Central Illinois Jobs With Justice’s Statement on the Termination of James Kilgore by the University of Illinois, Urbana

James KilgoreCentral Illinois Jobs with Justice (CIJWJ), a coalition of labor, faith-based, and secular civic organizations that advances the interests of the  unemployed and working people in both the public and private sectors, condemns the  termination of  James Kilgore and calls for his reinstatement.  This termination violates many of the principles of fairness and justice advocated by CIJWJ.

First, it disregarded excellence in job performance.  Kilgore’s excellent performance has been recognized by his students and by the administration of the unit that hired him and wanted to retain him.

Second, it violated due process.  When Kilgore sought an explanation for  his termination from Vice-Chancellor and Provost Adesida, he was met with a stony refusal to give any explanation of why the higher administration was overruling Kilgore’s unit’s attempt to retain him.  Additional violations of due process are the prejudicial public statements made by Trustees Kennedy and Fitzgerald on the issue before the committee appointed by the university to investigate the issue has had a chance to conclude its investigation.

Third, as the statements by the trustees makes very clear, political motivation is at the root of the termination.  Kilgore was involved with a revolutionary organization in the 1970s.  During that period, there were a number of organizations that used violence to fight against both domestic racist violence and imperialism (especially in Vietnam).  They included the Black Panthers and the Weatherman.  The trustees transpose the inflammatory word “terrorist” in the present post-911context back to a period when there was large-scale domestic unrest and repression over domestic rights deprivations and the Vietnam War.   However one might  judge Kilgore’s commitments in the past, since he has been in Champaign-Urbana, he has been an active contributor to the civic life of this community. And no one has charged that he has urged his students to become “terrorists.”

Fourth there has been outside pressure brought to bear upon the university that it should have resisted.  First is that of Senator Chapin Rose who is threatening the university with legislative action if it does not take the restrictive actions that he wants.  This is too reminiscent of the impact that state Senator Clabaugh had on the university back in the late 1940s through the 1960s.  His law forbade Communists or members of organizations that the Attorney General classified as subversive from not only being employed by the university, but even from speaking on the campus.  In addition, the university succumbed to external legislative pressure in the firing of Professor Leo Koch in 1959, which landed it on the AAUP’s violators of academic freedom list for a number of years.  We had hoped that this kind of political intimidation was a thing of the past.  In addition to Senator Rose, Jim Dey of the News-Gazette seems to have initiated this whole uproar over Kilgore’s employment.  There again there is precedent. The Gazette (and conservative Senators Clabaugh and Peters) played a role in the protest over bringing Keynesians into the Department of Economics at the U of I, which resulted in Howard Bowen, Dean of the College of Commerce and Business Administration, being forced out in 1950. It also contributed to the 1953 Board of Trustees’ firing of university President Stoddard, who had been deemed too supportive of Bowen.  The university can ill afford a reversion to this ugly past.

Fifth, we are very much committed to the proposition that people who have committed felonies and have paid the price in terms of prison terms and/or fines should have access to employment opportunities.  Here the university should be setting an example.  Refusal to hire felons after release is the surest way to encourage recidivism and risk to the society.  It is also unjust, especially when practiced by a state institution.

For all the above reasons, CUJWJ calls for the reinstatement of James Kilgore to the position from which he has been unjustly terminated.

 

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CUCPJ Stands in Solidarity with James Kilgore

CUCPJlogobigAs a grassroots movement  working to address racial, gender, and economic injustices produced by our local criminal justice system, we have made one of our main efforts in recent years the prevention of new jail construction and the mass-incarceration mindset that goes along with it. Our ongoing effort has had remarkable success, thanks in great part to the tireless work and vision of fellow CUCPJ member James Kilgore.

In February 2014, a local right-wing newspaper launched an attack against Dr. Kilgore, reporting, as if it was news, on his criminal background and political activities in the 1970s, and questioning whether the University of Illinois―where he currently teaches―should employ him. Although in March a spokesperson for the University made a statement in support of Dr. Kilgore, in April in a private meeting with the University provost, James was informed without explanation that the University would not approve any future employment contracts with him.

We in CUCPJ see this treatment―the attack articles and his dismissal/firing without reasons―as injustices perpetrated not only against James Kilgore but all people with felony convictions who have paid their debt to society. We believe in building a multicultural democracy that includes the voices of those formerly incarcerated. Dr. Kilgore has every right to contribute to our community, participate in the democratic process, and assert himself as a citizen of Champaign-Urbana. We call for the University to reverse its decision and rehire James Kilgore. We also call on the community to sign the petition supporting him.

An injury to one is an injury to all.

CUCPJ

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A Faculty Union at UIUC Part 1

CFA NTT union 022The UI Chicago faculty union signed its first contract in April 2014. In Urbana the Campus Faculty Association (CFA) submitted in mid-May the necessary number of cards to create a full-time non-tenure track (NTT) faculty union (part-time NTT’s are excluded by Illinois labor law). At the end of 2013 an anti-union group formed spearheaded by Professors Jeffrey Brown (finance), Nick Burbules (education), and Joyce Tolliver (Spanish, Italian and Portuguese). Burbules and Tolliver created a blog, “No Faculty Union” (http://nofacultyunion.blogspot.com/), and the three wrote and circulated “Preserving Excellence at Illinois: Joint Statement of Concern About Faculty Unionization,” initially to named or endowed chairs (https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/PreserveExcellence).

