Friday, March 28, 2008
The gf tells a story about her first credit card as a new college student. First thing she did after it arrived? Took a whole large group of her dorm-mates out for dinner and drinks. After all, it was free money, right?
When I talk to students about activism, I often tell one of my favorite campus activism stories. It is about a group of students who wanted to take on the credit card companies on campus. They started a stealth campaign where they would plant a mark near one of those credit card tables on campus. When an unsuspecting student would come by to talk to the rep or look at the material on the tables, another advocate would come up to the mark and speak (loudly enough to be overheard) about the hidden costs of the credit cards. Another advocate "friend" would join them and talk about her high credit card bills and the way her percentage went up just because they judged that her credit was not as good anymore. Even though she had paid her bill on time, she would note! They would commiserate about friends they knew who had run up their credit cards and talk about how high the payments could get.
Often, this action had the desired result of both educating the students in the vicinity and depriving the company of one more debtor. In fact, this kind of "storytelling advocacy" was much more effective than handing out fact sheets with the same information.
Now, I'm not some absolutist freak who thinks that no one should have a credit card. I started graduate school without a credit card and actually made it through a couple of years with no credit, but it was difficult. Paying for books, conference registration, airfare, and hotels--really big expenses for a grad student on a very small stipend--was challenging! In fact, I may have had to borrow one of the gf's cards to get me by the first year I went to a national conference. I remember how relieved I was to get a credit card so I could pay for a hotel bill without being anxious. Credit cards do serve a purpose.
But the challenge is to keep spending on credit cards under control. The credit card companies don't make it easy, either. They offer limits that bear no relation to one's actual income--or lack thereof. They offer "points" and/or "frequent flier miles" that entice folks to use their credit cards for everyday bills. We do that, assuming we will pay them off at the end of the month, but then things come up and we let the balances grow.
I prefer the American Express kind of card--due at the end of the month--but I understand that it is nice to use credit cards for bigger items. That said, a lot of the bigger items (furniture, electronics, appliances) can be bought "same as cash" over a limited number of months. "Same as cash" is how we furnished our home.
But whenever I look at my credit card bills, I want to warn students about the troubles credit cards can bring. We don't teach students to balance checkbooks, to plan for their finances, or to think long-term about retirement. Isn't it too bad that they have to learn the hard way?
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Friday, March 07, 2008
I have several different kinds of entries fighting to be written about the recent deaths of young people, on junior high school and college campuses and in nearby communities, due to gun violence...
one political, about the need to fight the pro-gun advocates who want to force schools and colleges to allow guns on campus;
one lesbian feminist, engaging the ongoing and longlasting politics of violence against young women, gay men, and transgender teens, those who are in school and those who live and work outside the high school/college atmosphere; one emotional, sort of a "what the hell is happening to our young people when they can't even go to school without getting shot or shooting others?";
and another activist, wanting to encourage the state to support better mental health and criminal justice interventions.
I could argue about all of these positions simultaneously, because I believe that this rash of killings of junior high, high school, and college students involve so many factors.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
One of the representatives kept contrasting the university with "the real world" (read: the capitalist corporate system). Of course, this is nothing new. Any faculty member with family who live and work outside of higher education knows that we often have to defend the actions and practices of the university. But to hear a university employee talk about our workplace as something other than the "real world"... well, that was a trip.
According to the illustrious counsel, one example of the ways in which the university fails the "real world" test is in our employment processes. In the real world, employers can fire people at will, thanks to the right-to-work legislation in most states. (Obviously, this lawyer had not worked with businesses where workers were represented by unions. That is not surprising--few workers are represented by unions these days, though word is that they are making a small resurgence, at least in the service industry.)
For lawyers, firing at will is a gift, a freebie. Unless the fired employee can claim some kind of discrimination (and only based on those protected categories like age, race, and gender, by the way, not sexual orientation or gender expression), there is little recourse for him or her in court. So, there is not much heavy lifting for the lawyer in these cases.
The university's bothersome tenure procedures and protections make life difficult for university lawyers, especially when tenure is denied or tenured folks cause trouble. One of the lawyers intimated, in what was clearly a personal opinion, that the process of reviewing a tenure case that has been denied was a waste of time. Why? Because so many "impartial" committees had reviewed a candidate's packet by the time of a denial. The candidate is unlikely to win, and the sheer expense of time and energy by all members of the grievance process is hard to justify.
I disagree. So strongly, in fact, that I had to speak out in the moment. I explained that I have seen some terrible travesties when it comes to tenure. I have friends whose tenure bids were tanked by colleagues who were threatened by them. I have heard stories about university-level committees where they made fun of journal names and research topics listed on candidates' vitae. Outside reviewers can be selected because they are friends of tenure review committee members, even if they are not the best or fairest judge of the candidate's area. There has to be recourse to the inappropriate or unfair denial of tenure, because it just isn't as rare as it could be.
Futher, and underlying this whole argument and the claim that the university is somehow not the "real world," the lawyer was basically misunderstanding and dismissing the intrinsic role of tenure in the success of the university. As I noted before, tenure is not just an issue of job security for (relatively) economically privileged elites. Tenure guarantees the chance for the best of education and research, uninhibited (or at least only marginally inhibited) by political, economic, and social pressures within and outside of the university.
I wanted to note that in the "real world" the counsel spoke of outside academe, workers are exploited, fired for being gay or lesbian, not hired due to race and ethnicity, not promoted because they have the wrong (family) values, and pressured to work longer than federal law allows. Workers in the real world organize in unions, protest, and challenge the rights of employers to dictate the terms of their employment. The EEOC deals with numerous claims of discrimination in the real world, discrimination based on protected categories such as age, ability, race, gender, and veteran's status. Do we want to support that world as somehow better than academe? Or is it just better for institutional counsel?
Universities constitute a growing segment of employers. According to the 2005 Census, there are over 4,000 colleges, universities, professional schools, and junior colleges, employing over 1,290,000 instructional staff. These are real jobs in the real world. Calling it something else is disrespectful and dismissive.
Monday, March 03, 2008
We spent yesterday reading and sipping drinks in beach chairs and then sampling some of the local cuisine.
We agreed to not check our email, and we have kept our word. We have been online checking the news and watching the storms ravaging the country (everyone who doesn't have a tornado/severe storm/snow and ice warning, raise your hand?)...
Today was a **very challenging** day. Three hours of spa time, including a facial, massage, and pedicure (mine are the red toes (and sunburned pink foot); the gf got "black cherry chutney"). I am sure I have been this relaxed...sometime, though I cannot recall when.
One more day of being off email...which is proving to be challenging to me, if not the gf. And my conference starts Wednesday night. Until then, I will be reading the biography of Audre Lorde and enjoying the storm outside.