Get to Know a Steward: James Anderson

j_andersonFor the ninth installment in our Get to Know a Steward series, the GAU Communications Committee asked our very own James Anderson, Steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, as well as Co-chair of the GAU Legislative & Political Action Committee, several questions about his life, growing up in Illinois, love of journalism and Amy Goodman, Noam Chomsky and rumors about James’ intentions to run for GAU Vice President of Communications when elections roll around.

GAU Communications Committee: Where are you originally from, and what brought you to SIU?

James Anderson: I’m originally from Greenville, Ill., which is about 45 miles east of St. Louis. I came to Carbondale from Springfield, Ill., after getting a master’s in communication at the University of Illinois Springfield. (I received a bachelor’s from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.) I came to SIU to get a doctorate in mass communication and media arts and to get teaching/research experience as a Graduate Assistant.

GAU: Talk more about growing up in Illinois. Who were the major influences on you during your early years?

Anderson: I spent most of my formative years growing up in a small rural town. It was somewhat cloistered, but not in the privileged way associated with certain suburban areas in the Chicagoland area, or like the affluent parts of some urban areas after gentrification. Greenville is in many ways a rural working class town. It also has pockets of affluence, partly attributable to the small Christian college in the town. And it has some abject poverty – some rural precariat.

My mother taught eighth grade literature at the junior high school in Hillsboro, Ill., which is about 20 miles from Greenville. She helped foster in me at a young age an appreciation for pedagogy, love of learning and passion for reading. Although not radical by any stretch, she was also a member of the teacher’s union when she taught. Ma encouraged me to be active as well, and gave me the necessary freedom when I was a lad to try some things that in retrospect might have been a little life threatening – like back-flipping off the roof of our shed onto a trampoline.

My grandmother, an extremely well-read woman who will turn 83 in mid-May, was another major influence. Along with loans, a University dining services job, a little aid and assistance from mom and dad, she helped me pay for college when I was an undergrad.

My sister and I also watched a lot of television growing up. For example, “The Simpsons” first premiered when I was about 5 years old, and I grew up with the show. So I’m sure the sarcastic repartee of Bart Simpson was a major influence.

Similarly, I read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and George Orwell’s “1984” in junior high around the time I started listening to the music of Rage Against The Machine, Public Enemy and other groups with similar outlooks to those two, which radicalized me in different ways.

GAU: You’re pursuing a doctoral degree in journalism. Can you help us understand, why such a poor life choice? Haven’t you heard journalism is dying? Kidding! But really, why?

Anderson: I’m actually getting a PhD in Mass Communication and Media Arts, which is broader. But point taken.

Let me provide some more background on my intellectual work in order to explain the way journalism and media function in contemporary society.

For my master’s thesis, I used the “propaganda model” (PM) outlined by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in their book, “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media,” which suggests institutional filters (e.g. concentrated ownership, reliance on advertising revenue) help ensure mainstream media coverage remains within narrow ideological parameters reflecting elite consensus. So debate can rage and divergent views can be reported, but through omissions and framing, the coverage that would challenge hegemonic assumptions (e.g., critiques of capitalism, reporting on US war crimes, double standards in foreign policy) get filtered out or marginalized. Insofar as mass media remains a capitalist institution – and as a result major media conform to the postulates of the PM, which is not difficult to demonstrate – then robust journalism, in the main, is a near impossibility. As media ownership consolidation continues apace, and the Internet is making the old advertising model insufficiently profitable for many media organizations, journalism takes an even heavier hit. With new Federal Communications Commission rules that militate against a free and open Internet by privileging agglomerated private power that stands to benefit by being allowed to pay more for faster content delivery, communications systems suffer and journalism is indirectly, adversely affected.

Even so, there are at present burgeoning alternative media projects that challenge conventional journalistic norms and push beyond capitalist institutional constraints in exciting ways. Amy Goodman, my always and forever unrequited love, hosts Democracy Now, an independent grassroots global news hour, covering significant stories corporate media ignores while also often offering a level of context and analysis necessary for understanding.

I periodically cover social movements, protests and heterodox challenges to dominant ways of doing for Truthout, an independent media outlet providing in-depth investigative reporting and critical analyses. Truthout is one of several sites breathing life back into, stimulating and transforming journalism today. ZNet, Counterpunch, Toward Freedom, Truthdig, Inter Press Service, the Independent Media Center network and The Intercept – a new media venture started by Jeremy Scahill, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras – are just a handful of others trying to do that as well.

GAU: How and when did you get involved in GAU?  Why are you passionate about union work? Why are you on fire for economic justice?

I met with Jim Podesva, former GAU president, as soon as I started my first semester at SIU back in 2010. Unions have traditionally been what economist John Kenneth Gailbraith called a “countervailing power” – a potent force protecting working people from the ravages of a system predicated on private control of productive property, exploitative expropriation of surplus value and ceaseless accumulation of capital at the expense of democratic self-management and life, generally.

Whether the university is value-generating in the capitalistic sense is up for debate. (David Harvie – not to be confused with geographer David Harvey, who teaches Marx’s “Capital” and offers free video lectures from the course online – has an interesting journal article, “Value production and struggle in the classroom: Teachers within, against and beyond capital,” arguing that labor at university is in fact value-producing.)

But the university is indubitably a site for struggle and contemporary contestation of injustice. Academia is rife with hierarchy, which I consider a violent (or oppressive) form of power relations. That hierarchy is institutionalized. The violence is exacerbated by the business model approach to education and the authoritarian structure that entails. It’s also reflected in part by egregious administrative pay – our incoming president is poised to make $430,000 when he starts in July – co-existing alongside near poverty level wages for grad assistants who pay about two months of their salaries back to the university in fees each year. It’s also apparent in the coercive work relations that exist between graduate students who work under professors who, despite pretenses of radical democratic ethos, too often contribute to the super-exploitation of GAs so as to reduce workloads for themselves. Without neglecting the increase in precarious academic jobs writ large, many professors are still in a position of privilege. It’s unjust that they should be able to make 10 times as much as those working underneath them make – if not a lot more – and still shift the burden of work onto grads, as surely happens more often than we like to admit. The positions of power some professors are in all too often – but expectedly – engenders apathy, indifference or complicity in the violence done to GAs.

Even as adjunct positions replace tenure-track jobs and GAs increasingly provide cheap labor allowing the university to eliminate tenured professor spots, the cowardice and complacency of some professors in positions of privilege impinges upon graduate student struggles for fairness.

The student-worker union at the University of California, UAW local 2865, went on a two-day, system-wide strike in early April because of ongoing intimidation from the university and the administration’s refusal to negotiate certain work conditions. Malcolm Harris wrote an opinion piece for Al Jazeera America assailing the attitudes “of faculty members who are too cowardly to stand in solidarity with the people who make their work possible.” As Harris explained, famed critic of neoliberalism, Wendy Brown, ironically sent an email critiquing students for inveighing against a 32 percent fee increase. “Such people clearly have nothing to teach about labor struggle; they have more in common with the right-wing cartoon of ‘radical’ professors who preach Marx during the day and return to their houses in the Berkeley Hills at night to sip merlot and complain about their gardeners,” Harris wrote with hilarious veracity apropos the irony.

