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The Young Socialists’ School-to-Union Pipeline

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When West Virginia’s union teachers defied state law and walked off the job for fair wages and better healthcare in February 2018, their wildcat strike?—?and the wave of strikes it inspired?—?changed lives hundreds of miles away.

For example: Claire, a pre-med student at New York University (NYU), switched from the doctor-track to nursing?—?with the aim of landing a union nursing job. Claire is a member of NYU’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), which encourages members to find union work. 

In These Times spoke with half a dozen YDSA and DSA members across the country about their similar plans. (Claire and others requested pseudonyms to avoid limiting their chances of employment.) All of them pointed to the militant example set by teachers as a motivator. 

Emily, 22, a YDSA member in New York who wants to become a teacher, says the West Virginia strike was ?“probably the most inspirational thing I’ve seen in my years as a socialist.” 

In 2018, YDSA committed to steering college graduates toward unions to build working-class power from the shop floor up. It passed a resolution to create a National Labor Committee (NLC) in the summer of 2020, which will oversee a school-to-union pipeline and administer a yearly survey to assess union interest after graduation, among other responsibilities. 

The strategy dates back to at least the 1970s, when socialist organizations asked members to ?“turn to industry” and take up blue-collar jobs. The International Socialists went a step further; they advocated a ?“rank-and-file strategy” to place committed organizers into auto plants, steel mills and other factories, to inspire a ?“militant minority” of union membership to transform the working class into an agent of political change. 

While YDSA has only just begun implementing its rank-and-file strategy, the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (NYC-DSA) passed a similar resolution in the summer of 2018. Articles in Politico and the New York Times went on to condemn what they deemed a socialist infiltration of New York City’s most powerful unions. 

Labor organizers within NYC-DSA, however, take issue with this characterization. They say they are building strong, democratic unions by focusing on day-to-day issues (such as overtime and health and safety), not pursuing union staff positions. NYC-DSA did not provide an estimate of how many members have taken union jobs, but the chapter’s Labor Branch says a large number are working in a range of union industries (from blue-collar to professional) and in a range of rank-and-file roles (from shop steward to low-level union officer). 

When shop floor issues arise, these DSA members offer to bring their coworkers to a Labor Branch meeting for training?—?on how to find a committee of people to run a campaign, for example, or how to turn a grievance filing into a collective action. 

Their idea is to fight collectively to improve working conditions and to demonstrate to other workers that solidarity is a winning strategy?—?one that can eventually expand to the whole working class. 

Others are more skeptical. ?“This idea that socialists should switch jobs, get whatever certification is necessary and go into these strategic sectors [is] really not something that most of our members can do,” says Ryan Mosgrove, secretary of Metro D.C. DSA and an organizer with a local teachers’ union. ?“Many of our members are in low-wage work. Many of them are not in these urban, high-union-density, metropolitan areas where this sort of strategy is even applicable.” 

Mosgrove says that, as only 1 in 10 U.S. jobs is a union job, members should organize whatever workplace they happen to be in. 

Proponents of the rank-and-file strategy?—?like Barry Eidlin, a sociology professor at McGill University—argue that militant minorities have historically played a critical role in working-class victories. They are ?“the necessary building block for any kind of mass collective action,” Eidlin says. ?“It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Even if you get a few people going into various types of unionized jobs (as opposed to becoming [a nonprofit] worker), that can really shift things.” 

YDSA’s focus on only a few particular sectors?—?healthcare, education and logistics?—?is also controversial. YDSA believes these sectors can have the most impact for the working class because of their preexisting labor militancy, a higher than average unionization rate and (especially in the case of logistics) the structural leverage they hold within capitalism. Eidlin believes that inroads into manufacturing and production will also be essential to any long-term strategy. 

The success of this rank-and-file strategy will be difficult to measure, especially because of the time it takes to build trust with coworkers or transform entrenched union bureaucracies. Proponents believe that socialists should be prepared to make a lifelong commitment to their organizing. 

Adam, 23, a YDSA member in Florida who is studying to become a union teacher, is ready to take the leap. ?“There are no shortcuts to organizing,” he says.


This blog originally appeared at In These Times on March 1, 2021. Reprinted with permission

About the Author: Indigo Olivier is a 2020?–?2021 fellow with In These Times’ Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting and a member of NYC-DSA.


