Sunday, April 05, 2009

facebook spring

I've just returned tonight from the California Faculty Association's 70th Assembly.

The California State University is in peril. My own campus, Stanislaus, is at the precipice of catastrophe. Terrible economic times are only the beginning of the story, and anyone who has paid attention to the trends in public higher education in the US over the past 20 years or more would be able to tell you that this is no sudden crisis. Public higher education has been systematically de-funded all this time. Our current depress/recession has only brought the whole thing to its horrific climax.

For longer than I've taught at the CSU, the state budget has underfunded its mission. Considering that the CSU's mission is to educate the citizens of California so they become productive, tax-paying members of society, this clearly makes no sense... unless you believe public institutions are ipso facto essentially and irretrievably corrupt... and you believe that increasing state revenues only creates more of the same corruption.

Corruption: you know, like teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers, public servants.

This is not just a matter of the budget crisis that California, like every other state, is facing. This is what happens when a budget crisis hits an institution that has been fighting for its life for years.

Within the next 2 years, California will spend more on prisons than on all forms of public higher education.

The state's bizarre budget priorities are the major cause of the CSU's catastrophic condition. The CSU's astounding level of mismanagement is another.

So here's an interesting catch-22: The CSU desperately needs additional funding from the state. My colleagues' livelihoods, our students' educations, and the state's future economic health basically depend on better funding for this primary engine of California's economy. But CSU's management has demonstrated time and again that it is uninterested in either securing the CSU's future, or spending the ever-reduced funding the CSU receives wisely.

Nevertheless, the CFA works tirelessly to improve the standing of the CSU in the state, to make the case that the CSU contributes to, rather than costs, the state economy. We constantly seek new ways to send our message, to make our case, and to push the point.

This weekend, facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression (or maybe worse), facing the worst possible budget outlook for the CSU, and locally, facing a quintuple crisis from the state and campus budget crises, the CFA launched a new campaign.

Facebook. We've launched a campaign to fight the catastrophe of the CSU, on Facebook.

I'm not being critical. I think this is a smart move. I believe using Facebook will create an ongoing sense of virtual CFA community, and may extend our connections to students and staff, and the public we ultimately serve. As they told us at the Assembly, Barack Obama's campaign used Facebook. It seems to have helped.

Tonight, I friended a number of CFA colleagues on Facebook, and I now have many more friends. I'll diligently check in on Facebook to read their status updates, their notes on my wall or theirs, read what's on their minds (TM), and swap stories, links, and tactics. It will be a good tool, they told us, for organizing.

My question is: how many of them will disappear from CFA in the next year?

And many of these are not the Facebook kind of friend, but actual friends (no insult meant to Facebook friends), actual flesh, blood, brains, and heart friends that I've strategized with and talked late into the night with, and laughed with and eaten and drunk with, and argued with, and fought with, and fought alongside. And I am sore afraid, they will Facebook their fight, Youtube their dissent, email their legislators, flashmob their campuses, and then they will disappear.

I love my union siblings. I wish them better fates.

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