Monday, April 27, 2009

What Do We Hope to Accomplish?

The answer to my question may seem obvious: we want a better environment in which to teach and in which our students can learn. The quality of our leadership, it may seem, is the most important determinant of the quality of the learning and teaching environments.

I disagree. I believe that what most improves our learning and teaching environments is our fight to make these better. For, as one of us suggested about last Wednesday's rally, when we fight against the trustees' turning CSU into a patronage warehouse for Chicago insiders, we teach the most important lessons. When our students engage in the same struggle, they teach us. That is, I disagree with the spirit (as I understand it) or Steve's last post and also, I believe, with some of what Phillip and Corday have written. The important thing is less what the governor does than what we do.

I do not believe that better leadership from either the BOT or from the administration is what we should be fighting for. These leadership groups will operate from the imperatives which are built into the meaning of operating a university in the current social and political environment. An example may help. Several years ago I was involved, along with other members of Progressive Labor Party and many community activists, in a struggle centered on the Chicago Public Schools, particularly the increasing segregation within the schools, the turning of all-black public high schools into punitive warehouses with diminishing opportunity for students, and the obvious racism of these trends. I asked a CSU administrator to join me in publicizing a forum at Chicago State where we would discuss and expose these problems in the CPS and the role of the Vallas leadership in creating them. The administrator declined, saying that the university depended on a cordial relationship with the CPS leadership to enhance teaching opportunities for our graduates.

Note the implications of that reply. First, that administrator meant well, trying to do the best by the students in the current social and educational climate. But that climate was increasingly racist for black and latin students in the schools. So in pursuing the interests of our students in obtaining jobs in an increasingly racist public school system, the administrator would not challenge that growing racial segregation and racial disadvantage and injustice. Langston Hughes noted exactly the same phenomenon in the HBCs he visited in the South in the 1930s.

The point of this apparent digression is that our struggle must be a broader struggle for social justice. The current political leadership in the city and state will not advance that struggle. That job is our job and our students' job. We are the leadership we need.


  1. I completely agree with Paul that our goal is "a better environment in which to teach and in which our students can learn." I also agree that our struggle must be part of a broader struggle for social justice. However, I don't think that these efforts of broader struggle exclude the need for efforts to replace the existing BOT and find responsible, ethical, and thoughtful leaders who can serve on the BOT and as president of the university. In fact, I think we have to work at multiple levels here, so that we don't assume that any one set of actions will necessarily lead to the outcome we want.

    In other words, I disagree that the current efforts to replace the BOT necessarily imply that we think that "[t]he quality of our leadership, it may seem, is the most important determinant of the quality of the learning and teaching environments." I simply recognize that having better leadership from the BOT and the president -- specifically leadership that recognizes the importance of faculty and students and sees its goal as facilitating our efforts -- would assist faculty and students' efforts to improve the quality of the learning environment at CSU. In saying this, I argue (along with Paul I think) that the efforts of faculty and students are the most important for creating a good learning environment at CSU.

    So, I hope our current efforts will just be the start of our continued shared work to create the best environment for learning at CSU. Perhaps a future part of our work will be discussing what that really means.

  2. While Steve was not there when I had the conversation mentioned with an administrator, I would be interested in how he might address the specific point I was making: the administrator meant well and was doing their best by their own lights, but the admin. was looking to advance student interests in the context of a racist school system, hence was reproducing the racism of that system. My point is that by focusing so intently on the nature of leadership, we obscure what I believe is the main point, that any leadership will promote the functions of the unviversity in a racist society. It is our job to address this broader issue of social justice, something that the administration cannot do, given their social role.