Get to Know a Steward: Carlos Medina

For the second installment in our Get to Know a Steward series, the GAU Communications Committee asked Carlos Medina, steward for the Department of History, several questions about his life, labor, academic endeavors and activism.

carlos-medinaGAU Communications Committee: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Carlos Medina: I am from Chicago, Ill., and I am the first person in my family to attend high school. I am now a second year Ph.D. student in the history department. I got my Bachelor’s degree from SIU in 2009, went back to Chicago to earn my M.A. in history, and then after receiving my M.A. in 2012 I moved back to Carbondale to earn my Ph.D. and study with some of the professors who were so influential during my undergraduate years.

GAU: Why study history?

Medina: I believe that the study of history allows us to realize that the social structures that shape our reality and are often internalized as being natural and necessary are actually the result of historical events and trends. Therefore, we can change them. I believe that teaching students how to properly read and analyze historical events will empower them to apply critical analysis in all areas of their lives and perhaps make important contributions to the world in doing so.

GAU: What area of history are you most interested in and why?

Medina: I am most interested in 19th and 20th century American history, specifically the history of racial and ethnic perception and identity. More specifically, I am interested in how these factors have shaped the history of U.S./Latin American relations. Race and ethnicity are examples of those categories of identification that people have often internalized as part of the natural order instead of recognizing them as the social constructs that they truly are. At the same time, this “internalization” has often supported historical tensions, leading to misled justifications for things like slavery, scientific racism, warfare, etc.  I want to delve into the historical forces that create these justifications and discuss their social, political, and often economic origins in a way that makes people question their own long-held perceptions about the world.

GAU: Has studying history informed your activism or work with GAU generally?

Medina: Definitely.

GAU: What motivated you to become a steward for your department, and what do you hope to accomplish with GAU?

Medina: Just as I want to break people’s misconceptions about identity and race, I want to assist in helping my fellow GAs fully realize what their work is worth to the university and that they should not accept being pushed around out of fear of losing their position. Too often I have heard horror stories about the GA experience that might have turned out differently had the student been aware of just what GAU can do for them. I want to be part of the process that maximizes their GA experience for the best.

GAU: What do you consider the most pressing issues affecting graduate students today? Can the union help address those issues?

Medina: High student fees. As GAs, we end up essentially paying around two months’ worth of our stipend back to the university to pay off student fees. Life as a graduate student is difficult enough without the added loss of paying some of the most expensive student fees in the country, especially when you look at the breakdown of what exactly you are paying for.

GAU: Historically speaking, what do you think accounts for the decline in unions over the last few decades, and what accounts for the recent spike in graduate student unions?

Medina: I think that the shift away from a manufacturing based economy and toward an information and service based economy has definitely contributed to the decline in unions, as well as a decreased respect for organized labor combined with a lack of urgency on the part of those who don’t want to rock the boat and just keep their jobs. At the same time, I know people who are union members who have been threatened with losing their jobs if they went to their unions to file grievances. I think the rise in student unions, especially in the history department, comes from graduate students witnessing much of this backlash against unions and realizing that it’s nothing new. We have to fight for what we’ve worked so hard to earn in the first place. Graduate students have to spend a lot of time and money to get to the level that they are working as GAs with assistantships, and we have to protect not only our jobs, but our educations. We’re not just working to survive, but to build our futures!

GAU: How important are graduate assistants to SIUC, and how important is GAU to our university?

Medina: Graduate students are extremely important to SIU. The students have more interaction with us than they do with the professors on a day to day basis. In the history department, I know that we do all of the grading and record keeping, lead discussion sections, and deal with the questions, complaints, etc. of upwards of 75 students apiece as part of a three TA team for the large lecture classes. Without us, either the university would have to hire more professors and break up the classes to make them more manageable, or the professors would have to handle them all themselves. This means that they would not have the time to do their own research or teach the smaller upper level classes. Without GAU, who knows how much more work might be piled on top of our current workload, resulting in us not having the time to get our own work and research done for our own classes.

GAU: What are your hopes for your future?

Medina: To earn my Ph.D. in a timely fashion and find employment as a history professor.

GAU: What are your hopes for the future of GAU?

Medina: To grow, stay strong, and inspire a stronger sense of community among graduate students so that we can ensure that GAs are able to do their very best both when it comes to their GA assignments and pursuing their degrees.

Uniting Against Bullies and Injustice

Stories from years past can shed light on values that teach cooperation, inform activism and illustrate the work of Graduate Assistants United.

The childhood experience of author, activist, and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, for example, shaped his later outlook on economic justice.

