Letter to Members

Greetings Members of Graduate Assistants United!  The theme of the February issue of The Advocate is love (look out for a special edition of the Advocate on Feb. 14).  While an explicit mention of “love” is neither in our by-laws nor our Collective Bargaining Agreement with the University, I feel confident advancing the proposition that the idea of love pervades all of our work on campus.  From resolving disputes between Graduate Assistants and faculty-supervisors, to GAU Coffee Hours and Happy Hours, collective bargaining, educating GA’s about their rights in the workplace, etc., a spirit of love guides our work.  Thank you for being a part of our work.

I’m writing with a quick note to update members on a few developments with GAU:

  • We hit a mile marker with membership this year.  At last count we had 170 members of GAU!  With the total number of Graduate Assistants fluctuating at around 1,500, we’ve got some work to do to make our Bargaining Unit as strong as possible.  The more members we have, the stronger we are at the bargaining table.
  • Our Grievance Committee settled a Level 2 grievance with University Housing this spring.  We won back-pay for the grieving GA and some policy changes in their handbook.  The grievance centered on remedying requirements that regularly led our GA to work over 20 hours/week for his 50% contract.
  • We hosted PhD Movie and added value to the University in addition to our bread-and-butter issues of grievance resolution and collective bargaining.  With over 55 graduate students in attendance, our collaboration with the Graduate School was a resounding success.
  • GAU Organizer, Jessica Soester, joined the team this spring.  Jessica is on a 50% GA contract to conduct community organizing on campus, which includes hosting events, recruiting new members, and building our now 23-member Steward Council.  Welcome Jessica!
  • GAU is set to file an unfair labor practice lawsuit against the University for their arbitrary and unilateral violation of our Collective Bargaining Agreement (Article 5).  Working with our legal team at the Illinois Education Association (IEA), GAU is poised to take action in early February.
  • We will be holding our second General Membership Meeting of the year on February 19th.  As a result of member-feedback, we will be hosting 2 meetings (12noon-1pm, and 7-8pm) in the Missouri/Kaskaskia Rooms of the Student Center.  We look forward to seeing you at a meeting on the 19th!
  • We will be partnering with the IEA unions on campus (the Faculty Association, Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association, and Association of Civil Service Employees) for a bargaining season kick-off rally on March 19th.  Keep on the lookout for an announcement and flyer!

I hope this note finds you all well in the New Year, and off to a good start in spring semester.

If someone you know is interested in becoming a member of GAU, please let us know!  If you are interested in taking your membership to the next level by becoming a Steward or getting involved in our committee work, let us know!  Thank you everyone, very much, for your continued membership and participation in GAU.

Stay in touch!  With love,

Matt Ryg, President

Grads come together, get caffeinated, converse

coffee hourSeveral graduate assistants made their way to Melange on Wednesday, Jan. 29, to enjoy each other’s company and coffee paid for by their union.

At the GAU-sponsored coffee hour, GAs congregated on the couches and chairs atop the upper-level in the café, at 607 S. Illinois Ave., Carbondale, Ill., which reopened under new ownership in the fall of 2013.

Jane Moon, who works at Melange three days a week, emphasized the freshness of everything on the menu.

“It’s really good quality, but not high-priced,” she said.

Moon said Melange offers unique “fusion food,” a mix of Korean and American cuisine that she said can satisfy a variety of palates. She said all the sandwiches they serve are good, but she especially recommends the gratin and chicken cutlets.

The GAU crowd kept caffeinated with coffee and cappuccinos for the two hours they were there. Spinach artichoke dip circulated among the small-but-spirited crowd, as did some dessert snacks, on the house.

Charles DiStefano, doctoral student and Research Assistant in political science, said coffee hours are a good idea.

“Since I have a family, and I don’t live in Carbondale, this is a great time for me to get out and meet some people out of my department and still be able to get home in time to pick the kids up from daycare,” said DiStefano, who commutes to SIUC from Cape Girardeau, Mo., several days a week.

Keep an eye out in your email for the next Coffee Hour announcement!

General Membership Meeting Wednesday February 19!

Spring 2014 GMM posterMark your calendars for the 2nd annual GAU General Membership Meeting on Wednesday February 19. We have set aside two times to facilitate our member’s busy schedules so come out at either 12 – 1 pm or 7 – 8 pm in the Student Center Missouri/Kaskaskia Rooms. This meeting is free and open to the public. As the current GAU contract is running up and the time to Bargain is upon us, this is probably the most important meeting of the year to have your voices heard in a town hall format!

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

Also, the 2nd annual Steward Council will be meeting on Wednesday February 19 from 5:30 – 6:30 pm in the Student Center river rooms. 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, particularly as it applies to our upcoming Bargaining events.

