To Be Ready for the Unexpected
I was recently reminded of how fast things change in times of crisis. I have a Monday afternoon Social Problems class this semester, and on November 21, we discussed the problems of rising tuition, debt and overwork that American college students increasingly face. Part of the reading for that day was the New York Times article “CUNY Rise in Tuition Elicits Protests but no Militancy” from last December. It went over all the reasons that CUNY students had supposedly lost their militancy, become more deferent towards authority and pursued more institutional forms of protest, such as lawsuits, against tuition hikes.
As we were discussing all this, the students protesting the Board of Trustees hearing rendered this whole line of argument obsolete, confirming what PSC member Frances Fox Piven said in the article regarding the unpredictable and fast development of social movements once they get off the ground.
You teach 16 years, and what do you get?
I was on the subway on Monday coming home from teaching at City College when I saw a former student. I moved over to sit with her and we talked for about 20 minutes about her studies.
Before I left, she said, “You are the best teacher I have had at City College so far.” She had come in early before each class and I would sit with her to help her improve her English.
I have taught Art in Education at City College for 16 years as an adjunct lecturer. It is hard for me to believe how little respect and security a college adjunct is given, even after 16 years of service. Our health insurance is in jeopardy. There is no seniority clause in our contract. I only keep my job according to the good will of a full-time faculty member. I am 61 years old and frightened.
This is not how a good university operates, and it’s time for it to change.
On November 17 and 18, I learned more than on any other day in my college experience. Lectures were held on the need for voicing a wide-range of political philosophies. Q&A sessions arose on the merits of different economic systems, and most important, there was a large panel discussion on how to change our country for the better.
I’m a junior at Fordham University and I had this rich educational experience when I was arrested for civil disobedience in the Occupy Wall Street protests. The opportunity rarely arises to spend so much time in an environment as intellectually stimulating as that one.
That, to me, is one of the most important messages of Occupy Wall Street. A new conversation needs to happen and we need to do whatever it takes to make sure every side of that conversation is heard. Those in power have no trouble making their voices heard. When the large majority of people are unable to do so, it’s essential to remember the power inherent in being a large majority.
Building strength in numbers is a huge part of what unions do for their members and the solidarity from the PSC and all the other unions that have put out a hand to hold up Occupy Wall Street has done a lot to make these conversations possible.