Monday, February 20, 2017

How do I exploit thee? Let me count the ways

by Caprice Lawless     
          Our advocacy work on behalf of faculty may seem to be eclipsed, at present, by national events, but the stellar AAUP members in our Colorado Community College System (CCCS) Chapters, befriended now by scores of authors, activists, lawmakers and organizers around the country, tirelessly persist, in this, the Age of Persistence.
          It looks as though our request for a legislative audit has been successfully railroaded by those under the dome who are opposed to social justice. Those of  you outside Colorado may be interested to know that in November, Colorado voters determined that an aged statute legalizing slavery in Colorado, in certain circumstances was worth saving and so it stands. We have many downtown who ARE dedicated to social justice, but they are in the minority, at least for now.
          When you understand that so many in Colorado eye slavery as a useful employment model, it makes it easy for the high rollers in our system to cast those of us asking for a living wage as less than grateful, I suppose. Paging Karl Marx, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo and Upton Sinclair.
          Meanwhile, in the rapidly corporatizing 13-college system of community colleges, communicating with peers grows more difficult by the day. Our once friendly and spacious mail room, its walls lined with big faculty mailboxes, has been replaced by a wall of slots into which we are allowed to leave a folder or two, under the watchful eye of a staffer, but never much more and AAUP items are strictly verbotten. All the shabby and endearing bulletin boards crammed with evidence of community and life have been removed. They were replaced with new, smaller bulletin boards, postings for which must be approved by the vice president. Furthermore, the individual presidents at the 13 colleges, it appears, have determined that the AAUP is a so-called "outside group" and so we are not allowed to set up a table to pass along literature about the AAUP, without first paying a hefty "table" fee of $50 and then showing proof of a liability policy, should someone trip over a chair or sprain an ankle. Those policies run about $200/per event, thus effectively killing any presence of the AAUP on our college campuses.
         It is in this Orwellian environment that we filed a Colorado Open Records Act Request in early January, to get a bit of the information that is never made available to the public in our increasingly non-transparent public institution.
          Briefly, here's a breakdown on the categories of employment by headcount (not by FTE).
          From our AAUP 2017 Colorado Open Records Act Request, we have learned that, of the 12,590 CCCS employees:
   • 6,831 are administrators, professional-technical, classified, hourly or student employees;
   • 4,613 are adjunct faculty
   • 1,146 are full-time faculty
   • 80% of all faculty are adjunct faculty
   • Only 9% of its total employees are full-time faculty
   • More than half its employees are not faculty
          Notably, salaries at the top continue to rise. See the chart at the bottom of  this pdf that we received from CCCS headquarters in response to our CORA Request.
          Now that non-faculty outnumber all faculty in our college system, it is no wonder that the most recent vision statement was created without even one faculty member present. Given the abysmal state of affairs for the profession of teaching in the CCCS, it is yet the latest example of poetic injustice.
# # #

Thursday, October 20, 2016

WEP: Read it and WEEP

by Caprice Lawless

Many adjunct faculty members in the CCCS console themselves in one way, come each payday. They see the hefty deductions for their PERA benefit, and believe that at least those funds will add to their Social Security benefit once they retire. Nothing could be further from the truth. Few realize how working in the CCCS and contributing to PERA will hurt them in retirement thanks to a little-known federal initiative.

The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) is a Reagan-era program designed to curb Social Security payments, ostensibly to the wealthiest so-called “double-dippers.” The way the initiative is calculated hurts, instead, the little guy who is forced to work two or three low-wage jobs, either concurrently or consecutively. The intersection of  PERA, Social Security and WEP is where retiring CCCS adjunct faculty are hurt throughout  retirement.

 Most adjunct faculty work under the delusion that those hefty PERA deductions will shine brightly in their golden years as additional payments they will receive atop whatever they will receive from Social Security. Instead, what we learned from the recent Adjunct Survival Workshops our chapters have hosted, is how the WEP deducts from your Social Security benefit two-thirds of the PERA benefit amount. For example, that $600/per month PERA benefit an adjunct faculty member believed would supplement his/her $1,200 Social Security benefit will, instead, mean that $400/per month will be deducted from his/her Social Security benefit. While the retiring adjunct faculty member will receive his/her full PERA retirement, the total retirement income will be reduced dramatically because of it.