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

The PHD Movie: Reflections

phd-postersMore than 55 people – some students, some from the greater campus community – came out for the screening of “The PHD Movie” in Morris Library’s Guyon Auditorium on Jan. 23.

Graduate Assistants United and the Graduate School teamed up to present the film.

Matt Ryg, president of GAU, said a few words before the screening, encouraging Graduate Assistants to get involved with the union as they are able.

phd-fordSusan Ford, the Graduate School interim dean, said she jumped at the chance to co-sponsor the event with GAU. Ford recalled her days as a graduate student, and she said many years ago her cohort watched a movie that was “quite humorous” about anthropology and graduate study.

The Union treated movie-goers to an assortment of fun-size chocolates, chips and soda that night.

GAU activists Jessica Soester and Kevin Taylor, both doctoral candidates in philosophy at SIUC, passed out literature and circulated a petition asking the University to seriously address the fees graduate students pay to work at the University.

jessica-gau

Fees for the 2012-2013 academic year totaled $3,352.68, according to the SIU Institutional Research and Studies Factbook. Based on the different wages for GAs listed in the back of the contract between GAU and the University, the average assistant in a PhD program on a 50 percent assignment earns $1,633.91 per month, or $14,705.19 for the academic year.

Fees are thus more than two month’s pay for that average GA, and amount to 22.79 percent of the average GA’s salary for the academic year.

The movie depicted this state of affairs in a way that resonated for some in attendance, like Nina Marhamati, a PhD student in computer science who studies fuzzy systems and mechatronics.

“The theme of the movie was totally relevant, so good choice,” said Marhamati, who works as a Teaching Assistant in her department. “The opening and the ending were both brief and informative, which I liked.”

She said the movie was not as funny as she expected, but she still had a good time.

“I think GAU did a great job at the movie night,” Marhamati added.

Get to Know a Steward: Kyle Rudick

For the sixth installment in our Get to Know a Steward series, the GAU Communications Committee asked Kyle Rudick, steward for the Department of Speech Communication, several questions about his life, the difficulties of doctoral studies, his high school rep, physical prowess, table tennis and bargaining.

rudick_kGAU Communication Committee: Where you from, and what brought you to SIUC?

Kyle Rudick: I’m from a small town called Oologah in Oklahoma. I received a B.A. Ed. in Communication Education from Northeastern State University and my M.A. in Communication Studies at West Virginia University. I came to SIUC because the Speech Communication Department is regarded as one of the most prolific and rigorous research programs within our field.

GAU: Why are you getting your doctorate in Speech Communication?

Rudick: I chose Speech Communication as my field of study because it focuses on what I think is central all of human civilization—language use. There is something unique and powerful about our discipline’s emphasis on how human interactions form the bedrock upon which all other human activities are built.  Science, math, economics, literature, each of these areas (and more) can be studied from a communication perspective. Of course, this is not to say that the Speech Communication discipline serves the same function as other disciplines. A biologist, for example, is interested in the evolution of mayflies whereas I’m interested in how a theory of evolution (as a collection of symbols used to craft a particular way of seeing reality) shapes the ways that people think and talk about the world around them.

GAU: You’re a doctoral candidate. How tough was it reaching candidacy?

Rudick: Tough, but immensely gratifying. In our department, we are required to write three conference/publication ready manuscripts within 30 days in order to pass our exams. So it’s a pretty stressful affair. However, after I passed my exams, I submitted my papers to various regional and national conferences in my field. All three were accepted and two were featured on top paper panels. I credit my success to our department’s focus on graduate-student mentorship and research. Our professors are an amazing group of scholars.

GAU: You edit Kaleidoscope: A Graduate Journal of Qualitative Research. What is the most common mistake grads make when submitting a paper to your journal?

Rudick: I think the most common mistakes involve writing in two ways.

First, I don’t think most graduate students recognize how much work goes into writing a publication-ready manuscript. I know I certainly didn’t when I started my program. Graduate students write a paper for a class, get good feedback on it, and think it is ready for publication. The truth is that instructors often evaluate class papers on their relevance to course content in addition to things like scholarly contribution and rigor. As such, most papers that are written for coursework are often too historical (i.e., their literature reviews are too comprehensive) which translates into either a bloated submission or a paper that is light on analysis because it’s too heavy on review. Graduate students need to read a few articles that are published in the journal (preferably ones related to their topic of study) and follow similar organization schemes. It ensures that their work (which is often quite brilliant and cutting-edge) is not rejected out of hand because it’s not written toward the journal’s tone.

