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Panel: Contingency, On-Line Education and Faculty Strikes, The Case of “Edtech” in the US and the UK

Panel: Contingency, On-Line Education and Faculty Strikes, The Case of “Edtech” in the US and the UK

Panel Description

The use of learning management systems (LMS) and teleconferencing, or “Edtech,” to deliver higher education on-line has accelerated rapidly during the pandemic. Robert Ovetz will discuss the role of on-line education in bargaining, strikes, and the struggle over academic labor. He will argue that on-line education serves to rationalize teaching and deskill academic labor in order to produce more self-disciplined workers laboring remotely under algorithmic management strategies. To strengthen the power of academic workers, Robert argues that new tactics, strategies, and objectives informed by an understanding of these changes to academic labor is needed.

David Harvie will discuss, struggle in British universities: where next? In the UK in 2018, two-thirds of all working days were lost to labour disputes in the education sectors – and it’s likely the statistics for 2019 and 2020 will be similar. But despite this militancy, gains have been slender. Although the university is clearly becoming more like a sausage factory, it is not a car factory – despite the insistence of many union organisers – and forms of struggle appropriate for the latter are not necessarily well-suited to disrupting business as-usual in the university. In this presentation I attempt to understand the new militancy and unpick the reasons for its lack of efficacy. I argue that present strategies have probably reached their limit and suggest some ways forward.

Mariya Ivancheva will discuss if the platform of digital academic labour is a new challenge to collective bargaining in higher education. Over the last decade the literature on digital higher education and platform work have expanded, albeit rarely in conversation. This presentation will aim to bridge this gap. Building on her fieldwork on academic labour and care (Ivancheva et al 2019) and on ‘unbundled’ higher education (Ivancheva et al 2020) she will discuss how academic labour has been reorganised through the entry of online platforms into the higher education market worldwide. Online Program Management (OPM) platform providers partner with selected universities based on their global ranking, and reinforce (instead of rehabilitating, as they promise) old class and racial divisions in and between the Global North and South. In the presentation Mariya will discuss how this dynamic is reflected in the everyday practices of university workers before and in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Expanding their offer from overcrowded campuses to emergent markets of off campus students, ‘elite’ universities and their OMP partners rely not only on contingent, but also on outsourced, fragmented and piecemeal online academic labour. The latter is performed predominantly by women and academics in the Global South in need of flexible employment and/or extra income. Thus, increasingly expensive online programs targeting professional middle classes in the Global South rely on a cheap and precarious academic reserve army who offer not only education but also pastoral care for a complex and alienated online student population. Hired at flat rate as outsourced labour these workers are usually not unionized and present a new challenge to collective bargaining in higher education. Through this empirical study, Mariya will revisit works on platform labour and digital education, in an attempt to theorize these complex new divisions and vulnerabilities in the academic profession.

Panelists Bios

Mariya Ivancheva is a Lecturer in Higher Education Studies at the University of Liverpool. Her academic research and research-driven advocacy focus on the casualization and digitalization of academic labour, the re/production of intersectional inequalities at universities and labour markets, and the role of academic communities in broader processes of resistance, alternative institutional design, and social change.

Robert Ovetz is editor of Workers’ Inquiry and Global Class Struggle: Tactics, Strategies, Objectives (Pluto, 2020) and When Workers Shot Back: Class Conflict from 1877 to 1921 (Brill, 2018 and Haymarket, 2019) and a Book Review Editor of the Journal of Labor and Society.

David Harvie sells his labour-power to the University of Leicester, where he is Associate Professor of Finance and Political Economy. As well as the political economy of higher education he has published on social movements, value theory, commons and social reproduction. He is Communications officer for his local union branch and a member of his union’s national executive committee.

Alyssa Picard is the Director of the Higher Education department of the American Federation of Teachers. With 200,000 members, roughly half of whom are contingent, AFT is the largest higher education union in the United States. Dr. Picard previously served on the field staff of AFT Michigan, helping to organize and negotiate first and subsequent contracts for more than 10,000 contingent faculty members over ten years. She earned a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she was the lead negotiator for the Graduate Employees Organization (Local 3550 AFT Michigan, AFL-CIO) when it won the first-ever child care provisions in an American graduate employee contract; subsequently, she staffed the local when it negotiated the first-ever trans-inclusive health insurance benefits in an academic collective bargaining agreement in the US. She is the author of “Making the American Mouth: Dentists and Public Health in the 20th Century” (Rutgers University Press, 2009), which was named to the American Association of University Press’s 2010 “Best of the Best” list, and has taught as an adjunct at Muhlenberg College and in the Wayne State University Labor School, a nondegree program for working adults.