            This little-known problem, which exists only in states where public employee retirement programs are set up the way Colorado PERA is, has come to the attention of U.S. Representatives Kevin Brady (R-Tex) Richard Neal (D-MA). They co-sponsored the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act of 2015-2016 (HR 711). The bill proposed calculating the WEP differently, to correct the inequality toward public servants whose state retirement programs are arranged similarly to Colorado PERA. The bill was defeated, largely under pressure from the National Association of Active and Retired Federal Employees (NARFE), who objected to last-minute bill changes that would have provided little benefit to those adversely affected by the WEP.

            Look for HR-711 or related legislation to be taken up again by Congress after the general election next month.

Wouldn’t it be helpful if the CCCS were forthcoming in details such as this with its adjunct faculty?

For more information on the WEP:

For more information about the intersection of WEP, Social Security and PERA:

Colorado PERA or phone the Colorado PERA office: (303) 832-9550.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Requesting a Legislative Audit of the Colorado Community College System

To the Legislative Audit Committee:

We have been advised by several lawmakers to seek a Legislative Audit of the Colorado Community College System (CCCS). All the data available to us, as well as the system's spending patterns, suggests the CCCS can well afford to compensate their teachers equitably. Yet the CCCS insists they simply do not have the funds. We would like to determine if this claim is an objective assessment, a subjective judgement invoking legitimate system priorities, or an attempt to mislead legislators and taxpayers. Please let us know what steps we need to follow to begin the process. Here is a brief rationale for the audit:

You may be familiar with our two recent bills that sought to redress the abysmal working conditions of half of the CCCS workforce, namely its 4,600+ adjunct faculty who teach 80% of all the courses 13 colleges offer. By far most of these adjunct professors are at work in the cities along the Front Range, where adjunct faculty average between 60-75% of the total faculty on any given campus. The backbone of  the CCCS teaching are paid poverty-level wages, have no sick leave, health care benefit, due process, shared governance and fast-disappearing academic freedom.

A 2014 State of Colorado Joint Budget Committee report determined the financial health of Colorado’s higher education institutions and rated the CCCS as the largest and most financially secure institution of higher education in the state. Our House Bill 14-1154, as well as our Senate Bill 15-094, sought to make some of that revenue available to the hardworking faculty majority, many of whom are working two or three jobs to make ends meet. Both bills were defeated, largely because the CCCS administration used more than $132K from the CCCS budget to pay lobbyists to make sure the bills were defeated. As a result, morale within the faculty is at an all-time low, and we are losing highly qualified and devoted faculty who can hang on no longer.

Over the past few years, the CCCS ratcheted up its policy of replacing vacated, full-time faculty positions with three or four adjunct faculty. The CCCS now has approximately 500 fewer full-time faculty than it did in 2010, and has hired more than 1,000 more adjunct professors. Throughout this time, it has increased tuition and has spent hundreds of millions on building projects, all the while promulgating the misinformation that enrollment is down. CCCS auditors (KPMG) reported that  the 2008 enrollment was 107,000 with 44,771 FTE.  KPMG reported last month that the 2015 enrollment was 127,000 total, with 53,000 FTE). As of August, 28, 2016, the CCCS website reports a student enrollment of 144,000. CCCS enrollment continues to rise. We now have approximately 37,000 more students overall and at least nearly 10,000 more FTE than in 2008. Even so, adjunct faculty are told routinely each semester by department chairs and administrators that enrollment is down, that this is why their class loads have been cut and why the CCCS cannot pay them equitable wages.

