Professor Dean Spade discusses why it is important to organize on behalf of marginalized communities and resolve material conditions beyond relying on legal structures.
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Workers in food service, maintenance, clerical and technical services are central to the university, but occupy lowest the rungs of the university, often paid a low hourly wage, or with salaries that top out below $50,000 in most cases. This inadequate pay is most felt during the summer breaks as many nonprofessional employees have to find another job in the summertime when campus operations are significantly scaled back. In recent years, outsourcing and subcontracting food services and maintenance have exacerbated these poor conditions. A 2014 study showed that the substantial reduction in wages caused by outsourcing and contracting exacerbates both the gender and race pay gaps. On the clerical and technical side, a model of “shared services” is used to cut costs by centralizing business and IT offices. This practice often results in layoffs of workers and more work for the same pay for those who are left to work in the shared services centers.
As on the academic side, labor in university-hospitals is hierarchically structured and locates women of color in marginalized positions where they do much of the daily care work. Among Registered Nurses, which tend to be the most professionalized care workers, are 91% women, 79% are white, 11% are black, 8% are Asian and 5% Latina. Their average pay is about $71,000/year. In contrast, among “nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides” are 54% white, 37% black, 13% Latina, 5% Asian, and 87% women. These positions tend to pay in the range of $10-12 an hour. The stratified nature of healthcare has proven a difficult place to organize workers and the absence of broad based union drives (as is the case on the academic side) tend to diminish the power of organized labor.
As college and university becomes increasingly unaffordable, work-study programs through which students meet their “student income contribution” are central to financing higher education. For universities, relying on student workers is often a source of casualized labor. For instance, students working in UCLA Dining Halls make $10.50 while the starting wage for full-time workers is $16.32. At wealthier schools with large endowments, student workers have argued that the student income contribution reproduces class inequalities among students as wealthier students do not have to work. In addition to work-study, student athletes also share the conditions of other campus workers. From the contracts they sign before attending the recruiting university to the 50-60 hours of training and game time a week and the profits their sportsmanship brings, there is little difference between college and professional athletes who are understood as workers and unionized in the NFL and NBA.
Almost three quarters of the faculty are currently contingent workers with no access to tenure, a disproportionate number of whom are women and people of color. Women now constitute 51-61% of contingent faculty, a stark contrast to their continued underrepresentation among the ranks of tenured and tenure-track faculty. Underrepresented groups also continue to see increased representation in contingent academic jobs with the pay disparity to match. For instance, part-time black faculty earn significantly less than other racial and ethnic groups. The growing rates of contingent workers along with the central role graduate students play in the work of teaching demonstrates a move towards cheaper sources of instructional labor.
Given the connections between militarism and higher education discussed above, the “global turn” in universities and colleges has largely followed US strategic interests with universities prioritizing the Middle East and China in particular as sites for intellectual exchange and collaboration. In keeping with the marginalization of the African and African Diasporic world in the Americas in US foreign policy, these areas have seen comparatively little engagement from US universities. The global university thus remains only partially global and the consequences of this partiality can be seen in curriculum, faculty hires, and the distribution of resources.
There are over 150 military-educational institutions and according to the American Association of University Professors and hundreds of colleges and universities receive Pentagon funding for research, provide classes to military personnel, create special programs designed to lead to employment in defense industries and support military operations. In the context of limited funding resources, the Pentagon and Department of Defense have stepped up research support and their relationships to Universities now extend to the social sciences and humanities. For example, the Pentagon’s controversial “Human Terrain System” recruited anthropologist and Middle East experts to “decipher” Iraqi and Afghani society at the height of US’s wars in these countries. At times these relationship with the military-industrial complex are parasitic on universities’ rhetoric of diversity, equity, and inclusion. For example, a leaked memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Baruch College-CUNY and the Central Intelligence Agency reveals that the CIA has sought recruitment relationships with colleges and universities that have a diverse student body.
As the University physically expands across the world, the creation of new campuses and degree-granting programs has created opportunities for intellectual engagement and interaction, but has also raised a number of ethical questions. For instance, faculty and students criticized Yale’s creation of a liberal arts program in collaboration with National University of Singapore both because of concerns about freedom of speech at the campus and because the decision to create a campus, the costs involved, the nature of the partnership were not subject to faculty oversight, review and/or approval. More recently, an investigation into labor practices during the construction of NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus found that almost 10, 000 workers were not protected by the university’s labor guidelines that set standards for fair wages, hours and living conditions.
Since the calls for divestment from apartheid South Africa in the late 1970s and 1980s, student activists have highlighted the deep interconnections between university endowments and systems of injustice and exploitation at home and abroad. Most prominently, campaigns to divest from private prisons and fossil fuels demonstrate the ways that universities investments reproduce logics of inequality and help to bolster an unsustainable economy. These divestment campaigns often face an uphill battle as the structure of investments are often mediated through complex financial arrangements and lack transparency.
Given the racialized disparities in inherited wealth, a history of discrimination by lending agencies and higher borrowing, the dependence on debt to finance higher education places distinctive burdens on students of color and particularly black students. According to Demos, “While less than two-thirds (63%) of white graduates from public schools borrow, four-in-five (81%) of Black graduates do so. Latinx graduates borrow at similar rates and slightly lower amounts than white students.” The same study finds that black and Latinx students are dropping out with debt at higher rates than white students. Moreover students of color are more likely to be delinquent on loan repayments. A study by the economists Marshall Steinbaum and Kavya Vaghul found that zip codes with a high concentration of black and Latinx residents had far higher delinquency rates.
While the expansion of universities is often presented a jobs-creation program, but often the opportunities afforded to residents are low wage jobs with few protections. Due to the monopoly on the surrounding labor market that universities often enjoy, they exploit the labor of neighboring residents, resist the demands of campus-based labor unions, and depress wages. For more information on the labor see the University as Employer section.
With increasing expansion, universities perpetuate and reinforce the criminalization of black and Latinx communities. Urban universities maintain large police and security forces and lobby for city police forces to increase their presence in surrounding neighborhoods. Communities of color near universities are thus subject to the overlapping jurisdictions of university and city police forces, which reinforces the over-policing and surveillance of communities of color. While claiming to be working in service of protecting university property and affiliates, police on campuses have also directed violence towards Black staff, faculty, and students, with little or no recourse for violating their rights.
Private, resource heavy universities engage in a form of hyper-gentrification by using local ordinances, capitalizing on their tax-exempt status, and benefitting from state and federal dollars as well as from private sector partnerships to reshape communities. Through these institutional and financial advantages, universities have widened their neighbor footprints by aggressively purchasing properties in predominantly poor and working class black neighborhoods. Moreover, universities fail to intervene when their students perpetuate housing inequality. In many of the neighborhoods adjacent to urban universities, and within the walls of the amenity-rich, planned apartment communities in smaller college towns, students can often afford to pay higher rents than locals. Landlords seeking to profit from the steady stream of student renters become motivated to push out locals, who increasingly will not be able to afford rising rents. Rarely do residents have the political or economic capital to confront and resist this type of gentrification, and universities have little incentive to stop it, particularly if the private rental market fulfills their student housing short falls.