Recently, I caught wind of an unpaid post* on the website Full Stop, by grad student Laura Goldblatt,*** that characterized my now very-much over December mini-skirmish with Claire Potter as such:
This winter, Rebecca Schuman and Chronicle of Higher Education columnist Tenured Radical came to (fiberoptic) blows over a discussion of interviewing practices in higher education. Using increasingly overwrought pronouncements about unfair hiring practices, the pair described adjunct professors and graduate students as the most exploited members of a rigged game, the disjecta membra of the knowledge industry. Never once did either mention the plight of dining service workers, janitors, or groundskeepers at universities. Their idea of exploitation apparently failed to register either as academic labor or precarity.
I’ll cop to “overwrought”–that’s my MO, after all. But the idea that I “fail to register” the exploitation of workers who don’t happen to be adjunct professors, simply because they were not included in the scope of a very specific argument about a very specific incident, is…now what is the most intellectual, erudite way of phrasing this? Oh yes, it’s fucking preposterous.
Goldblatt’s narration of the Italian skirmishes around precarity was very interesting and worth considering. But to function, that argument needed some straw-women–few academic labor advocates, if any, would ever, ever classify themselves as anything other than in full solidarity with our working brothers and sisters everywhere. Including New Faculty Majority’s Maria Maisto, whose position was also heavily mischaracterized in the piece! But still, to make her point, Goldblatt needed a bad guy, and the actual “bad guy” (aka any smirking free-market Capitalist Ayn Randy fuckwad off the street) would not do. So instead she went after me, painting me as some sort of effete, academics-only windbag who doesn’t even “register” that the university also exploits staff workers. (This is especially rich considering that Claire actually MENTIONED many kinds of workers in one of her original ‘takedowns’ of me.)
I wasn’t aware that in order to talk about my one and only area of labor expertise–the academic sector–I had to qualify my work at all times with acknowledgement that exploitation of the working poor is a thing. I wasn’t aware of that because I assume that in labor-aware circles, we all know this, that this weighs on all of us, that our economy’s parasitic, abusive relationship with the cheap labor it needs for those at the top to continue living large was a foregone conclusion, because I read the news, and I have eyes.
I am not a general investigative journalist–unlike my friend Sarah Kendzior, who is, and who spent months researching and writing this stratospherically wrenching piece on St. Louis fast-food workers, to whose research and writing process I was privy (Sarah has been working on this since last Fall and spoke to me in general terms about her experience throughout), and whose struggle for non-exploitative publication I both approached with solidarity and condemned in public, and whose eventual triumphant publication I publicized extensively. Not that it needed that–it’s one of the most successful posts on all of Medium, the site whose editors wanted to cut all of its best lines and turn the all-Black interview roster of thinking, feeling, intelligent, aware, hard-working human beings into a “cast of characters” to be gawked at. Boy, for someone who doesn’t even register that fast-food workers exist, I got awful pissed at that.
Anyway, my point is this. I agree (I think) with Goldblatt’s larger excursus, though it does get a little academic at times for my personal taste (and that is just personal taste), but her use of me, of Claire and of Maria as straw-women to make a point that all of us agree with, simply because we write almost exclusively about education–BECAUSE THAT IS OUR “BEAT,” so to speak–is ludicrous.
I’ve never written about my dad on Slate, but I have used the word “family” many times–HOW DARE I ignore the important contributions of fathers to the family structure? (Or, for that matter, judges or lawyers?) I’ve never written a single article anywhere about babies (other than about my own failed attempt at creating one), so I must completely not care about children or parents, especially poor ones.
The fact that a single argument does not have the scope you want it to–and that is thus reason dismiss wholesale the argument and its giver–is classic academic-conference “takedown” twaddle. “Why isn’t this about what I want it to be about? I object!” It shouldn’t fly in the real world (it shouldn’t fly in academia either!), and I call bullshit on this instance.
The Full Stop Twitter feed offered me the chance to respond in an official capacity–I appreciate that offer, but I’d rather write here, and I hope they respect that. In the meantime, I will also hope that Goldblatt’s article will sink into obscurity (or perhaps never even rise from it)–I’d fret about it ruining my rep, but luckily I’m only 37, so I don’t have a rep yet.
**This has been edited to remove perceived “big-timing,” but to reflect the important fact that Goldblatt schooled me about what exploitation is whilst writing for free.
***You’re welcome, by the way, for all the work I did publicizing the MLA Subconference, and going to bat for it at Slate when my editor thought it was too insular of a topic. You’re fucking welcome.