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Students at the Most Expensive University in America Are Going on Tuition Strike

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At the end of Novem­ber, mem­bers of the Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty-Barnard Col­lege chap­ter of Young Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca (YDSA) launched a tuition strike cam­paign against ?“exor­bi­tant tuition rates” which, they say, ?“con­sti­tute a sig­nif­i­cant source of finan­cial hard­ship” dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. Stu­dent demands are wide-rang­ing and include a 10% reduc­tion in the cost of atten­dance, 10% increase in finan­cial aid, and an amal­ga­ma­tion of demands from dis­parate stu­dent cam­paigns, many of which were set in motion long before the pan­dem­ic began. So far over 1,700 stu­dents have signed a peti­tionto with­hold tuition for the Spring 2021 semes­ter and any future dona­tions to the uni­ver­si­ty after graduating. 

Colum­bia has con­sis­tent­ly topped charts as the most expen­sive pri­vate uni­ver­si­ty in the coun­try, charg­ing over $61,000 a year in tuition and fees, which accounts for near­ly a quar­ter of the school’s rev­enue. ?”We just felt like the only way to pres­sure a uni­ver­si­ty that is struc­tured around the prof­it motive would be to direct­ly impact their bot­tom line,” says Emma­line Ben­nett, a stu­dent at Columbia’s Teach­ers Col­lege and one of the found­ing mem­bers of Colum­bia-Barnard YDSA, which she co-chairs.

Since the pan­dem­ic began, the university’s $11 bil­lion endow­ment has seen a $310 mil­lion increase while the response from admin­is­tra­tion, Ben­nett says, ?“has been most­ly emp­ty rhetoric around shared sacrifice.”

In These Times reached out to the uni­ver­si­ty admin­is­tra­tion and did not hear back by the time of pub­li­ca­tion. In a Decem­ber 1 arti­cle in Patch, a uni­ver­si­ty spokesper­son said, ?“Through­out this dif­fi­cult year, Colum­bia has remained focused on pre­serv­ing the health and safe­ty of our com­mu­ni­ty, ful­fill­ing our com­mit­ment to anti-racism, pro­vid­ing the edu­ca­tion sought by our stu­dents, and con­tin­u­ing the sci­en­tif­ic and oth­er research need­ed to over­come soci­ety’s seri­ous challenges.” 

Bec­ca Roskill, a junior in Columbia’s school of engi­neer­ing and sec­re­tary of Colum­bia-Barnard YDSA, says that the cam­paign has been care­ful to frame the tuition strike as a means of address­ing the ongo­ing stu­dent debt cri­sis and not just wors­en­ing con­di­tions under Covid-19. ?“We want­ed to shift the con­ver­sa­tion away from pay­ing less because of online class­es and shift the con­ver­sa­tion toward a cri­sis that’s emerged from the fact that we’re treat­ing edu­ca­tion as a com­mod­i­ty in the first place.”

Lead­ing up to the strike’s announce­ment, stu­dents orga­nized a peti­tion for par­tial tuition reim­burse­ment (dif­fer­ent from the one list­ed above), an email cam­paign and phone zaps, a pres­sure tac­tic used to flood office lines, to impress upon admin­is­tra­tors the bur­dens of the university’s exces­sive costs. Before the start of the Fall semes­ter, a tuition freeze was issued for the university’s two main under­grad­u­ate schools, Colum­bia Col­lege and the Fu Foun­da­tion School of Engi­neer­ing and Applied Sci­ence?—?con­ces­sions that Ben­nett believes were a direct response to stu­dent orga­niz­ing over the sum­mer. But sup­port for stu­dents and work­ers across cam­pus, Ben­nett says, has been uneven, and the tuition strike is aimed at much more than just high tuition. 

In addi­tion to low­er­ing the cost of atten­dance and increas­ing finan­cial aid, the tuition strike has includ­ed demands to put an end to cam­pus expan­sion, invest in the sur­round­ing West Harlem com­mu­ni­ty, defund the university’s Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safe­ty (the cam­pus law enforce­ment body), com­mit to trans­paren­cy around the university’s finan­cial invest­ments, and bar­gain in good faith with unions on campus.

“We just felt like the only way to pressure a university that is structured around the profit motive would be to directly impact their bottom line,” —Emmaline Bennett, student at Columbia’s Teachers College.