Brown’s position comes as no surprise. Former President George W. Bush named him to his social security committee, and the two traveled together in 2007 pitching Bush’s proposal to privatize social security. During 2007-2009 Brown served on the advisory committee of the Koch brothers-supported Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government at UI. The Academy is so right-wing that when UI alum and their 2012 conference speaker Steve Moore moved from the Wall Street Journal editorial page to the Heritage Foundation as its chief economist in January 2014 as part of Heritage damage control after their 2012 electoral losses, Nobel economist and liberal columnist Paul Krugman lumped Moore, with his unreconstructed supply side economic ideology, in with those others whom then-Vice President George H. W. Bush famously criticized for practicing “voodoo economics.These same economists were castigated as “charlatans and cranks” by Republican economist and George W. Bush advisor Greg Mankiw in the latter’s best-selling textbook (http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/23/heritage-still-hackish/). If by supply side economics is meant “that a country can raise revenue by cutting tax rates, then I do NOT believe this is correct,” Brown wrote in an April 23 email. “I am in agreement with Mankiw and the vast majority of academic economists that as a general rule, cutting tax rates reduces revenue..During 2007-2010 the Academy was criticized by the faculty Senate for, among other things, an ideologically-driven agenda that awarded grants to like-minded faculty. Interestingly, Burbules and Tolliver criticized grants going to advisory council members, which included Brown, as conflict of interest. “Burbules questioned whether giving grants to members of the advisory council might constitute a conflict of interest. He said he wasn’t questioning anyone’s integrity, but it appears the foundation is ‘identifying friendly faculty and channeling money to people who they know agree with them’” (http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2010-07-18/academy-capitalism-paid-64000-projects-ui-2009.html , http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2010-07-18/academy-capitalism-still-has-strong-ties-ui-campus.html). In his email, Brown stated that “When the faculty senate raised serious concerns about governance, I tried to act as an intermediary to find a solution that both sides could endorse. When it became clear that this was unlikely to happen, I resigned.” In March 2014 Prof. Brown published an article that I read below as a case study in the corporatization of the university.

In contrast to Brown, both Burbules and Tolliver identify as political progressives. Since 2004, Burbules has written the important “Progressive Blog Digest.” Tolliver wrote an online comment supportive of James Kilgore, embattled former Symbionese Liberation Army member, and part-time UI faculty member, who has so far been denied reappointment for fall 2014, allegedly due to outside political pressure (http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2014-02-09/jim-dey-plain-sight.html). Both Burbules and Tolliver have played important leadership roles in the Senate Executive Committee and University Senates Conference. Interestingly, in 2007, Tolliver was president of the Campus Faculty Association, the organization she opposes today; she resigned her membership in 2010. While she adamantly opposes a union for tenure-track faculty, she stated in a March 20 email, “I would certainly not want to go on record as opposing collective bargaining for non-tenure track professors.”

All this makes for some strange bedfellows, since the union debate is between folks who vote Democratic much more often than Republican. It must be highly entertaining for local conservatives to watch the two sides attacking each other, often in the pages of the very right-wing News-Gazette.

Faculty work today reflects broader changes in the nature of work. In a previous article I focused on corporatization and corporate governance. Corporatization is the application to the university of neo-liberal policies and practices that aim generally to shrink the government sector and enhance the private sector through deregulation, free trade, and privatization – “capitalism with the gloves off,” as Prof. Robert McChesney says. “Corporate governance” describes how administrators implement corporate behaviors and managerial structures from the top down.

Historically, unions in the US cut a de facto deal with employers neatly summed up in so-called “Fordism. This refers to innovations including the moving assembly line, and time and motion studies, introduced by Henry Ford in the first decade of the 20th century that led to the mass production of consumer goods. These changes in production boosted productivity, increased profits, routinized work, and increased labor alienation. Some of the profits went to raising worker wages — Ford’s so-called “5 dollar a day was a princely wage at the time. Blue collar workers, along with the middle class, literally bought into the post-1945 increasingly “affluent society.” But US unions have rarely challenged the nature and organization of work per se. One notable exception is the 1937 Detroit Fisher body plant sit-down strike. Contrast this with the February 2014 failed attempt by the UAW to unionize a VW plant in Chattanooga. Interestingly, the UAW and VW both pushed for a worker and management “works council,” which sounds a lot like a faculty union working in a university system of “shared governance.” This is, in turn, decidedly reformist unionism. It is an extremely attenuated version of the original workers councils in the 1917 Russia Revolution (“soviet” means council in Russian) and the 1918-1919 German Revolution (http://www.labornotes.org/2014/02/volkswagen-workers-vote-union-works-council-scheme#sthash.tEY3uWxt.dpuf ). Yet, even such a watered-down, advisory-only “works council” in Chattanooga was too much for the current US labor regime based on government-business collusion to stomach.

Degradation of work through deskilling began in the mid- and late-19th centuries, and continues apace today. There are enormous differences with work on a mass assembly line, yet increasing university corporatization, over the last 40 years, looks uncannily like earlier deskilling. Gradually, faculty are rendered less and less like autonomous professionals, and more and more like other workers. One striking feature in the debate at UIUC is that while union proponents refer to corporatization only indirectly, union opponents are silent altogether. Yet it is there if we dig for it.

As at UI Chicago, differences between faculty and administrators at UIUC are significant and growing, according to Prof. Howard Bunsis (http://cfaillinois.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/bunsis-uiuc-presentation-oct-2013.pdf). Number and pay of tenure-track faculty stagnates – a net two tenure-stream faculty added 2007-2013 – while non-tenure track faculty rose 200. So-called “administrative bloat” continues. The number of administrators rose 120 2007-2013. Administrative expenses (“institutional support”) up 16 percent from 2011 to 2012. The number of students has increased 4.5% in the last six years. Tuition and total costs are up, making UIUC more expensive than the rest of the Big 10, and more costly than its public university “peer institutions,” including Berkeley, and Texas at Austin. Operating surpluses have increased reserves to over $700 million, as tuition income outstrips declining state support.

To this, Burbules responds that “[a]t campus after campus, his [Bunsis’s] conclusion is the same: there is lots of spare money in the system, which could be used to hire more faculty and improve salaries — but it is being hoarded by administrators who refuse to spend it except to expand administration and increase their own salaries.” Burbules does not refute Bunsis’s argument. He attacks the messenger. If people want to believe Bunsis, who tells the same story of

administrative deceit and corruption wherever he goes, they can do so… But this requires a level of credulity and lack of critical thinking that we would find unacceptable even in our own undergraduate students” (http://nofacultyunion.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-billion-dollar-hoax-part-one.html). Yet if corporatization is indeed a national phenomenon, it is logical to expect these same general trends occur elsewhere to a greater or lesser extent. Burbules has his facts wrong. At the April faculty Senate meeting, it was reported that UIUC has generated a net surplus of over $300 million every year since 2010. “We could probably spend about $700 million of our cash, and we’d still be OK,” the Senate budget committee chair said (http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2014-04-15/ui-budget-review-shows-financial-house-order.html).

