What has happened in the last few months?
* Major news outlets, scholars, and blogs continue to report on the tenuous, fractured, perilous, and exploitative nature of the academic labor market, particularly among adjuncts. This topic alone deserves its own blog post, but for now let us underscore the articles on professors who have to walk on egg shells for fear of offending their students; how relying so heavily on adjunct labor does a disservice to student learning and the quality of education (remember, we're now 60-75% of the college labor force); how an Iowa state legislator considered firing professors with the worst student evaluations; the alarming instances of adjuncts living on food stamps; and how the California Faculty Association conducted a "race to the bottom" series on the economic plight of professors and lecturers vis-a-vis their more well-financed administrative colleagues.
* On a similar note, Republican governors and state legislatures - most notably in Wisconsin, Kansas, and North Carolina - have implemented savage, vindictive, and mean-spirited cuts to public education. Labor historian Jonathan Rees and Ann Little, a fellow at the Huntington Library, have both argued, here and here, that tenured or tenure-track faculty have a common interest with adjuncts. We sink or swim together. Draconian cuts to public education, in spite of more robust budget outlooks as the economy has recovered, can only be justified by the highly dubious and problematic perspective that professors at public universities have it easy, can teach more classes, do not need tenure, brainwash students, etc. The politicians implementing these cuts have absolutely no idea how hard it is to teach at the college level, let alone teach effectively. As usual, extremely powerful financial interests have done an amazingly effective job at distracting and manipulating the less fortunate among us. Even in an increasingly corrupt and plutocratic democracy characteristic of a post-Citizens' United world, financial elites' authority and legitimacy still relies on persuading large numbers of everyday Americans to vote. One would think that, at least from the narrowest measure of economic self-interest, the voters who elect the Scott Walkers of the world should see us as natural allies. They, too, feel the economic pinch of austerity, globalization, automation, de-unionization, neo-liberalism, and deregulation - all of which have decimated the once vaunted American middle class. Given the staggering amounts of income inequality and corporate malfeasance that have transpired in the last forty years, the rational conclusion, it seems to me, would be to anoint teachers and professors as the new vanguard of populist outrage. But no, quite the contrary. With nearly unlimited corporate funds and a pliant and subservient media apparatus, they have essentially manufactured misplaced anger among an anxious electorate. The result is that teachers and professors of all people - rather than hedge fund managers, defense contractors, pharmaceutical executives, and oil tycoons - draw the wrath and ire of too many everyday Americans. The overriding mentality in red states is that all of our problems would go away if we just fired all those "lazy" teachers. While part of me remains incredulous at this pernicious anti-intellectualism, the other part of me realizes one does not need to dig too deeply to understand why the political right has gone after professors with such a vengeance. We are among the very few who possess the critical thinking, research skills, and overall worldview to systematically deconstruct the simplistic fantasies and slogans emanating from the Scott Walkers of the world. It's no wonder they see us as "enemies."
* The situation is somewhat better in California. At both PCC and CPP, we have gotten 2-3% raises for the past two years. Considering that inflation is about the same figure, this is helpful (though not great). More troubling is how senior faculty often did not get raises for five to ten years straight; something that even retroactive increases cannot fix.
* On a brighter note, a very dear friend of mine has gotten a job as an undergraduate advisor. It could not have happened to a better person. More than most, he has endured tremendous struggle and sacrifice in his professional and personal life. I am glad to see that he has gotten full-time work and in a beautiful area, too!
* Perspectives on History, in its May 2015 edition, has published a spate of articles on the movie Selma (Here is the PDF version). Written by a number of highly acclaimed and accomplished authors and scholars, the articles convey diverse reactions to the movie. Here is my previous blog post on Selma, as well as my own article in Perspectives.
* Continued revision to my article-length manuscript on Nicholas Biddle
* Getting ready for the Fall. I'll be teaching five classes (yikes!). I'll be using an online textbook for the first time called OpenStax. I will also blog about this in the future and I will need to read the textbook in depth before I assign it to my students. I'll also need to make slight adjustments to my lectures and tests. Every teacher, I believe, should make adjustments based on the recent experience of trial and error.
* Composing supplementary lectures on the national debt, gold standard, inflation, etc, so that if students are interested in these topics, they can consult them. I won't test them on this material, but it's important to have learning outside of the classroom.
* Giving a closer read of the primary sources I've been assigning - and will continue to assign - in my survey courses.
* Prepare for my conference paper at the American Historical Association (AHA) in Atlanta. I'm presenting on the Second Bank of the United States in the American South as it relates to the history of capitalism and slavery.
* Organizing all of the important news articles that I've been saving for the past few years.
* If time permits, I may: 1) contribute to the Junto; 2) write an article comparing unemployment in the Great Recession v. the Great Depression.