“The stu­dents orga­niz­ing the tuition strike view it as a last-resort tac­tic to com­pel the uni­ver­si­ty to lis­ten to demands that stu­dents have been orga­niz­ing around for the past few years,” reads a state­ment released Mon­day. The tuition strike has received wide sup­port in part by build­ing coali­tions with oth­er groups on cam­pus that have put for­ward their own demands in the past. This includes ref­er­en­dums vot­ed on by the stu­dent body, which the demands let­ter says should be respect­ed and enforced.

A ref­er­en­dum that was passed in Sep­tem­ber demand­ing the uni­ver­si­ty divest from com­pa­nies that prof­it from or sup­port Israel’s human rights abus­es against Pales­tini­ans was the cul­mi­na­tion of years of orga­niz­ing from mem­bers of Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine and Jew­ish Voice for Peace. The ref­er­en­dum has been all but dis­missed by the admin­is­tra­tion despite being passed by the stu­dent body. Sim­i­lar­ly, admin­is­tra­tors have been slow to respond to stu­dent demands to divest the school’s endow­ment from fos­sil fuels, a cam­paign that has been waged on cam­pus since 2015. YDSA has been busy build­ing ties with the cam­pus chap­ters of Extinc­tion Rebel­lion and the Sun­rise Movement.

The tuition strike has also includ­ed demands from Mobi­lized African Dias­po­ra (MAD), a coali­tion of Black stu­dent activists on cam­pus that sent its own detailed list of demands to Colum­bia Pres­i­dent Lee Bollinger. After spend­ing the sum­mer mobi­liz­ing against police vio­lence, MAD called for the uni­ver­si­ty to com­mit to anti-racism and pro­vide employ­ment and afford­able hous­ing to the sur­round­ing Harlem com­mu­ni­ty, end the university’s rela­tion­ship with the New York Police Depart­ment, cut fund­ing from the university’s Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safe­ty and increase sup­port for Black students.

On Decem­ber 3, mere days after the strike’s announce­ment, Barnard Col­lege can­celed its search for a new exec­u­tive direc­tor of Pub­lic Safe­ty and announced it would restruc­ture the office to focus on com­mu­ni­ty safe­ty under the new Com­mu­ni­ty Account­abil­i­ty, Response, and Emer­gency Ser­vices office. Ben­nett says MAD has been a major coali­tion part­ner, and the group’s demands to repair harm to the sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ty and invest in com­mu­ni­ty safe­ty solu­tions are reflect­ed in the tuition strike.

YDSA’s let­ter to the admin­is­tra­tion also includes a demand to bar­gain in good faith with unions on cam­pus for increased ben­e­fits and com­pen­sa­tion in addi­tion to pro­tec­tions for inter­na­tion­al stu­dents. State­ments from the tuition strike cam­paign have empha­sized that cuts to cost of atten­dance ?“should not come at the expense of instruc­tor or work­er pay, but rather at the expense of bloat­ed admin­is­tra­tive salaries, expan­sion projects, and oth­er expens­es that don’t ben­e­fit stu­dents and workers.”

The Grad­u­ate Work­ers of Colum­bia-Unit­ed Auto Work­ers Local 2110(GWC-UAW), which has been the recip­i­ent of strike sup­port and sol­i­dar­i­ty from YDSA, will be ask­ing its mem­ber­ship to pledge their sup­port for the strike. This would include dis­trib­ut­ing tuition strike mate­ri­als to stu­dents and con­tin­u­ing to teach stu­dents who plan on with­hold­ing tuition even if told not to by uni­ver­si­ty officials.

Susan­nah Glick­man, a fifth year PhD stu­dent in his­to­ry at Columbia’s Grad­u­ate School of Arts and Sci­ences and a mem­ber of GWC’s bar­gain­ing com­mit­tee, says YDSA and the union have been work­ing close­ly to sup­port each oth­er. ?“It’s good that stu­dents rec­og­nize that they have some pow­er to influ­ence the con­ver­sa­tion [around cor­po­rate gov­er­nance], even if they’re not employ­ees,” Glick­man said. ?“They prob­a­bly have more [pow­er] because they’re the finan­cial base of the university.”