Neither Burbules nor Brown use the word “corporatization,” but both write about it indirectly, Burbules in his “’Administrative Bloat’?” blog post (http://nofacultyunion.blogspot.com/2014/02/administrative-bloat-or-just-lot-of-hot.html), and Brown in “How University Endowments Respond to Financial Market Shocks” (http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/aer.104.3.931). Circulated previously under the title, “Why I Lost My Secretary,” Brown and his co-authors show that during financial downturns university endowments “actively reduce payouts relative to their stated payout policies,” which the authors find “surprising.” They attribute this to “endowment hoarding,” keeping endowment value close to what it was at the beginning of a university president’s term. They speculate that university leaders do so “perhaps due to the private benefits (e.g., prestige, future career opportunities, high compensation, etc.) they obtain from a larger endowment.” Engaging in “endowment hoarding” during the 2008-2009 recession required cuts elsewhere. Unsurprisingly, the cuts fell disproportionately on faculty and staff, which is, figuratively, “why I lost my secretary,” while, conversely, the number of administrators actually increased. All this is in keeping with corporatization.

Corporatization also figures in the debate over what pro- and anti-union folks call “shared governance,” which is, more accurately, “corporate governance.” Both sides are being disingenuous. Pro-union folks don’t say “corporate governance,” presumably because they don’t want to sound too militant, or conspiratorial. A faculty union would result in a relative redistribution of power and resources away from administration and towards faculty – exactly how much is difficult to say. Union advocates say this would strengthen shared governance. Anti-union folks say it would weaken, if not destroy, shared governance.

Faculty and administrators view themselves as partners in a common project;” writes Burbules (http://chronicle.com/article/How-Unions-Weaken-Shared/142625/). “This is what the ‘shared’ in shared governance means.” For both Burbules and Tolliver, their positions result from their personal experience in the faculty Senate. For them, “shared governance” works. But for many others, this mistakes theory for practice, “[i]t conflates what should be with what is,” says AAUP’s Ernst Benjamin. “As a political scientist (PhD, Chicago) I have trouble with this repeated failure to recognize the deep differences in priorities, not to mention interests, between boards, administrators, faculty and students” (http://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/Unions-Shared-Gov.pdf). As UIC English professor Walter Benn Michaels pithily puts it, “To call shared governance real governance is like saying your dog has an equal say in how your household is run because sometimes when he whines he gets fed (https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/02/faculty-on-strike/).

To take the argument a step further, the faculty Senate is, sociologically, more reactive than proactive. Certainly, it has distinguished itself in recent years by cleaning up messes created by the administration: the brouhaha over the Koch brothers-supported Academy for Capitalism and Limited Government (2007-2010) (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/09/08/academy?width=775&height=500&iframe=true), the deeply flawed Global Campus online learning initiative (2007-2009) (

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/09/03/globalcampus#sthash.Pkj5PFfI.dpbs), the preferential admissions scandal leading the UI president and Urbana chancellor to resign (2009), and forcing the resignation of UI president Michael Hogan (2012). The Senate has initiated important policy discussions, but cleaning the administration’s Augean stables has been far more significant. In fact, the practice of shared governance in the Senate today can be usefully contrasted to the earlier Chief Illiniwek controversy, when the Senate voted to get rid of the racist mascot years before the administration and, finally, the Board of Trustees came around.

Furthermore, working with the administration through the faculty Senate is to take a gradualist approach. During the past several decades, the number of non-tenure track faculty has increased significantly. Anti-union folks claim progress recently on NTT status, citing the Senate task force begun in 2013. After UI Chicago faculty signed a contract April 2014 that included raising NTT salaries, the Urbana provost set a floor of $40,000 for NTT’s. Pro-union folks argue that they shamed the Senate and administration into acting despite blatant moves to thwart unionization. Whether it is the Campus Faculty Association, Senate, or administration we have to thank, we can all agree: it’s about time.

Arguments about corporatization and shared governance turn on how people view faculty and administration in an era of neo-liberal corporatization. Are faculty and administrators more alike than unlike? When you are talking about coal miners or garment workers, it makes sense to talk about the struggle between workers and bosses,” writes Prof. Burbules (http://www.senate.illinois.edu/130204con_burbules.pdf). But this is a very poor analogy for how universities work. Administrators aren’t our bosses, and they have very limited abilities to direct our work. They aren’t ‘other’ to the faculty; they are faculty themselves, they share the academic values of faculty…” Union advocates respond that, while not identical, faculty work is increasingly like other work. “It has never been clearer that universities are more like other workplaces than different from them,” says historian David Roediger (http://cfaillinois.org/2014/03/03/david-roediger/). They are in fact a leading edge for the implementation of cutbacks, job insecurity, bureaucratic scrutiny, mass production, and attacks on pension plans. They have long used weak forms of faculty co-participation to recruit cooperation with such anti-teacher and anti-student practices.” Granted, administrators and faculty are not engaged in class conflict, but this does not mean that they are more alike than unlike. Rather, they constitute class fractions, that is, class-based social groups. Where faculty amass cultural capital – as in a Ph.D. administrators traffic in symbolic capital, which lies at the intersection of class and status.

(This is part one of a two part article.)

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Ukraine: Is There an Alternative?

Surveying both the mainstream and the alternative/Left media on the Ukraine crisis can seem like switching between alternate universes. In one, Ukrainians struggling for democracy, European values and independence, after toppling a corrupt President in thrall to oligarchs and the dictatorial Vladimir Putin, are now bedeviled by an extremist, pro-Russian minority who are creating chaos and dismembering the country. In the other, neo-Nazi militants, backed by the imperialist US and EU engineered a coup against a democratically elected government, installed a regime beholden to the Western banks and corporate interests who stand to profit from the coming forced austerity programs, and now are carrying out a reign of terror against simple eastern Ukrainian citizens peacefully expressing their opinion. Conspiracy theories and allegations of ‘false flag’ deceptions abound on both sides, centering especially on the key, bloody flashpoints: the sniper killings of demonstrators on Maidan square (dubbed ‘Euromaidan’) in Kiev on February 20, the fire in the Odessa trade union building on May 2 which killed dozens or hundreds (depending on your source), and the continuing bloody clashes around Slavyansk, Mariupol and other towns near the eastern (Russian) border.