Furthermore, the public and lawmakers are under the impression that the CCCS is barely getting by financially. Nothing could be further from the truth. In January, 2016, Moody’s gave the CCCS an Aa3 bond rating. This is the 4th highest bond rating that Moody’s assigns out of 24 rating categories. In regard to the robust health of the CCCS, the gold-standard credit rating agency concluded: Moody's Investors Service has assigned Aa3 underlying and Aa2 enhanced ratings to Colorado Community College System's (CCCS) Series 2016 Revenue Bonds. The Aa3 underlying rating reflects the large scope of the system's operations, demonstrated ability to produce positive cash flow through different economic cycles, and strong liquidity. These characteristics are offset by pressure on enrollment and revenue growth due to an improving economy and participation in an underfunded pension plan.”   In 2015, the CCCS produced excess operating cash flows of $30.9 million. This result builds on the average annual operating cash flows of $32 million from 2012 to 2014. In addition, reserves are very strong, with approximately $300 million of unrestricted reserves at the end of each of the last four years. Specifically, the primary reserve ratio (reserves divided by total operating expenses) is over 50%, which is extremely strong for a public university. The generation of large cash flows and the strong reserves are the main reasons why the bond rating is so high, and is the key evidence to conclude that CCCS is in very strong financial condition. 

The Financial Statements and Compliance Audits produced under contract to the CCCS by KPMG are useful but they do not provide the detail needed, especially in terms of salaries and benefits. One might question, if the system is indeed so financially strapped, why the CCCS spends millions each year on new building projects and why has it expanded to 39 campuses across the state. During this time, as well, the 13 CCCS presidents were awarded salary increases as high as $90K since 2012, bringing some of their annual salaries to as high as $209K. The CCCS System’s president’s salary increased nearly $100K so that her salary is now double that of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. She also may be awarded an annual bonus of 15% of her salary. Furthermore, one might question why so many college presidents, some of whom are already paid over $209K per year, qualify for yearly 15% bonuses, but that, too, is a policy enacted by the CCCS governing board, the State Board of Community Colleges and Occupational Education (SBCCOE). Also, recently, the last, remaining full-time faculty (averaging 90 or so per college) were given salary increases of $188/week, bringing their per-three-credit-hour class pay 2/3 higher than that of the average adjunct faculty member. Meanwhile, the adjunct professors who teach the lion’s share of the 29,000+ classes the system offers were given an average raise of just $4.80/week, bringing their average per-three-credit-hour class pay to just a bit over $1,834. One also might ask how many vice presidents Colorado needs in higher education, given that the 13 colleges of the CCCS now employ 48 of them and their salaries range from $72 to $181K. This is especially puzzling, given the CCCS untrue claims that enrollments are down and the system is strapped. Indeed, program prioritization initiatives the CCCS are promoting are predicated on college systems that are in financial exigency, and the CCCS, most decidedly, is not.

The Integrated Post Secondary Data System reports are useful in making the case for a more equitable distribution of CCCS revenue, but we need the further detail only a Legislative Audit can provide.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Caprice Lawless
2nd Vice President
American Association of University Professors

Saturday, May 21, 2016

How many CCCS workers advocate for the 4,600+ adjunct faculty? ZERO!

Mark DuCharme of the FRCC English Department poses with a pie chart showing how less than 12% of CCCS annual revenues go to the 4,600+ adjunct faculty who teach 75% of all the courses the CCCS offers. Half the CCCS workforce is this adjunct faculty, and they are paid poverty-level wages. Consequently, the community colleges are losing the great teachers that have long been the hallmark of the colleges.   

