Saving U Mass From Its Faculty

The National Education Association has just published its annual higher education journal, Thought & Action, whose 2009 edition contains a special focus: “A New Progressive Era for Higher Education.” The essays (which are not yet available on-line) lament the declining government support for public institutions—all while providing (unintentional) examples of why the public might doubt the wisdom of pouring more money into higher education.
Take, for instance, the tale told by Max Page, a professor in the University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s department of art, and sociology professor Dan Clawson, whose recent publications include such only-in-academia topics as “Class Struggle in Higher Education” and “Neoliberalism Guarantees the Future of Social Movement Unionism.” Page and Clawson relate how a small group of UMass professors—mostly from “Labor Studies and Sociology, with long activist resumes”—formed a group called Save UMass, to protest the education funding priorities of the Massachusetts state government.
The activist professors encouraged colleagues to take time from class to criticize the state legislature for not giving UMass more money. Page and Clawson rejoice that around 40 percent of faculty spent a half-hour of class time doing so. The “activist” duo appears unaware of how their colleagues’ behavior violated the AAUP’s 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure.

That foundational document cautioned professors that the rights associated with academic freedom carry with them “corresponding duties,” which include the professor not using class time to “indoctrinate[e]” students on issues unrelated to the course subject matter. According to the declaration: “The liberty of the scholar within the university to set forth his conclusions, be they what they may, is conditioned by their being conclusions gained by a scholar’s method and held in a scholar’s spirit; that is to say, they must be the fruits of competent and patient and sincere inquiry, and they should be set forth with dignity, courtesy, and temperateness of language.”
Faculty members using class time to lobby students about a public policy issue is obviously inconsistent with the “duties” that the AAUP long ago established. It seems in the world of Page and Clawson, UMass professors should enjoy the privileges of academic freedom without bearing any of the duties associated with the concept. (The NEA editors apparently didn’t see fit to ask Page and Clawson why they had urged their colleagues to violate the AAUP’s 1915 declaration.)
What was the result of all this sound and fury? “The university’s budget was still cut substantially.” But the “core of activists” was not deterred. Frustrated in the public arena, they turned their focus to the leadership of the UMass faculty union—which, Page and Clawson complain, had spent too much time focusing on such job-related concerns as handling grievances and securing “pay increases.” Clearly a union committed to tending to its members’ economic well-being—as opposed to engaging in social activism—didn’t fit with the agenda of the “core of activists.”
Having pushed aside the old union leadership, the Page/Clawson group brought about the “union’s transformation.” They had “union activists attend department meetings to explain the situation and our strategy.” They “carefully cultivated support and involvement of the students,” seemingly oblivious to the danger of intimidation when professors engage students in the professors’ political crusades. They demanded more money and perks for adjunct faculty, without wondering why taxpayers would want more compensation for people who weren’t even hired through national searches. They fought against the non-existent “decline in the diversity of public institutions.” And in the closed-shop situation at UMass, Page and Clawson reported that “most” agency fee payers “are positive about the union.” (They cited no evidence for their claim.)
“But no matter how valuable the union victories,” Page and Clawson lament, “the support for higher education was stuck in reverse.” Why? Because of “the overall assault and decline of, public higher education.” Who has engaged in this “assault”? Page and Clawson don’t say, although in another forum Page has criticized the administration of Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who’s not exactly a card-carrying member of the vast right-wing conspiracy.
The net result, according to the UMass duo, is that “we live in a world where more and more people are being pushed into the river.” To briefly move into the reality-based community: Clawson earned $110,420 in 2008, while Page earned $84,190. By any standard, they’re not drowning.
After several pages of celebrating their own activities, it becomes clear that virtually the only thing Page, Clawson, and their “core of activists” have accomplished is . . . giving more power to Page, Clawson, and their “core of activists.” In the process, of course, Page, Clawson, and their “core of activists” have become the public face of the UMass faculty. And they can’t figure out why the public—even in a deep blue state like Massachusetts—isn’t eager to fork over more of their tax dollars for public education?


  • KC Johnson

    KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

One thought on “Saving U Mass From Its Faculty”

  1. Dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education; dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words, and, need I add that one must also be able to dance with the pen? ~Friedrich Nietzsche

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