“When I was a kid, the bigger boys would pick on me,” now-Professor Reich recently recounted. “That is what you did. That’s what is done. So I got an idea that I would make alliances with older boys. Just one or two who would be my protectors.

“The summer when I was about ten, one of the older boys who I depended on to kind of be a protector whose name was Michael Schwerner, in the summer of 1964, I learned that Mickey had been in Mississippi registering voters and he and two other people who had been with him registering voters were tortured and murdered. And when I heard that my protector had been murdered by the real bullies, I think it changed my life. I had to protect people from the bullies, the people who would beat them up economically or the people who would subject them and their families to real harm.

“Because if you don’t have a voice, if you don’t have power, if you’re vulnerable economically in society, you don’t have anybody to protect you.”  We agree.

Many students – and working people generally – continue to face conditions of economic vulnerability aggravated by class inequality.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Laureate economist, said in a September 8 talk to organized labor that inequality hurts the economy, and it hits some harder than others.

“Young Americans face a mountain of student debt, and dismal job prospects,” Stiglitz said.

Linguist, activist and 84-year-old professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Noam Chomsky, addressed the issue when he gave a lecture at the University of Michigan in July.

“Student debt is exceptionally punishing,” Chomsky said.

Chomsky recognized the precarious situation of graduate students who accumulate debt while struggling to pay fees, often working under stressful conditions.

Increasingly, universities “resort to cheap labor without rights – what are called graduate students,” he said.

Like Reich, Chomsky has shared a memorable story from his youth that relates directly to the need for economic justice.

In the companion book to the documentary Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky recalls how he was in the schoolyard in first grade, and a bunch of kids were taunting one classmate who was picked on often.

Chomsky said one of the kids brought his older brother to beat up the kid they had been teasing.

“And I remember going up to stand next to him feeling somebody ought to help him and I did for a while,” Chomsky explained. “And then I got scared and went away and I was very much ashamed of it afterwards, and sort of felt – not going to do that again.”

Similarly, Graduate Assistants United will not leave Graduate Assistants alone when they need help.

GAs too often get bullied by economic hardship – demonstrated by the increasingly burdensome costs of higher education, costs of living and exorbitant fees. Too often GAs feel helpless in work situations, incapable of making ends-meet, resolving issues alone and speaking up for themselves.

Our union aims to protect all Graduate Assistants from having to either endure severe economic hardship or accept unfair labor practices, which occur all-too-often, regretfully.

Graduate Assistants United successfully negotiated raises in our last contract, and we successfully resolved grievances in our tenure. Yet we have much more work to do, and we will continue to pursue outstanding issues to better protect Graduate Students against economic injustice.

But unlike the boyhood experiences of Reich and Chomsky, which motivated them to become life-long activists and defenders of the underdog, our union empowers you to defend yourself with the mutual aid and support of others.

Educator Paulo Freire defined praxis as “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.”  Our praxis at GAU, infused with notions of collaborative action, love, and solidarity, are some of the greatest resources we have. Our Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the countless, nameless Graduate Assistants who have come before us and on whose shoulders we stand, are the sources of inspiration for practical action we need to create the university we want.

Matt Ryg, President
College of Liberal Arts

James Anderson, Steward
College of Mass Communication and Media Arts

Profile of a Poet: The Zach Macholz Story

By James Anderson

Teaching in the South Bronx and working as a Graduate Assistant [GA] at Southern Illinois University Carbondale can both be challenging, and for one aspiring writer, the painful similarities are all too apparent.

Zach Macholz, 29, is the Graduate Assistants United steward for the Department of English. He teaches two sections of English 101. Each section has 20 students.zach-macholz

As an M.F.A. student in the department, Macholz is also working with Judy Jordan, poet and professor of English at SIUC, to tell the story of his five years spent teaching at New World High School and then Jonathan Levin High School for Media and Communications, both in New York.

After graduating with a B.A. in Creative Writing from Susquehanna University, he underwent a summer of training and then found himself teaching English, language arts, film studies, broadcast journalism, documentary filmmaking, creative writing and credit-recovery after school history classes in one of the poorest districts in the country.

“But I wasn’t writing,” he said. “I wasn’t getting writing done in part because of the demands of my schedule and part because of the emotional fallout of teaching at a place like that and working at a job like that.”

When teaching English at Jonathan Levin, he infused “his class with a mixture of irreverent humor and take-no-crap authority,” Nick DiuLio wrote when he profiled Macholz as one of the “Class Acts,” for the trice-yearly publication, Susquehanna Currents.

Part of the frustration stemmed from the standardized testing procedures teachers were forced to adopt, Macholz said. Parallels with SIUC are greater than expected.