I reported on the strike for Truthout. Covering the story, I got the sense that disgust with factions of the faculty at UC has been pervasive. Sadly, I have seen similar disconnects between those of us struggling to survive in the neoliberal university and the sensibilities of professors. Cowardice and callous indifference are traits among certain sections of the professorial class not limited to California. I have no respect for professors in California, Illinois or anywhere else that support, if only tacitly, covert privatization (in the form of tuition hikes for undergrads and fee increases for all students), privation of graduate students and undue stress on grad student workers through excessive workloads, which always comes on top of tough coursework, making it that much harder to hang in there. By virtue of their positions, many professors have a kind of agency, which could be used as part of a praxis oriented around socioeconomic justice. Some exercise their agency in that way, but not enough.

Part of that has to do with the stratified institutional structure within which they are ensconced.  Those institutional roles characteristic of the administration and some professors reinforce relations of “power-over,” which I also consider a kind of structural violence. More broadly, I’d argue structural violence is a necessary part of the capitalist world economy. But it’s not a necessary feature of human organization.

With the advent of neoliberalism, a public pedagogy promoting an ethic of market worship in conjunction with a political project for concentration of political and economic power wrapped in ideological rhetoric of equality and freedom, unions have been under systematic attack. The idea that working people should have a say in the work that they do simply cannot be tolerated. Democracy, which to me means a process whereby people have a say in the decisions being made in proportion to the degree to which they are affected by those decisions, just cannot be allowed in the economic sphere.

But in addition to being the driving force behind basic aspects of economic justice like the 8-hour work day, weekends, adequate remuneration, employment grievance procedures, etc., unions have historically also played an underappreciated role in democratizing workplaces and society. There’s a whole radical history of unionism that needs recuperating.

For instance, the Knights of Labor recognized back in the 1880s that the working class would suffer if divided, so the integrated union included both black and white members in projects to promote worker and farm co-operatives for a 10 year period, as Jessica Gordon Nembhard documented. In her new book, “Collective Courage: A History of African-American Economic Thought and Practice,” Nembhard describes how organized labor complimented the highly efficient forms of mutual aid found throughout black communities throughout history. Likewise, in Spain throughout the 1930s, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (National Confederation of Labor; CNT), an anarcho-syndicalist union, augmented a libertarian collectivism ethos and helped create a short-lived comunismo libertario society for several months at the onset of the Spanish Civil War. The CNT catalyzed decentralized, direct democratic collectivized ownership of farm land and cooperatively self-managed workplaces, even abolishing money in some areas, until the revolution was crushed by the combined forces of Francisco Franco’s fascist army, the Moscow-controlled Spanish Communist party, foreign capitalist “democracy” and the war effort.

More recently, the United Steelworkers have connected struggles across time and space, and are working with the Mondragón Corporation, a half-century old worker-owned enterprise located in the Basque region of Spain, to create a string of unionized worker co-operatives throughout the US. And after two occupations led by a union, UE Local 1110, at the Republic Windows & Doors factory, the first of which took place back in 2008 in Chicago, the workers bought the factory collectively. Kari Lydersen, a Chicago-based journalist, covered the story extensively as it evolved, and later published “Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover, and What It Says About the Economic Crisis,” a book that developed from her reporting on the occupation and take-over. The place is known now as New Era Windows, and it’s worker-owned and democratically controlled.

Historic and contemporaneous examples alike illustrate potential for revolutionizing existing-institutions in emancipatory ways through unionization and collective action that can take us beyond oppressive mainstays of the capitalist mode of production. Richard Wolff, professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, advances this sort of “social movement for a new economy,” termed “democracy at work,” which articulates one vision for deepening economic democracy. Wolff advocates for worker self-directed enterprises (workplace arrangements wherein those who produce a surplus democratically decide how it is distributed).

Capitalism – and education that reproduces it – is incompatible with economic justice, so these are the sorts of developments and ideas everyone concerned with economic justice should think through. The role of union activism in such a movement is still very much open.

It’s worth pointing out too that worker co-operatives at this stage are still producing for a market, and market systems have serious in-built problems that do violence to humans. To be sure, economic democracy at the enterprise level ameliorates some of the alienation associated with selling labor power and producing goods for their exchange value – and it helps militate against the super-exploitation that gets normalized by commodity fetishism. But, when worker co-operatives face market competition it can result in a kind of collectivized self-exploitation. Market-based exchange also generates externalities. That is, actors in an exchange take into account the cost and benefits to themselves pertaining to the transaction, but not necessarily the effects on others. So, due to a profit squeeze, corporations might disregard externalities like severe environmental degradation that stem from production, consumption or allocation of the commodities exchanged.

There are ways to mitigate effects of externalities in a primarily market-based economy. Gar Alperovitz, author of “America Beyond Capitalism,” and proponent of a “Pluralist Commonwealth,” model, discusses how to democratize wealth and ownership through networked worker co-ops buoyed by the purchasing power of anchor institutions, like universities. A report from the Democracy Collaborative, “Raising Student Voices,” shows ways in which students can mobilize to democratize the university and the economy based on community-oriented procurement.

Anchor institutions, like universities, cannot just pick up and offshore production, leaving a de-industrialized wasteland as evidence of growing global labor arbitrage. With the network co-op and anchor institution structure characteristic of Alperovitz’s model, those most affected by the decisions often have some say, albeit an institutionalized one, in making them. The networked relationship strengthens the democratic thrust of worker-ownership, potentially limits externalities and protects against precarious labor.

Another germane model is Michael Albert’s “Participatory Economics,” an envisaged system of participatory planning with worker and consumer councils (instead of markets) and balanced job complexes to eliminate the hierarchical structures of both capitalist and state socialist economies characterized by the presence of a “coordinator class” – including doctors, lawyers and some college professors – who monopolize the creative and empowering work. Parecon seeks to address coordinatorism while also removing mechanisms, like markets, which trample upon the very values and conditions of solidarity many of us would like to promote.

Perhaps some important work could be done extending the general critique of the coordinator class, along with the broader vision for a properly participatory society not extricated from our fundamental social relations, and relating it to education.

And rather than just promoting a predetermined blueprint for posterity, it’s imperative to recognize cracks in the edifice of domination as well – the micro-political ways in which people refuse oppressive conditions of coerced abstract labor, and the evidence of desire for greater self-determination regarding the fundaments of our social reproduction.

Those cracks and straight-up collective resistance – like the two-day UAW local 2865 student-worker strike at the University of California in early April – should both be recognized as singularities in a shared struggle for economic justice.