Second, most submissions I get are not accompanied by a good cover letter. Sometimes it’s just “please accept this. Signed, Somebody” or it’s a copy/paste of their abstract. A good cover letter should clearly identify (1) the history of the paper (e.g., has it been shown at a conference?), (2) the contribution the paper makes to the discipline, (3) how the paper “fits” the mission/aims of the journal, (4) if it’s under review at another journal (which it should NEVER be), and (5) contact information. Writing a letter like this shows editors that you have carefully chosen their journal for submission, which increases the likelihood that a mixed review will be a “Revise and Resubmit” rather than a “Rejection.”

GAU: On a more self-deprecating note (for you), if we may, what is the most embarrassing mistake you’ve made as a TA in the Department of Speech Communication?

Rudick: Oh geez, well I’d like to keep my job…just kidding. I’d have to say that my mistakes often come from expecting first-year students to behave like my peers in graduate school. That is to say, I expect them to schedule their time, read, discuss, and write at a graduate level and am often disappointed when they don’t meet those unrealistic goals. Sometimes I have to apologize to classes when I realize that I am getting frustrated when, for example, no one is contributing to class discussion because no one read the material. It’s pretty embarrassing (but I think in a good way) for a teacher to stand in front of 25 students and give an honest apology.

GAU: In your Black Friday piece for the special edition of the GAU Advocate, “Saying ‘Just Stay at Home’ Does Not Solve the Problem,” you recounted your high school glory days to make a point about personal responsibility. Could you provide us another vignette from Kyle Rudick’s past that evinces your boyhood physicality to convey another moral lesson in story form, Aesop’s Fables-like?

Rudick: Well, I certainly wouldn’t call them glory days. And I really think I should be a bit more careful with stories like that simply because they may implicitly glorify violence or a kind of destructive masculinity.

I really can’t think of one off the top of my head, but I would like to talk about why I used a story and what I think it means for unions. I think that, especially academic unions, expect a form of rational debate between administrators and employees, where reason prevails and the best argument wins. I think that what is really at stake is not the arguments per se, but how the institutions that are represented in those arguments—the union and the university—are portrayed. So disagreements between these institutions are not a matter of who presents the best reasons, but who can cast their institutional aims (for unions: workers’ rights and for the university: profitability) in a way that sways the public to side with them. I think the union must do a better job of showing how our aims are the best for who the public cares the most about: undergraduate students. Healthcare, pay, funding, all of these things are not good for just workers, they ensure that the best employees are gathered and retained which have immediate and positive benefits for undergraduate students. So I use stories because I think it’s a form of communication that resonates best with the public. Most people don’t think in terms of statistics, worker’s rights, or appeals to a common humanity. They care about, and resonate most with, plain language that shows them that we do our best to give their children our best. I really believe that we have to do a better job at understanding and talking to the public we serve if we want them to see our struggle as a struggle for their interests. Otherwise, they see our work as the unjustified demands of a bunch of greedy, underworked academics.

GAU: As GAU steward for the Department of Speech Communication, do you anticipate having to use your aforementioned physical prowess to advance the cause of social movement unionism? In lieu of flexing your sinewy musculature, how else might you contribute to union goals – and how have you already?

Rudick: Haha, most certainly not. I float like a butterfly and sting like a butterfly.

I think my chief contribution to the union is based on my training in Speech Communication. I draw upon a lot of research about public speaking as a way to understand how to best talk with the people in the community about things that are important to the health and vitality of the university. Like I said before, I don’t think that union energy is best served by trying to reason with university representatives. They have an institutional role as well as an institutional obligation to protect profitability, which is at odds with the interests of students. I know that undergraduate students recognize that being taught by a sustainable, healthy, productive workforce ensures that they have a meaningful degree rather than just a piece of paper because so many of them joined the faculty strike three years ago. We just have to get that message out to more people so that we don’t have the same situation that we did back then (i.e., the university stalling bargaining for years in an attempt to wear down opposition).

Our energy is best used trying to work with community members to show them that we are the ones that truly care about student success, retention, and achievement. So this year, Benny LeMaster and I spearheaded the Legislative and Political Action Committee as a way to work closely with different groups within the community. We have had a lot of good feedback from groups on and off campus about trying to get the union more involved in the day-to-day affairs of Carbondale and the university. My hope is that, moving forward, we get a lot more union volunteers to help with things like community clean-ups, protesting other forms of discrimination (e.g., racial, gender, or dis/ability), and training for solidarity and self-advocacy within institutions.

GAU: You and Benny LeMaster, Legislative and Political Action Committee chair, won bronze in the table tennis doubles tournament at the mini-Olympic competition sponsored by the International Student Council that took place at the Rec back in November 2013. Tell us what was going through your mind as the competition heated up and the ping fused with pong in intense battle for a podium spot?