“I think here, similarly,” he says, “there are requirements, there are things that all instructors are forced to comply with that for me – and I think a lot of other people – are things that we have to do but that we don’t necessarily do in good conscience because I’m not sure they’re all in the best interest of students.”

He said the workload for GAs at SIUC is also not really in anyone’s best interest. The demands in his department are especially hard.

“We end up recording attendance in three separate places and gradebooks in two or three separate places,” he said. “And, you know, teaching two sections of 20 students each, and those students are writing five essays – formal essays – over the course of the semester. Plus portfolios. Plus daily work. And homework.”

Macholz came to SIUC after graduating with a Master’s degree in English from Lehman College at the City University of New York where he was a member of the United Federation of Teachers, the New York affiliate union of the American Federation of Teachers. He came to SIUC to pursue his love of writing – a pursuit proving more elusive due to the demands of being a GA in his department.

“For me it was about having a job that allowed me time to write,” he explained, lamenting the factors that impede his passion. “The requirements and responsibilities of teaching for this department continue to become more time consuming and continue to encroach on my own academic work. So while the department says that we are students first and we’ll be treated that way, the reality of requirements and policies regarding GA work, and reporting things like absences and grades – it’s extremely time-consuming, and it’s only become more time consuming in the three years that I’ve been here as all the technology initiatives become implemented.”

Those technology initiatives are pushed during the pre-semester workshop [PSW] for GAs in his department. Some assistants in the department wonder whether the workshop, as currently carried out, is worthwhile.

“I think it’s terribly inadequate,” Macholz said. “It tends to be more focused on how we are implementing the technology initiatives that are being passed down from the administration – how we use that technology, troubleshoot that technology for our students, and compliance with new departmental policies, changes in policies, office procedures. It tends to be more dominated by those things.”

The workshop also involves a series of larger group information sessions, some smaller group meetings regarding the standardized syllabus, discussions about pedagogy, explanation of assignments, and “theoretically learning how to plan and teach a course,” Macholz said.

The shortcomings of the workshop are not the main issue for GAs in his department, however.

“The issue is pay,” Macholz says, “because everyone was mandated to be there. People who missed particular sessions or days received emails saying that they were required to make up that time doing office work for writing studies.”

New GAs were told they had to attend the entire workshop, which started two weeks before the beginning of the semester. The department mandated returning GAs had to attend the workshop a week prior to the start of the semester.

Macholz estimates that first-year assistants worked 70 hours without remuneration, and others worked about 30 hours – all unpaid.

In the past the department has given academic credit for first-timers. Returning GAs are just expected to participate for professional development purposes.

Graduate student workers who failed to attend this last PSW received emails informing them that they had to make up the time with the writing studies office – the office that determines assistantship duties for the department.

There might be room for reaching remedies and mutual agreement between GAs and the department on a number of the above issues, Macholz says, but he is not optimistic when it comes to the pay.

What is the major barrier? “Money,” Macholz said. The issue is not only contentious for his department.

“I think it’s institutional,” he said. “I don’t think it’s just limited to this department, no.”

Macholz said many GAs see it the same way, especially when they do not see a paycheck after two weeks of work.

“I think a lot of GAs are looking at the broader picture,” he said. “I think a lot of people were upset when they found out they weren’t getting paid for PSW.”

Many graduate student workers in colleges across the country have little choice now but to consider these issues in that larger context and think about how local struggles mirror overarching trends.

“I also think this place is a microcosm of the larger battle that’s happening in higher education in terms of privatization and monetization,” Macholz said.

In the book, Change the World Without Taking Power, author John Holloway stresses that monetization is a process. Hence, it is never complete. Thus, it is always “a raging struggle.”

Macholz emphasizes the importance of struggling for what is right. He suggests current systemic processes in education that make the struggle necessary: the move away from shared governance, creation of centralized bureaucratic structures with business model approaches to learning, exploding budgets for administrator pay, reduction in tenured faculty even as college enrollment has increased nation-wide, increasing exploitation of graduate students and precarious labor situations stemming from restructuring practices and deepening socioeconomic divides.

“Everyone is essentially itinerant academic labor,” he said, noting the connection between growing inequality and the decline in overall union membership nationwide – now just 11.3 percent of all wage and salary workers.

“As union membership declines, the concentration of wealth increases,” Macholz said.

He said that correlation is why we need to critically examine “the institutional pillars of our economy,” and understand that for many people unions remain “the best anecdote” to inequality and poor working conditions.  Union activity is “the best way to buoy incomes and workplace protections,” he said.

He acknowledged apathy and cynicism can prevail when people – GAs and otherwise – see decisions being made at higher levels with little input from or concern for those at the bottom.