Theorists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, argue in “Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire,” that the older form of trade unionism “is no longer sufficient,” and must be transformed so as to go beyond traditional industrial divisions. Drawing on the work of Kim Moody, they suggest a new mode of “social-movement unionism,” merging unions with powerful social movements as part of an initiative “to create labor organizations that can represent the entire network of singularities that collaboratively produce social wealth.” Examples include, the “piqueteros,” movement of unemployed workers in Argentina, which Marina Sitrin discussed in “Everyday Revolutions,” in relation to the emergence of horizontalidad after the economic crisis hit the country hard in 2001. Sitrin, another unrequited love and intellectual crush of mine, recently wrote “They Can’t Represent Us!” with Dario Azzellini. The book reflects a lot of the work Sitrin and Azzellini have done documenting burgeoning direct democratic organizational forms corresponding with the tendency and movement of significant portions of society toward rejection of liberal capitalist democracy and disavowal of the associated, demobilizing hegemony of representative democracy. As Sitrin explained in a talk she gave with Azzellini at Central European University on March 26, unions usually are not the driving force behind this recuperation of agency through collective self-organization in assemblies and participatory forums from Greece, to Spain, to Occupy in the US. But, she noted, there are exceptions.  And perhaps we should be creating more spaces of exception — and “moments of excess,” of over-flowing, ec-static processes of projecting beyond what is —  to challenge the dominant mode of doing things while also doing what we can to eliminate exploitation and to take care of each other without appeals to concentrated power.

“In any case,” Hardt and Negri averred in their co-authored book, “a union worthy of the name today—and worthy of the legacy of labor struggles—must be the organized expression of the multitude, capable of engaging the entire global realm of social labor.”

In my view, the movement must be explicitly pedagogical, and unions within the educational sphere will play an important role. Activists in the Chicago Teachers Union just recently helped create the Network for Social Justice Unionism. Michelle Gunderson, a CTU member involved in the new NSJU project, said in an interview that a more militant unionism extending to the social and political realm, has piqued interest of “many higher education unions,” who have championed these aims because “when you start wanting democracy for yourself, and when you actually experience it, you want it for your students as well.”

And as Cornel West told GAUnited backstage after his April 17 lecture in Shryock, the university is “absolutely” still a site for contestation, transformation and unionization.

At SIU, that contestation can take the form of fighting for a fair wage for GAs and some agreement ensuring we don’t pay an inordinate amount of our salary back in fees just to work at the university. We need some agreement ensuring quality control, so GAs cannot simply be told to “work quicker,” or “grade faster,” so that the university can suck up more surplus value from our ever-exploited biopolitical labor – that is, our labor involving all facets of human life, the whole terrain of our species-being and affective, creative capacities.

Long-term, I’d like to see unionization lead to thorough democratization of the university; I’d like us to create conditions for a student-teacher-researcher-worker run place of de-commodified learning and cooperative creating/producing. This should absolutely also mean our union embraces a social movement orientation. This means recognizing the struggle of everyone fighting against injustice and for democratic control as part of our own struggle.

This entails, in my view, GAU solidarity with assemblies against debt on campus, the first of which took place April 10 outside the Student Center. That’s why as co-chair of the Legislative and Political Action Committee I pushed for GAU to support it. If we truly want a formative democratic culture on campus, replete with healthy dissent and direct democratic organizing outside our own institutional contexts – the kind of culture conducive to continual conscientization – then we should absolutely be supportive of assemblies and marches against the insidious social relation of debt and the system that supports it.

GAU: You are the main contributor to the GAU Advocate.  Can you talk about your vision for the Advocate? What role do you see it playing in the mission and work of GAU?

Anderson: The Advocate, our union e-newsletter delivered to GAs via email once per month, functions as a form of public pedagogy. We feature lists of upcoming events, union-related news stories, articles on union activists, analytic pieces and commentaries on both campus-specific struggles and broader socioeconomic justice issues. My hope is that the contextualization and incisive writing supports conscientização (critical consciousness raising) among members. Contributions are always welcome from GAs or other interested persons, so it would be great if that public pedagogy became more dialogue-oriented.

I’d also love the public pedagogy to pervade the cultural realm. One prominent historical example would be the myriad radical weeklies in Spain during the anarcho-syndicalist revolution, like Solidarida Obrera, Solidaridad Proletaria, Unión Obrera, Sindicalismo and Revista Blanca. Those publications featured everything from scathing critiques of concentrated power, to recipes for vegetarian cooking, to information on treatment for sexually-transmitted diseases.

Of course, the CNT actualized a rich public pedagogy beyond the pages of rebellious publications. The union supported literacy and education, and organized day-long excursions where people would hike, read and debate politics all day.

These lessons are not lost on us. GAU organized a hike over spring break that was well-received. The communications work with The Advocate should be part of a larger praxis-oriented approach.

GAU: Give us the skinny on your doctoral research. Do you have the capacity for brevity?

Anderson: The working title for my dissertation is “Cracking the World System,” and I intend to do a genealogical problematization of critical junctures in modern world-system history to pose as problems – and open question-concepts about the contingencies and conditions of possibility for – the public pedagogies of social movements (and media) in a time of world system structural crisis.

GAU: I’m interested in how history informs your vision for the future. Who are your intellectual heroes? Who is doing contemporary work that you’d like to emulate?  What’s so great about Amy Goodman and Noam Chomsky?

Anderson: Goodman is both my unrequited love and intellectual hero. From covering US-backed genocide in East Timor, to interviewing hip-hop artist Immortal Technique at Zuccotti Park before the eviction of the Occupy Wall Street encampment, she gives voice to the stories silenced by corporate media. And I love her.

I mentioned Chomsky’s critique of the mass media before, which is still relevant. And in addition to his unapologetic critiques of US foreign policy, for which he is perhaps best well known, his articulation of the left anarchist tradition is also one of his major contributions, in my view. His conceptions regarding the anarchism-derived Libertarian Socialism are still worth referring to.

Anarchism has been long debauched in mainstream culture, probably because of the tradition’s historic challenges to concentrated power. As Chomsky explains, the main thrust of left anarchism has long been identification of structures of hierarchy, domination, oppression and control, deciding democratically then if they are at all legitimate, and if not, proceeding to disassemble them and create something different from below.

Drawing on some of his linguistic work and thoughts on human nature – discussed in part in his 1971 debate with Michel Foucault – Chomsky conceives anarchism and its expression in anarcho-syndicalism and similar praxis as thought and action for human freedom. This is freedom not as “an abstract philosophical concept, but the vital concrete possibility for every human being to bring to full development all the powers, capacities, and talents with which nature has endowed him, and turn them to social account,” as anarcho-syndicalist historian Rudolf Rocker wrote and Chomsky quoted in the introduction he wrote to “Anarchism: From Theory to Practice,” a book by French anarchist thinker Daniel Guérin.

Chomsky gave a talk not long ago “On Anarchism,” in which he suggested both anarchism and the labor movement might be reinvigorated together. I happen to agree and hope he is right.

As far as how history informs my visions for the future, I’ve explained that in sufficient detail I suppose. With regards to other intellectual influences, I’d point to philosopher Paulo Freire, whose conceptions of critical, problem-posing pedagogy still resonate with me and countless others interested in education for social transformation.

The late Andre Gunder Frank – uncompromising contrarian, economist, historian, dependency theorist, world system analyst and social movement scholar – continues to inspire with the legacy he left behind.

John Holloway, Marxian poet and theorist of changing the world without taking power, writes in such a humanistic way and with an affective potency that moves me. His recuperation of negative dialectics for going against and beyond capital without recourse to the oppressive state is an approach I am keen on.