Rudick: To be honest, I was just trying not to embarrass myself (and failing miserably). Luckily, we faced a team that was gracious enough to teach us the finer points (and rules) of table tennis. The students that we played and watched were all really good at the game as well as being wonderful people. Even though the Olympics are put on by the International Student Council, they welcome U.S. students to join so I really encourage other union students to sign up next year. Many international students want to make connections with U.S. students and it’s important for our union to recognize and appreciate the diverse cultures that make up the university.

GAU: Together with Benny LeMaster, you have also done yeoman’s work for LPAC. What is the most important accomplishment of that committee, and did your table tennis experience prepare you for such challenging – and perhaps equally rewarding – union work?

Rudick: I think the most important work that anyone can do in the union is to spread the word about the great things that our organization does for students and the university. I have been really lucky that President Matt Ryg let Benny and I work on a committee that focuses primarily on that topic. I really think our biggest accomplishment was working with the International Student Council. Many international students do not have a lot of interactions with U.S. students and, as a result, don’t get a chance to know how the union can help protect them against workplace discrimination (which they are often the target of). After Benny and I talked to the Council, we crafted a short flyer based on their concerns and many international students were gracious enough to translate it into their native languages. It’s really great that people can read the flyer in their native tongue whenever they want on the GAU website. Over a dozen different languages are represented! I really hope that the union continues to find ways to reach out to international communities on campus.

GAU: The LPAC devotes a lot of time and energy to future bargaining issues now. What is the most pressing issue the committee continues to work on, and will the GAU bargaining team need some of your high school bravado and/or table tennis panache when they sit down at the table to push for such issues so crucial to democratizing the University in order to create more equalitarian conditions for Graduate Assistants?

Rudick: Our most pressing issues are healthcare, fees, and pay. Let me talk a little about each without getting too bogged down too much in details.

Our healthcare does not meet the needs of many graduate employees (e.g., employees with spouses, employees with children, trans-identified employees, etc.) nor does it cover many basic necessities of a productive workforce (e.g., prescription co-pay, dental, or optometry). As such, graduate employees are one illness or injury away from being unable to fulfill their duties. This situation is not in students’ or the university’s best interests.

Fees, as we all know, are too d*** high. Right now, after taxes, fees, and paying for the average rent in Carbondale, the average graduate employee is left with under $200 a month to pay for bills, food, clothes, and medicine. This leaves many graduate students to take out loans or find additional employment to make ends meet. Either way, it is destructive to employee morale which means graduate employees are less effective at their jobs.

Pay has not kept pace with inflation or graduate fees in the last decade. Like the problem of fees, this makes it difficult for graduate employees to be effective workers because illness or injury can ruin their financial lives. As such, it is important that the university see that when graduate employees are well-cared for then we are free to give our best to students and SIUC.

I think I can safely say that graduate employees love SIUC and the students we teach. We just want to be free to show how much we have to offer to the mission of this university. In the end, I hope there’s no need for a bargaining team. My wish is that university administrators see that graduate employees are suffering and that our plight adversely affects students pursuing their undergraduate degrees. If they can recognize this then I don’t think it far-fetched to hope that all of us can find meaningful common ground that promotes the longevity and vibrancy of our university.

Student Seeks Enlightenment in Graduate School, Gets Engaged

Kevin Taylor VP for Communications

Kevin Taylor
VP for Communications

By James Anderson

Does a dog have Buddha nature?

The question is a kōan, a riddle intended to confuse rational thought, requiring meditation.

Kevin Taylor, a doctoral candidate in philosophy at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, said the answer to the question is “yes, a dog does have Buddha nature,” but that alone does not make it a kōan.

Taylor, 34, is GAUnited vice president for Communications. He primarily studies the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism particularly known for the kōan.

The Buddhist concept of reincarnation after death and principle of interdependency suggests everything has Buddha nature, he said.

The reason the question about the dog is a kōan is because one cannot just passively accept “the answer that’s been handed to you,” he said. “You really have to struggle with it.”

Zen, the Japanese word for insight or meditation, was called Chán in China, and originally came out of the tradition of contemplative thought, dhyāna, in India, Taylor said.

“A lot of the different philosophical systems and religions in India at the time did various forms of meditation,” he said. “They were usually coming out of these different practices of yoga.”

As the philosophy moved from India through China it picked up Daoism and Confucianism, “and for a while they begin to blend,” Taylor explained, “because Buddhism is known for its syncretism, where it can harmonize different aspects that might not even agree with each other, and yet they work.”

 

Yet the differences presuppose unity, like both the dialectic and Zen Buddhist ethos.

