un-freedom.

What of the resistance?

People will fight back because they must. But the traditional organizations of resistance failed both the pedagogical project at hand, that is, teaching people why things are as they are, how to develop strategy and tactics on their own, and the practical project of direct action, control of work places and communities.  While people must resist, it is vital they grasp: Why?

Let us make another tick-list, this time about the school unions, a reminder and details from the paragraphs above:

*No leader of any major union in the US believes that working people and employers have, in the main, contradictory interests, thus wiping out the main reason most people believe they join unions. Bosses (for that is what they are) of the two education unions (the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-AFL-CIO–by far now the largest unions in the USA) openly believe in what former NEA president Bob Chase called “New Unionism,” the unity of labor bosses, government, and corporations, “in the national interest.” There is nothing new about company unionism, however, nor the corporate state.Company unionism produces highlights like the AFT, the smaller of the school unions, to invite Bill Gates, dead-set on capitalist schooling, to be the key-note speaker to their 2010 AFT convention.

*Union bosses recognize their own opposing interests to the rank and file. The union tops, after all, earn much more than school workers. As above, Past NEA president, Reg Weaver, took in $686, 949, in his last year of office. Current president, Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, will make at least $450,000. Power in the unions is vertical, top-down, perfectly clear in the structure of the AFT, somewhat disguised, but every bit as real in NEA.

These mis-leaders who move up fairly slowly through a hierarchy learn a variety of strategies to manipulate people and, “protect the contract.”

These maneuvers, like grievance procedures, move workers away from the locus of their power, the work place, to geographically distant spaces where “neutral” arbitrators decide on vital issues. But the unions rarely file cases to arbitration and, nevertheless, lose about 2/3 of the cases they file.

Union bosses also divert member action to the ballot box–any place away from the job site—where, in the words of one top NEA organizer, “if voting mattered, they wouldn’t let us do it.” But electoral work keeps member volunteers busy and it reinforces the false notions school workers have about professionalism (professionals set their own hours and wages, they determine the processes of work–teachers typically are called professionals by people asking the workers to buy textbooks for their kids), allowing educators to win hollow” respect,” the chance to dress up and rub elbows with Important People, away from school.

*Corruption is endemic in the AFT where a steady stream of leaders have been jailed, not only for looting the treasury (Miami, D.C.) but also for child-rape and embezzling (Broward, Florida–twice).  NEA hasn’t suffered the kind of dramatic jailings AFT suffers, but, for example, my own boss in Florida, where I worked as an NEA organizer, was convicted of embezzling about $1/4 million from the union.

*The school unions draw on a member base that is about 85% white and reflect the racism that such a base inherently creates. Rather than fight to integrate the teaching force and schools, the unions urge more and more “education” classes (typically an utter waste of time), adding on expenses for students, meaning those with the least get shaved out with razor sharp precision–by class and race.

*The unions, like all US unions, do not unite people, but divide them along lines of job, race, years of tenure, staff and leaders from rank and file, that is, down to the narrowest interest–capital’s favorite question: What about me?

*Since the mid-1970’s, union bosses have supported every measure that elites used to regain control of schools which were, in many cases out of control. The NEA and AFT bosses today support curricular regimentation, high stakes racist exams, the militarization of schooling, merit pay, and charter schools (a key new source of dues income).

*The AFT organized the decay and ruin of urban education in the US, while the mostly suburban NEA let urban schooling be devastated, failing to recognize the truth of the old union saw, “an injury to one only goes before an injury to all.” That both unions steeped themselves in volumes of forms of racism (racist exams, racist expulsions, racist segregation, etc) should not go unnoticed or excused.

*The education unions serve to peddle the wage labor of education workers as a commodity to employers and to guarantee labor peace. In this context, there is a direct trade off: no strikes or job actions in exchange for guaranteed dues income; the check-off. That is precisely the historical origin of the agency shop. It is also a big reason why union bosses obey court injunctions against job actions; threats to the union’s bank account, that is, the union staff salaries.

*School unions attack the working class as a whole. One glaring example (May 2009) of this was the support the California Teachers Association and the NEA gave to a series of ballot propositions that would have dramatically raised the taxes of poor and working people while leaving corporations and the rich off the hook, again. NEA and CTA combined spent more than $12.2 million dollars on the campaigns, and lost overwhelmingly. CTA-NEA demonstrated to poor and working families that organized teachers are enemies–yet those same people are educators’ most important allies.