Tuition strike orga­niz­ers say the idea for a tuition strike pre­ced­ed the pan­dem­ic, but was in part inspired by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go where 200stu­dents with­held pay­ments in late April with a num­ber of demands, includ­ing a 50% reduc­tion in tuition. By the end of their tuition strike in mid-May, Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go stu­dents had won a freeze on tuition, which is now over $57,000 a year?–??–?sec­ond only to Colum­bia. Today, the total cost of atten­dance at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go is esti­mat­ed to be upwards of $80,000 a year when includ­ing fees, room and board, per­son­al expens­es and books.

With over 1,700 stu­dents signed on, Columbia’s tuition strike next spring could rep­re­sent the largest tuition strike since 1973, when stu­dents at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan with­held pay­ments in oppo­si­tion to a 24% increase in tuition from the year before. About 2,500 signed up for a tuition strike which coin­cid­ed with a wave of labor orga­niz­ing on the part of teach­ing fel­lows and oth­er grad­u­ate employ­ees. While the stu­dent tuition strike alone was not enough to win con­ces­sions from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michigan’s admin­is­tra­tion, the Grad­u­ate Employ­ees’ Orga­ni­za­tion (GEO), which rep­re­sents grad­u­ate work­ers on cam­pus, was ulti­mate­ly able to win a tuition reduc­tion and increased pay and ben­e­fits through con­tract nego­ti­a­tions after more than half of under­grad­u­ate stu­dents joined GEO mem­bers in a pick­et line in Feb­ru­ary 1975.

As stu­dents con­tin­ue to mobi­lize toward next semester’s tuition strike, YDSA orga­niz­ers report an increase in mem­ber­ship and par­tic­i­pa­tion with­in their chap­ter, which some believe has been strength­ened by their abil­i­ty to orga­nize digitally.

“I think we’ve seen a strength­en­ing in our com­mu­ni­ty that we did­n’t expect to be able to cater to over Zoom,” says Roskill. ?”And we’re real­ly hope­ful that social­ist pol­i­tics will pro­vide an answer to the polit­i­cal ques­tions that weren’t being answered by Biden or Trump, par­tic­u­lar­ly on stu­dent debt advocacy.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on December 4, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Indigo Olivier is an In These Times Good­man Inves­tiga­tive Fellow.


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Did You Get a Text Inviting You to a Picket Line? It Might Be from Bernie Sanders.

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As graduate student workers at the University of Chicago began a three-day work stoppage this week to demand union recognition, Sen. Bernie Sanders—one of the university’s most notable alumni—called on his army of supporters to join their picket lines through an email and text message blast.

One of Sanders’ supporters who received the message was UChicago graduate instructor Laura Colaneri, a member of the union Graduate Students United (GSU) and a PhD candidate in Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Studies.

“It was a really awesome boost to get that message because I’m one of the workers involved in this action,” Colaneri told In These Times. “I’m excited to see a candidate using his status to support workers directly, not just by giving us a rhetorical line, but helping us out with an action that we’re doing.”

While candidates traditionally use their extensive contact lists to focus on fundraising or bringing people out to their campaign rallies, Sanders is undertaking an apparent first in modern presidential politics: using his lists to help mobilize turnout at worker-led actions.

Last month, the Sanders campaign helped turn supporters out to a one-day strike at the University of California campuses, where representatives said 1,000 people “responded with interest or committed to go to a protest.” The campaign also called onsupporters to join thousands of McDonald’s workers who went on strike across the country May 23 demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage.

Sanders supporters were also recently encouraged to join healthcare workers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center on their picket line, as well as nurses at Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio. The campaign is currently working to turn supporters out for a march of McDonald’s workers in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on June 9 that Sanders will join.

“I think it’s fair to say this is a workers’ movement as much as it’s a presidential campaign,” Bill Neidhardt, Midwest Press Secretary for the Sanders campaign, told In These Times. “And that’s exactly how we want it to be. That’s how you win. With a movement.”

Neidhardt noted that the Sanders team has previously used its contact lists to drive turnout for labor actions at Delta Airlines, Disney, Amazon, General Motors, Wabtec, Nissan and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Meanwhile, Sanders’ own employees recently unionized themselves, winning the first union contract for staff of a major party presidential campaign. Among other gains, the contract includes a $20-an-hour wage for interns at the Washington, D.C. campaign headquarters and a cap on manager salaries. Since the announcement, three other 2020 Democratic campaigns have unionized: those of former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

“[Sanders’] objective is to strengthen unions as they’ve dwindled and been busted,” said Nanci Ponné, who joined GSU’s picket lines at UChicago on June 5 after receiving an email from the campaign. She was one of hundreds of people who joined GSU for a mass picket and rally that afternoon, many of them directed there by Sanders.

