Thursday, September 21, 2006

More from Cal-i-for-ni-a

First, some photos. These is from the chair at my brother's table (kitchen/dining room) where I sit while doing my work here in fabulous San Rafael (and I walked over to the wall o'windows to take one, too)

So that's pretty nice.

I'm on to the "media" part of my trip now - or maybe I should say the framing part. First, thanks to Anat Shenker-Osorio, who works with Real Reason in SF, I went to a presentation by Alan Jenkins, who works with a NY-based organization called The Opportunity Agenda. Both Real Reason and the OA work with the concept of framing, though in different ways. I met with Anat afterward; she explained the cognitive-based model that they use (which is related to the work that comes out of the Rockridge Institute). I think OA's approach is more culturally-situated, but I'll learn more tomorrow (because I'm seeing Alan Jenkins again, this time with people from The SPIN Project - and then I'm meeting them afterward).

What all of these people/orgs have in common (which also stems from Rockridge in many ways) is the idea of working in a framework that reflects important values (like "opportunity"), and works toward a positive (this is the "don't negate the frame" idea). For a lot writing-related purposes, for ex., a framework like "opportunity" can work really well in some ways.

But for other writing-related purposes - like plagiarism-related stuff - "opportunity" doesn't work as well. So part of our challenge is to figure out a variety of frames, and then choose from them.... Hey! That sounds *just* like the ways we talk about writing! Hmm. But of course, a *bigger* part - a MUCH bigger part, in fact - is to develop some win-able campaigns that these frames represent, and to make SURE that we have data to support the claims we make in those campaigns.

I also spent a lot of time in the past couple of days thinking about the work of the organizer from the Industrial Areas Foundation who I observed. It's all related, of course. The IAF works very much on cultivating grass-roots leaders. They don't identify issues; they have issues come from individuals and then work to link those together. And they work from stories, stories, stories. This is a very, very effective strategy for building a broad and super diverse base, I think. There are elements of the model that can change - maybe in subtle ways, maybe not-so-subtle - the ways that we work on WPs. For ex., what would it look like to "do a round" at the beginning of every meeting and ask everyone to tell one story about why the find this work cool? And then, from there (not at every meeting...) to ask people: what fires you up? What makes you angry? (The IAF works a lot on passion, and passion is always linked to anger...) Then you get a good list going, and everyone can vote on what they want to focus on, then develop campaigns from there. They might take what the IAF calls "research actions" - actions to gather more data or investigate issues - and certainly would take some strategizing. The idea, too, is to involve others -- not have the organizer (or WPA) do the driving. Sure, we might not get to the issues that the WPA thinks are absolutely key to address... but we would get to issues that came up from others, and others would likely be a lot more involved, because they would be leading. It's not hugely different from what a lot of us do, but it puts it in a broader context, and then the framing/publicity piece can be useful to advance things. Anyway - that's what I'm thinking thus far, anyway.

When Eleanor, the IAF organizer, and I were chatting today, we also were talking about the state of things in this somewhat depressing world more generally. All we can do is keep doing this work, right? Because climbing into bed and pulling the sheets over our heads... that's a bad option. Right? Right.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

My California Trip

Even for me, I haven't been posting much - it's been busy for reasons I'll write about in a sec. I've also been posting to the new fabulous blog created by on-line smart guy and EMU media star Steve Krause, EMU Talk. Steve's blog became the site for information about the recent faculty unpleasantness at EMU. He wanted to move on - understandably. But there was so much momentum for talk about EMU, he made the new site. It apparently has many subscribers already. Very, very smart... actual conversation among subscribers, who seem to come from all walks of EMU life - students, faculty, etc.

So apart from posting to EMU Talk, which I've done a couple of times now, I haven't written much here because I'm in California doing research for the not-as-OMB (but it will start appearing a lot more now). I'm in the San Francisco/East Bay area, conducting interviews and shadowing a community organizer. I've talked to some very, very, veryveryveryvery smaaaaart people thus far. Here are a couple of thoughts from among the many, maybe not so coherent because I'm very tired!

*Building relationships is key (or alliances) - but the relationships have to come about around issues that arise from the interests of everyone _in_ the alliances. This is important - it means that I need to re-think the way I've defined the work involved with this change stuff I'm thinking about in some ways... rather than define the issues we might/could/should work on, the issues need to come up from the allies. And who are these allies? I can think about this on several levels: people in WPs, sure. People outside? They should be. Can we do that around/through some boundaries, though? I'm thinking about that... and I'll talk to people about it tomorrow, too.

*Framing is a really useful strategy, but sometimes it's presented as an end. If that's the end, what does it do?

There's more, too - and I will write about it later, when I'm not quite so tired (and The Colbert Report isn't blasting through my brother's many TV speakers).

One more thing about California, though - well, two.
1. The weather? It is faaaabbbbuuuullllooouuuuss. Fabulous. Beautiful, sunny, spectacular. This is a very beautiful place. The only problem is that if you (or I) want to go anywhere, it takes a lot of driving.