Holloway, who teaches at the Autonomous University of Puebla in Mexico, draws inspiration from the Zapatistas. Similarly, the poetry and prose of the Zapatista’s Subcomandante Marcos fuses incisive critical insight with expression of dignified resistance. Marcos also brought back romance! We all could use a little more romance in our lives. I know I could.

An Eros of the political is desperately needed. Following Marcos and others, I’d like to contribute to and cultivate that without sacrificing intellectuality or dumbing down theory.

GAU: What the hell are prefigurative politics and why should anyone give a shit? Why is public pedagogy an important tool to fight dogmatism and unreflective ideology, power politics and unfettered capitalism?

Anderson: Wini Breines popularized the term “prefigurative politics” in her book, “Community and Organization in the New Left, 1962-1968,” referring to it as the attempt “to create and sustain within the live practice of the movement, relationships and political forms that ‘prefigured’ and embodied the desired society.” Although the idea antedated the New Left and has been synonymous with many currents of anarchist praxis, social movements in the 1960s who practiced participatory democracy within their organizations really advanced that effort of trying “to embody personal and anti-hierarchical values in politics,” as Breines wrote, expressing “the desire to create a sense of wholeness and communication in social relations,” through “non-capitalist and communitarian institutions that embodied such relationships, for example counter-institutions” – and anti-institutional relations as well, I’d add.

Prefigurative politics were a big part of the Global Justice Movement, or alter-globalization movement, around the turn of the millennium. Occupy Wall Street embodied a form of prefigurative politics with the consensus-based decision-making practices used in the General Assemblies – a mode of direct democracy. Echoing elements of Breines’ explanation, David Graeber, a self-identifying anarchist who helped organize OWS at its inception, wrote in “The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement,” that prefigurative politics puts into being “the idea that the organizational form that an activist group takes should embody the kind of society we wish to create.”

This is not altogether different from the call of the Industrial Workers of the World, an international revolutionary industrial union organization, which used to advocate forming the structure of a new society in the shell of the old.

Importantly, trying to prefigure a more just society has the potential to transform people and our relations to one another in the present. Those prefigurative practices create cracks in the predominant hierarchical and exploitative structures – cracks from which another world might emerge. The relational transformation brought on by prefigurative political action is inseparable from the revolution. If we wish to revitalize unionism, prefigurative politics should become a central aspect of our movement.

A public pedagogy that recognizes the educative (often hegemonic) functions of institutions and entreats critical reflection regarding those functions can be a powerful force for democratization. People’s power-to that gets institutionalized in frequently oppressive ways can be re-appropriated as part of a pedagogical project for prefiguring truly democratic, affective relations on a broader scale.

GAU: To what do you attribute the recent and dramatic increase in GAU’s membership over the past year?

Anderson: Some of it surely has to do with our fledgling social movement unionism, as well as our critical public pedagogy – from our work on The Advocate to organizing of social events and support for other activist projects – involving an approach to learning not content with existing social relations.

GAU: Rumors are afoot that you might run for Vice President of Communications for GAU next year. Any truth to that?

Anderson: There are still many things up in the air. Kevin Taylor, who currently holds that office, is also running again, and he’s done a phenomenal job in the position thus far.




Get to Know a Steward: John Flowers

John FlowersFor the eighth installment in our Get to Know a Steward series, the GAU Communications Committee asked John Flowers, co-steward for the Department of Philosophy, several questions about his life, his mom and dad, philosophy, Zen, martial arts, John Stuart Mill and rumors about John’s intentions to run for GAU president when elections roll around.

GAU Communications Committee: Where are you originally from, and what brought you to SIUC?

John Flowers: I’m originally from Oak Park Illinois; it’s a suburb outside of Chicago. Oak Park is famous for Frank Lloyd Wright, Ernest Hemingway, and being the source for a vast majority of the bricks that went into rebuilding Chicago after the Great Chicago Fire.

I came to SIUC for journalism after visiting UIUC and Central Michagan University, neither of which had the feeling I was looking for. CMU was beautiful, but very, very small; UIUC reminded me far too much of home, and the person I was at the time did not want to be at home.

While I was here, I learned that a number of the writing courses that I was taking for my degree in Journalism also applied to the English program as it was structured at the time. So, for me, it was just a little bit extra effort to take the remaining courses in the department of English to earn my degree in English Literature.

GAU: You’re pursuing a doctoral degree in philosophy. Can you help us understand, why such a poor life choice? Kidding! But really, why?

Flowers: There are a number of reasons why I do philosophy. Recently, I have started to think that I’ve been doing philosophy for as long as I’ve been doing martial arts, especially where self-cultivation is concerned.

First, philosophy is a way of relating, expressing, or describing lived experience to other people. It is also a way of giving meaning to those experiences, such that people can share in those experiences and the meanings they have for you. Initially, I did philosophy as an attempt to relate to people how and why I felt that the martial arts were an aesthetic experience on par with dance, painting, and literature.

In line with taking philosophy as an expression of lived experience, I began to look at the way in which these expressions are oriented around particular ways of experiences. For example, my work in the philosophy of race focuses specifically on expanding the understanding of the ways of being black in the world to come to a position where one way of being black is not privileged over others. This may be the influence of Daoist and Buddhist philosophy on my thought.

I also do philosophy because much of the way we perceive and move through the world is governed by structures set-up by philosophers. These structures organize the habits of our daily lives, in such a way that often renders invisible. In my view, philosophy gives us the tools to engage with and critique those structures, especially when they serve to maintain oppression and marginalization.

Therefore, I take the task of the philosopher to be the interrogation of these structures and demonstration of the way in which these structures oppress or marginalize members of our community both globally and locally. Further, I think that philosophers have the responsibility, and this is a dangerous word to use in philosophy circles, to combat these structures wherever the practice of philosophy reveals them.

To put it simply, I do philosophy because it lets me change the world, one student at a time. As a philosophy teacher, I seek to cultivate into my students the skills that will enable them to critique their own cultural situation and, hopefully, act in such a way as to push back against these structures of oppression, so that they can live fuller lives.

I’m a bit ambitious.

GAU: You previously described how both your mother and father were involved with unions and education. So, who was the bigger influence on you, and who can we thank for you becoming co-steward in the department of philosophy and generally getting involved with GAUnited?

Flowers: I would say a combination of both. My mother was (or maybe still is, if retired members count) a member of the IEA, and my father was involved with various union activities when he worked at AT&T, so this seemed a natural fit for me. Both of my parents imparted upon me a desire for civic responsibility, in their own ways, and that I should work to help everyone in my community.

As for who was directly responsible for my getting into GAUnited, I point to Jessica Soester, Dennis Lunt, and Kevin Taylor for that through their constant work towards getting new graduate students involved in the organization. Without their willingness to explain the purpose of GAUnited and the way the union works to enhance the quality of life for all graduate students, present and future, I’m not sure I’d be in the union right now.

