Taking Back the Academy! History of Activism, History as Activism

By Jim Downs; Jennifer Manion | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5

What Is a University? Anti-Union Campaigns in Academia

KIMBERLY PHILLIPS-FEIN

Though I've had the conversation hundreds of times, I'm always a little bit nervous when I'm waiting outside a classroom. I peek in to make sure the class isn't over yet. I make sure that I have my cards. In this moment when I'm waiting for the conversation to begin, what I'm about to do always seems, just for a minute, daring, like a step into a new world.

Once the door opens, anything might happen. I will ask, right away, about some of the most intimate aspects of another person's life-money, childcare, health insurance, power, respect. I am not talking to a friend. I have, at this point, no personal relationship with the teacher behind the door. Yet I have learned more about graduate school from these conversations than I could ever know from my experience alone. I have listened to graduate students talk about the mechanics of credit card debt and the second jobs that they take on to pay it off. People have told me about all kinds of health problems. I have heard about being a single mother and facing the disdain of a department chair, and about what it feels like to be a new mother and teach a course with a newborn in a basket by the desk. A single mother has told me of the disdain of her department chair, and a new mother has described teaching a course with her newborn in a basket by the desk. People have confided in me about the power their advisors casually and genteelly wield. And I feel at times that I have learned as much about the anxieties and evasions of the academic life from the people who have turned away from me-too busy, shy or afraid to talk.

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