For three days – from Friday, April 24 through Sunday, 27 – faculty, students and activists came together for dialogue, strategic exercises and insightful panel discussions about a wide variety of higher education issues.
While union organizing among contingent faculty was still a major part of this year’s Coalition of Academic Labor Conference, the tent has grown a lot bigger and the issues a lot more wide ranging.
For example, this year, a cafeteria worker at a Maryland university talked about how he and his colleagues (employed by the massive, union-busting food service contractor, Sodexo) have been organizing for better conditions for workers outside of the classroom. Sitting next to him, on the same panel, were students from the same institution who spoke about their efforts to pressure the administration in greater transparency.
Another panel focused on HBCUs – Historically Black Colleges and Universities – and how union activists can help improve and expand the role that higher education plays in the lives of students of color.
The second day of the conference closed with an amazing exercise which brought everyone together for a though-provoking conversation on the crisis of student debt. Long and short-term solutions were examined, but one of the key takeaways was not financial literacy is not enough when the cost of higher education puts debt-free degrees out of reach for all but a handful of students – primarily, the children of the 1% – and that there needs to be a solution which does away entirely with the unsustainable loads of debt that are holding back our children, our economy and ourselves.