by Caprice Lawless
Few Colorado taxpayers, students and hard-working, devoted, adjunct faculty members are aware that there is not one person --- among the hundreds of six-figure-earning administrators in the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) --- charged with advocating for paying adjunct faculty a living wage. In fact, recent, historic events prove that part of the work of CCCS administrators is to
argue against living wages for half the workforce in the CCCS; its army of 4,600+ adjunct faculty who teach the lion’s share of the 29,000+ courses this system offers. (The CCCS pays its adjunct faculty, on average, $18,340 per year. )
                Let’s start at the top. Who advocates for higher wages for CCCS top executives? As of May, 2016, CCCS President Nancy McCallin earns almost four times ($375K) the salary of Gov. John Hickenlooper ($98K).  Each of the CCCS presidents ($135K-$209K) earns far more than does the state’s governor. In addition, each CCCS president may receive a 15% annual salary bonus. The dozens of CCCS vice presidents($72K-$181K+) earn far more than does the state’s governor. Each of the scores of CCCS Deans ($80-90K)  earn nearly the same salary as Gov. Hickenlooper. Advocating on their behalf is the state Department of Higher Education, headed by Colorado’s Lt. Governor. (The state’s Lt. Governor, with a salary of $68K, earns less than the average CCCS program director ($80K).  
Furthermore, the state pays the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) annual membership dues of $60K per year. Part of the AACC mission is to coach college executives on how to negotiate higher salaries for themselves. The AACC is a national lobbying juggernaut. The CCCS is paying AACC dues partly to make sure Colorado taxpayers are paying higher wages for all CCCS executives.
                Next in line, we have the full-time faculty minority of approximately 1,200 full-time faculty. They average fewer than 100 full-time faculty at work in each of the 13 CCCS colleges. They are paid, on average, two-thirds more per class than the adjunct faculty member who teaches the same class, with the same academic credentials and teaching experience. As of May, 2016, the average full-time faculty member in the CCCS, is paid $69K including benefits. Most of them are granted “release time” from teaching to serve as supervisors to the ocean of adjuncts who keep the lights on by teaching classes at all hours, even weekends, year-round. Advocating for higher wages and benefits for them are the scores of CCCS HR department personnel. Their go-to (and usually only) source of information is the other national, administration-focused organization, the gigantic and well-funded CUPA-HR (College and University Professional Association for Human Resources). CCCS HR also taps the CCCS budget, if needed, to hire consultants such as Sibson Consulting  to conduct surveys to help them press for higher wages for full-time faculty, as they did a few years ago. The stats and surveys Sibson supplied the CCCS HR provided the numbers that justified the CCCS giving the full-time faculty a recent 20.3% pay raise. 
                What about the CCCS HR? Don’t they advocate for adjunct faculty? Sadly, no. In fact, in the first hearing for the equal-pay-for-equal-work bill (HB 14-1154), the CCCS HR, represented by Aurora CC HR executive Cynthia Hesse, advocated fiercely against equal-pay-for-equal-work for adjunct faculty. She argued that to do so would require hiring more HR staff to keep track of all the paperwork. The CCCS HR administrators are the first ones to argue for the status quo, because they act as the right hand of CCCS administration. It’s a sad comment that, were the CCCS to have fewer adjunct faculty, each earning a higher wage and teaching more classes, the ostensibly sophisticated and software-savvy CCCS HR department would consider keeping track of them daunting. Sadder still is that the CCCS pays an HR professional to argue to that effect before legislative bodies. Since that time, the CCCS has hired approximately 1,000 more adjuncts, each of whom earns peanuts for their work, and no one hears any complaints from CCCS HR.
                What about the classified staff at work in the CCCS? Who advocates for their wages and benefits? That would be Colorado WINS, a special SEIU-related union blessed by the Colorado governor. Through WINS, the state gives raises to the workers keeping the lawns mowed, the copiers running, and the trash emptied. They also get those workers drastically reduced health-care benefits, such as a recent reduction of 66%. Colorado WINS is barred from advocating for adjunct faculty in the CCCS, by legislative design.
                What about the role of the Vice President for Executive Leadership Training and Development,  Linda Bowman, someone among top CCCS leadership for the entire state? Wouldn’t part of that job description include advocating that the CCCS needs a stable faculty who is earning at least a living wage? Again, no. CCCS VP Linda Bowman testified against equal-pay-for-equal work for adjunct faculty in the Senate hearing for SB 15-094 last year. She repeated the tired meme of how the CCCS needs flexibility, and how seniority must not play a role in faculty decisions. Seniority plays a powerful role, however, in administration salary decisions and full-time faculty decisions, as evidenced by the numerous CCCS surveys and salary comparisons listed above. For adjuncts across the state who have been putting their hearts and souls into teaching community college students for years, whenever they hear six-figure-earning administrators whose own careers have profited mightily by seniority invoke the need for “flexibility,” it is widely recognized as code for protected practices of wage theft and age discrimination visited upon adjunct faculty.
                What about the CCCS governing board, the State Board of Community Colleges and Occupational Education? We strike out with this group, as well. The SBCCOE has determined that the faculty majority is so inconsequential that its members are considered part of the “public” and thus are allowed only five minutes per month to say anything at all during the SBCCOE monthly meetings. The SBCCOE only meets ten months out of the year, leaving half the CCCS workforce less than one hour total, annually, to be heard. Knowing that is the case, even so, during the first hearing for HB 14-1154, SBCCOE Chair Russ Meyer told lawmakers that any issues involving adjunct faculty could be handled by the system through its shared governance procedures. Most CCCS adjuncts have never even heard of shared governance, and those that do report that it seems to be something for full-time faculty only. The SBCCOE itself models for Colorado its definition of shared governance: very little sharing and an abundance of governance.
                What about CCCS lobbyists at work in the state Capitol? Don’t they routinely argue for higher wages for CCCS adjunct faculty? Again, sadly, they do not. In fact, in the past two years, the CCCS has paid its lobbyists, the Capstone Group and JLH Public Affairs $132K to make sure both of equal-pay-for-equal-work bills (HB 14-1154 and SB 15-094) were defeated. 
                There is NOT ONE person in the CCCS or in the Colorado state government whose job it is to advocate for a living wage and better working conditions for adjunct faculty. In fact, as the details above describe, there are literally hundreds of people in the CCCS and under contract to CCCS administration who are paid to argue against paying any CCCS adjuncts a living wage. This design needs to change. Student success depends on a stable faculty able to focus on how best to teach and inspire learners.
                It is the prestigious American Association of University Professors (AAUP) that has taken up the charge of advocating for CCCS adjunct faculty. With the help of the AAUP, we have also formed relationships with numerous members of the Colorado House and Senate who are willing to champion paying Colorado’s community college teachers a living wage. The alarming situation in Colorado has the attention of the executives within this august body and among far more in the Colorado legislature than ever before. The AAUP has led the charge for more than a century for faculty rights, academic freedom and shared governance, and thus AAUP membership within CCCS is growing.
# # #