Also, Matt Ryg and Sandy Kim were also partially responsible for getting me into GAU, mostly though just talking to me about the union. As for my stewardship, that came as a result of asking a question during a meeting: I didn’t know who our steward was, so I asked at a General Membership meeting and ended up becoming co-steward.

GAU: On the department of philosophy’s website listing current, active graduate students, you list the “Zen Aesthetic Tradition” and how “it informs the Japanese consciousness through literature and other art forms,” as your research interests. Kevin Taylor, the GAU vice-president for Communications who is studying Zen Buddhism, has described how an “engaged Buddhism” informed by Zen praxis can augment social transformation. Has your research led you to a similar conclusion, or does the aesthetic tradition provide a different perspective?

Editor’s note: This question was based in part on an older profile post for John when on the philosophy department’s website for graduate students. As John points out below, the site and his profile have been updated. Check out his new profile here!

Flowers: First, I’d suggest you check the department page for an updated profile for me: it might change some of these questions.

For me, Zen provides a host of resources for social change, including the recognition of a plurality of experiences and the conditioned nature of the world that we inhabit. When applied to the social structures of our current lived experience, it demonstrates that we are not essentially what we are: our “selves” and “identities” are contingent upon the interaction with other selves, which serves to orient us in particular ways.

What I take from this is that we need to be aware of the way in which the institutions and social structures of the world, as part of the causal conditions of oppression, determine that oppression and marginalization appear differently depending on the context of the marginalized body. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and any other mode of oppression does not simply disappear when the person moves into a new situation; the oppression changes depending on the situation as the causal conditions change.

Further, since the conditions that give rise to different phenomena are always changing; conversations about the “essence” of an individual are called in to question. This is one of the things that has pushed me to challenge essentialist rhetoric in social justice movements: if the conditions that give rise to particular phenomena, people, ideologies, selves, keep changing, then to argue for a single way of being as authoritative is to deny the possibility of other ways of being. Nothing is “essentially” what it is, it is conditionally what it is.

So, Kevin and I reach similar conclusions but are grappling with different problems.

GAU: On the department’s website it also states that you are interested in “the writings of John Stuart Mill.” Is Mill’s “On Liberty” still worth reading?

Editor’s note: The above question is also based on John’s older profile.

Flowers: All texts are worth reading, especially if they form the foundations for the culture and society we find ourselves in. If you find yourself in disagreement with the texts that help to organize your society, then you might want to begin to question the society itself. So, yes, “On Liberty” is worth reading if only to understand where certain structures of our society came from.

In light of this, one of the first things that I did was read trough the GAU contract as well as the materials on the GAU website and the By-Laws so that I could better understand the organization that I had joined. In so far as the By-Laws and the contract help to orient how GAU and graduate assistantships function at SIUC, they tend to form the ground for much of what we do at GAU.

GAU: At the American Philosophical Association’s 2011 Pacific Division Group Program conference, you presented on “Martial Arts and Ethical Responsibility.” Can you explain the gist of your talk, and tell us if martial arts at all informs your own ethics?

Flowers: One of the things that the martial arts cultivates into serious practitioners is an awareness of the responsibility that comes with the skills that we learn. The gist of the presentation was to explain the way that the various rituals and habits within the martial arts help to cultivate an ethical responsibility for the deployment of the skills that we cultivate, particularly at higher ranks.

For me, this comes down to the etymology of the martial arts in Japanese: the kanji for “budo” means “the way of stopping spears,” as the kanji for “bu” is formed with the character for “stop” and an ideogram of crossed spears. Thus, the practice of the martial arts is the practice of stopping conflict, not just on the battlefield, but in all aspects of life.

This responsibility to stop conflict in all aspects of life informs how I do philosophy, and is part of the reason I am involved with GAU. Conflict is not always between armed forces: it occurs between ideologies, people, races, concepts, administrators and those they are responsible for. To this end, if I have the power to stop conflict, or at least resolve it, I should deploy that power, especially if it preserves the integrity of both sides involved in the conflict.

I take it to be the case that my studies in philosophy allow me to see the conflicts in the world in different ways. As such, it allows me to point towards solutions that help preserve both sides of the conflict in such a way as to prevent one side or the other from being destroyed.

As I said above, I take it to be the role of the philosopher to be the critique and interrogation of the structures of society, oppressive or otherwise, and their amelioration. I view my involvement with GAU as one way of making actual “budo” in so far as I view GAU as a place wherein conflicts within our SIUC community can be resolved, and I view the responsibility of the steward to help that process within the local community of the department that they are stewarding.

GAU: Rumors are afoot that you might run for president of GAU next year. Any truth to that?

Flowers: There is some truth to that. I don’t know how you found out about that so quickly, but I would like to run for GAU president once Matt’s term has expired.


Get to Know a Steward: Ryan Campbell

RyanCampbell thumbnailFor the seventh installment in our Get to Know a Steward series, the GAU Communications Committee asked Ryan Campbell, co-steward for the Department of Anthropology, several questions about his life, biological anthropology, David Graeber, academic hierarchy, democracy, Dr. Susan Ford and humorously bad movies.  

GAU Communications Committee: Where are you originally from, and what brought you to SIUC?

Ryan Campbell: I was born in Wichita, Kansas and spent most of my formative years living near there in a small town called Clearwater, Kansas.  To give you an idea of the size of that community, there were 86 people in my graduating class!  It was the kind of town where everyone knows each other and social norms were strongly enforced.  As a result, the community lacked diversity.  When I entered college, I was exposed to a more diverse group of people.  I think that experience ignited my curiosity about the lives of other people, which I ultimately focused into a career as an anthropologist.

I came to SIUC specifically to obtain my Ph.D. in anthropology.  The anthropology faculty at this institution are world renowned.  I was excited to be taught by and collaborate with some of the most respected names in the field.  Overall, I haven’t been disappointed.

GAU: You’re pursuing a doctoral degree in anthropology. Why should anyone care about anthropology?

Campbell: In the broadest sense, anthropology is the study of variation among humans and our primate relatives.  Anthropologists study all of those things that unify humans as a single species and the things that distinguish us as members of groups.  We examine how our evolutionary history has created great biological and cultural diversity and what that diversity tells us about the nature of our own existence.

As our social world broadens due to our ability to interact as a global community, anthropological insight is more important than ever.  We must understand that cultural differences arise as a response to varied historical circumstances.  Anthropological research provides a foundation for understanding and respecting human difference.

GAU: You noted on your profile page that your focus is biological anthropology. What is biological anthropology all about?

Campbell: We traditionally divide anthropology into four subfields: socio-cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, archaeology, and biological anthropology.  There tends to be considerable overlap between these subfields due to some of the unifying principles of anthropological research, primarily our holistic approach to understanding humanity.

Biological anthropology, the subfield where I situate my own research, is primarily concerned with human biological variation, the evolutionary history that gave rise to that variation, and variation within the primate lineage as a whole.  As you might imagine, based on that description, biological anthropologists find themselves researching a wide variety of topics.  You might find a biological anthropologist examining human skeletal remains from an archaeological site to understand the health of a past population, or you may find a biological anthropologist in the forests of Borneo studying the social behavior of orangutans, or you could even find a biological anthropologist studying the seasonal birth patterns of modern pastoralists in Kenya.  It is a broad field of study.

