The Temple University Graduate Student Association is on strike. They have been striking since January 31 in order to get fairer wages for the considerable amount of work they do as graduate students and instructors. In response, on February 8, Temple University ended their tuition-remission, sent the strikers a bill for the semester, cancelled their health insurance, and hired adjuncts to replace them. It seems like a strategic move on the part of the university to destroy the liberal arts graduate program and it seems to be working. While some major news outlets have covered the strike, and prominent politicians have called for Temple to negotiate, little has changed in the last couple weeks.
This is more or less consistent with my experience at Temple, both with the administration and the professors. Neither were too concerned with the paltry living conditions of graduate students or the dismal state of graduate education in the liberal arts. They needed first-year survey courses taught at a discount rate and they let graduate students teach those courses in exchange for a small stipend and progress towards a mostly meaningless degree. I place more blame on the professors than most, as they are fundamental in upholding this system of exploitation as a means of furthering their careers in the dying days of the liberal arts. We expect administrators to cut costs – after all, it is their job to maximize profits. Professors, however, pretend to be liberal while upholding medieval institutions, absolving themselves of any responsibility while pointing a finger at adminstration.
As the strike continues, I wish the best to the graduate students who are fighting for better wages and urge them to walk away from the university and get a job that pays fair wages.
I leave you with a passage from a book about Starbucks by the Temple Professor Bryant Simon, who, ironically, studies labor movements. While his book is about the deception of corporate America, it might as well describe public universities: “Pretty quickly, I stopped seeing the company as an engine of community. Instead, I saw it as a mythmaker offering only an illusion of belonging and meeting its customers’ desire for connections in form, maybe, but surely not in substance. Once I came to this conclusion, I started to dig deeper into the company’s other promises–great working conditions, musical discovery, fair treatment of farmer, and concern for the environment. Every time I went excavating, the stories turned out to be more complex, more heavily edited, and more ambiguous than I had first thought. Each time, it became clear that Starbucks fulfilled its many promises only in the thinnest, most transitory of ways and that people’s desires went largely unfulfilled.”