SCMS came, conquered, and left Montreal. The beast is too big to tackle from our position of graduate students trying to begin a serious conversation on academic labour, but I open here a forum to share impressions on the issue during the 25-29 March 2015 Conference:
Graduate Teaching Workshop; politics and practical advice
Although addressing a key issue for academic labor discussions, this well intended workshop was focused entirely on the practical side through the presentations of four graduate students in different USA institutions, leaving all the politics to the emeritus professor (and former SCMS president) Virginia Wright Wexman.
It just felt odd to see PhD candidates embrace the teaching intensive environments in which they worked with the mantra of the “Market” (positioning oneself in it), leaving aside the reality of the casualization of academic labor (or how their universities are more than happy to have very, very cheap teaching). All they talked was about practical advice (what to do when asked the impossible), and how to create networks of solidarity to help “cope” with the exploitation. It had to be the respondent, a retired professor, who spelled the obvious; the “Market” you talk about doesn’t even exist anymore, so try to think about how those networks of solidarity can become unions, representing and defending the rights of Graduate Students as workers.
Her words didn’t seem to entice her fellow panelists and audience, who were more keen in forgetting about the reality of the job market and how institutions exploit the fears and aspirations of Graduate Students full of energy to insist in the “that’s how things are” angle. The questions remains then how to create the conversation in which all of these graduate students realize that things can also “not be the way they are”.
Homework for next SCMS?