GAU: On the same profile page, you also wrote that your proposed dissertation, with the working title of “Biological Affinity and Activity Induced Long Bone Growth during the Coalescent Period on the American Great Plains,” will assay likeness among folks with “long bone morphology,” and consider whether it “can be attributed to similar culturally determined behavioral patterns, or whether similarities are more accurately explained by biological relationships between individuals.” Have you made any progress yet in discovering whether culture or biology is the bigger determining factor in these cases?

Campbell: We have recognized for some time that humans are biocultural organisms.  Who we are, both physically and mentally, is the result of complex interactions between genes and environment (and I would lump culture in with environment here).  I’m examining just a small aspect of a much bigger question with my research, but what I’m specifically interested in are the effects that changes in activities have on the bones of our arms and legs.  Without going into too much detail, the Plains Indians experienced dramatic shifts in their lifeways at the time of Euro-American contact.  Reduced mobility, for example, coincides with changes in their leg bones, but did reduced mobility cause this change or was there a change in the gene pool?  Answering this question has important implications for using the skeleton to interpret activity.  In general, the activities we engage in throughout the day have a major effect on the bones of our arms and legs, but the effect is limited by our genes.

GAU: As a graduate student studying in your particular area of anthropology, and as GAU co-steward for the Department of Anthropology, do you think union solidarity is more a factor of cultural or biological predispositions?

Campbell: Ha!  Well, since the commodification of labor is a cultural construction, I think the easy way out of this question would be to call union solidarity a cultural phenomenon.   However, I will wade into this a little deeper to explore the possibility that we may have some inherent biological predisposition to form unions.

I think this notion of union solidarity gets at a larger issue.  Is it more natural for humans to work together towards a common goal, a process that may involve compromise, or does our biology demand we serve our individual interests and view everyone as a competitor?

The truth, like most things, is probably somewhere in the middle.  My view would be that we best serve our self-interest by working together, collectively focusing on what is best for the group, whatever that group may be – a labor union, for example.

Humans are gregarious animals, and anthropology has taught us that the cooperation of the group, not competition between individuals, is what has created an advantage for our species.  For those who are interested in the subject, anthropologist Agustin Fuentes recently spoke at TEDx about the important role cooperation has played in our evolution.  All humans tend to thrive when they find ways to work together toward a collective goal.  While I doubt we could ever disentangle whether it is biology or culture that drives us towards group solidarity, our evolutionary history seems to indicate that better cooperation wins out in the end.

GAU: David Graeber, author of “Debt: The First 5,000 years,” who teaches anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and participated in many of the assemblies leading up to the initial occupation of Wall Street on Sept. 17, 2011, was essentially forced to resign from his post at Yale over activist and union related issues. In an interview with Charlie Rose, he said:

While I don’t know what happened, a lot of the students felt that they did. Originally it was the students that began to protest, and the overwhelming conclusion of the graduate students was that it had something to do with my defense of one of the graduate students who was a union organizer, who they [the administration at Yale] tried to kick out of the program.

Graeber went on to describe the incident as ironic, because he said he made concerted effort not to get involved in local politics. “I figured the sensible thing to do in a situation like that was to be an activist in New York and then I would just be a scholar at Yale,” he said. “Because at Yale there’s all these union issues. There’s a lot of very bitter controversy, particularly in my department. And I just figured I would stay out of it. But somehow it became impossible. So ironically actually, I got drawn in largely by what I thought was intellectual integrity. I thought the student was a very, very good student. And she deserved to be defended.”

As a fellow anthropologist, what is your take on what happened to Graeber at Yale? In relation, do you think backlash from University administrations over graduate student union activity or activism is common, and do you consider union activity to be a contentious topic in the anthropology department here at SIUC?

Campbell: Graeber is one of the great public voices in anthropology right now, and although his anthropological work falls outside of my own area of research, I am familiar with some of his writing.  I think his perspective, especially regarding the origin of debt, is refreshing.  That being said, I don’t really know what motivated the administration at Yale to let him go.  Based on what I know of the controversy, it seems like Yale let go of a prominent young academic without clearly articulating their reasoning for doing so.  It could have been related to his defense of this graduate student or his political activism, although I don’t see Graeber as any more radical than many other professors.  I would only be guessing at the “why” in this particular case since the facts were never made clear.  I think that ultimately the decision was a big loss for Yale, since Graeber invites a great deal of media attention.  I imagine, because of his activism, that Graeber could draw in a considerable number of students.

As for how commonplace it is for administrators to retaliate against graduate students for their union activity, I would hope that it never happens, but I fear it probably has on occasion.  I have never personally experienced any negative repercussions for my union activity.  I am lucky enough to be a student in a department where this has never really been an issue.  Anthropologists tend to fall on the side of labor in most cases since we are keenly aware of the power imbalance in a stratified organization like a university.

GAU: In the same interview, Graeber also said: “In academia there’s a hierarchy. And you’re supposed to be scared. You’re supposed to be sort of cowering before people. And I was never disrespectful to people, but I didn’t cower.”

He said there are structures of hierarchy that give some “people complete impunity and power over others,” which can create “a psychological dynamic that is almost sadomasochistic.”

Previously, in the 2006 Malinowski Memorial Lecture, he critiqued the theory of French philosopher Michel Foucault, suggesting:

Foucault’s ascendancy in turn was precisely within those fields of academic endeavor that both became the haven for former radicals, but that were themselves most completely divorced from any access to political power, or increasingly, even to real social movements—which gave Foucault’s emphasis on the ‘power/knowledge’ nexus, the assertion that forms of knowledge are always also forms of social power, indeed, the most important forms of social power, a particular appeal.

Graeber also argued “that situations created by violence—particularly structural violence,” meaning “forms of pervasive social inequality that are ultimately backed up by the threat of physical harm—invariably tend to create the kinds of willful blindness we normally associate with bureaucratic procedures.” He added that bureaucratic procedures are not “inherently stupid,” nor do they just produce stupid behavior, but rather “they are invariably ways of managing social situations that are already stupid because they are founded on structural violence.”

So, from your anthropological perspective, has academia become an enclave of ineffectual intellectuals obsequious or indifferent to the exercise of power, and/or has University become too fraught with iniquity and top-down bureaucratic decision-making – so much so it constitutes structural violence?

Campbell: I’m not sure I would fully agree with the idea that academia is full of “ineffectual intellectuals” who don’t really care about the exercise of power.  That seems a little hyperbolic and undermines the work of those who are trying to effect a change at universities across the country.  Those of us who were here during the last round of contract negotiations witnessed the SIU Faculty Association push back against the administration, which indicates to me that at least some of our intellectuals are concerned about the power imbalance on college campuses and the direction of academia in general.

That being said, the culture of the university does appear to have changed over time.  From my limited perspective, there seems to be a shift away from a model where the university was a center for creative research and teaching to a model where the university is a business selling a product.  I think to a large degree that shift is due to forces outside the university.  I will say, however, that if my training as an anthropologist has taught me anything, it is that there are other perspectives to consider.