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Club Ed: CCCS Execs salaries soar while admins toss their 4,600+ adjuncts $4.80/week raise

Step 1. Read it.
Step 2. Weep.
Step 3. Join your local AAUP chapter of the CCCS or start a chapter.

Comparison of CCCS salaries at the top, 2012-2016

CCCS president salaries, 2012; 
CCCS president and vice president salaries, 2016.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

“Bizspeak” as Newspeak: George Orwell and the Language of Higher Education

by Mark DuCharme
A colleague recently called my attention to certain problematically vague phrases from the Colorado Community College System (CCCS)’s 2015-2025 Strategic Plan.  The phrases listed below reminded us both of George Orwell, for reasons which shall be explained if they are not indeed already evident to those familiar with his work.

Key Strategies
Key Performance Measures
Operational Measures
Transform Workplace Experiences
Measurable Outcomes
Hybrid Educational Delivery
Redefine Value Proposition
Culture of Inquiry
Evidentiary Decision-making
Disrupt Old Models
Summative Analytics
Learning Object Repositories
Education without Barriers
Value Proposition
Engagement Strategy
Feedback Solicitations

Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair, 1903-1950) (“George Orwell”) published, in the last few years of his life, two of his most significant works, in my opinion: his masterpiece, the novel 1984, and an equally provocative essay titled “Politics and the English Language.”  Both works, despite their obvious genre differences, are political in motivation and make the argument (though in the case of the novel, perhaps less overtly) that language use can have political implications insofar as it can affect thought, meaning and understanding.  In other words, shoddy language use ultimately leads to shoddy thinking, and the result of that is that citizens become more likely to think uncritically, accept questionable claims, and so become more pliant.  Orwell was particularly concerned with the political consequences of this phenomenon; while I share his concern, I would extend it to include the consequences to our profession, as such shoddy language use becomes more commonplace, and thus more accepted, even in academic settings.

