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Nobody wins when the family feuds: On being an early career faculty member at the "new normal" university

April 4, 2018

Nobody wins when the family feuds

We all screwed 'cause we never had the tools

Jay-Z (2017)

 

Over the past few weeks, as the Loyola Men’s Basketball team has been making an unprecedented run during March Madness, I’ve had this huge pit in my stomach. As a huge basketball fan, normally I’d allow myself to get wrapped up in the awesome buzzer beater shots and the excitement of a quintessential Cinderella team upsetting teams from great conferences and igniting the passion of a big city.

 

 

Yet, as a faculty member at this institution and seeing things unfold behind the scenes, I found myself starting to think like “that” faculty member. You know, the old curmudgeon faculty who is always annoyed that the recent success of an athletic team is overshadowing the GIGANTIC and far more consequential issues that institution is facing. What issues are those you may be wondering?

Well for starters, over the last two years Loyola has been “negotiating” with the non-tenure track (NTT) and adjunct faculty union, represented by SEIU Local 73, regarding enhancing and stabilizing job security, pay raises, and working conditions. More recently, there was a campus policing/racial mishap that saw campus security officers poorly handle and escalate a situation (ironically enough outside a basketball game) that involved Loyola students being detained. While these two issues are the ones receiving the most attention, in just the last few years Loyola has seen other contentious issues arise such as:

This is quite the juxtaposition with the puff pieces that have been written and filmed about Loyola in the last two weeks that extol the institutions commitment to social justice, the great things students and faculty are doing in city, and of course Sister Jean.

 

 

Even as someone who purports to study institutions of higher education, the ability for one institution to be such a contradiction blows my mind. We’ve seen record incoming first-year classes, while letting vacant staff positions remain unfilled. We hired our first lay, female-identified president, while ignoring, at best,issues of reproductive justice. We opened a first-of-its kind community college, while seeing enrollments of students of color stagnate at the 4-year campus

 

 

 As a person responsible for crafting learning experiences for graduate students who will go on to work in similarly complex higher education organizations, I’ve racked my brain on how to keep my posture as an educator relative to my own personal and political stances on these topics. 

 

So as my colleagues in the College of Arts and Sciences prepare to strike and protest in a few hours (#TimesUpLoyola) and as students plan to walk-out of their courses and to state their demands (#NotMyLoyola) to the institution. As both the LUC administration and NTT/Adjunct Union call each other out for lacking a commitment to students and co-opt the language of social justice – here I sit, trying to deal with the pit in my stomach.

 

I’m convinced, I think, that the tension I feel is due to the fact that for a person who is supposed to, in the least, know how to get to the answers and explanations regarding dynamics in higher education, I have so many questions:

 

Do I stand in solidarity with these groups? Is this “my fight” to get involved with? What about all the other NTT/Adjunct faculty across the university, why aren’t they in the union? Why are both sides sending me propaganda emails invoking things like the Koch Brothers and Poison Pills or framing well-intentioned faculty members as neglecting their students and commitments. Why do I feel so disconnected from these issues, especially the undergraduate student concerns?

 

I’ve known nothing but turmoil as I come to the end of my second year at Loyola. This is the stuff they don’t and can’t teach you in a doctoral program. I know that I could be somewhere else and write the same thing. So, herein lies my sense that this messiness is probably just the new normal for LUC, which is just a symbolic and parallel trend of all of higher education. If the administration meets the union’s demands, then what’s stopping other NTT/Adjunct faculty from seeking the same package and how does LUC continue to afford that arrangement given rising health care costs and pressure to reign in tuition increases? If the Union strike continues what harm does it do to the institution’s reputation and ability to attract students and cultivate relationships with alumni.

 

Furthermore, if students don’t feel like their voices are heard by the institution, what does that do to their efficacy and trust in social institutions or their ability to learn and grow into productive members of the community?

 

With all that and no easy answers, I’m just left feeling drained and exhausted. No one wins and more fitting, everyone loses. Our March Madness has given way to April showers right on cue and the forecast doesn’t look great for Loyola or higher education.

 

 

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