GAU: In “The Democracy Project,” David Graeber problematized labor. He wrote,

Submitting oneself to labor discipline—supervision, control, even the self-control of the ambitious self-employed—does not make one a better person. In most really important ways it probably makes one worse. To undergo it is a misfortune that at best is sometimes necessary. Yet it’s only when we reject the idea that such labor is virtuous in itself that we can start to ask what actually is virtuous about labor. To which the answer is obvious. Labor is virtuous if it helps others.  

Could you open up Graeber’s analysis for us?

Campbell: Graeber would like to see a cultural shift regarding how we conceptualize our labor.  He is suggesting a way forward, how we might change our cultural understanding of productivity.  For Graeber, and I tend to agree here, we should conceptualize labor as productive only when it helps others.  Today, we tend to think of those who are not working, the unemployed, as lazy or somehow taking something from the rest of society.  Graeber is saying that not all labor is equal.  Some labor is honorable because it helps others, but there are also types of labor that are exploitative.  We should not reward those that would seek to exploit others and we should not vilify those who choose to opt out of the labor market.

GAU: As co-steward for the Department of Anthropology, do you see Graduate Assistants in your field of study becoming interested in any union activities?

Campbell: In general, I get the sense that most of our Graduate Assistants view the union favorably, but feel that participating in union activities could pull them away from their studies.  I would love to see more involvement from people in our department.  Hopefully, we will see more participation from anthropology GAs in the future.

GAU: At “The PHD Movie” screening GAU helped organize, Graduate School interim dean, Susan Ford, said she watched a “quite humorous” film about anthropology and graduate study many years ago. Have you seen any funny anthropology flicks? If so, have you and Dr. Ford discussed these movies at any length?

Campbell: Dr. Ford is a fantastic mentor, and I have discussed many topics with her at length, but I can’t recall specifically discussing funny anthropology flicks.  In the anthropology department, we tend to associate humorous anthropologically-themed films with one of our emeriti faculty, Dr. Robert Corruccini.  Over the years, Dr. Corruccini has introduced his students to many “bad anthropology” films including such classics as “Quest for Fire”, “Trog”, “Mistress of the Apes”, “Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death”, and Ringo Starr’s masterpiece “Caveman”.  If you are planning on taking an anthropology course at any point, I would strongly recommend spending a weekend reviewing these films as a primer.

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

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.

Get to Know a Steward: Jennifer Haegele

For the fifth installment in our Get to Know a Steward series, the GAU Communications Committee asked Jennifer Haegele, steward for the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice and co-steward for Morris Library, several questions about her life, the criminal justice system, Foucaultian genealogical conceptions of disciplinarity, under-utilized aspects of library services and the dynamics of co-stewardship.


GAU Communications Committee: Can you tell us where you are from, and what brought you to SIUC?

Jennifer Haegele: I was raised in Virginia Beach, Virginia. After receiving my Bachelors degree from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, I initially came to SIUC to pursue a master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice but ended up achieving a double major in CCJ and Geography and Environmental Resources. As of May 2013 I have been working on my PhD in CCJ.

GAU: Why are you pursuing a doctoral degree in Criminology & Criminal Justice; that is, what about the field interests you?

Haegele: Although my current degree is in CCJ, I have always strived to develop an education that encompasses the use of information technology, computer science, and geospatial information systems to analyze various topics in criminology, criminal justice, and disaster planning. This is because my primary area of interest for research includes the use of geospatial analysis, agent-based modeling, remote sensing, and geovisualization to analyze terrorism, natural disasters, and the psychological behavior of offenders and police officers.

GAU: In her book, “The New Jim Crow,” Michelle Alexander points out that there are more black men “today—in prison or jail, on probation or parole—than were enslaved in 1850.” She also notes, “About 90 percent of those sentenced to prison for a drug offense in Illinois are African American.” Given your Criminal Justice background and knowledge, what is your assessment of these statistics, and is this a problem that union activism could help address, if only partially?

Haegele: Race in the criminal justice system is not one of my areas of study, but that is an accurate statement of statistics that African Americans are overrepresented in our criminal judicial system. Unfortunately, I do not believe that “union activism” would be able to address the issue because unions are meant for institutional change not individual change. Although targeting drug offenders is an institutional issue, it is not a racial institutional issue. Therefore, the criminal justice system will not stop targeting drug offenders because drug offenders are not “one size fits all.”

GAU: In his genealogical critique, “Discipline & Punish,” French theorist Michel Foucault called the prison “an apparatus for transforming individuals,” that functions as “a rather disciplined barracks, a strict school, a dark workshop,” “rendering [bodies] docile,” much like other mechanisms in the social body. Foucault suggested the prison possessed a “double foundation – juridico-economic on the one hand, technico-disciplinary on the other,” and that it came to appear as “the most immediate and civilized form of all penalties,” and “‘natural’, just as the use of time to measure exchanges is ‘natural’ in our society.” Does that analysis in any way describe the present day prison or criminal justice system, or is it very much off the mark in the contemporary context?

Haegele: I am not well versed in the prison system but I do know that our prison system has changed drastically from its original inception. Yes the prison system is still used as an “apparatus for transforming individuals,” however, prisoners are no longer confined to their cells in solitude to think about what they have done and “repent for their sins.” Prisoners are now grouped together in blocks, receive visitations, make phone calls, watch TV, and play games and sports with each other as a means to keep them occupied during their incarceration.

GAU: Turning the page, if we may, what is it like working as a Research Assistant in Library Affairs?

Haegele: My position entails maintaining the Geography Information Services (GIS) department within Geospatial Resources. As GIS is a true passion of mine I naturally love the position in general but the people I work with (and work for) make my time spent there even better!

GAU: In thinking about your two stewardship positions, the popular books-for-prisoners campaigns come to mind. These initiatives seems to have had a resurgence of late, and have featured prominently in other movements. For example, The People’s Library of Occupy Chicago coordinated donation efforts for books for jailed dissenters. Are these sorts of initiatives important, and can unions help improve them in any way?

Haegele: There are several initiatives that are important for offenders, like the books-for-prisoners program that you mention, as they are meant to help provoke knowledge and prevent idle hands for inmates. However, inmates do not have unions to fight for their rights as prisoners, changes for inmates happen as various situations arise. Unfortunately, I am not sure as to whether a union for prisoners would benefit them.

GAU: In your informed opinion, as someone familiar with library organization, is the Dewey Decimal System overrated?

Haegele: I am not familiar with DDS so I have absolutely no idea.

GAU: What little known aspect of Morris Library should graduate students start taking advantage of more?

Haegele: Graduate students should take advantage of the writing center. Students know that the writing center is there to help them critique their papers, but many graduate students do not know that they also help with theses and dissertations and that they even have workshops designated for them.