On closer inspection, both sides of this black-and-white picture show contradictions. In the US establishment universe, why would Putin want to stir up widespread violence in Ukraine, thus putting at risk the 66% of Russian natural gas shipments to Europe—the richest source of his and his oligarch associates’ wealth and power—which pass through the Ukrainian pipelines? And what about the regime change that happened in late February under clearly questionable Parliamentary procedures, and the involvement of such elements as Right Sector, acknowledged on all sides as dangerously extremist, and the nationalist Svoboda party, which holds several ministries in the transitional government? In the Left/alternative universe, how can a fascist/extreme nationalist takeover be at the same time pro-US and -EU imperialist, when the EU, and by extension the US and NATO, are the biggest bogeymen of the nationalist Right across Europe? And is Putin—and his state-controlled media, which provide or at least echo the anti-Western arguments—really an appropriate role model for a democratic Left?

For all of the objectionable aspects of Putin’s rule and of Russia’s monolithic media landscape, the charge that an anti-Russian bias is rampant in US media and politics seems hard to deny. US geo-strategic planners have for well over a decade been pushing aggressive policies to roll back Russian influence, rather than the kind of strategic partnership that might have been expected after the fall of the Soviet Union. Russia scholar Stephen F. Cohen cites the US media for a “relentless demonization of Putin, with little regard for facts,” and the creation of a “new Cold War divide” by US actions such as the attempts to spread NATO to former Soviet republics Ukraine and Georgia. This was compounded, according to Cohen, by the EU’s “reckless ultimatum” in November that Ukraine choose between association with the EU and the deal offered by Russia, whereas Putin’s proposal for a three-way arrangement was rejected; Yanukovich’s choice of Russia and rejection of the EU spawned the protests that led to the fall of his government.

The key geopolitical factor that affects Ukraine is the aforementioned energy one. The EU—and especially its economic engine, Germany—is heavily dependent on Russian gas, mostly shipped by pipeline through Ukraine. Russia, through the quasi-governmental energy giant Gazprom, has shown its willingness to use these shipments as a political weapon several times in the past decade, by stopping or severely restricting supply. The US for its part has attempted to remove this lever by supporting an alternate supply route, the so-called Nabucco pipeline, from Azerbaijan and Iraq by way of Turkey. (Some US politicians have also advocated a lifting of the ban on exporting US natural gas, as a way to subvert Russian energy domination over Ukraine, and Europe.) Many see the whole region as the site of increasing geopolitical competition centered on energy.

It is also far from clear that a Ukraine that further integrates with the West—the EU, but also inevitably the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, US Treasury and other sources that it desperately needs to avoid bankruptcy and even complete economic collapse—will get closer to the prosperity and “normal” life that its citizens crave. The IMF has already made initial assistance conditional on sharp increases in consumer energy prices and large cuts in social benefits. Even the Washington Post has reported that concerns over IMF-demanded austerity measures have helped push citizens in eastern Ukraine onto the streets to protest. The hardships faced by citizens of Greece, Spain, Hungary and other EU member states struggling with economic crisis and the austerity demanded as a condition of bailouts pale before those that loom for Ukrainians, already several times poorer than even the poorest EU constituents.

US leaders and media emphasize the need to defend Ukrainian national sovereignty, violated by the secession or occupation (again, depending on one’s perspective) of Crimea in March, and threatened by a similar outcome for the largely ethnically Russian eastern parts of the country. The intertwining of Russians and Ukrainians goes back at least to the precursor to the Russian state, known as Kievan Rus, between the 9th and 13th centuries, which ranged from present-day northern Ukraine northwards to the current major population zones in western Russia (including the locations of today’s St. Petersburg and Moscow). Ukrainian territories under the Russian czars were later referred to as “White Russia” or “New Russia;” ethnically Russian settlers moved there in great numbers starting in the 16th century. Ukrainians look back to the 1648 uprising led by Bogdan Khelmnytsky as the fount of their national independence struggles; others point to tens of thousands of Jews killed during the rebellion and ensuing war, and even more Poles. Ukrainian independence efforts both in the aftermath of World War I and during World War II, when many collaborated with Nazi Germany in order to stave off Soviet power, also led to the deaths of many Jews and others. In between the wars, millions of Ukrainians fell victim to their own national tragedy, the Holodomor, starving during Stalin’s brutal forced collectivization. So the Ukrainian national cause offers much to admire, but also much to be wary of, and its national borders are also not necessarily historically sacred.

With scheduled May 25 Presidential elections pending as this article goes to press, what are the prospects for the Ukrainian people themselves (as opposed to “the fascists,” “the Russian stooges,” etc.)? Politics now as before the “Euromaidan revolution” are dominated by oligarchs, such as election front-runner Petro Poroshenko, a candy magnate known as the “Chocolate King,” or contender Yulia Tymoshenko, the hero of the 2004 Orange Revolution, who made her fortune in the gas industry. Alongside the nationalist militants at Euromaidan were peaceful demonstrators, surely the majority, who sincerely desired to overcome a clearly dysfunctional politics and economy, for the benefit of all Ukrainians. Both “sides” in the current media struggle have succeeded in turning a civic and social movement into an ethnic and national conflict, and Ukraine into a geopolitical pawn. I have not been able to find a continuation of this people’s movement into the current situation, a “side to root for.” But what will definitely do the people unimaginable harm is the looming civil war, not to speak of a possible internationalization of the conflict, in a region that has been a borderland for centuries. It is incumbent on us to urge our political representatives—and our media—to work for diplomacy, resolution and reconciliation, at least as a first step, rather than stoking discord.

