Duke Contingent Faculty Speak Out for Fair Wages in Open Letter

We have been asked by organizers from Duke University's union for contingent faculty to publish this open letter, which speaks to Provost Sally Kornbluth about their frustration with ongoing negotiations with the university administration. Many of us at Tropics of Meta have experience with the labor movement, including the efforts to gain union representation for graduate student employees and adjunct instructors at a number of universities.  We believe strongly that the crisis of both academic employment and quality higher education can only be solved by workers themselves having a strong voice.  Otherwise, college and university administrators will continue to take advantage of academic … [Read more...]

Ansley Erickson and Kevin Kruse on the Many Histories of Segregation

A few weeks ago, we shared the first episode of the new podcast series Doomed to Repeat with a circle of our friends and colleagues--a sort of "soft open."  But we're ready to begin rolling out episodes of the first season on a regular basis over the next few months.  We're hoping to offer conversations with historians and other experts on issues as different as the history of craft beer, the anti-vaccination movement, and the long and fascinating evolution of America's relationship with Russia.  And we hope to do so in a loose and informal way, with a bit of humor and an eye toward how these histories intersect with the problems facing the world today. In our first episode, we get to chat … [Read more...]

Introducing Doomed to Repeat, the Podcast with a Toothache in Its Heel

Listen to episode one, on the promise and pitfalls of school desegregation, here. Why, hello there! Glad you could check in! Have you ever wanted to hear what this blog would sound like in audio form? Have you wanted to hear experts talk about what they know best, but brought into a conversational style? Aren’t you at least a little curious about what editor Alex Cummings sounds like? It’s not as awkward as you might think! (Editor's note: it is.) Over the past few months Alex and I have been developing a podcast companion to Tropics of Meta that we are calling Doomed to Repeat. My name is Nic Hoffmann. You may have seen me on this blog before, and now I am here to talk in a much more … [Read more...]

The Triumph of the TA: Graduate Students and the Future of Postindustrial Labor

On Tuesday afternoon, I got the most welcome news I’ve gotten in a long time. In a 3-1 vote, the National Labor Relations Board reversed a Bush-era decision that denied graduate student employees at private universities the right to unionize. This news might seem both trivial and esoteric.  After all, the wording of the last sentence implies an exceedingly narrow and likely small slice of the overall workforce—that’s the esoteric part. And the fact that it has to do with, to a significant extent, PhD students at the likes of Yale, NYU, and Columbia—well, we are not exactly talking about an eleven-year-old toiling in the dark Satanic mill of yore.  Such students might seem privileged and … [Read more...]

Anti-Mexican Graffiti at UC San Diego: Towards a Structural Analysis and Solution

On the morning of Saturday April 9, 2016, members of the University of California San Diego (UCSD) community woke up to the following message drafted by a fellow student: Last night at approximately 10.00pm, five hooded White male adults were seen writing pro-Trump propaganda as well as violently racist and xenophobic quotes such as “build the wall”, “deport them all”, “fuck Mexicans”, “Mexico will pay”, and “make America great again”. The placing of these chalk quotes and timing means that these five men knew exactly what they were doing: targeting the Chicanx and Latinx community by placing them outside the Raza Resource Centro – partaking in a larger system of violence where Chicanx and … [Read more...]

Black History Month Part III: Race, Taxes and Schools in Compton, CA

“To be educated in my Baltimore mostly meant always packing an extra number 2 pencil and working quietly,” writes Ta-Nehisi Coates in his recent work, Between the World and Me. “Educated children walked in single file and on the right side of the hallway, raised their hands to use the lavatory, and carried the lavatory pass when en route. Educated children never offered excuses – certainly not childhood itself. The world had no time for the childhoods of black boys and girls. How could the schools?”[1] Coates’ work, amounts to a long rueful, cautionary love letter to his son, describing his own upbringing in West Baltimore, coming of age at The Mecca (aka Howard University in Washington, … [Read more...]

Civil Rights History at Tropics of Meta

Martin Luther King Day is unique among American holidays, in the sense that it does not commemorate a religious event like Christmas or Easter, a cultural tradition like Thanksgiving or Halloween, or a former president.  Indeed, MLK Day is the only major holiday in the United States that celebrates the role of a political dissident - there is no William Lloyd Garrison or Susan B. Anthony or Ida Tarbell or Eugene Debs Day in the US.  It gives us occasion to consider the role of activism and political struggle in the making of our (hopefully) "more perfect union." In that sense, it is perhaps the most American of holidays. To commemorate the legacy of Dr. King, we have looked back at some … [Read more...]

Atlanta Loses Its Greatest Listener: Cliff Kuhn, 1952-2015

It is with deep regret that we mark the passing of Clifford M. Kuhn, associate professor of History at Georgia State University and executive director of the Oral History Association, who died on Sunday after a devastating and unexpected heart attack. Anyone who knew Cliff understood what it was for a human being to be passionate about history. Cliff was no career climber, no indulger of superficial gestures or academic fads. He didn’t care about money or fame; as the great poet and essayist Wendell Berry once put it, there are “boomers” and “stickers” in life—and Cliff was definitely a sticker. He cared deeply about learning, and he made his career at Georgia State beginning in 1994, … [Read more...]

Information Goes to School

Education is a classic example of the confusion that arises when we reframe all different kinds of economic sectors in terms of information. A scholar once challenged my critique of the idea of the information economy, asking during a talk if it was not true that piracy undermined the economy by threatening the livelihood of people who make intellectual property. “I produce intellectual property,” he said, “and I think it deserves to be protected.” My response was only to ask how many people actually produce intellectual property. “In this room,” I said, looking around a seminar full of history professors, “that number is approaching 100%.” The answer may seem simple in the company of … [Read more...]

Educating Compton: Race, Taxes, and Schools in Southern California’s Most Notorious Suburb

[For more on Compton and its complex demographic change see an earlier ToM piece, "Compton as the Bellwether for Urban America"] "I want [my children] to have more success in life," Ismenia Guzman told an L.A. Weekly journalist in 2010. "I want to change the cycle ... I want them to have more than I have," Guzman, mother of two, one a first grader at Compton's McKinley Elementary and the other a student attending Watts Charter High School, succinctly summarized the goals of Parent Revolution as it attempted to reform Compton's troubled grade school. 1 Parent Revolution, a product of the Los Angeles Parents Union, organized disgruntled Compton parents frustrated over McKinley's poor … [Read more...]