“Unions bring strength and power where workers didn’t have it before,” Ponné, who works in the Chicago hotel industry and identified as a member of Unite Here, told In These Times. “There’s no reason for Bernie not to use his awesome email list to empower unions that will help bring more benefits to workers.”

The three-day work stoppage at UChicago this week comes nearly 19 months after an overwhelming majority of graduate workers there voted to unionize with GSU in an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

As at many other private universities where graduate workers recently voted to form a union, the UChicago administration continuously refuses to recognize GSU, claiming grad workers are more “students” than employees and therefore ineligible for union representation. With the NLRB now controlled by anti-union Trump appointees—who are poised to undercut the legal basis for grad worker unions—GSU has withdrawn from the formal Board process and is demanding voluntary recognition from the university.

“They’re stonewalling,” Colaneri said of the UChicago administration, adding that administrators called extra campus police out to the GSU pickets. “They keep saying it’s your free speech to do this, but then they’ve sent out emails to undergraduate students and their parents telling them to report if your graduate instructor isn’t in class. But we’re not letting it intimidate us.”

As a UChicago alumnus, Sanders has supported GSU throughout their fight for union recognition. “I hope very much that you will set an example throughout the world by supporting a democratic decision made by graduate students and teaching assistants,” the senator wrote university president Robert Zimmer in November 2017. “To appeal this decision to an anti-worker, Trump-appointed National Labor Relations Board is not something that a world class institution of higher learning should do.”

No stranger to campus activism, while a student at UChicago in the early 1960s, the future presidential candidate helped lead a 13-day sit-in to demand an end to the university’s housing discrimination policy, was arrested protesting racial discrimination at Chicago Public Schools, and joined the youth wing of the Socialist Party.

“My four years in Chicago was an extraordinary moment in my life, and very much shaped my worldview and what I wanted to do,” Sanders said earlier this year.

With classes at UChicago now over for the spring, on the evening of June 5 GSU members voted to suspend their work stoppage. “We have shown the university, the world, and ourselves what we are capable of as a union, and how fundamentally the university depends on our work,” read a statement from the union.

“The amount of energy we’ve been able to sustain over three days is really incredible,” Colaneri said. “This doesn’t come from Bernie, it comes from us, from the workers being ready to fight for what we deserve. And it’s great to be supported in that, but not overshadowed. It’s not about Bernie, it’s really about us.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on June 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffSchuhrke.


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18 states are suing Betsy DeVos for putting for-profit college fraudsters over student borrowers

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Betsy DeVos is making it harder for students to get loan forgiveness after being cheated by for-profit colleges, but Democratic attorneys general across the country are challenging her in court. DeVos has had the Education Department put a hold on new rules that were supposed to take effect on July 1 protecting student borrowers—protecting student borrowers is definitely not what Betsy DeVos is about, let’s be clear on that—and 18 states are going to court to get the rules put back in place.

An existing federal law allows borrowers to apply for loan forgiveness if they attended a school that misled them or broke state consumer protection laws. Once rarely used, the system was overwhelmed by applicants after the wave of for-profit failures. Corinthian’s collapse alone led to more than 15,000 loan discharges, with a balance of $247 million.

Taxpayers get stuck with those losses. The rules that Ms. DeVos froze would have shifted some of that risk back to the industry by requiring schools at risk of closing to put up financial collateral. They would also ban mandatory arbitration agreements, which have prevented many aggrieved students from suing schools that they believe have defrauded them.

DeVos really is stepping in in favor of fraudulent schools over defrauded students—and taxpayers—in other words.

“Since day one, Secretary DeVos has sided with for-profit school executives against students and families drowning in unaffordable student loans,” said Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general, who led the multistate coalition. “Her decision to cancel vital protections for students and taxpayers is a betrayal of her office’s responsibility and a violation of federal law.”

Two students left with debts after their school lied to them about their job prospects are also suing the Education Department over the same issues.

This blog was published at DailyKos on July 6, 2017.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.