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“A Day at Stateville” Captures Life As It Is On the Inside

Jim Chapman (white) in the center; Danny Franklin, the tall gentleman on the far right of the photo.

Jim Chapman (white) in the center; Danny Franklin, the tall gentleman on the far right of the photo.

On Friday, May 9, “A Day at Stateville,” a play written by men currently incarcerated in Stateville prison, and performed by those formerly incarcerated there, was staged at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Urbana. I spoke with one of the actors, Danny Franklin, who explained how he got involved. The play attempts to counter the story of prison life glamorized in Hollywood movies and television series. “This is what it is,” Franklin told me, “the way it is.”

The play was conceived by men who were a part of Jim Chapman’s creative writing class, all of whom have sentences of natural life and are never going home. They made the play to give some “hope,” Franklin said. It was written to give those on the outside a view of what’s “really happening on the inside, give some understanding, that not everybody in the prison system is bad.”

In 1997, Danny Franklin returned home to Chicago to found Reaching Back Ministry. His group holds an Annual Feast and Fellowship to benefit those formerly incarcerated and help them transition back into their communities. “These kinds of things keep us accountable to one another,” Franklin explained. It was at one of these picnics that he first met Jim Chapman who invited him to join the play. As a child growing up, he had taken part in a “couple plays” and agreed.

Opened in 1925, Stateville is a maximum security prison located some 50 miles southwest of Chicago. It was modeled after Jeremy Bentham’s “panopticon,” famously described by French philosopher Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish as a form of modern-day social control. Stateville no longer has any pretense of being a “correctional center,” as it is called.

Danny Franklin said since he left, “things have gone downhill” for those at Stateville. “There is no more schooling, no more education, as far as classes,” he said. “The system has failed from what people thought it was, a rehabilitation system. People are being warehoused. There’s no money to rehabilitate them.”

He continues to work with those reentering society. “Once the individual comes home, we need to reach them with resources to they can restart on a positive note,” said Franklin. He recognized that some end up back in prison. But he was quick to point out that none of the men in “A Day at Stateville” had gone back. “When you’re doing something positive, it means you’re not doing anything negative.”

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Pete Seeger’s 1958 Visit to UIUC Amidst the Red Scare

Pete Seeger actionA series of events took place in May celebrating the life of folk singer, banjo player, and political activist Pete Seeger, who passed away earlier this year. After a flyer for the events was circulated, my friend Barbara Kessel emailed me about her recollection of Pete Seeger’s 1958 visit to the University of Illinois, when he was banned from performing on campus during the red scare. The incident is a reminder of how widespread the blacklist was, even reaching this Midwestern college town. As the civil rights movement was gaining momentum and “the sixties” were just around the corner, Barbara recalled a “new world” opened up to her that night.

Pete Seeger HUACPete Seeger’s troubles began after an August 18, 1955 appearance in front the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). By this time, Senator from Wisconsin Joseph McCarthy had been discredited, but the anti-communist witch hunt still lived on. Unlike others who claimed the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Seeger refused to answer questions on the basis of the First Amendment:

“I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.”

Indeed, Seeger had been a member of the Communist Party, first joining the Young Communist League in 1937 while a student at Harvard, passing out leaflets on campus about the Spanish Civil War, and joining a travelling puppet show performing to unions in upstate New York. He sang protest songs with the Almanacs, drawing the attention of the FBI who started following him as early as 1941. During World War II, Seeger joined the Army, spending most of his time performing for the troops. He toured with Henry Wallace, whose third party presidential campaign in 1948 was supported by the Left. In 1949, Seeger was to perform in Peekskill, New York when the famous African American singer Paul Robeson was attacked by a mob whipped into a frenzy by the growing red scare.

For failure to answer questions (at least, in the desired way), Seeger was indicted for contempt of Congress on March 26, 1957. In 1961, he was convicted by a jury and sentenced to one year in a federal penitentiary. He narrowly escaped imprisonment when in May, 1962 an appeals court reversed the conviction, but throughout these years controversy followed him wherever he went.

Verifying the Story

In 1950, Seeger started another folk group, the Weavers. But in 1957 he left the act, uncomfortable with the folk group’s growing popularity. Striking out on a solo career, he turned to performing at smaller venues, such as summer camps, schools, and college campuses. On October 10, 1957, Seeger played to a sellout crowd at Smith Music Hall on the U of I campus with no apparent concern. The following year was different.

Barbara Kessel, a sophomore at the time, told me that Seeger “was banned to sing” on campus in 1958 because of his problems with HUAC. Instead, the University YMCA hosted his concert. Interested in local history, I wanted to try to verify if this story was true.

I went to librarians at the University archives, Jameatris Rumkis and Helen Sullivan, who scanned Board of Trustees and Chancellor’s meeting minutes, pulled boxes from University Y archives, and pointed me to the digitized files of the Daily Illini.

The University YMCA announced in early October 1958 that it was starting a membership drive with a concert by Pete Seeger. He was to be joined by the blind African American harmonica player Sonny Terry. The two had recorded a bestselling record at Carnegie Hall that was released on Folkways Records. That the two were playing at the Y, and not Smith Hall, appears to confirm Barbara’s account, although newspaper articles make no mention of a scandal.

On October 28, 1958, according the Daily Illini, Pete Seeger performed to a “full room” at the University Y’s Latzer Hall. The concert lasted for more than two hours and included three encores. Seeger played such songs as “You Are My Sunshine,” “Goodnight, Irene,” “John Henry,” and a song by Huddie Ledbetter, “Bourgeois Blues,” about segregation in the nation’s capital.

As Barbara remembered, it was a special night. Rumors about Seeger’s appearance drew a large crowd of those curious to know what all the fuss was about, including Barbara, who was new to the growing social movement. “People were hanging from the rafters,” she recalled. “It was my first experience of a ‘movement,’ because the songs he had us all singing were often about resistance―somewhere else, some other time, but by singing, we were part of it. A new world opened up that night. Of every moment of the three and a half years I spent at the University of Illinois, that is the most outstanding in my memory.”

