Category: Education

The Limits of Liberalism at Harvard

One of the claims you hear a lot these days is that the new progressive coalition of the liberal left will consist of women, people of color, and urban professionals of the sorts you find at universities or in the media or Google or places like that. This coalition was first mooted by the McGovern campaign, and a lot of breathless commentary now sees the Democratic Party, particularly in its Clintonite wing, as the fruition of that vision. On any given night on Twitter, you’re sure to find some liberal journalist or academic braying about his happy association with this constellation of forces. But the recent, successful strike of Harvard’s dining hall workers, many of whom are women and people of color, is a useful demonstration of […]

Private Goods, from Florence Nightingale to Wendy Brown

Yesterday, Berkeley political theorist Wendy Brown gave a once-in-a-lifetime talk at the Graduate Center—the kind that reminds you what it means to be a political theorist—about the way in which financialization—not just privatization or corporatization—had transformed the academy. Through a deft re-reading of Max Weber’s two vocation lectures, Brown showed how much the contemporary university’s frenzied quest for rankings and ratings has come to mirror Wall Street’s obsession with shareholder value. In the course of her talk, Brown briefly dilated on the suspicion of public goods in today’s academy. She referenced one university leader saying, with no apparent irony, that the problem with state funding is that it comes with strings attached. The unsaid implication, of course, is that private funding is somehow free of […]

Upcoming Gigs

Despite my sense that I’m been saying no to any and all speaking and interview invitations, I somehow find myself in the upcoming weeks with quite a few gigs. Friday, October 14, 4 pm, CUNY Graduate Center, Room 4406: “Public Intellectuals in the Digital Age” Monday, October 17, 12 pm, University of Chicago, Political Theory Workshop: “Black State, White Market: The Capitalism of Clarence Thomas” Monday, October 17, 4:15, University of Chicago, Swift Hall, Room 106: A panel on graduate student unions. Wednesday, October 19, 7 pm, Brooklyn Commons, 388 Atlantic Avenue: “Katie Halper Show Live,” talking about the 2016 election; broadcast live on WBAI Tuesday, October 25, 12:30 pm, NYU: Roundtable on the election with Donna Murch, Cristina Beltrán, and […]

CUNY, All Too CUNY: Or, What Happens When Higher-Ed Hoodlums Aren’t Brought to Heel?

In August, I blogged about a New York Times story on a corruption investigation of City College President Lisa Coico. On Friday, the Times reported that Coico abruptly resigned. Today, the Times has a long piece on the corruption and potential criminality that led to Coico’s resignation (upon threat of firing). On the one hand, the piece paints a portrait of a college president so fantastically corrupt, it’s almost comical. Ms. Coico, who had an annual salary of $400,000 at that point [2011], was using the college’s main fund-raising vehicle, the 21st Century Foundation, to pay tens of thousands of dollars for housekeeping, furniture, seasonal fruits and organic maple-glazed nuts, among other items….By August 2011, according to an email between two school officials, the college had begun to […]

A Good Time for Revolution: On Strikes and the Harvard Man

Once upon a time, a Harvard Man knew how to handle a strike. In 1919, two hundred students answered Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell’s call to break the policemen’s strike. They patrolled the streets of Boston, barricaded Harvard Yard against thieves and thugs, and heaped antisemitic abuse on a young pro-strike instructor by the name of Harold Laski. The students, including all of the football team, made up 15% of the city’s strike breakers. “To hell with football,” said the coach, “if the men are needed.” What a difference a century makes. Unfamiliar with the bloody battles of yesteryear, less adept in matters of primitive accumulation, today’s ruling class is no longer repelled by strikes. It’s confused by them. So when Harvard’s dining hall workers go out on […]

Harvard, In Theory and Practice

Harvard in Theory: “Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are…to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged….an excessive rate of saving must on balance mitigate the burden of those bearing this hardship.” (John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, § 46) Harvard in Practice: When dining hall workers ask a university with a $36 billion endowment to pay them $35,000 a year plus health benefits, they’re forced out on strike.

Anti-Semitism at CUNY? At Brooklyn College? In the Department of Political Science?

