Democracy & the College Workplace:
A Case Study

a senior thesis by Alexandra Bradbury

Department of Sociology and Anthropology,
Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA
May 16, 2005

You can read the entire thesis simply by scrolling down, or jump to a particular section by clicking on its title in the table of contents below. Comments and responses are welcome -- email me at alb (at)! You can also download each chapter as a PDF for easier printing. Here are some links to further resources on student labor activism, living wage movements, and workplace organizing. Click here to return home.

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Title page


Chapter 1: Introduction

Research questions
Literature review
Road map
A note on terminology
A note on confidentiality

Chapter 2: A Changing Institution

The college community: family, small town, school, and business
Corporatization: the bottom line is the bottom line

Chapter 3: A Shifting Hierarchy

Faculty versus staff
Administrators (and faculty) versus support staff
From administrative and support staff to exempt and non-exempt
The symbolic and the concrete
Three perspectives on the change in categories
Contracting out

Chapter 4: A Brief Interlude: Talking About Compensation

Chapter 5: The Pseudonym College Fair Labor Campaign

Chapter 6: A Voice in the Workplace

Being at the table
Feeling free to speak
Having your voice count

Chapter 7: Conclusion: Notes Towards a Role for Student Labor Activists

Works Cited


Appendix A – interview guides
Appendix B – flyers
Appendix C – consent forms







Democracy & the
College Workplace:

A Case Study


Alexandra Bradbury

Faculty Advisor:
Robin Wagner-Pacifici


Swarthmore College

May 16, 2005








Immense thanks to everyone from Pseudonym College who generously agreed to participate in interviews with me. Thank you also to the Pseudonym College Institutional Review Board; the kind stranger who helped me with Spanish translations of flyer and consent form; the good people in Pseudonym’s Media Services department, who trusted me with a transcribing machine; everyone at the deli where so many of these interviews took place; and the wonderful roommate who took me in for a month.

At Swarthmore, I am deeply grateful to professors Robin Wagner-Pacifici, who served as my thesis advisor; Sarah Willie, who advised me early in the process and later served as my second reader; Ginny O’Connell, who advised me in developing my summer research plan; and Lee Smithey. Thank you all for your generous assistance and inspiring scholarship. Thanks also to Rose Maio, the Sociology & Anthropology Department generally, and the grantors of the Joel Dean Summer Research Grant for making this project possible. Special thanks to the Tri-College Library staff, especially Megan Adams and Mary Ann Wood. And profound thanks to all my good thesis buddies—Ivan Boothe, Sarah Kelly, Amanda Armstrong, Anand Vaidya, Sehnaz Kiymaz and the rest of the McCabe basement crew—as well as friends and roommates, especially Dann Naseemullah and Mariah Montgomery for support from afar—and always, always, my parents! And thanks to United Students Against Sweatshops and the Swarthmore Living Wage & Democracy Campaign, who inspired me to take on this project in the first place.





Until recently I had never thought of the university as a place where labor and goods were bought and sold, but rather as a place where people exchange and share ideas freely, where the mind is encouraged to think, learn, explore, and grow…. I now know that universities have never existed in such an ideal form, and certainly not for all people. Furthermore, the concept of the university as somehow separate from an "outside world" is, of course, a strictly imaginary one.

—Amy Freeman, "The Spaces of Graduate Student Labor:
The Times for a New Union," 248

Research questions

As a progressive student arriving at Swarthmore College for the first time, I remember, I was thrilled to discover the Swarthmore Living Wage and Democracy Campaign. So much of my high school activism had felt quixotic. We protested against the World Trade Organization and the sanctions on Iraq, but the United States government took no notice, and even our years of pushing the Seattle School District to adopt a multicultural curriculum had so far yielded no tangible results.[1] Hence, the intensely local scale of the Living Wage Campaign appealed—it seemed an opportunity to make a concrete difference. The principle of a living wage explored visionary moral terrain on a national scale, yet it also seemed winnable in the context of this small, very wealthy college. Furthermore, I liked the locational consciousness of these student activists whose work I joined. The campaign acknowledged and drew upon the reality of students’ position of privilege in the institution. We sought to use the freedom and safety of our student role to hold the administration accountable to its rhetorical commitment to social justice. In so doing, I believed, we would ultimately be working to decrease the social inequality manifested in the organization of the college—deploying our privilege in the project of its own unmaking. I threw myself into the effort with enthusiasm, and it has continued to absorb me throughout my time here.

