"We are UIC, Students and Faculty:" Mad as hell and not taking it any more

"We are UIC, Students and Faculty:" Mad as hell and not taking it any more

Remember that famous scene from Network when Peter Finch urges everyone in America who does not feel valued in a chaotic world to open their windows and yell, “I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!” 



Faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago were channeling Finch Tuesday and Wednesday February 18 and 19 as they hit the picket lines. Key issues included a living wage for non-tenure track professors, merit raises for all faculty, and increased faculty governance in university issues. The real issues, according to many sources, seem to be running the university like a corporation: think a bloated, increasingly inefficient management that operates on a “trickle down” philosophy of economics. 

The result of paying attention only to the bottom line: those who actually teach the students and fulfill the public mission of the university as a place where first generation college students can receive a quality education from respected teachers and scholars in their fields can actually climb out of a low-wage trap, end up thirsty. 

And in some cases, especially among the lecturers, or non-tenure track faculty, end up literally starving unless they work a second job. 

There's been plenty of coverage on the news, reaching national levels, so I won't belabor you with any more of the issues.


Check out this link for some key information. 

UIC faculty strike picket line

What I find most significant here, thinking of a larger public context that embraces what I argue is the ensuing collapse of the middle class, is how this strike brings to the surface some of the social problems affecting today's “millenial generation,” especially LBGT college-age youth. 

LGBT college-age youth in urban areas similar to those UIC serves pretty much (I can't make a generalization that all or even the majority do, given the cultural diversity of their backgrounds) can be open about their sexuality. UIC even provides a Center on Gender and Sexuality. The social support is there, even thriving. Overt homophobia is unacceptable, even criminal, in such public contexts. 

And the millenials, including LGBT youth, also know how to use an awesome force at their disposal to create communities and really impact the world: social media. 


We are the 99 percent

But what is the problem in this scenario? Why does this historic strike show that the youth and those who teach them are at a tipping point? 

I think it mostly has to do with the economic collapse of the middle class exacerbated by the Great Recession. A family struggling to pay a mortgage while living on unemployment benefits is not going to be able to provide a personal college fund, and tuition costs even at a public university are rising. (And the tuition is not paying for the education, as the reasons for the strike outlined in the link above show.) 

It used to be in the nineteenth and for much of the twentieth century going to a university was the province of the rich and well-connected (any university), but now it seems that the children of the rich (in many cases, those who made it out of the working class) are once again the ones able to afford a university education, either public or private. 

(And it certainly helps that their well-heeled and well-connected parents can set them up at an early age with tutors and get them the prestigious internships. These days, how many children of the working class who may have superlative potential end up not getting into an elite private university, much less a public one, because Mom and Dad, exhausted from working three jobs, didn't know how to connect them with the right internships or could not pay for expensive tutoring programs.) 

Ultimately, why has the pattern of inequality, which emphasizes prestige, not merit, repeated itself? 

After World War II, with the G.I. Bill, and later, the social revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s, getting out of the blue and pink collar “ghettos” seemed at one point a distinct possibility for the children of cooks, welders, legal secretaries, and retail managers. 

But now the children of a new generation of working class parents are struggling with the results of the Great Recession and the trickle down economics that most probably brought it on. Many students at a community college or public university are trying to work full-time (at a low-wage job) and go to school full-time, may have a child to raise, and may be actually supporting an unemployed single parent. 


Pulling a rock up a mountain

Let me state the obvious: It's hard to concentrate on one's studies if one is worrying about one's next meal. There's a profound difference between a temporary voluntary poverty that may afflict one in graduate school and a lifetime of struggling for basic necessities. For LGBT college students, ongoing identity and socialization issues can exacerbate this dynamic of hopelessness. It seems easy to just give up, go for that least common denominator, and in some cases, end up drifting into addictive and dangerous behaviors like crystal meth consumption and unsafe sex. 

It's time for a major value shift, maybe not a shift, but a return, adjusted to a more inclusive social context, to a system that respects people for what they actually do for others, not how much money they make or how they look. And passing on lovingly, powerfully supported by others with the same love, knowledge and its older sister, wisdom, would seem to me to be greatest “do.” 

Support UIC Faculty United. Support a future of equality and justice for everyone. 

And don't be afraid to shout out your window (or text on your phone or record on youtube) that you are a person with value. Yes, be mad as hell about what's wrong with the world (not just you), but use that anger to change it for the better.




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