“I’m cynical,” he admitted. But he said there are reasons why he is not apathetic.

“Call me an idealist, but I do still believe that if a majority joined the GA union … if we had enough membership we would have the clout to make certain demands and effect certain decisions or policies – or at the very least just get a sort of seat at the table.”

That negation of apathy is why Matt Ryg, president of GAU, approached Macholz this past summer about becoming a Steward for the union. Cynicism aside, through consistent action Macholz displayed an unwillingness to accept mistreatment of GAs as a foregone conclusion.

“The first quality I look for in a GAU Steward is commitment to the union,” Ryg said. “After that it’s just a matter of showing up. Zach shows up.”

When discussing the power of poetic imagery to render human struggles sensory, Macholz rattles off names like Tomas Gösta Tranströmer, Jaroslav Hašek, in addition to other European and Latin American writers, who have articulated perseverance with great effect and powerful affect. He said “essentially telling a good story,” can change people’s perceptions.

“I think poetry definitely has the ability to radically change the way people think about things and about one another,” he said.

Union activism on top of inadequately compensated GA work taps the precious time and creative energies Macholz said he would love to devote to writing, but sometimes the narrative of life unfolds in such a way that compels action.

It can be hard to convince others to invest in collective action on principle, Macholz said, partly because it’s hard for GAs to understand protections garnered.

Professor Jordan, his mentor, once wrote that “the broken wing inside me opened to the river,
since when I’ve known nothing except a dream gone black, a taste for falling, from which I never wake,” which when transposed into this context can also express the dilemma of a dream deferred in hopes of future students tasting the fruits of past labor.

Update: GAU formally filed a Level One grievance with the Department of English on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. The grievance has 22 GA signatories.

 

James Anderson is a Ph.D. student and the GAU Steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts. His interests include social movements, alternative media, critical theory, prefigurative politics, horizontalidad, political economy and praxis.

Don’t Be Fooled: SIUC Is Not Broke

Salary Edition – 2014

Check out this report from the Daily Egyptian, published on 9/26/2013.

Figures were taken from fiscal  year 2014  records. Salaries are what employees are expected to make if they work full time through the year.”

Click here for the full document.  Here are the top ten wage earners at SIUC:

1. Rita Cheng, Chancellor — $347,976

2. Glendal William Poshard, President — $326,820

3. Michael A Jacoby, Researcher III — $308,597

4. Stephen Brent Clark, Researcher III — $264,104

5. James Dennis Cradit, Dean, College of Business — $251,556

6. Barry D Hinson, Men’s Basketball Coach — $250,000

7. Duane Stucky, VP, Financial & Adminis-trative Affairs — $239,468

8. John J Warwick, Dean, College of Engineering — $236,340

9. John William Nicklow, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs — $229,536

10. Cynthia L. Fountaine, Dean, School of Law — $224,460

View the PDF for All Faculty Staff Salaries for FY14

General Membership Meeting & Steward Council (10/1)

general-membership-meeting

Mark your calendars for the 1st GAU General Membership Meeting on October 1st from 5-6pm in Lawson 141.  This meeting is free and open to the public.  Come on out and learn more about GAU and what we’re up to.  We will be hearing briefly from Dr. Ted Grace, the Director of the Student Health Center, on how to navigate the Student Health Plan.  We will be hosting issue & identity caucuses for member participation.

I look forward to seeing you there!  Food will be served.

Also, the 1st Steward Council will be meeting on October 1st from 4-5pm in Lawson 141.  This meeting is designed for current GAU Stewards, as well as for folks interested in becoming a Steward for their Department.  We will be having informal discussion about what folks are seeing in their departments, as well as a brief ‘Get to Know Your Contract’ presentation.

As always, let us know if you have any questions.  We’d love to see you out!

Matt Ryg

Women in the Teachers’ Movement: A Lesson in Resistance

Escrito por  |  13 / September / 2013
Published at the Americas Program.

Mexican teachers have hit the streets in protests against education reforms that threaten their livelihoods and the quality and accessibility of public education in the country.

Among thousands of protesters who have set up a make-shift tent city in the downtown blocks of Mexico City, women make up the less visible core of the movement. More than a million women teachers–61 percent of the education labor force–work in ill-equipped classrooms across the nation, often at wages of only several hundred dollars a month.

Read more.

Release Union Activist Being Held Without Charges

Release Canadian Union Activist Being Held in An Egyptian Prison Without Charges

Canadian trade union member and world-renowned filmmaker, John Greyson, was arrested along with a Canadian colleague, Dr. Tarek Loubani, in Egypt on 16 August 2013. The two are still being held without charges in Cairo’s Tora prison.  Read more.

Sign the petition.