Academic solidarity

Mieczysław Wątorski, The Arrest of the Professors
On the 6th of November 1939, the Germans arrested more than 180 people, mainly scientists of the Jagiellonian University

I dreamed last night that, now in lower status employment, I was faced with previous colleagues who had never stuck their necks out for me. Feelings of bitterness and grief overflowed into my dream.

In the politics of academia, recently we’ve seen a growth of much-needed solidarity among academics that transcends institutions and subject-areas. It’s beautiful to see.

Selfishly, it brings to my mind my almost total isolation in my struggle with previous employers/institutions.

I can’t remember any substantive solidarity from fellow academics during those struggles.

Sure, a few people sympathized with me.

If I knew that they were not hostile to me, I would share my struggle with them. I never demanded solidarity. Why is that? Cultural shame and embarrassment? The Pakistani strictures to never extend a hand of pleading toward someone? Or the knowledge that to do so would result in such shame for the other person that I would lose them as acquaintance or friend?

But the few people who sympathized, even the people who would lose nothing by speaking up for me, never did anything for me.

As soon as the letter of termination came at Millikin University, it was as if all the colleagues I worked with heaved a sigh of relief there but for the grace of God go I and settled back in, stealing their eyes away from my grief. The only persons who ever put themselves out for me were some students.

There was no basis for either of the employers to a) not reappoint me or b) terminate me. There had been no signals that anything was wrong. My teaching, my research, my service, everything was either excellent or good. In fact my research and teaching were probably above average, which created some discomfort among the senior faculty who didn’t even show up for class. Or the senior evangelical faculty who simmered in discomfort as I discussed my research with Muslim Americans. My “case” was an easy one each time. And each time, I had no recourse. When I used a lawyer the first time, mysteriously, the lawyer started negotiating with me for the university. I dumped her and negotiated on my own, and the firm agreed that I owed them nothing because they’d done nothing for me. The university is the big employer in the area; it is hard to beat.

I’m deeply glad and relieved that there is a semblance of academic solidarity today. It’s not perfect, but it is high profile. It doesn’t always work, but it’s a balm at the very least. Still, I must grieve for its absence in the past.

Is the new growth of solidarity movements possible due to the development and the new uses of social media? The medium is the message? Or is there actually a real development of political solidarity among academics, paralleling the Occupy Wall Street, the 99% movement, the leftist surge right now?

Perhaps the true solidarity is growing because of a ripple of terror that we are indeed all at risk. That we cannot afford to steal our eyes away from our contingent and unemployed colleagues. And that no one is shadowed by the grace of God from the blade of academic capitalism.

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