Betsy DeVos: Educational Corporatization by Any Means Necessary

With regard to Trump and his educational agenda, there is no clearer symbol of where he wants to go with education than his Secretary of Education pick, Betsy DeVos. Some of you out there have probably received emails from various groups asking you to contact your senators and to tell them to oppose DeVos’s appointment.

But many of you don’t know just how bad a pick she is, or its impact on adjunct/contingent faculty, particularly those who work at public institutions.

First, unlike the students we see in the public system, DeVos was born into tremendous wealth, her father Edgar Prince having been an industrialist who founded the Prince Corporation, an auto parts supplier.  She later married Richard Marvin “Dick” DeVos Jr., heir to the Amway fortune. She herself is the product of private Christian Schools, and has never been a student at a public institution.  Further, she has no direct experience in public education, either as a teacher, administrator, or even a school board trustee. Ironically, in spite of her elite, privileged, and ideologically narrow upbringing , she asserts of her educational activism that she has been “a fighter for the grassroots.”

Her real claim to fame within the Republican Party is that she has been a tireless party advocate, and more importantly, a heavy fundraiser.

As a self-styled educational reformer, DeVos is a champion of school choice, and favors the use of public funds in the form of school vouchers to allow children to attend public school.  Her real motivation for this position is likely driven by her Christian faith.

As for her “success” in achieving educational reform, her record is less that exemplary.  Detroit’s charter school system, for which she was in large part responsible, was, in the words of Douglas Harris, a Brookings Institution Fellow and Founding Director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, even acknowledged by educational reformers as “the biggest school reform disaster in the country.” As for her specific actions regarding the Detroit Charter School system, Harris further wrote:

She devised Detroit’s system to run like the Wild West. It’s hardly a surprise that the system, which has almost no oversight, has failed. Schools there can do poorly and still continue to enroll students. Also, after more than a decade of Ms. DeVos’s getting her way on a host of statewide education policies, Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of five states with declining reading scores.

Perhaps more troubling, especially for those of us in Higher Ed, and particularly adjunct/contingent faculty, is her notion of the US Public Education System as a “dead end,” and, in a thinly-veiled argument for both school choice and the view of  public schooling as “an industry,” stated:

As long as education remains a closed system, we will never see the education equivalents of … Facebook, Amazon . . . Wikipedia, or Uber.

Perhaps then, DeVos feels the US education system should aspire to allowing fake information like Facebook, working its employees to death like Amazon, creating reference material from open and questionable sources like Wikipedia, or reducing the entire educational workforce to independent contractors (that’s right, just like adjunct/contingent faculty) like Uber.

Finally. For those of you who care about academic freedom, consider this, Besty DeVos, in describing her motivation for school reform stated:

Our desire is to be in that Shephelah, and to confront the culture in which we all live today in ways that will continue to help advance God’s Kingdom, but not to stay in our own faith territory.

I suppose some could find comfort in the words “outside our own faith territory” except when thinking of what she has said further in this regard:

It goes back to what I mentioned, the concept of really being active in the Shephelah of our culture — to impact our culture in ways that are not the traditional funding the-  Christian-organization route, but that really may have greater Kingdom gain in the long run by changing the way we approach things — in this case, the system of education in the country

Shephelah, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a plot of land the Israelites fought over with the Philistines, and the desire to have the land was that he/she who controlled it, would in turn control the people.  Another way to think of such thinking is to know it as “Dominionism” which can loosely be defined as the belief that one needs to create a nation governed by Christians based on their interpretation of Biblical Law.

For those Philistines among us, DeVos’s quest for Shephelah should be a cause of grave concern.

As confirmation hearings are soon upon us, it is urgent that you act to oppose the DeVos nomination, that is, if you value Public Education, Worker Rights, and Academic Freedom;  DeVos is clearly a threat to all of the above.

Geoff Johnson

A Good Adjunct

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Trump: Nationwide Adjunctification without Union Representation

Since Trump won in November, I knew we (adjunct/contingents) were screwed, but to get at the full degree of just where things would go, it took me to see the latest proposal being pushed out there regarding Trump and federal employees to get the full searing sense of what the outcome might look like.

Understand, that it was a given that Trump, whose own record with unions is deplorable at best, would not only seek to put an end to public employee union agency fees ala the Friedrichs case that was halted with the death of Antonin Scalia last year, but, in a nod to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, will seek out National “Right-to-Work” Legislation.

It is also clear, in his railing against “regulations,” that on-the-job worker protections will be seriously rolled back.

But what Trump is truly after is the very notion of worker’s rights, or anything that has to do remotely with the notion of collective bargaining.

Just introduced, the “Promote Accountability and Government Efficiency” Act (H.R. 6278), and sponsored by Todd Rokita (Republican, Indiana 4th District), seeks to do the following, and here I quote for the AFL-CIO Action Network:

  1. Completely change the federal pay system, and prohibits all pay raises — including annual pay raises — unless you get a 4 or 5 out of 5 performance rating.
  1. Make all new federal workers “at will,” meaning they can be fired without explanation.
  1. Allow immediate suspension for current workers for performance or conduct and only ten days for appeal.
  1. Eliminate official time, so that union representatives can no longer work to protect your pay, your benefits or your job during the work day.

Read the bill for yourself

In case you don’t get it, the passage of such a bill would have trickle down effects.  If you can make all federal workers “at will” employees, why not all public employees, and in particular teachers?

Consider that the first provision effectively ends the concept of a COLA, or cost-of-living allowance, so as things get more expensive, your salary may not rise, unless you toady well, or are like that shiny new penny to your evaluator or administrator.

With the second provision, say goodbye to not only tenure, but ultimately the push for priority re-hire rights for Adjunct-Contingent faculty. And understand, this is not just a job issue.  Tenure was created to serve as a protection which is at the heart of Higher Education:  Academic Freedom.

Imagine, while you’re on vacation over the Summer being told you’re terminated, only to find out you missed the appeal window, because you were unaware.  Further, consider that if, even at a single institution, there were just 10-20 cases in a given term, your grievance team would likely be overwhelmed, especially considering they couldn’t do any union work during the day.

And by the way adjuncts, over the past few years dealing with grievance, I’ve seen a number of these cases, as many administrators like to use the “Summer exit plan” to get rid of what they deem as “pesky adjuncts.”  They have and will be coming after you.

Number four on the list is effectively a union killer.  If you read the bill, it calls for the prohibition of any union activity using, and I quote “any Government property (including office space or computers.”  This means, if you have a complaint, you can’t even email me (a union rep) from the office, or use the school email to do so.  We also couldn’t meet with you on campus.

You say this is unconstitutional, and a violation of our first amendment rights.  Well, now that’s determined by the Supreme Court, whose immediately future justices will be chosen by none other than our Union-hating President Trump.

If there has never been a time for adjuncts, teachers, public employees, and workers in general to not stand up and resist and resist loudly, this is it.

Here’s a first step to take, but it’s not enough.

Adjuncts need to publicly rally on all Campuses to speak our cause and the cause of workers in general. For those of you on other campuses, mass Spring action  is not only called for, it’s essential.

Adjunct Action Day At Southwestern College and in the San Diego Community College District is Wednesday, February 22nd.  You can bet this will be part of the discussion.

Geoff Johnson

A Good Adjunct