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Who Needs To Reach Higher For Higher Education?

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Jeff BryantFirst Lady Michelle Obama is scheduled on Friday to provide a commencement address to the graduating class of 3,000 students at The City College of New York in Harlem. As the White House announcement states, her address has some additional historic significance in that CCNY was the first public higher education institution in New York City, “established as a free institution dedicated to overcoming barriers to advancement.”

It wouldn’t be at all surprising for the First Lady to mention this in her address, as she continues to emphasize in all her commencement speeches this year her theme of “reach higher.” TheReach Higher Initiative, according to the White House, “is the First Lady’s effort to inspire every student in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school.” So it would seem appropriate to recognize the monumental contribution that a free public higher education institution no doubt has had on helping multiple generations “take charge of their future.”

Unfortunately, though, CCNY hasn’t been free in 40 years. Even worse, student tuition and fees have increased dramatically in recent years, as the state continues to underfund the school since the economic downturn in 2008, while physical conditions and resources deteriorate.

As an article in The New York Times notes, at CCNY’s “handsome Gothic campus, leaking ceilings have turned hallways into obstacle courses of buckets. The bathrooms sometimes run out of toilet paper. The lectures are becoming uncomfortably overcrowded, and course selections are dwindling, because of steep budget cuts.”

The problems at City College are symptomatic of what’s happening to higher education throughout New York, where, according to the Times article, enrollment in the state’s City University system – a collection of 24 urban campuses that includes City College – has climbed by more than 12 percent over the last eight years while funding from the state has dropped by 17 percent, adjusted for inflation.

Under the current austerity imposed by the state, another Times article explains, the CUNY system has had to raise tuition by $300 in each of the last five years and will likely continue to do so for another five years. Tuition hikes come on top of a $280 annual fee, significantly raising the financial challenge to CUNY students, more than half of who report family incomes of under $30,000.

Keep in mind this austerity has been imposed under the gubernatorial administration of Andrew Cuomo – a Democrat undermining the stated goals of a Democratic Party presidential administration. Cuomo’s plan is to reduce state funding to CUNY by $485 million, according to a report in Inside Higher Education.

Why is Cuomo intent on cutting higher education and raising tuition at the very same time government leaders are exhorting young people to take their education beyond higher school?

It’s not just Cuomo. According to a new report, most states are on par with New York or even worse in cutting their commitments to higher education. A review of the report by Hechinger Reportexplains, “States are collectively investing 17 percent less in their public colleges and universities, or $1,525 less per student, since 2007.”

While funding has been slashed, public colleges have increased published tuition prices by 33 percent since 2007.

Which states are worse than New York? According to the Times article cited at the top of this post, “Arizona is spending 56 percent less, while students are paying 88 percent more. In Louisiana, students are spending 80 percent more on tuition, while state funding has been cut by 39 percent.

Students, of course, are the ones having to take the brunt of the funding crunch by taking on more college loan debt. As Hechinger notes, from 2008 and 2014, the share of students graduating with debt from a public four-year college increased from 55 to 60 percent, while the size of the average debt load rose 18 percent. In the six years before the recession, the average debt only went up by 1 percent.

College and university faculty have taken a beating from the financial austerity, too. According to recent data, faculty positions are 76 percent more apt to be filled by part-timers than they were 40 years ago. During the same time period, the number of tenured, full-time positions has dropped by 26 percent and full-time positions on a tenure track have gone down by half.

Given these circumstances, it’s understandable why college enrollments in the nation are now in decline. Part of this decline may be attributable to increased availability of jobs, but that doesn’t change the fact that young adults forgoing a chance at a degree are also lowering their potential to have higher paying jobs later in life.

Declining enrollments are also not going to get the White House anywhere closer to its stated goal of ensuring, by 2020, that America once again has the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

This Friday, Michele Obama may intend to commend City College graduates, and inspire other students, for their effort to “reach higher” in education. Let’s hope she also tells policy leaders and public officials to do the same to fund it.

This blog originally appeared on ourfuture.org on June 1, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Jeff Bryant is an Associate Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and the editor of the Education Opportunity Network website. Prior to joining OurFuture.org he was one of the principal writers for Open Left. He owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C. He has written extensively about public education policy.


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Chicago Students Boycott Class, Demanding an Elected and Accountable School Board

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“David Vitale, we don’t recognize you as the board chairperson… You’re fired!”