For most who teach in higher education, it should come as no surprise to learn that certain buzzwords are now the norm, at least in emails and other communication from administrators, department chairs, and the like. In addition to the terms listed in the document, other familiar jargon includes such phrases as “student learning outcomes,” “student success,” “teaching with technology,” ad nauseum.  Not all of these phrases are inherently meaningless, depending on how they are used, of course.  Some, arguably, are unavoidable.  But as Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade notes, in John Huston’s classic film The Maltese Falcon, “look at the number of them.”

And indeed, the volume of jargon use is growing, almost exponentially, within higher education.  How can this be?  Aren’t the learned, after all, supposed to be less prone to the use of clichés and buzzwords?  Isn’t the avoidance of such prefabricated usage often part of what we (are supposed to) teach?

To understand why this growing use of jargon is problematic, it is helpful to look more closely at Orwell.  While it is widely known that his 1949 novel 1984 paints a picture of a dystopian, futuristic and totalitarian society, few who have not read the book grasp the subtleties of Orwell’s critique.  While there are other points to consider, the one relevant to our discussion here is his notion of “Newspeak.”  To fully understand this term, some background may be in order.

Orwell introduces his readers, just a few pages into the book’s opening chapter, to the concept of “Newspeak”: “The Ministry of Truth—Minitrue in Newspeak— was startlingly different from any other object in sight” (Orwell, 1984 7).  One of these startling differences is, indeed, the slogans prominently displayed upon the building’s exterior:


Since each of these is an oxymoron, Orwell’s irony should be immediately evident.  One soon learns that “Newspeak,” the “language” these slogans exemplify, stands in contrast to “Oldspeak,” the former language of “Oceania,” the country in which the troubled protagonist Winston Smith lives (a fictional nation clearly intended as a reference to England).

Without going too deeply into the subtleties of the plot, its twists and further references to language and its obfuscation, it ought to be clear already, even to those unfamiliar with the book, that the turning of meaning on its head through official jargon (“WAR IS PEACE,” etc.) has something to do with the way that the character known only as “Big Brother” maintains his totalitarian control of Oceania and its citizens, including Smith.

Of course, all regrettable political consequences cannot be characterized as totalitarian.  And certainly few if any academic institutions can be characterized in such a light.  The claim I am making is not such, but rather that, even perhaps among well meaning colleagues, sloppy language use leads to regrettable outcomes.

Orwell makes this claim even more explicitly in his 1946 essay:

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts….  A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. (emphasis mine)

Aren’t academics, no matter the discipline, supposed to be critical thinkers— or in other words, “people who should and do know better?”  Surely such critical thinkers, such erudite scholars and writers, would not and could not accept such bureaucratese, such vague and often thoughtless and, indeed, uncritical language use.

But yet we have.

I do not claim that there hasn’t been grumbling from colleague to colleague in shared or adjacent offices, at departmental or even social functions, or the like.  I do not claim that things haven’t been whispered, or in some cases private emails exchanged.  But by and large, we have just accepted it.  And the reason— the larger reason, which I will only point to and hint at, but not fully analyze or examine in this missive— is that the professoriate itself is a bit on the defensive these days.  Most professors at most institutions are adjuncts and have little pay and even less job security.  Since many of us work second or even third jobs in order to support our teaching “habit,” or else overcommit to too many classes at too many institutions in the wild hope of making ends meet, we have little if any time to analyze the rhetoric of administrators’ emails we constantly are barraged with but seldom if ever read.  Our more fortunate tenured or tenure-track colleagues, or the equivalent, may also be distracted from such analysis, since at many institutions tenure itself is under at least implicit threat, if not outright attack, and many at institutions at which this is not yet the case are understandably just a little bit concerned.

Yet, without getting into the host of problems raised by the lack of meaningful shared governance at many institutions, including mine, or the perhaps even greater number of problems which result from vastly unequal pay for equal or comparable professional work, let me get back to the problem with language use in the academy, focusing on the examples from the CCCS’s 2015-2025 Strategic Plan.

