As days grow shorter and evening falls faster, another semester is coming to an end. Are you feeling more ready for a break than usual—maybe even a little (or more than a little) burnt out?
If so, you’re not alone! Earlier this year, the Chronicle of Higher Education published a report titled “Burned Out and Overburdened: How to Support the Faculty,” a collection of essays discussing the various stressors and anxieties faculty are battling. Lower enrollments, the threat of an impending demographic “cliff,” and debates about the value of higher education loom large in our consciousness. Questions about COVID and the economy remain, social inequities seem more intransigent than ever, and political divisions continue to roil the nation.
We may be tempted to think there is only darkness and uncertainty around us. Not so, I say. Amidst all these concerns, I see the promise of hope for a brighter future, so long as we continue to work together.
We need only look back over the last two years, and recognize the monumental efforts we all made in facing the COVID emergency, and ensuring that our students continued to receive the top flight educational experiences and student services we’ve always been proud to provide. We stepped up and stood together, doing whatever it took to weather the storm. We also need to remind ourselves that, despite concerns about new variants and rising positivity rates, we’re now in a much better place in terms of our understanding, surveillance, prevention, and treatment of the coronavirus.
Another reason to have hope: greater attention is being paid both to public higher education and to workers’ rights on a national level.
The proposed “Build Back Better” spending package includes stronger support for both community colleges and organized labor. Community college faculty continue to have a friend, ally, and colleague—Dr. Jill Biden– in the White House. With a tight labor market and greater leverage for workers, we see more and more stories about a newly resurgent labor movement in the news, from unionized workers at John Deere, to farm workers in California, to workers’ rights at Amazon and Google. Gallup recently reported that 68% of Americans approve of labor unions–the highest percentage since 1965!
Our State-wide affiliate, NYSUT, also reports reasons for optimism regarding public higher education in New York. With new leadership in Albany, there is new hope the logjams that have kept SUNY and CUNY underfunded and undervalued may finally start to clear. At the 42nd Annual Community College Conference in Saratoga Springs last month, NYSUT’s legal department reported that the Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus decision did not impact our union membership in any substantial way, and that a series of post-Janus legal assaults on higher education unions have proven almost entirely unsuccessful in the courts.
At that Conference, I saw hopeful signs all around.
I saw colleagues sharing experiences, resources, and insights about protecting and preparing faculty to teach in post-COVID classes. I saw examples of colleges with contract language and provisions designed to make adjunct faculty more visible, strategies that we can emulate as we develop solutions for making their lives better. And I see the same dynamics here in Westchester County and at WCC, with strengthened alliances in the County Legislature, greater adjunct representation on our Executive Committee, new initiatives to increase our membership ranks, faculty stepping up to participate in our Shop Stewards initiative, gains being made in our ongoing contract negotiations, and new lines of communication opened with our colleagues in the Library, the English Language Institute, and the Westchester Educational Opportunity Center.
That doesn’t mean we can afford to relax our efforts, of course; if anything, it urges us on to increase our advocacy on behalf of our students and our colleagues, now and for years to come. So, as we look forward to enjoying some well-deserved and hard-earned rest over winter break, I encourage you all to be of good cheer, enjoy time with your loved ones, and lay in stores of energy and enthusiasm for taking up the plow once again come the Spring.
I wish you all the best in this holiday season!