Thus Jitu Brown, education organizer at the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization on Chicago’s South Side, began today’s protest rally of about 400 students, parents and community members outside the downtown headquarters of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), where Chicago Board of Education president Vitale and the rest of the board were holding their monthly meeting.

Activists like Brown have been incensed by unpopular board decisions like the recent 50 school closures and massive budget cuts, and students haven’t been happy at the changes, either. Today, dozens boycotted school to join community organizations from around the city at the rally.

The protesters demanded that the school board be directly elected by Chicagoans, rather than appointed by the mayor, to make the body accountable to community needs.

“We have jumped through every hoop CPS has said to jump through, and still, they make the same decisions over and over again that have damaged schools in our communities,” Brown said. “We need an elected school board!”

The boycott was called by community groups earlier this summer. Yesterday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel pleaded with parents not to keep their children home from school.

“You have a disagreement [about school closings]? The court has spoken to that. You don’t like something? There’s another way to speak of it. Do not take the kids out of school and harm them and their future,” Emanuel said.

No boycott organizers or union officials knew the exact number of students who participated in today’s boycott. But the number of students skipping class for today’s rally was far below Civil Rights-era CPS boycotts, like the one in 1963 protesting extreme racial segregation and miserable conditions in the city’s schools. According to community and teachers union staff, most schools continued business as usual.

However, the clamor for an elected board seems to be growing.

Standing in the middle of the crowd with her three children participating in the day’s boycott, Mae McLeninen, a janitor at Curie High School on the South Side, said she kept her elementary-age kids out of school to join the effort against Emanuel and the board.

“We’ve gotta get rid of the mayor, but not just him. We have to hold them accountable through an elected school board,” McLeninen says.

“TIF money is our money. We should be able to tell them to put that money into schools,” says McLeninen, referring to tax increment financing (TIF) dollars—public funds initially designed to alleviate blight that critics say have taken resources away from schools and have become a giant slush fund for the mayor to dole out giveaways to corporations like MillerCoors and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

The Chicago Teachers Union did not officially endorse the day’s boycott, though CTU staffers and members in red T-shirts could be seen throughout the crowd.

“We can’t ask kids not to go to school, but if parents think that’s the best thing for their children, we fully support them,” says Kristine Mayle, the CTU’s financial secretary.

Mayle says she understands the frustration of many parents at massive class sizes in many schools throughout the district and the failure to deliver promised items like iPads and air conditioning to sweltering classrooms during a Midwestern heat wave this week.

“The reports we’re getting from schools are that the promises the district gave them are not being kept, so it’s understandable they want to fight,” Mayle says.

As I reported for Al Jazeera America last week, many CPS parents were worried before the school year began on Monday that schools would not be able to meet students’ basic needs, thanks to budget cuts of $162 million and teacher layoffs throughout the district, as well as school closings and consolidations in neighborhoods of color on the South and West Side.

That worry has come true, according to several of the day’s speakers. After the protesters marched from the school board headquarters to city hall, Jamie Adams, a sophomore at Roosevelt High School in the Albany Park neighborhood, told the crowd that her school saw $1.6 million in budget cuts and layoffs of six teachers and counselors, leading to overcrowding.

“We’re literally fighting over desks. Some of us are sitting on the floor,” Adams said.

Adams joined a group of about 20 students affiliated with the newly-formed Chicago Students Union, who say they will be waging a campaign for a seat on the city’s school board for students.

At the Board of Education meeting this morning, parents, teachers, union officials, and community organization representatives denounced the board’s actions during the public comment period, in a scene that has become routine in this city. Lane Tech parent Adenia Linker promised parents will keep fighting “until this board is history.”

The beginning of last year’s school year saw the Chicago Teachers Union walk out in a historic strike. With several hundred parents and students marching on the third day of school, a growing campaign to end mayoral control of the city’s school board, and rising anger among parents and students over austerity measures, the new school year promises to be just as contentious.

This article originally appeared on Working In These Times on August 28, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Micah Uetricht is an In These Times contributing editor. He has written for SalonThe Nation,The American ProspectJacobin, and the Chicago Reader. Most importantly, he is also a proud former In These Times editorial intern. Follow him on Twitter @micahuetricht or contact him at micah.uetricht [at] gmail.


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