2. There's a lot of really, really, really good food here. On the Krause tastiness-ambience-cost scale, I've had nothing but 10-10-10s - even tonight, when we went to a burger place. But really gooood burgers - cheap, and we sat outside. How cool is that?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

EMU non-strike - request for fact-finding

This afternoon I attended the latest EMU-AAUP meeting. I was out of town for the last meeting (in Pittsburgh), so this was my first meeting since the strike started. For those who want to cut to the chase (and aren't reading Steve Krause's blog, which is really the official unofficial information source on the strike), I'll cut to the chase - the results of the meeting - before continuing:
*with the interests of EMU students firmly in mind, the AAUP has again taken the moral high road and asked the university to submit to fact-finding. This is apparently a lengthy process - months long - and while it takes place, we have agreed to teach under the terms of the old (expired) contract. The university must agree with this request, but come on -- do they really want faculty out there picketing? (No - don't answer that.)

*this means that faculty will be in the classroom, where we belong. Whew! But this struggle isn't over by a long shot.

The problem here, basically, is that there are forces at work - forces like, say, the regents - who don't seem to like faculty, value our work, or believe that we should have a union (or a contract, or any kind of humane working conditions). I don't think that many of our administrators share this belief, though I think that some at the top do.

Now, let me say this. I am a person who eats her proverbial lunch on working strategically with others. I have always proceeded from the assumption that it's best to work proactively, in the interests of shared governance and mutual cooperation, to avoid situations just like this. But it takes two to tango. I tend to be extremely, extraordinarily optimistic, too - but I just don't see the other side dancing here. It's a whole different level of working, but I'm rolling up my sleeves. This place is too good, our students too cool, to let our faculty (and our work) be dismissed and insulted.

So - not ideal because I see long-term work, but at least we're back in the classroom (and by "we" I'm speaking collectively, of course, because I remain on sabbatical)...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

My Trip to Pittsburgh, the economy, and the strike

As readers of Steve Krause's blog know well, EMU faculty are now in day 9 of our strike. I cannot begin to express how distressing this is. EMU is a fantastic place to work, and I feel confident - still - that when this is resolved it will remain a fantastic place to work. We have great faculty colleagues, a terrific new department head, a great dean (who is right now the head of the administrative negotiating team), a provost who cares... it's a great place. The problem is at the very tippy-top, and I hope the many layers between us and that layer stay in place.

But I'm just back from Pittsburgh, where I participated in a symposium sponsored by Bedford-St. Martins, publishers extraordinaire (and I mean that). I was doing a workshop on assessment that focused on identifying projects with the current national situation and the public policy issues stemming from that situation well in mind. It was a lot of fun - great conversations, smart folks. It was kind of ironic, being there and talking about all of this stuff with this strike going on.

While I was travelling, I had conversations with two Northwest flight attendants (barred by court injunction from striking; dealing with a 40% pay cut over the last few years, working for an airline that seems determined to drive its workers into the ground); a Northwest ticket agent (jobs being phased out after the holiday travel season; they will be 'replaced' by those automatic boarding-pass-issuing machines and a few outsourced workers); a cab driver whose wife worked for U.S. Air (union refused a contract with a moderate pay cut; jobs were eliminated and moved to Santo Domingo); and the driver of the shuttle to the airport parking lot where I left my car (non-unionized, working for $6.00/hour, can't leave the parking lot to eat lunch). I'm not sure where all of these conversations left me, apart from depressed. Our strike situation sucks, but I don't think we're in quite the same boat as these folks. Then again, it's the stinking Bush economy that's landed us all in this situation if you want to put it in really, really, really big picture terms. I'm trying not to be morose about all of this - and I did decide as I was getting on the plane from Pittsburgh to fly home that I just have to be very zen and trust that things will work out, short and long-term, but it's an incredibly difficult situation.

Meanwhile, I wrote an e-mail - at about 7 this morning, before I'd had any coffee - to John Fallon. Because it was so stinking early (and I was writing this in the lobby of the Pittsburgh Holiday Inn), I forgot to send myself a copy - and I was working on our webmail system, which doesn't save messages. But the gist of the thing was that as a faculty member in comp/rhet., where our jobs involve communicating with various audiences and helping students learn to do same, this situation is anethema; that our students are suffering enormously; that all the administration has to do is come back and *talk*, for goodness sake, and we could probably have this thing wrapped up. But I'm not sure they want it wrapped up. They haven't even sought a court injunction to get people back in the classroom, which is a move that I think many - maybe all - of the faculty would *love.*

Tomorrow, picketing around the EMU mansion. Of course, it's surrounded by security fences... but maybe it will make a difference. Hopefully. I hope.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Striking Faculty Member(s)

So as an EMU faculty member, I'm officially on strike. I've had mixed feelings about this strike all along - I don't think it was in the best interests of the university - but I also don't think that a contract that offered AAUP members a pay cut was in the best interest of the university, either. Be that as it may, the last contract offer apparently netted us a small pay increase. But the union turned it down (because that was their p**()*)(ing contest) and the administration walked away from the negotiations, saying that they're not returning until the strike has ended (because that's theirs). So now there's an impasse over what is probably something like 1/2 a percent or some such minimal amount. I think the union wasn't smart to take the offer, but I think the administration are being complete jerks. I'm sure that their negotiating team has little say in their actions - there are bigger powers, and bigger issues, at work here. And it sucks. Everyone should read Steve Krause's blog on this - he's more in touch with things than I am, and probably less morose, too.