GAU: In an essay discussing the ethos of “street librarianship,” Alycia Sellie, CUNY Graduate Center faculty member and Electronic Resources and Serials Management Librarian at Minas Rees Library, wrote that “we must be critical of proprietary systems that are costly and hard to use—from Blackboard to Facebook. We need to use alternatives to the technological giants, and we should talk not just about how to use a tool or a resource but how to understand its structure and how it works (or doesn’t). We have to acknowledge the world beyond our university or our stacks, and not remain in digital ivory towers. We should invite the messiness of an unjust world into our work and confront the contradictions. We have to make it ok that not everyone feels immediately comfortable with technology, and that there are still many socioeconomic factors that create real barriers.” Sellie added: “What could unite radical librarianship and the digital humanities as movements is a larger investment in social justice and information accessibility. Even if libraries or dh [digital humanities] haven’t been explicitly committed to socioeconomic justice in the past, I believe that an investment in these issues would be a uniting step that we could take together.” She has also discussed the benefits of trying to include alternative media materials – like underground newspapers, zines, union weeklies and other radical publications – in libraries. What do you make of Sellie’s ideas?

Haegele: Sellie has a valid point that a lot of content, despite being digital, is not free to the public. Although this can be seen as an issue, the issue is being looked at one-sided (i.e., as the public who has to pay). The issue must also be looked at from other points of view such as the writer or owner who needs to be paid so they can live, the university or library that procures the media for their patrons, or even the student or individual who pays through their fees to access the library that has the media they seek. Trust me, I would love to have all the articles I need for my research be free but that’s not something that’s going to happen anytime soon. Its like asking iTunes to be free.

GAU: As anyone who has checked out the Who is My Steward? page on the GAU website knows, you and Lyndsey Hanson are our co-stewards for Morris Library. Is there any deep-seated steward rivalry lurking there with loads of pent up mutual animus festering between all the catalogs and call numbers? Or, conversely, does the dual stewardship foster stronger union solidarity?

Haegele: Haha, I am new to the Steward game by a couple months and have only met Lyndsey once. But when I did meet her she had a great personality and seemed to take interest in my studies as I did hers. Even if I had known her longer than I have, I doubt there would be any rivalry. As graduate students, we definitely don’t have time for that!!

Get to Know a Steward: Carlee Coplea

For the fourth installment in our Get to Know a Steward series, the GAU Communications Committee asked Carlee Coplea, steward for the Department of Linguistics, several questions about her life, academics, connections between language and politics, unionism and furiously sleeping colorless green ideas. 

carlee-copleaGAU Communications Committee: Can you tell us a little bit about where you’re from and what brought you to SIUC?

Carlee Coplea: I am from Windsor, Illinois (population 1,200). I initially came to SIUC to pursue a bachelor’s degree in English as a New Language with a K-12 teaching certificate in the linguistics department. I decided to stay for the master’s program because you can pursue two degrees simultaneously with approval from the department.

GAU: Why get a Master’s in Linguistics?

Coplea: First of all, why not? Second, the staff and faculty for the TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and Applied Linguistics programs are extraordinary. Third, I attend classes with phenomenal students from all over the world. Fourth, I have always wanted a job that I could do anywhere in the world. ESL instructors are in high demand in elementary, secondary, and adult education. Also, obtaining a degree in Applied Linguistics opens up the path to pursuing a doctoral degree. Fifth, well, I could keep going but it basically comes down to the fact that I love to learn and linguistics is the perfect fit because there are so many interesting paths to follow or trail blaze.

GAU: Can you describe your work as a Teaching Assistant in the Linguistics Department?

Coplea: In the past and currently, I have been assisting professors with introductory and interdisciplinary courses in large lecture halls. I have several breakout sections where I teach how to apply what we learned in lecture to your everyday life and the difference between prescriptive and descriptive grammar. In the spring, I will be teaching a small introductory class required for linguistics majors.

GAU: What do you hope to accomplish as GAU Steward for the Department of Linguistics?

Coplea: I hope that I can give my colleagues a place to turn if they need assistance, advice, or someone to just listen. I am a busy person but I am never too busy to listen.

GAU: Linguist and activist Noam Chomsky formulated a good deal of his ideas about generative grammar during his graduate studies. His graduate work – including his thesis and dissertation – paved the way for what is often called the Chomskyan revolution in linguistics. Do you have a future Coplean linguistics revolution in the works right now?

Coplea: Haha. While I respect his political views, our work in linguistics is very different. He’s a syntactician. Syntax is one of the main subfields of theoretical linguistics. I like to work in language acquisition and research in the field of sociolinguistics which are both subfields of applied linguistics. I would not call my thesis revolutionary but stay tuned.

GAU: In the book Language and Politics, Chomsky acknowledged a “tenuous connection” between his work in linguistics and his political views. He noted that he thinks “that anyone’s political ideas or their ideas of social organization must be rooted ultimately in some concept of human nature and human needs.” He added that his

own feeling is that the fundamental human capacity is the capacity and the need for creative self-expression, for free control of all aspects of one’s life and thought. One particularly crucial realization of this capacity is the creative use of language as a free instrument of thought and expression Now having this view of human nature and human needs, one tries to think about the modes of social organization that would permit the freest and fullest development of the individual, of each individual’s potentialities in whatever direction they might take, that would permit him to be fully human in the sense of having the greatest possible scope for his freedom and initiative.

Is there any loose connection between your linguistics work and political orientation?

Coplea: Sociolinguistics is all about the intersectionality of language. As a sociolinguist, I believe that all humans are interconnected through language use.

GAU: Italian linguist and theorist Antonio Gramsci, who was imprisoned by Mussolini’s regime, wrote that, “All men are intellectuals, one could therefore say: but not all men have in society the function of intellectuals.” What does this quote mean to you in today’s context?

Coplea: Social inequity is still very relevant. Gramscian philosophy and some feminist philosophies are often tied together because of their focus on intersectionality (like I was discussing in the previous question). Social inequity is what causes people to band their causes together and unite. That’s what’s so great about the union. It serves as a platform where anyone can share their experiences and locate how their life intersects with others’.

GAU: In outlining the “deeper truth about unions,” George Lakoff, professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote “that they don’t just create and maintain rights for workers; they work for and create crucial rights in society as a whole. Unions created weekends, the eight-hour workday, and health benefits. And through their politics, they have been at the center of support for civil rights and other social justice issues. In short, unions don’t just work for their members. They work for all of us.”

Lakoff has also emphasized how much of our thought is unconscious and based on metaphors related to our embodied interaction with the world. He stresses that “framing” in political discourse is key because words and phrases are defined relative to a conceptual framework. He contends certain “frames” can activate complex metaphorical schemes that shape how we understand language and the world. Do you consider language important to understanding politics – and specifically the role of unions in society?

Coplea: Actually, sociolinguistics, my current area of research, discusses how society uses language towards political aims. Any good campaign platform is based on same-side language use. When politicians support or oppose unions and union labor, they can support or oppose social inequity.

GAU: What are your hopes for the future? 

Coplea: Employment is always great but I would like to continue teaching and continue learning. I hope to pursue a doctoral degree soon and find an assistantship.

GAU: Do colorless green ideas sleep furiously?

Coplea: Haha. You know, there are a variety of interesting linguists (some of whom you highlighted) but it seems that Chomsky always gets the spotlight. To answer the question, it probably depends on how you feel about linguistic relativity and universal grammar.