The University’s Blacklist

When I asked how she knew about Seeger’s banning from campus, Barbara said she had heard the back story from one of her favorite professors, Harry Tiebout [pronounced Tee-bo], who “told us all about HUAC and what the university was up to.” Tiebout regularly met with Barbara and a group of admiring students in the basement of the YMCA. He had taught philosophy on campus since 1947 when he was hired. Founder of the local chapter of the NAACP, and a reformer within the Democratic Party, he was the most radical professor on campus at the time. Tiebout had a “big impact on me,” Barbara said.

According to archives of the University YMCA, Tiebout regularly attended board meetings. It was most likely Tiebout who arranged to have Seeger perform at the Y in 1958. Yet the board minutes do not include any discussion about Seeger. Neither I nor the librarians could find any other mention of the incident in University Archives. The decision to pull Seeger may have been made behind closed doors.

Finally, I found an article a month later in the Daily Illini, dated Dec. 2, 1958, that confirmed Barbara’s account. It was part of a series explaining the YMCA’s programming. “Many complaints” have been made, it said, because the Y’s events competed with University-sponsored events. These criticisms were “ridiculous and invalid,” the author said. Because of his “liberal” tendencies, Seeger was not allowed to perform in university facilities. He had apparently been placed on the “University’s blacklist.” When the Y stepped in to sponsor the event, it introduced a “new type of entertainment.” Indeed, the Y was helping to promote a revival of folk music that would come in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Pete Seeger’s appearance at the University of Illinois marked a period of transition from the Cold War to the social revolutions of the 1960s. Unlike many others, Seeger survived the blacklist and went on to achieve legendary status as a folk musician and fighter for social justice.

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Northwestern Football Player Union

“This will give a totally different meaning to wildcat strikes.” – anarchist prisoner Sean Swain, in a letter to me

Months after the Bowl Championship Series National Champion was crowned in college football, and as we prepared for the end of March Madness in Division I college basketball, a major victory for its players occurred off the court.

In late March, the Chicago regional chapter of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Northwestern University football players have the right to form a union if they desire, and that the Wildcats team members should legally be considered employees.

The ruling from the NLRB stated that “… players receiving scholarships to perform football-related services for the Employer under a contract for hire in return for compensation are subject to the Employer’s control and are therefore employees.” It agreed with the argument that scholarships are payment for services rendered, as well as saying that coaches are agents of the school and have employer-like control over the players.

Most notably, the Chicago NLRB ruled that the players are “primarily athletes,” which undercuts the long-standing mythos of the “student athlete” portrayed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). While harkening back to nostalgic views of pure amateur status, the term “student athlete” was created as a legal argument to prevent the NCAA and its member schools from having to pay out workers’ compensation and wrongful death claims when they were taken to court. The argument falls apart when one notes that the NCAA allows schools to revoke scholarships from athletes on a year-to-year basis if they do not or cannot (due to injury) perform at a level required by coaches.

During the hearing, Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter testified that players work 40 to 50 hours per week on football-related activities before and during the season. This isn’t an isolated instance or an outlier, but commonplace throughout big time college sports.

Soon after, Northwestern University announced that it would appeal and request a hearing before the full NLRB. At press time, they had until April 9 to file. Meanwhile, the NLRB announced that the Northwestern football team would vote on April 25 to decide if it would become a union affiliated with the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA).

The victory at the NLRB comes at a time when the framework of collegiate athletics is under more criticism than ever before. Players at multiple schools, including Northwestern, have silently protested during games by wearing the letters “APU”— standing for “All Players United”—on their athletic tape. Former University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) basketball player Ed O’Bannon has filed a class action lawsuit against the NCAA over the lack of compensation for the use of player names and likeness in commercials, video games and other media. Four players are currently suing the NCAA and the major sport conferences over scholarships not being enough to fully cover the cost of attending the universities. Former West Virginia RB Shawne Alston has filed a lawsuit alleging that the NCAA and its member conferences have violated anti-trust rules by colluding to keep scholarships at an amount less than the true cost of attending the colleges. Prominent journalists, including civil rights historian Taylor Branch, have called out the NCAA repeatedly for its rank hypocrisy, stating that its labor dynamics have an “unmistakable whiff of the plantation”; and documentaries like “Schooled” are being widely screened.

While the ability of Northwestern football to unionize may only apply to private schools (public schools would have to deal with state labor laws), this groundbreaking victory will give the players a greater voice to make demands like ensuring scholarships for the duration of their schooling experience and gaining tangible benefits in their workplace. It may also be a harbinger of things to come, and the latest move in dismantling the indefensible and immoral structure of NCAA athletics that makes billions for the coaches, conferences and their organization, while the players who create the value get zero.

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Still Mourning Local Femicide, or Why We Need a Race-Conscious Feminist Revolution

_____________________________________________________________________________

Ann Wu and Rachel Lauren Storm

 

In last November’s issue of the Public i, Hong Cheng, a freshman in Math & Computer Science at the University of Illinois, published an article entitled “Raising Concerns about Chinese Students’ Mental Health,” wherein he discussed the brutal killing of Mengchen Huang, a graduate student in the School of Art + Design. Her ex-boyfriend and University of Illinois alum, Youngfei Ci, had travelled from his Brown University post-doc intending to kill Huang, following their break-up a week before. Cheng problematizes a lack of access to mental health support for Chinese international students, asserting that things “could have been different if Ci had consulted friends or psychologists.” Cheng speculated that “[Ci’s] absence might be a reason that his girlfriend broke up with him, which eventually led to the tragedy. His girlfriend and his studies in math were his whole life.”

 

While we do need to engage in critical discussions on barriers to accessing mental health services and ensuring that students, international and domestic, receive adequate support, Cheng fails to situate Ci’s murder of Huang in a larger context of abuse. Moreover, Cheng employs a number of problematic stereotypes and generalizations about the experiences of Chinese international students. This article is a response and urges that we understand the problem of violence against women within a larger framework of structural violence. Intimate violence must be fought through prevention education that is conscious of larger systems of power, privilege, and oppression.