As I noted earlier, while some of these problems may be unavoidable, just about all of these examples are vague, and many are outright nonsense.  I seriously doubt that any of them would pass muster for Orwell, were he alive today.  I also doubt that most would pass muster in student papers, at least for the best writing professors.

To clarify what I mean, let’s look more closely at the “bad [writerly] habits” Orwell pointed to in his essay.  Among other things, Orwell cautioned against the use of “dying metaphors,” “pretentious diction” and “meaningless words” (“Politics”).  Where, I would ask, is one or more of these faults not evident in the document in question?  I find very little meaning in any of them (e.g., “Redefine Value Proposition”).  The vast majority are vague to the point that would, I imagine, have made Orwell cringe.  (What, for instance, is the difference between “Key Strategies,” “Key Performance Measures” and “Operational Measures?”  Do these phrases mean anything individually, and if so— which I doubt— in what way do their meanings substantially differ?)  Many of these phrases (e.g., “Disrupt Old Models,” and my personal Owellian favorite, “Learning Object Repositories”) sound like little more than contemporary corporate or business jargon— what might be termed “Bizspeak,” in other words.

Indeed, I would argue (with the exception of “Culture of Inquiry” and perhaps one or two others) that that is essentially what they are.  And I would argue that Bizspeak is our contemporary equivalent to Orwell’s Newspeak.  And Bizspeak has of course taken over the corporate world (as those of us who teach but also hold second or third jobs therein know far too well), but that, I suppose, is to be expected.  But Bizspeak, like a rampant virus or infestation, has now spread to the academy.  (This is of course at least partly the result of the attempted neoliberalization which has been going on since the 1980s, but in fuller force more recently.  However, that is another matter which is beyond the focus of this essay.)

Orwell argued in “Politics and the English Language” that “the decadence of our language is probably curable.”  If he was correct, in that text written about two or three generations ago to a broad if literate audience, then I would argue that now, in our era of incessant and execrable linguistic corruption— if you doubt me, just try grading a stack of undergraduate papers with any eye to good writing, competent rhetoric and clear meaning; or else, just try reading what passes for journalism these days, on much of the Web and at least sometimes print—then I would argue it must largely be up to “people who should and do know better,” in Orwell’s phrase— to set things right for the future of education , writing, scholarship, and especially of the profession.  Those people are academics themselves, as well as writing teachers at all levels; those people are writers, scholars, thinkers and all who recognize the problem Orwell pointed to and its contemporary application.  We are those people, and I think it is largely up to us to do something about all of this.

While it may, of course, be unwise to reply to the college president’s email with a rhetorical analysis critical of his jargon— and while many of us are sadly powerless to otherwise resist the encroachment of “Bizspeak” into the already jargon-heavy vocabulary of our profession— there are at least two things none of us is powerless to do, whether one is a first-semester adjunct or a distinguished emeritus full professor or a scholar or writer currently not teaching.  We can all resist the encroachment of Bizspeak into our own thoughts; this may sound simple, but indeed it is probably the more important and more difficult of the two tasks, given the ubiquity of this new “language” in our world.  Yet if you accomplish this first task, the second should be relatively easy: We can all resist the encroachment of Bizspeak in our own writing and communications.

As people who profess (yes, there is a pun there, and it is intended) to be scholars, teachers, writers and thinkers, isn’t that what we should be already doing?  Isn’t that the least we can expect of ourselves and our students, and, indeed, that our profession can expect of us?

Works Cited

“George Orwell.”  Encyclopædeia Brittanica.  Encyclopædeia Brittanica, Inc., 2016.  Web.  26 Apr. 2016.

Huston, John, dir.  The Maltese Falcon.  1941.  Perf. Humphrey Bogart.  Warner Brothers, 2000.  VHS.

Orwell, George.  1984.  1949.  New York: New American Library-Signet Classics, 1964.  Print.

---.   “Politics and the English Language.”  1946.  Mount Holyoke College.  Trustees of Mount Holyoke College, n.d.  Web.  26 Apr. 2016.

Strategic Plan 2015-2025. Colorado Community College System, Aug. 2012, 1-12. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.