|By Heike Schotten, Assistant Professor of Political Science, UMass Boston, PHENOM Board
When I first heard about the California Faculty Association’s (CFA) National Higher Education meeting, I knew I wanted to attend. CFA is the faculty union for the California State University system. This experienced group of activists had sent out a call to public higher education faculty across the U.S. to convene in Los Angeles in January 2011 to build a movement for public higher education.
All I knew about them was their call to action and the draft statement of principles they put together—which I found compelling.
I packed my bag and headed to LAX, strangely eager to spend an entire weekend networking with other faculty inside a hotel whose biggest selling point was that it was a short shuttle ride from the airport. I was not disappointed. The folks from CFA were smart, competent, gracious, and well organized. They greeted us with food, an agenda, capable staff, and incisive analysis.
Over 70 faculty from 21 states attended the conference. They came from Massachusetts and Vermont, Texas and Nebraska, Washington and Hawaii. Many were involved in their local unions, though not all, and some were leaders of their statewide unions. Everyone had similar problems and political positions with regard to privatization, student debt, elimination of programs, administrator salary raises, state disinvestment, and the movement away from education and toward “job training.” Refocusing the conversation, energy, and resources on quality, affordable, accessible public higher education for all was the shared conclusion.
Everyone agreed that this new movement we were there to build must go beyond unions as its organizing base and, to be truly grassroots, include not only faculty but students, parents, and everyday citizens and residents of the U.S. All of these people have a stake in accessible public higher education.
We all recognized that affordable, quality public higher education is an issue that everyone in the U.S. should care about, and that working toward this goal can reinvigorate an increasingly defunct and abandoned public sector. It became clear that if we, the direct and most obvious stakeholders in our work, do not stand up and fight for it, public higher education will gradually be diluted and destroyed.
The campaign was launched on, May 17, 2011 when CFA President Lillian Taiz led off the group of faculty from around the country and leaders of national organizations who addressed the National Press Club in Washington DC.
The continued connection I have had with the people at this conference since January inspires hope for the future of this movement. It has the potential to ignite a national conversation and even a national transformation regarding the place of public higher education in this country. I hope that PHENOM will be an active participant.
[The campaign principles and the national launch video can be found at Futureofhighered.org]