 

According to an ongoing study by the World Health Organization and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, more than 35% of all murders of women globally are reported to be committed by an intimate partner. In comparison, only about 5% of all murders of men are committed by an intimate partner. Among all homicides of men and women, approximately 15% are reported to be committed by an intimate partner. A global study of intimate partner homicide forthcoming from the National Institute of Health used data from 66 countries to illustrate that more than twice as many women are killed by a husband or intimate acquaintance than are killed by a stranger using a gun, a knife, or any other means.

 

It’s important to recognize that this was not isolated violence–Ci was abusive before the killing. At the campus vigil for Huang sponsored by the Women’s Resources Center and Chinese Student Association, one woman shared her own experience of having gone on a date with Ci. She described feeling uncomfortable early on in their ride to their dinner destination and expressing wanting to end the date prematurely, requesting to be taken home–a request that Ci ignored. In her statement, she shared that at the time , she–like so many others–didn’t possess the tools to recognize this as abusive behavior. All too often survivors face victim-blaming narratives that obscure the reality of the violence they suffered. By failing to recognize that Huang was abused by Ci during their relationship, Cheng fails to see that this tragic killing was part of a larger pattern of intimate partner violence that escalated to murder when she left. Those of us organizing around issues of intimate partner/domestic violence know that a woman is most at risk when she attempts to leave. In fact, this life-threatening risk is one of the reasons why women may find it extremely difficult to escape an abusive relationship.  Speculating that Huang may have left the relationship due to Ci’s absences, without also noting Ci’s history of abuse, has the effect of minimizing or even erasing that violence. Failing to recognize Huang as a victim of intimate partner violence, and describing Ci as simply in need of mental health services, obscures a larger system of patriarchy pervasive the world over. The silence around Huang’s death was part and parcel of the silence surrounding gender-based violence so prevalent for women. Reports of the murder as a “homicide” with no mention of gender, abuse, or violence against women also reflect that silence.  This labeling represents an institutional silence that produced false narratives about this being a senseless, random crime.

 

Unfortunately, mental health services haven’t proven effective for dismantling patriarchy. There are very real structural barriers to the accessibility of mental health services for students of color, ESL students, and immigrants, among other marginalized groups. These include ethnocentric design of direct service, lack of cultural competency among staff, inadequate marketing of services for specific populations, and not enough attention given to the dismantling of social stigma surrounding mental health services; all involve xenophobia, misogyny, racism, and classism. However, it is patriarchy– the social, political, and economic system that positions men as dominant– that sanctions beliefs about gender that give rise to misogyny and violence against women.

 

Overgeneralization of the experiences of Chinese international students in Cheng’s article also contributes to mischaracterization of the problem. Cheng identified “common characteristics of Chinese students [as a] lack of a social life, eminence in academics, and unwillingness to express feelings.” He stereotypes Chinese students, inferring that it is their ethnic background and supposed monolithic cultural upbringing that lead to isolation and lack of support. This not only overgeneralizes the experiences of Chinese international students, but it holds only students accountable for seeking help, rather than demanding institutions meet the diverse needs of students. Cheng was trying to point to very real structural barriers facing marginalized students–which can include those for whom English isn’t a first language, those with immigrant statuses, and international students. That said, institutions must meet those needs where they exist. Furthermore, Cheng focused on the lack of support for Ci, without reflecting upon the fact that Huang may have also needed support from the community as a victim of abuse long before her death.

 

In response to Cheng’s characterizations about the experiences of Chinese international students, Ann Wu (PhD. student in Art Education in the School of Art + Design) writes:

As an international Chinese student myself, I know that generally, Chinese students do not seek to limit their friendships to other Chinese people. Many of us face barriers in reaching out and connecting, not because of our ethnicity, but because English is our second (or third or fourth etc.) language–making it hard to keep up with native speakers of American English.

 

My immigration status comes into play in other ways. Because of student visa regulations, I am often afraid of being deported for breaking even small rules. Not being from the U.S., I lack the social network to guide me through times of discomfort or confusion. If we locate Chinese students’ experiences within a larger framework of marginal immigrants’ lived experiences, it is not hard to recognize the systematic denial of access across all aspects of campus and community life that contribute to an alienation in the United States. Instead of resorting to stereotyping and blaming international Chinese students’ lack of initiative (especially when no two experiences of international students are the same), it becomes necessary to recognize the structural hostility facing immigrants of color and the diversity of our individual experiences.

 

INCITE Women of Color Against Violence asserts that women of color and immigrant victims of violence are at a “dangerous intersection,” facing multiple obstacles to receiving help as a result of oppression. Survivors of violence face many barriers to accessing services as a result of their legal status. They are often reluctant to report crimes because their partners threaten to report them to the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) for deportation. Many programs for domestic and sexual violence survivors in the U.S. do not provide services in languages other than English. To respond to these challenges, INCITE argues that those of us working to end violence must:

 

  1. Develop analyses and strategies around ending violence that place women of color at the center;

  2. Address violence against women of color in all its forms, including: attacks on immigrants’ rights and Indian treaty rights; the proliferation of prisons; militarism; attacks on the reproductive rights of women of color; medical experimentation on communities of color; homophobia/heterosexism and hate crimes against lesbians of color; economic neo-colonialism; and institutional racism; and

  3. Encourage the anti-violence movement to reinsert political organizing into its response to violence.

What is overwhelmingly apparent is that Cheng, like so many of us, is mourning– looking for ways to make sense of a terrible crime and its affect on our community. Too often in these moments, we move away from looking at structural problems and, instead, individualize the crime or position it as exceptional. We do this to make ourselves feel safer, but in doing so, we fail to recognize that not only is violence against women commonplace, but that these issues are deeply connected structural violence and our work needs to come from a place that addresses violence in all of its forms.