What the Buddhist monks in Japan learned from the Chinese is that everything has a Buddha nature, given “the interconnectedness of everything,” Taylor said.

While everything has a Buddha nature, “only humans can actualize it,” he added.

The tenet echoes a facet of Marxian philosophy that draws a distinction between humans and animals. While other animals (e.g. bees, spiders) can create wondrous products through concerted efforts, humans differ because at the end of every human “labour process, a result emerges which had already been conceived by the worker at the beginning, hence already existed ideally,” Marx wrote in “Capital” about sentient human doing. He added that humans must subordinate their will to their conscious projections so as to realize purposeful production.

Mencius, the only other Chinese philosopher besides Confucius known to the West by a Latinized name, proffered his own philosophy of man that did not deny the desires of the flesh, but also intimated human nature implies something more.

“Slight is the difference between man and the brutes,” Mencius wrote. “The common man loses this distinguishing feature, while the gentleman retains it.”

“The Buddha’s teaching is pragmatic insofar as it provides a solution to an existential crisis,” Taylor wrote while working through the pedagogical praxis of Siddhārtha Gautama in his first master’s thesis, “Did the Buddha Have a Method?”

“I got nauseated I said that so many times,” he confessed.

Yet he persevered. That same dogged nature helped him go from being “a very close-minded” teenager to a natural graduate student.

The Gradual Journey to Graduate School Enlightenment

Replete with video games, Taylor said his childhood “was really uneventful,” until he turned 16 when he got a car and a job at McHugh’s Double Drive-Thru in his hometown of Mattoon, Ill. He likens McHugh’s to a Rally’s.

“Best fast food in Coles County,” according to a comment by Brandon Lee Heselton on the establishment’s Facebook page.

And “hey gotta tell ya, besides good food, u have AWESOME messges on ur sign out front,” another McHugh’s Facebook fan wrote using sort of comprehensible social media cyber-slang.

Taylor started at McHugh’s because his friend Christian Peacock worked there while both were still attending Mattoon Senior High School, the home of the fighting Green Wave.

After graduating he took a year off from school.

“I knew I wanted to go back to college, but I wanted to take a break,” he said. “So I just worked full time and my parents let me. I was really lucky that they let me.”

While working at McHugh’s he became a full-time manager.

“I made more money then, than I make right now as a grad student, easily,” he lamented.

Taylor used the extra income to pay off his car, buy a computer and pay for other things he would need for when he started school at Lakeland Community College. He attended community college “for basically free” thanks to the MAP grant, he said.

While at Lakeland he needed a health credit. His friend Peacock was already a martial artist, specializing in Shotokan Karate. Peacock already had a purple belt in Shotokan and some Kempo Jujitsu training before they met.

So he and Taylor decided to try Taekwondo.

“I always thought that Taekwondo would be my thing,” Taylor admitted. “And it fits my body type really well, and I got into some of the best shape of my life.”

He went from being the self-described “fat kid” – a muscle-less 215 pound mess who never went to the gym – to a slim 165 pound athlete with improved flexibility.

“And then I was eating Subway everyday so I was like Jared,” he said.

Taylor said Subway diet success stories and competitions were not en vogue until later, so he missed out.

“I remember seeing people posting pictures and winning contests for these things, and I was looking at it and going, ‘Dude, I just dropped 50 pounds on that and now you’re making contests? Bastards!” Taylor said.

Reading books like Miyamoto Musashi’s “The Book of Five Rings,” Taylor and Peacock became enamored with martial arts. Their passion for it only heated up.

One year into Taekwondo they saw an ad in the paper for the Iwanami Dojo, a Shinkendo Dojo in Champaign, Ill.

Peacock and Taylor started Shinkendo in 1999. They would attend classes in Mattoon at 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday, and as soon as those classes ended, they would drive to Champaign to make Shinkendo sessions at 7 p.m.

Taylor continued taking Taekwondo for a little more than a year, eventually attaining brown belt status, even as his friend had to take an extended break after contracting mononucleosis.

But the prerogatives of those teaching him Taekwondo came to clash with his own evolving philosophy – and with the focus on respect, honesty and virtuous activity taught by Shinkendo.

“It’s based off the Japanese bushido etiquette,” Taylor said about Shinkendo, likening it to the way of the samurai.

He said he would like to return to Taekwondo someday, but not through the American Taekwondo Association.

“ATA was too business oriented,” he said, later expressing similar concerns for the policy and direction of the enterprises and educational institutions he would become involved with.

About the same time he dropped Taekwondo and devoted himself fully to Shinkendo, he also left Lakeland and went to Eastern Illinois University for his junior and senior year, majoring in philosophy. He kept working his fast food job while taking about five classes per semester at EIU.