Last spring, in response to claims and complaints of several pro-Israel groups, CUNY hired two attorneys, a former federal judge and former federal prosecutor, to investigate alleged anti-Semitism at CUNY. After six months of investigation—and God knows how many billable hours (partners at the firm where the two investigators work charge up to $1,000 an hour)—the investigators have issued their report. Among their findings: what anti-Semitism there is at CUNY (and some of the incidents documented here are genuinely anti-Semitic) has nothing to do with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Given that accusations against SJP were the main impetus for the complaint—the Zionist Organization of America, along with 35 New York elected officials, called for SJP to be suspended or banned from all CUNY […]

What happens when a history professor at Yale opposes a grad union but doesn’t know her history?

It’s not much of a mystery to me why tenured faculty oppose graduate employee unions. What is a mystery is why otherwise intelligent, accomplished, and careful scholars suddenly feel liberated from the normal constraints of argument—reason, evidence, that kind of thing—when they oppose those unions. Take this recent oped by Valerie Hansen, a professor of history at Yale. In the course of setting out her reasons against the recognition of Local 33 at Yale, Hansen says: One of the main tools available to unions is to strike. When employees strike at a company, their consumers lose services until management negotiates a new contract with the union. For example, a strike at Metro-North brings the suspension of train service and a decline in revenue […]

Save UMass Labor Center

My friend Eve Weinbaum—a professor of sociology who was, until recently, the director of the Labor Center at the University of Masschusetts—sent out this call about the Labor Center. I’ve known Eve for a quarter-century. She’s one of the most dedicated and talented educator/organizers I know. While I recognize that people may feel uncertain about weighing in on a campus conflict when they don’t know the players, there are few people in academia or the labor movement I trust more or hold in higher regard. Virtually everyone who knows Eve and her work feels the same way. I ask that you read her note carefully, take its contents seriously, and then take immediate action, along the lines of what she requests. Thanks. Corey * * * * * […]

On Corruption at CUNY

The New York Times reports this morning: The City University of New York is investigating whether a recent $500,000 donation intended to bolster the humanities and arts at its flagship school may have been improperly diverted. The inquiry was prompted by senior faculty members at the school, the City College of New York, who learned that an account that should have contained roughly $600,000, thanks to the donation, had just $76. Faculty members asked City College officials for an explanation, but were met with “silence, delay and deflection” before appealing directly the university’s chancellor, James B. Milliken. Mr. Milliken then asked Frederick P. Schaffer, the university’s general counsel and senior vice chancellor for legal affairs, to look into the “the expenditure […]

Honey, I’ve been slowly boring hard boards longer than you’ve been alive.

As I reported yesterday, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that graduate student workers are employees with full rights to organize a union. And today, the New York Times came out in favor of the decision in the strongest of terms. It’s hard for me to express what this means to me and scholars of my generation. (I apologize in advance for this trip down memory lane. As I said on Facebook the other day: the earth belongs to the living, this moment belongs to today’s grad student, not yesterday’s). As long-time readers of this blog know, I was actively involved in the TA organizing drive at Yale for about a decade. Reading the Times editorial, in fact, I recalled that […]

Great Minds Think Alike

In a pathbreaking ruling, the National Labor Relations Board announced yesterday that graduate student workers at private universities are employees with the right to organize unions. For three decades, private universities have bitterly resisted this claim. Unions, these universities have argued, would impose a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach on the ineffably individual and heterogenous nature of graduate education. Unions might be appropriate for a factory, where all the work’s the same, but they would destroy the diversity of the academy, ironing out those delicate and delightful idiosyncrasies that make each university what it is. As virtually every elite university now facing an organizing drive of its graduate students is making clear (h/t David Marcus for discovering and pointing me to these specific links). Here, for example, is Columbia: Here’s […]

Positions Available at Brooklyn College

The Department of Political Science at Brooklyn College is looking for an instructor or instructors to teach the following two courses: POLS 1005: Guns, Money, and Politics: Introduction to American Government. 4 credits. M, W, 9:05-10:45. POLS 3410: Radical Political Thought. 3 credits. M, W, 11-12:15 Both classes are capped at 25. If you are interested in either or both of these positions, please contact Corey Robin,, right away, as the first class meets in ten days, on Monday, August 29. Please share this announcement widely.