*These are the empire’s unions. Top leaders are fully aware that a significant portion of their sky-high pay is made possible by the empire’s adventures. NEA and AFT bosses work with a variety of international organizations on behalf of US imperialism. These adventures are frequently deadly as with the AFT’s unwavering support for Israeli Zionism, support for the recent oil wars, and, precisely to the point, work with the National Endowment for Democracy, a Central Intelligence Agency front, in wrecking indigenous leftist worker movements. While the AFT has been the spearhead of US imperialism inside the wholly corrupt “labor movement,” NEA has also been deeply involved. There is a long history of this, back to World War I and the AFL’s support for that horrific war. Again, the flag-waving theory behind it: US workers will do better if foreign workers do worse.

Unlike the private sector where less than 10% of the people belong to unions, school workers are the most unionized people in the country. It follows that it is important for change agents to be where the people are. But one must keep one toe in and nine toes out of the unions.

There are some indications that resistance inside the unions, and out, is rising. In Chicago, a recent election threw out the past, sold-out, union leadership. The CORE caucus organized for months, inside schools but, importantly, in communities among students and parents. Many hoped that new president, Karen Lewis, would serve as a beacon for future union reformers, should she overcome the temptations of office, the hierarchical union structure, the patch-work nature of the CORE foundations, and the full-scale attack that will be surely launched on CORE over time. In 2012 CORE led a massive strike. Events in 2015 suggest, however, that Lewis and CORE will fail to build a mass class conscious movement–and become just another union. We shall have to wait and see.

Social democrats, really social nationalists, have come to power in other teacher unions as well: Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Detroit, for example. What they have in common is their determination to not point to the system of capital and imperialism, despite the fact that many of them belong to so-called “socialist” parties. Perhaps they believe that people need to be taken by baby steps to more radical realities, that is, tricked into class consciousness. In a fun-house mirror sort of way, they look like the upper echelon union bosses, despite heavy doses of militant rhetoric.

The ongoing public workers’s strike in South Africa, a true class battle that includes the entire public work force (educators too) versus the Quisling African National Congress government might serves as an inspiration, if any US media covered it. They do not. Word, however, does slip out.

On March 4th, 2010, masses of students, school workers, and community people organized under banners that said, “Educate! Agitate! Organize! Strike! Occupy! Teach-in!”  Their actions, which included building seizures, express-way sit-downs, walk-outs, rallies, marches, and freedom schooling, varied from area to area but the connection of capitalism/war/racism/class war was made in every case I saw.

The organizers then called for similar actions on October 7th and a national conference in San Francisco in late October.

In the interim, the expert dis-organizers from the unions, the Democratic Party, and the usual sects showed up. That movement veered from its radical beginnings to the reactionary call, “Defend Public Education,” and mobilizing to get out the vote–rather like urging people into church where they know their children will be raped, where they are expected to tithe, but it’s all for the common good–some day.

In 2011, NEA and AFT co-sponsored, from the background, a “Save Our Schools” rally in Washington D.C. The rally cost $150,000 dollars. Less than 5,000 people came. The quid pro quo was, “No attacks on Obama. No criticism of the wars,” In the silence, the payoff worked, but with only 5,000 people, the fake rally also showed the unions’ inability to organize anything of significance. What they do well is dis-organize, deflect, and deceive. They will fashion pacified areas where people are instruments of their own oppression.

In the 2014-2015 school year, a movement grew to “Opt-Out!” of high stakes standardized exams which are, after all, racist, anti-working class–sorting tools that are not used in the private schools where Arne Duncan sends his kids.

But few leaders of this action ever commented on the “Why?” of the exams, i.e., class and empire’s wars, so they built a movement that appealed to many upper middle class groups, but left they key questions–and answers–blank. The core matter, class consciousness, remains untaught and unlearned.

The opportunism that drives the “”Opt-Out ‘Movement’” is perhaps best exemplified in historical context.

On July 3rd, 2000, National Education Association president, Bob Chase, spoke to the delegates at the NEA representative assembly: “(I) heard from more of you about standards and high-stakes tests than any other single issue since becoming president of the NEA…In some states, testing mania is quite literally devouring whole school systems like some education-eating bacteria.”3

Chase earlier promoted what he called, “New Unionism,” that is, the unity of unions and their members, government officials, and corporations, in the “national interest.” While there is nothing whatsoever new about company unionism, corporate state unionism, and the practice wasn’t entirely new to NEA (American Federation of Teachers president, Al Shanker pursued the same plan a decade before Chase) the NEA president codified what became NEA practice ever since.

NEA officers went on to talk anti-testing while helping create all the foundations of all the tests and offering minimal surcease to school workers who tried to resist the test fetishes.

At base, it is more than possible to be racist, sexist, nationalist and brimming over with pro-war sentiment, and oppose the test which would probably make your kid even more stupid.