One class on religious philosophy taught by Young Lee, a professor specializing in Asian studies, introduced him to Buddhism. Taylor loved Lee’s teaching and became fascinated with Buddhist teachings. That fascination did not die.

Graduating after two years at Eastern, he was unsure of what he wanted to do, so he entered the job market.

Taylor landed a job as a bank teller at First Mid-Illinois Bank in Mattoon, an eight-lane drive-up facility across from the bank’s headquarters.

“I wasn’t working that job for more than a month before I decided that I needed to go back to grad school because, basically, seeing the kind of people that work at the bank and what their values were and how they sort of went by, day by day, I said, ‘Nope, this is not for me.’ I don’t want to grow up to be like any of these people,” he recounted.

First Mid-Illinois is not in the same league as the big Wall Street banks that garnered a government insurance policy, but widespread dissatisfaction and ire at the entire financial sector remain high, for many reasons. “To their credit,” Taylor added, “First-Mid prided itself on responsible lending. Not sure if it was true but they said they were above the norm when it came to loans.”

Matt Taibbi, contributing editor for Rolling Stone, recently recalled how “the amount of money that eventually got spent on homeowner aid,” as a result of the major bailout “now stands as a kind of grotesque joke compared to the Himalayan mountain range of cash that got moved onto balance sheets of the big banks more or less instantly in the first months.”

Nomi Prins, investigative journalist and former managing director at Goldman Sachs, documented how the bailout far exceeded the $700 billion TARP payment. She also explained how even the limited backlash against the financial industry has been misdirected.

“The bloodlust reserved for Bernard L. ‘Bernie’ Madoff and the other new villains ultimately only serves to cloak larger systemic crimes: specifically the $13 trillion that the federal government doled out from the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to back the biggest players on Wall Street,” she wrote in, “It Takes a Pillage,” her 2009 exposé.

Taibbi, who once referred to Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money,” also reported that big banks have “increased their investments in junk-rated companies by 74 percent,” since 2011.

This is the on-going crisis that sparked the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“We thought we were just letting a friend crash at the house for a few days; we ended up with a family of hillbillies who moved in forever, sleeping nine to a bed and building a meth lab on the front lawn,” Taibbi wrote.

Max Zahn, former labor activist at Oberlin College and founder of Buddha on Strike, took to meditating outside Goldman Sachs every day to “extend compassion and demand that they extend that same compassion to the billions of people across the world affected by their practices.”

Taylor never meditated outside First Mid-Illinois, but he did decide to pursue graduate studies in Asian philosophy with a focus on Japanese Buddhism.

He came to SIUC in 2005 to begin work on a master’s degree. He said he would regularly spend three days per week in Carbondale, Ill., taking Wednesday/Thursday classes, and would then take the train back home to continue working, temporarily, at the bank.

Martial arts and a growing interest in Buddhist praxis provides one kind of guidance, he said, but he lacked professional guidance – and an assistantship, which meant no funding and no tuition waiver.

“I didn’t know how to be a grad student,” he said.

Still, he was learning. Part of that process entailed a semester spent studying abroad in Japan’s Niigata Prefecture.

Upon return, another friend of his helped him land an internship with the Secretary of State at the Illinois Regional Archive Depository.

“They tend to hire history and political science people, but they never apply because those departments tend to fund their students and philosophy has overflow,” he said about how he ended up there when his department was unable to offer him a position.

The job, which is not covered by the GAUnited collective bargaining agreement, gave him archive experience, about $800 a month and a partial tuition stipend.

Meanwhile, Taylor and his friend Peacock taught Shinkendo classes on the side in the Student Rec Center, with some success.

They had reached the point where they could test students without an instructor present. Both The Southern Illinoisan and the Daily Egyptian reported on the burgeoning club back in 2007.

As Taylor taught Shinkendo and explored the Buddha’s method in his master’s work at SIUC, his brother started talking to him about the University of Illinois.

Keith Taylor, who is 14 months older than Kevin, earned a bachelor’s in political science from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s in public policy from the University of Illinois Springfield. He was working on a doctorate in human and community development, a subset of sociology, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign when he started talking to his younger brother about joining him there to go to graduate school.

The younger Taylor said his older brother “started gaining momentum as he was going along – started finding direction – when he was in his early twenties,” after the older Taylor initially started at EIU, majoring in art.

He said his brother got a staff position with then-congressman David Phelps in Washington, DC, which he used to network and make connections.

Once at UIUC, the older Taylor got involved in graduate student council and the Graduate Employee’s Organization.

“I give him all of the credit for getting me into U of I,” said the younger Taylor, who would also become involved in GEO.

