"Education for Democracy" conference a resounding success

by David Brodsky

"Education for Democracy: Fighting the Corporate Takeover", a one-day regional conference held on March 3 at the University of Missouri, Kansas City and sponsored by the UMKC chapter of the AAUP, attracted 130 presenters and attendees.  Twenty-six speakers--faculty and students from six different institutions of higher education as well as community activists--informed the audience about a broad range of problems besetting academia, outlined their visions for democratic education, and offered strategies for fighting corporate aggression.  The quality of presentations was uniformly high and some were outstanding.

Speakers demonstrated great self-discipline (and self-abnegation) by sticking to the tight and grueling schedule.  A presenter flew back from Mexico in order to participate, and one attendee came all the way from Nevada.

Among issues addressed were institutionalized racial, gender, and class inequalities; the role of global trade agreements, the prison industry, and militarization of the schools; monopoly campus franchises for corporations that profit by sweatshop labor; abuse and demoralization of full-time faculty and exploitation of part-time faculty; corporatized distance education; corporate control of research, curriculum, and methods of instruction; threats to the integrity and quality of the arts, humanities, public service oriented social sciences and professional programs, and basic research in the natural sciences; reduced public confidence in higher education; and public employee organizing.

Audience participation was intensive, providing additional evidence of abuses as well as practical advice in combating them.  General feedback on the event has been very positive. "The conference was very informational.  I would like to thank all sponsors/participants for the event, and also the organizers."  "It was an honor to hear the stories from such intelligent, accomplished people--great insight, courage, tenacity."  "Good.  Needed."  "Thanks!  Badly needed."  "Great. Could've used more student voice, but otherwise awesome."

"Excellent."  "Excellent in all regards.  Very well publicized and organized.  Very good speakers."  "Excellent!  Sheds light on a neglected problem--corporate control of education.  A worthwhile addition to my ongoing education on the issue of globalization."

"Education for Democracy" was supported by 39 local, national, and international co-sponsors from academia and the community. Unsolicited donations came from the California Part-time Faculty Association, COCAL IV (Fourth Conference on Contingent Academic Labor), and the AAUP Part-Time Lecturer Faculty Chapter at Rutgers.

Media coverage was better than anticipated.  Articles appeared in the Kansas City Star and Lawrence Journal-World, and the UMKC student newspaper published four pieces.  Conference organizers were guests on the KKFI community radio program, "Heartland Labor Forum," and were interviewed by eight media outlets.  The conference announcement and program were posted on at least a half dozen websites.  A number of responses to the conference showed up in discussion groups of the Radical Caucus and the Delegate Assembly of the Modern Language Association.  Most of the proceedings were audiotaped and videotaped (audio excerpts may be broadcast on KKFI), and reports on and selections from presentations will begin appearing in the Faculty Advocate, newsletter of the UMKC AAUP chapter.

The conference has given a major boost to part-time faculty organizing and student activism at UMKC, as well as to ongoing full-time faculty battles at institutions in the region.  The membership of the newly founded UMKC Part-Time Faculty Association is growing, the organization is attracting support from full-time faculty, and it is planning an ambitious series of public events later this month.  In the week following the conference UMKC students held a one week boycott of the Sodexho Marriott corporation, which has a campus food monopoly and significant investments in the private prison industry.  The conference also furthered campaigns by full-time faculty against arbitrary and unjust administrative treatment, in the UMKC Dental School, School of Education, and College of Arts and Sciences, and at the University of Kansas and Kansas City Kansas Community College.  Finally, the conference helped sow the seeds of a regional Education for Democracy network that can provide mutual consultation and support.


FINAL LIST OF CO-SPONSORS

American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Chapter, UMKC

Missouri Conference of the AAUP

AAUP Chapter, University of Missouri, Columbia

AAUP Chapter, University of Missouri, St. Louis

AAUP Chapter, Webster University, St. Louis

AAUP Chapter, Emporia State University

AAUP Full-Time Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Bargaining Unit, Kent State University

Composition Program, UMKC

Department of English, UMKC

Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, UMKC

Institute for Labor Studies, a Joint Program of UMKC and Longview Community College

Part-Time Faculty Association, UMKC

Campus Forum, Kansas City Kansas Community College

Faculty Association (Kansas National Education Association) Kansas City Kansas Community College

Program for Adult College Education, Kansas City Kansas Community  College

California Faculty Association

California Part-Time Faculty Association

Conference on Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL IV), San Jose, CA

Radical Caucus of the Modern Language Association

Reform Caucus of United University Professions/State University of New York

Amnesty International, Shawnee Mission North High School

Food not Bombs, Kansas City, MO

Food not Bombs, Lawrence, KS

Freestate Action, Lawrence, KS

Green Party of Greater Kansas City

Inicijativa za Ekonomsku Demokratiju (Initiative for Economic Democracy), Belgrade, Yugoslavia

Kansas City Fair Trade Coalition

Kansas City Food Circle

Kansas City Organizing Committee of the Labor Party

Kansas City Progressive Network

Kansas University Sexism and Racism Victims Coalition

KClabor.org web site

Manhattan (KS) Alliance for Peace and Justice

MO-KAN Alliance for Democracy

180/MDE (Movement for Democracy in Education)

Solidarity and Unity Now

TEA Society

Geoffry D. White, editor of Campus, Inc.

Ali Shehzad Zaidi, Modern Languages Department, Bronx Community College