Educating Against Rauner
May 7, 2015
Rally Against Proposed Budget Cuts Brings Calls for Critical Pedagogy
By James Anderson
Photo Credit: Stacy Calvert
The president of the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association at Southern Illinois University Carbondale reminded those rallying against Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget cuts outside Morris Library on May 6 of their role as educators.
“It is time – that’s the message here today – for the educators to start educating,” said James Wall, the president of the NTTFA and a senior lecturer in the college of mass communication and media arts at SIUC.
Wall told the multiple media outlets and more than one hundred people gathered Wednesday afternoon for the event outside Morris Library on SIUC campus that the persons in positions of power need to be educated about the impact of their political decisions.
In their new book, “Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle,” apropos for understanding the way power functions and possibilities for struggling against it, Brad Evans and Henry Giroux argue “violence appears so arbitrary and thoughtless” in the present age of austerity, at a time when support for public services recedes with startling rapidity, “that it lacks the need for any justification, let alone claims to justice and accountability.”
An attempted critical pedagogy, aimed at exposing the governor’s intended austerity measures as forms of far-reaching violence, union activists at the rally denounced the governor’s cuts as unjustified and unjust.
Wall called the governor’s proposed cuts, which would include slashing $44 million from SIUC, completely “unprecedented.”
The budget reduction scheme is “unprecedented” in terms of the size, but also in terms of the human costs, Wall said. His disabled child, born with multiple birth defects, would not have been able to survive and thrive, he said, without the crucial assistance from SIUC facilities – like the Clinical Center and programs like the Child Development Laboratories – poised to face massive reductions in funds if Rauner’s agenda unfolds as planned.
Disability Support Services, an office on campus working to ensure students with disabilities receive the resources and access they require, also stands to lose half of its funding if the governor’s proposed cuts go through, according to Illinois Education Association organizer Bret Seferian, who also spoke at the rally.
John Flowers, president of Graduate Assistants United, told those in attendance he had already heard from many graduate student workers who received “maybe letters” from their departments informing them they may or may not have an assistantship for the fall semester.
The uncertainty surrounding SIUC’s budget for the fall and the possibility funds could be slashed, it is assumed, have kept departments from providing graduate students a definitive answer or assured assistantship position.
The loss of graduate assistants translates into an overburdened faculty, Flowers said, which means professors have less time to be mentors to students. Reduction in assistantships, he added, means there will be fewer graduate students, who also serve as mentors and educators both inside and outside the formal classroom environment.
“Without us the university doesn’t exist,” Flowers said.
The governor – who is still slated to speak at one of the graduation ceremonies at SIUC, despite public outcry and an online petition calling for him to be replaced with a different keynote speaker – continues to tout his “Turnaround Agenda” to disempower unions.
A town hall meeting scheduled to take place on SIUC campus featuring SIU President Randy Dunn is another place, activists who met after the rally suggested, where the pedagogical work of critiquing the framework of budget cuts could occur.
Town hall gatherings, in some manifestations, have historically been sites for assembly-style direct democracy, empowering people over those politicians who gut funds for education and public services, inflicting violence upon those they are alleged to represent.
The work of Evans and Giroux suggests the site could also perform a pedagogical function, where people could relate differently and educate against and beyond the existing political paradigm, epitomized in Illinois by the governor’s agenda and the suffering many at the rally said they expect it to cause.
“Pedagogy is, in part, always about both struggle and vision—struggles over identities, modes of agency, values, desires, and visions of the possible,” wrote Evans and Giroux, with words relevant for university struggles going forward. “Not only does the apologetics of neutrality lead to the most remiss intellectualism when the personal experience of violence is reduced to emotionless inquiry, but it also announces complicity in the rationalizations of violence that depend upon the degradation of those qualities that constitute what is essential to the human condition. Thus, education is by definition a form of political intervention.”
James Anderson is a doctoral candidate and a member of the GAU Communications Committee. He has served as steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, and as co-chair for the Legislative and Political Action Committee. His academic writing has appeared in journals like Critical Studies in Media Communication and the International Review of Information Ethics. His journalistic work and editorials have been featured in news outlets including Truthout, In These Times, Toward Freedom, ROAR Magazine, ZNet and Counterpunch.