His thesis unfinished, he left SIUC and joined his brother at UIUC to work on a second master’s degree.

Taylor said his thesis could have been completed earlier, but he lacked the requisite discipline, and perhaps the intellectual acumen, his girlfriend displayed.

“She’s definitely more disciplined, and I absolutely think she’s smarter than me,” he admitted.

When they dated for the semester and the summer before he left for UIUC, he still had yet to acquire the graduate school mentality his partner had.

“When we were dating that semester and that summer I was watching her finish her thesis [while] me and my friends were playing Rock Band,” Taylor said.

But he buckled down and got to work once he moved back to central Illinois. Despite the long-distance relationship and the highly intensive languages classes five days per week, he finished his first thesis.

The newfound work-school continuity and fiscal wherewithal helped.

“They funded me every step of the way,” he said. “I came in, they gave me a fellowship.”

Taylor became a TA for an Intro to Japanese Culture class. He held the position for two semesters, under two different professors.

One had taught the class for decades and had it “down to a science,” Taylor said. The other professor who taught it the following semester had just completed his PhD, and came in with a new, nuanced perspective, drawing on work in gender and queer theory.

“Whereas the first guy would start from the importation of people from China into Japan, the other guy was starting from the Mejii Restoration in 1868,” Taylor said, “so he was much more social-political.”

Taylor said he learned a lot between the two.

When the University of Illinois administration initially refused to guarantee tuition waivers for graduate employees in 2009 and GEO went on strike, he said he learned a lot then too.

His brother had encouraged him to get involved with the union, and so he had become a department steward.

“I was in a department of professors who were very supportive of the strike,” he said. “They were all on our side. Nobody was going to punish us for striking, for missing classes or anything like that.”

Taylor said he was in a “unique situation,” serving as mediator between the many international students in his department and the rest of the union. The former supported the union, but many were worried about getting in trouble with their home countries.

The concern turned out to be a bit overblown.

“When we met at Willard Airport and brought the arbitrator in to do the negotiations, a lot of the international students from the department were there,” Taylor said.

Taylor took to the picket lines for about an hour around the quad during the strike. He said he planned to spend the entire next day out there, but the strike only lasted one day.

It only lasted a day because it was successful. It was successful, Taylor said, because grads dialogued with students and faculty, put informational materials up all around campus explaining how much work is done by TAs and pushed the idea, “The university works because we do,” while continually stressing the importance of tuition waivers for making higher education possible.

The strike ended after GEO got a guarantee that the University would not mess with tuition waivers, Taylor said.

Later, as he neared degree completion, he said his advisor approached him about future prospects in graduate school.

Taylor said his advisor basically told him, “‘Don’t count on it,’ in the nicest possible way,” regarding acceptance into the PhD program at U of I. “He was trying to warn me how competitive it was but it took a few hours to sink in. We’re still friends and he’s helping me on my dissertation now.”

With deadlines passed and no time to apply to other programs, Taylor put further graduate study on the backburner and sought employment at UIUC. He had a “so-so” interview with the director of the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies, Poshek Fu.

Taylor emailed the professor back after the interview to follow up, and included a small calendar he had put together in just two hours using Photoshop CSi, similar to the kind he was told he would be expected to make should he get the job.

“So I skated in with my limited web and graphic design knowledge,” Taylor said. “I got a job I was probably not qualified for, but I made it happen.”

As part of his job, he said he maintained the CEAPS the website, “frantically” taught himself how to use Adobe Dreamweaver – the Center’s program of choice – worked with professors, organized conferences and did “a lot of calendaring.”

He did that for one year and then applied to a slew of schools and PhD programs: Montana, Hawaii and even the history department at UIUC.

“And everybody was sending me letters back saying, ‘Yeah, we’re just taking one person this year, and it wasn’t you, sorry,’” he said. “One University that will remain nameless was a big pain in the ass because the department secretary wouldn’t even confirm that she had received my transcripts. The bureaucracy of the application process really got in the way of a simple problem.”

After multiple email exchanges about the transcript, the secretary quit responding and Taylor got upset. He said after a while he just wanted to get his rejection letter.

“Finally I got one and I was like, ‘Good. I’m done,’” he said.

“I also reapplied to SIUC. When I was doing philosophy, I wanted to learn Japanese but when I was learning Japanese at U of I, I kept writing American philosophy.” He returned in 2011, but with no guarantee of funding. “They were very honest and upfront with me and I’m glad for that.”

He returned to his IRAD job for a time, which helped defray the high costs of continuing higher education.

He later landed a GA position with the College of Applied Sciences and Arts, where he would spend 10 hours a week as webmaster and another 10 hours working as an RA.

