Natinal Adjunct Walkout Day and Ohio State

UPDATE: As of 12:46 est, 2.22.15, I have received a reply to my letter. It is clear that the reply attempts to address my concerns sincerely, and I am thankful for it. According to their response, “We would LOVE a larger protest, but in order to have a successful walk-out, there must be a substantial number of people who agree to walk out, and this takes a lot of time and organizing, especially for a big campus.  ADD is the first step in building a bridge between where we are at right now and where we want to be. We made an assessment of what our capacities are and have proceeded accordingly. We felt it would be reckless for us to exceed our capabilities.”

As sympathetic as I am to this line of reasoning, and as appreciative as I am of the work that a broad organization like this can do/has done, I do not regret raising an issue about the language that was used. That language in the original email carries an implication that ADD is to replace NAWD, rather than to accompany it. If OHEC is responsible for doing most of the organizing around this issue, then I believe they had a responsibility to present February 25th as a day with all the options on the table. The potential for mass walk-outs seems to have been stifled before the fact–albeit for perhaps sober reasons. In spite of all the organizing that has been motivated to make February 25th effective, it also seems that a judgement call was made regarding walk-outs, which I find unfortunate. Suggested actions and options for protest would have gone much farther in my book than a “designated” day “in lieu” of “walking-out”. In short, I don’t understand at all why it was necessary to preclude walk-outs from the discussion completely.

Nevertheless, the bottom line is this: If you are in any way involved in higher education, please think of what is within your power to do on February 25th, National Adjunct Walkout Day.

On February 19, the Ohio Higher Education Coalition circulated an email that was, I believe, an earnest attempt to rally allies around the cause of adjunct exploitation in higher education. However, it is my view that their email also severely undermined the potential efficacy of such solidarity in a move that reads, “don’t rock the boat too much.”

February 25 is National Adjunct Walkout Day, a day of protest meant to highlight the corporatization of higher education in this country that has contributed to–among other issues–the two twin crises of adjunct exploitation and high student debt. The debt needs no explanation; the adjunct issue may. But make no mistake: these issues are two sides of the same coin. In the past thirty years, higher education administrators have continued to pay themselves more, while increasing tuition. At the same time, student money does not go towards paying teachers; instead, the job “professor” as traditionally understood is being slowly phased out, and replaced by “adjunct faculty”. This helps administrators keep the money going to where they want it, instead of to teachers, because adjuncts are contract workers who are payed on average below the poverty line; they have no employment benefits; they can be fired at any time without warning; and they are not payed for the work that they do, adding up, as it may, to more work than their full-time colleagues.

I attend the Ohio State University, recently named in an Institute for Policy Studies report as the number one “most unequal public university in the country“, which in this case means that as administrator pay has skyrocketed, so has student debt. Of course, adjuncts now make up more than 70% of the professors teaching, and their wages are plummeting.

The point of this post is the following: the Ohio Higher Education Coalition has summarily and preemptively dismissed walking out as a viable form of action on National Adjunct Walkout Day, instead “designating” the 25th “Adjunct Dignity Day” “in Ohio”. While the email is also filled with helpful materials for organizing, I find the language of dismissal shocking and unilateral. Apparently, at the most unequal university, and one of the largest potential sites for resistance, a group claiming to speak for the entire state has declared that Ohio State is to have to part in a national walkout movement.

I have posted both the original email, as well as my response below. I have omitted individual names except my own. I have not heard a response as of this posting, but with the 25th only three days away, I felt I could not wait any longer.

Original Email

My Letter

Small Songs

Alex has posted some recordings of the most recent gig that we played. They are a little rough, but mostly will give a very good sense of the kinds of strange approaches that we are trying to navigate in that band. Namely:

1. A collapse of the roles of improvisation, melody, harmony, and rhythm

2. An equal emphasis on maintaining the spirit of the compositions and on making them our own

3. An effort to balance the source material with original material

So far these things have been worked out in rehearsal. Alex will bring in a small sketch that he has transcribed from a recording of one of his piano students, and we will play through it. Then there is usually this weird phase where we kind of ‘feel’ what ‘needs to be done’ with the material. It is an experience I have only had a handful of times, as typically the musicians I have worked with bring in music that is at least mostly conceptualized. It is a really challenging and fun change.

While we have come to some solutions on a tune by tune basis, I think that the idea of the band as a whole is still very much undecided. For example: all of our songs so far have been combinations of original material, student compositions, and impromptu ideas about how to arrange those ideas; we have not yet written any completely original material. Should we? Is it better to keep working from the students’ music? If so, how can we incorporate structures that ensure our “natural approach” to these tunes does not become monotonous?

These questions, for me, imply three levels of improvisation: first in the tunes themselves, each time they are performed; second as a slow process that collectively interprets source material and what should be done with it; and third, an even slower process that will result from continuing the first two over an extended period of time. In the end, we may come to some sort of an idea regarding what the band is “about”. On the other hand, it might be interesting if we don’t.

Blogs, Shows

Of course, I periodically fall in and out of blogging. This is not on account of the fact that blogging is apparently dead (you wouldn’t know it given Aaron’s recent tear), but directly corresponds with periods of flux. In other words, it is difficult to write about what you’re doing when what you’re doing is up in the air.

One thing that I have slowly pieced together for myself during this most recent period of change is not how I am transitioning from one discipline to the next, but how both of them are crucial to make the other work. I enjoy my academic work more after working on music, and vice-versa. This is all to say that as I figure out what I’m doing, I always also feel like returning here to write about it.

At any rate, I’m playing this show tonight, if you’re in Columbus. Alex Burgoyne‘s Small Songs band plays improvised music based on compositions by his young piano students. We’re talking like eight year-olds. More on this and other topics soon.