 

If you or someone you know is experiencing violence or abuse, direct them to these resources:

 
The Women’s Resources Center | 217.333.3137
703 S. Wright St. MC-302 2nd Fl. Champaign | www.go.illinois.edu/WRC | womenscenter@illinois.edu
–advocacy, counseling, and education services for students experiencing abuse
 
A Woman’s Place/Center for Women in Transition | 217.384.4462
508 E. Church Street, Champaign | http://www.cwt-cu.org | counselor@cwt-cu.org
–24-hour domestic violence crisis hotline: 217.384.4390
–shelter, counseling, and advocacy for women and children experiencing abuse
 
Rape Advocacy Counseling and Education Services (RACES)| 217.344.6298
Lincoln Square Mall, 300 S. Broadway Urbana  | http://www.cu-races.org/ | admin@cu-races.org
– 24-hour sexual assault crisis hotline: 217.384.4444
–rape crisis advocacy, counseling, and education services
 
Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline: 877.863.6338
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Women Profile–Amy Ramirez

Anyone who has visited Fiesta Cafe, Emerald City, or C-street over the last twenty years has probably met Amy Ramirez. She can be seen constantly on the move, serving food and drinks while chatting up old and new visitors alike. Amy, who herself came from the small midwestern town of Canton, Illinois, has a history in Champaign-Urbana (C-U) of creating safe entertainment spaces for LGBTQ people from C-U and the surrounding area. 

Amy_Ramirez_photo

Public I: How do you feel safe spaces for the LGBTQ community have changed in the past twenty years?

 

Amy R: It is completely different. Things have  progressed, now gay people can go any place, it used to be (in my opinion) that people were coming to gay bars and nightclubs mainly to hook up, so if you wanted to meet people like yourself, that was all you had because there were no other options. There wasn’t the internet and other things like that. Now we have the technology where people can hook-up … so bars and restaurants are just to be social and go out. If you create a fun, creative event, people will come to it. People are trying to find their own group of friends: their own little family.

 

Public I: Do you feel that C-U has something unique to offer in the area of safe spaces for LGBTQ people?

 

Amy R: Definitely. I moved here with my best friend right after high school because we liked the diversity that the University brought to C-U. Back home we used to get beer cans thrown at us when we walked into bars … I still wouldn’t be comfortable going into a bar in Bement, for instance, with my wife. C-U is the closest we’ve got to Chicago or St. Louis, there are a lot of very welcoming places here. A lot of people in smaller towns feel like they have no other place to go, but they can come here and find unity and make friends.

 

Public I: You had an interesting experience of acquiring a marriage license in one of the smaller surrounding towns, tell us a little bit about that experience.

 

Amy R: My wife and I had a very unpleasant experience in Mahoment at our venue. So I looked up Allerton Park in Monticello, they were supper supportive and helpful, the ladies were awesome, they watched our wedding and said it was one of the most beautiful weddings they had ever been to. We had to get our marriage license in Piatt County. The ladies in the office were really nice. There was one woman who seemed stand-off-ish, and she probably wasn’t gay-friendly, but she stood over in the corner and did her own thing, while the rest of us were laughing and having a good time.

 

Public I: Even as same-sex couples gain broader acceptance, transgender people are still experiencing a lot of hate. How do you feel about your role in creating safe spaces for transgender people, specifically:

 

Amy R: I am definitely trans-friendly. I have always felt that everybody is welcome. I create spaces where people can come together and have a good time, and not by putting a label on people. As the bartender, whenever I saw a transgender person there for the first time, and it looked like they might feel a little out of their element, or even people who were new, or straight women looking around, I always went up to them and would go the extra mile to let them know that if they needed anything or any resources, I was there to help. You never know what people are going through, talking to them for ten minutes might make a big difference in their life.

 

The new thing I learned is that lesbians are not always supportive of transgender people, and I don’t know what the big deal is. I’ve been asking questions and reading and researching. I’m lucky enough to say that right now I am currently friends with over 20 local transgender people. I know a lot of them are having problems at home or with other people in their lives judging them. I’ll sit down and talk to them confidentially and do anything to help. I’m trying my best to embrace each person with my life.

 

What do you think, A.J.? [Amy turns to A.J., who has recently started to transition]

 

A.J.: It’s the highlight of my week! It’s something that is refreshing for people to have.  And [Gay Nights at Fiesta Cafe] being on Wednesdays, it gives me something to do in the middle of the week. I can meet new people and feel supported. A lot of people have to work through the week and may not have support, so if you have to wait for the weekend, it can be hard. It just feels really great, I’m thankful for it.

 

Public I: In general, your events are body-positive, for cisgender and transgender people, you set an example by bartending in a pair of daisy-dukes and a half-top.

 

Amy R: I remember that night! I had my stomach sticking out, it made everybody laugh and it made me laugh and so many people took their pictures with me. I’m down for everyone having a good time. No one should feel bad about their weight, and if they do, I want to help them change that. I just feel like I love myself and I value myself, of course I wish I were 50 lbs skinnier! That would be great, but I’m happy with who I am. You’ve got to find happiness in who you are.

 

Amy currently hosts “Gay Night” on Wednesdays at Fiesta Cafe in Champaign; and brings in a Mistress of Ceremonies for Ru Paul’s Drag Race event on Mondays, which features games such as bingo and `pin the wig on the drag queen’. A recent event was hosted by local queen, Honey Dijon, who came dressed in elaborate drag that looked like a taco.

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Women Profile–Renee Bever

Renee BeverLindsey Renee Bever (A.A. Parkland College in Psychology, B.S. UIUC in Psychology, M.A. Suffolk University in Women’s Health) lives in Los Angeles, where she works with LGBTQ youth and spends time with her partner and friends that are family.

If you would have told me as a child growing up in Champaign-Urbana that one day I’d be living in Los Angeles, with my Master’s degree, working with LGBT youth, I definitely would have believed you. I have wanted this for a really long time. A journal entry from me at 16 says “I can’t wait to have a master’s degree and be working at a youth center.” 12 years later, here I am.

Almost 3 years ago, I started working with homeless LGBTQ youth in Los Angeles. My role within the organization I work for  has changed and  shifted, but my number one goal has stayed the same – to create and maintain a space that is holistically safe for LGBTQ youth. I believe that my passion for this work began many years ago when I, a queer youth, felt as if I had nowhere to go and be myself. Now, every day, I have the opportunity to make eye contact with the youth and offer them genuine compassion, and that is truly the driving factor in my passion for this work.

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