The job started out creating and updating faculty pages while the RA work was lots of hands on instruction and learning by online tutorials how to do advanced graphic design, he said.

His older brother meanwhile completed his dissertation – a write-up of field work conducted at wind farms to document the decentralized power of wind cooperatives and illustrate how the Midwest power grid could be better channeled.

In addition to publishing in peer-reviewed journals, the older Taylor, now a PhD, writes commentary for sites like the Center for a Stateless Society, a Left Libertarian media center that declaims against concentrated power but favors market systems.

Richard Wolff, co-founder of Democracy at Work and proponent of worker self-directed enterprises, recently assailed markets for the many shortcomings associated with commodity exchange. Debates about the moral limits of markets continue.

The older Taylor analyzed the consequences of that general trend for University education.

He explained how “workplaces have externalized their costs onto society,” as colleges “are paying their administrators loads of money while holding campus wages down,” and often demonstrating an unwillingness “to enter into fair trade certified buying programs for university apparel” because of their “reluctance to open their books to the general public.”

He added that although he has more pressing things to do, students protesting debt “have the higher ground” in the debate about repayment, “particularly considering the industrial bailouts we have seen over the last few decades given to people who were never truly in need,” including banks, he wrote with a hint of sarcasm.

The younger Taylor said he too owes a lot of money in student loans, but he also made it a priority to focus and get through graduate school.

Actualizing Activist Potentials: A Natural Evolution

Granted, graduate school has not been problem free, Taylor said. The notion of always existing Buddha nature likewise poses a problem, he said.

Why try to reach enlightenment if the Buddha nature is already within you? The practice gave rise to many “do-nothing Zennists” during Tokugawa Japan, Taylor said.

But just as how dialectics suggests something beautiful existing in the form of being denied must be made manifest through negation of the negativity suppressing it, Taylor reiterated that although everything has Buddha immanence, one must still work to bring it into being.

“The point is to struggle,” make the best of our “interdependent co-arising situation,” and help to reduce the suffering of others, he said.

Taylor said there are several exemplars of this “engaged Buddhism,” such as the contemporary Thich Nhat Hanh and the 17th century Japanese Zen Master Hakuin Ekaku.

Ekaku “leveled some of the harshest criticism against do-nothing Zen,” Taylor said about the influential teacher’s attempts to reform Zen from the inside using neo-Confucian arguments to stress good governance.

Soka Gakkai, a Japanese lay Nichiren Buddhist movement that became popular on the West Coast in the 1960s, practices a “more social-political” Buddhism, Taylor noted, citing the codification of environmental concerns in its charter. The school attends to pedagogy has worked with the Center for Dewey Studies and SIUC professor Larry Hickman.

Taylor cited the Dalai Lama, who expressed sympathies with Marxian moral ethics, as “engaged Buddhism” par excellence.

Previously, the Dalai Lama said he is “not a Leninist,” but he does consider himself “half-Marxist, half-Buddhist,” because he admired the objective of democratized control of production and equitable distribution of wealth.

Pronounced inequality prevails in the present. The wealthiest one percent in the world possess $110 trillion, 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world population, according to an Oxfam report. The richest 85 people in the world own as much as the bottom half of the world’s population, the report, released Jan. 20, 2014, also stated.

Most Americans – 65 percent, according to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center – recognize that the gap between the rich and everyone else has increased in the last 10 years.

Recognizing the pronounced inequality and struggle even within the confines of University, Taylor got actively involved in GAUnited, the union for Graduate Assistants at SIUC. As VP for Communications, he sits on the Executive Council. As chair of the Communications Committee, he helps produce GAU’s monthly e-newsletter, The Advocate.

Despite describing himself as “more behind the scenes,” Taylor played an instrumental role in helping GAU present “The PhD Movie,” handling logistics and passing out literature at the event.

As a “lay Buddhist,” Taylor said he appreciates the “particular orientation to the world” the spiritual philosophy offers. It somehow harmonizes his doctoral work, personal life, union participation and Zen praxis.

“There are no doctrines, there are no blind beliefs,” he said regarding how the outlook can lead to greater sociopolitical engagement. The philosophy gave way to his own “engaged Buddhism,” which seems all the more natural now as he seeks enlightened understanding as a graduate student.

“I’m well aware of how my life has been shaped by the people around me. I often think, ‘If I hadn’t seen that newspaper,’ ‘got that job,’ or ‘came to SIU’ how different my life might be. Everyone I’ve met has enriched my life. I hope I can give that back to others.”

James Anderson is a doctoral candidate 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.

GAU Coffee Hour @ Melange Cafe

coffee hour - Melange