Why Clinton’s New Tuition-Free Plan Matters

The Clinton campaign made a major announcement today: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will pursue a debt-free college for all policy, including a proposal to eliminate the cost of college tuition for a significant portion of the public. … Clinton’s new proposals move her beyond previous statements that she would try to make college “as debt-free as possible“ and toward making “debt-free college available to all.” Clinton is adding three features to her plan for higher education policy, called the “New College Compact.“ They include eliminating tuition at in-state public universities for families making under $125,000 by 2021 and restoring year-round Pell Grant funding so students can take summer classes to finish school quicker. The plan isn’t great. I think […]

The Relentless Shabbiness of CUNY: What Is To Be Done?

The lead story in today’s New York Times is a devastating attack on CUNY, where I’ve been teaching for nearly two decades, and the state’s criminal under-funding of a once-great institution. An above-the-fold photograph of a library at one of CUNY’s senior colleges features students studying at tables, surrounded by buckets strategically placed to catch the gallons of water dripping down from the ceiling. It’s a near perfect tableau of what it’s like to teach at CUNY today: excellent, hard-working students, encircled by shabbiness, disrepair, and neglect. Though you should read the entire piece, here are some of the highlights. The infrastructure is collapsing The piece begins thus— On the City College of New York’s handsome Gothic campus, leaking ceilings have turned hallways into obstacle courses of buckets. […]

Respect for Three Administrators at Brooklyn College

I spend virtually all of my time here bashing CUNY administrators, so I feel it incumbent upon me to acknowledge their contributions when they come. As it happens, this year Brooklyn College is going to be losing three administrators whom I’ve come to have a great deal of respect for: Karen Gould, our president; Natalie Mason-Kinsey, our Director of Diversity and Equity Programs; and Mel Pipe, our Acting Assistant Provost. I’ve known Mel as both a fellow member of the faculty—she was professor and chair of psychology—and as the Acting Assistant Provost. What I really appreciated about her was her steadfast dedication to excellence and professionalism. Over the years, Mel has set a high standard of expectations for other chairs like […]

Today, I voted to authorize my union at CUNY to call a strike

This semester, I’m teaching our department capstone seminar, on the classics of political economy, in which students are expected to write a lengthy piece of original research. It’s an intense process for the students. We start with a one- to two-page précis. The students then write a detailed outline of the paper. Then they submit a rough draft (I just got the rough drafts yesterday and have begun reading them today). And then the final draft, which is due in a few weeks. My goal is twofold: first, to get the students to really dig into a topic (I’ve written about that here); second, to teach the students that old truism that all writing is just rewriting. I think the fancy ed folks […]

CUNY and NYS hypocrisy on academic freedom: okay to boycott North Carolina and Mississippi, but not Israel

The graduate students at CUNY voted today to support the call for an academic boycott of Israel. Good for them. The vote was greeted with unsurprising opposition from the CUNY Graduate Center administration and from CUNY Chancellor James Milliken. The Graduate Center stressed in a public statement that the vote is “not a resolution supported by the GC nor the university as a whole” and that the center is “opposed to academic boycotts which “directly violate academic freedom.” “We are disappointed by this vote from one student group,” a statement from CUNY’s Chancellor James B. Milliken read, “but it will not change CUNY’s position.” … In the lead up to the vote, Milliken already made clear that he opposed the doctoral […]

Once upon a time, leftists purged from American academe could find a refuge abroad. Not anymore.

During the Cold War, leftist scholars purged from American academe at least had the opportunity, sometimes, to start again outside the country. That’s how Moses Finley became Sir Moses Finley, the internationally acclaimed classicist at Cambridge. That’s how Chandler Davis, aka Mr. Natalie Zemon Davis, became an internationally acclaimed mathematician at the University of Toronto. But now it seems as if even that escape route is being denied to Steven Salaita, who was unanimously recommended by a search committee for a position at the American University of Beirut, only to have the university’s president scuttle the search. There’s a petition circulating here; please sign it.

I love my students

I’m not one of those professors who says, “I love my students,” but…I love my students. This semester, I’m teaching the department capstone seminar. For the first half, I have the students read classics of political economy, from Aristotle through Gary Becker. In the second half, they choose a book about the contemporary political economy, and write an analysis of it through the lens of, or against the grain of, one of our class readings. They also do a class presentation of their final papers, something I haven’t tried since my first year at Brooklyn College. So tonight was our first night of presentations. One student had chosen as his text Mark Blyth’s Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, […]