In the near future, the union tops will use the illusion of the importance of the presidential election to divert millions of dollars and thousands of student and teacher volunteer hours into greater support for the corporate state: what eminent political scientist Chalmers Johnson called, “fascism,” nearly a decade ago. They will do everything they can to mask the fact of class war from above.

What Value do Teachers, school workers, Create?

Working within the school industry, which is itself a multi-billion operation, teachers engage an ideological battle, wittingly or not, that fashions the methods of thought, and thus actions, of the next generation of workers, soldiers, the middle-class buffer zones, defenders of elites like lawyers and military officers, and more. Can school workers act in concert with students, parents, vets, and others, to gain greater control of the value they create? There are hints, only hints, in the near past that they can: the Chicago teachers strike. In the now-distant past: the Students for a Democratic Society.

What can be done now?

People can be told that this is capitalism, rooted in exploited labor–and crises;

  • That there is a connection between capitalism and imperialism–endless war;
  • That the key reasons for the attacks on working people and schools are rooted in those two;
  • The education agenda is a class war agenda and an imperialist war agenda;
  • That the government is an executive committee and armed weapon of the ruling class–there they work out their differences, allowing us to choose which one of them will oppress us best;
  • That the overwhelming majority of union bosses have chosen the other side in what is surely a class struggle–the union hacks gain from the wars and capital by supporting those wars, winning high pay and benefits, and betraying workers, they’re a quisling force, junior partners to a very real ruling class;
  • That students, not teachers nor profs, are the primary target of capitalist mis-education and history shows they can and will take leadership, organize, and fight back;
  • That we can build a social movement that rejects the barriers US unionism creates, from job category to industry to race and sex and beyond.

The core issue of our time is the reality of endless war and rising inequality met by the potential of mass, active class conscious resistance.

We can fight to rescue education from the ruling classes although schools may be illusion mills, human munition factories, or missions for capitalism–the vast majority of teachers its missionaries.

What upends that is a mass, class conscious social movement that shouts the words that tyrants fear most: Equality! Justice! Retribution!

Escalating direct action to control work sites, communities, and importantly, the military.

Everything negative is in place for a revolutionary transformation of society (distrust of leaders, collapse of moral suasion from the top down, financial crises, lost wars, massive unemployment, booming inequality, imprisonment of only the poor, growing reliance on force to rule, eradication of civil liberties, corruption and gridlock of government at every level, etc.) What is missing is the passion, generalization, organization, commitment, and guiding ethic to make that change.

For a beginning, how about a one day, nation-wide, rank and file school strike, uniting all school workers, students and people of the communities: Monday, the day after the International Workers’ holiday–Mayday? The idea is in the wind among some of the rank and file.

There is no reason to look around for approval. It won’t come, top down. It is after all, just us.

Time is short. Justice demands organization.

Meanwhile, try those questions at the top in and out of class.

What defeats men with guns? Ideas!


References for the student counts, costs, etc., are at

More on US unionism here

Rich Gibson, a co-founder of the education-based Rouge Forum, is professor emeritus, San Diego State university and a former professor of labor history and social studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. He can be reached at: 

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Do private programs belong at public universities?

The University of Victoria has contracted with the Canadian telecom giant Telus to deliver a “customized” MBA program to Telus employees.

Telus executives will be teaching some of the courses; the instructors from UVic will apparently be teaching on contracts separate from their regular employment with the university. The details are sketchy because the agreement between the UVic and Telus is secret.

Here’s university’s press release on the new program, which is offered in the Sardul S. Gill Graduate School within UVic’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business. The program gets started this month.

The program is the brain child of Telus’s “Chief Envisioner,” Dan Pontefract. Pontefract described the context and goals of the program in an Forbes magazine article this past August, “Going Back To School With A Corporate MBA Program.” (A Huffington Post version of the article appeared in September, “Why Corporations Should Launch Their Own MBA Programs“).

Victoria’s Times-Colonist and The Tyee have also run articles about the program.

Neither Telus nor UVic have (or plan to) release details of the financial agreement, as The Times-Colonist reports

As for the revenue, neither Telus nor UVic would divulge what Telus is paying. Klein noted all costs, including establishing the program and its infrastructure, tuition and overhead costs, were being covered by Telus and there is also a financial consideration that amounts to a profit for the school.

The program raises a raft of questions about academic governance, academic freedom, the vulnerability of public universities to corporate incursions as a result of budget slashing governments.

This program represent the next step in the ever evolving corporatization of the university, another neoliberal education policy that socializes costs and privatizes benefits.

I appeared on CBC Radio’s The 180 with Jim Brown (along with Pontefract) to discuss the UVic/Telus MBA program and the  corporatization of academe.

The 12 minute segment will be broadcast tomorrow (October 4, 2015), but you can stream the segment online now: Do private programs belong at public universities?

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