As the years have passed and my involvement in the Campaign has deepened, I have come to doubt my initial easy assessment of how student organizing could function to undo privilege. Although I remain enthusiastic about what I see as the goals of the movement, I have continually re-framed my own conceptions of those goals and how to achieve them. I have watched other student activists here grapple with many of the same problems. At moments of critical strategy decisions for the campaign, our striving surfaces in impassioned pleas and deeply felt conflicts. Somehow, in the constant urgency of the political moment, there is never enough time to fully sort out the underlying principles of our work—although, indeed, it is a matter not only of taking the time, but also of finding knowledge outside our own experiences. We are all young and inexperienced—and so is our movement as a whole, a movement which is really just now gaining steam. Just in the early spring of 2005, as I worked on this thesis, the news media carried stories about dramatic student labor actions at Washington University in Saint Louis, at Georgetown University, and at the University of California. In this moment of exciting innovation, where are the historical, where the theoretical foundations for our work?

I yearn for a more carefully grounded praxis. I am increasingly concerned that student activists at Swarthmore—and perhaps in student labor action groups across the country—lack a clear vision for how to shift constructively the relations of power in our schools. In fact, while we can see and claim victories in increasing wages and benefits, I fear we are not even sure how to ascertain how we may be affecting the social dynamics of the workplaces that are also our schools. This is dangerous, because our campaigns may not only be failing to achieve democracy in campus workplaces—we may actually be harming that goal. Organizations like United Students Against Sweatshops use inter-campus networking to provide valuable tactical support on pursuing material economic objectives, but on a national scale I know of no conversation within the movement about an ideological framework for how, and on what grounds, we seek to socially transform our campus communities.

I conceived of this project as a first step towards filling that void. I set out to write a case study of a college living wage campaign that was unfamiliar to me, situating myself as a sympathetic outsider, but drawing on the issues and concerns that my own experiences at Swarthmore had raised for me. I could not, of course, theorize the entire national movement on the basis of one or two cases, nor should that project fall to any one scholar—but through my analysis I hope to generate hypotheses and begin to draw together, from various realms of study, the literature relevant to student labor activism. With living wage campaigns sprouting up all over the United States, this is a dynamic and potentially very fruitful direction for research. In fact, as important as the specifics of the college campus context are to my analysis, I believe that this work also has implications for scholarship focused on organizing and power even in off-campus contexts. Specifically, I think that the issues surrounding the student living wage movement speak directly to the question of what roles people of privilege play in anti-oppression movements.

At the same time, I hope to produce a work of crossover relevance between the worlds of academia and social activism—and who better to bridge that gap than student activists? This thesis should not only contribute to an ongoing body of scholarship, but also prove an immediately useful tool for living wage campaigners. To that end, in this case study I have sought to identify issues and patterns that students and others pursuing campus-based social change can use as frames for critiquing and strategizing their own work, and about how they may affect the social contexts of their institutions. By providing a starting point for discussion, I hope to prompt conversation among student activists around the country about the framing assumptions and goals of our movement on both the national and local scales.

When I set out to do my field research, I conceived the central question of this thesis thus: In this case, what effect—if any—did student living-wage activism have on the power of college staff members—both direct employees and contracted workers—in their employment situations? I asked it this way because I could see several hypothetical and, to me, plausible answers. On the one hand, perhaps student activism increases the power of staff, such as by drawing public attention and legitimacy to workplace issues. On the other hand, perhaps student activism decreases the power of staff—if, for instance, the voices of students draw the public focus away from staff members’ own articulations of their needs and concerns. Of course, since power is not a simple unitary phenomenon, these two possibilities are not mutually exclusive, and elements of both may be at play. However, it is also possible that neither occurs—that, while students may win material changes in the employment policies of their college, their work has no effect at all on the degree to which college staff members influence their own work environments.

I designed my interview questions with this central set of hypotheses in mind, but as I engaged in these conversations and then read and analyzed the texts, I began to feel that the real questions I could and should address with this project were somewhat different. I was not really in a position to effectively investigate change over time, much less causality—the one month that I was there conducting interviews is essentially a single frozen instant in the time scale of these changes at the college. Instead, I could deal with how, in this single moment, people talk about how things are and how they are changing. Rather than trying to discover what effects student labor activists have had, I decided to investigate the context in which they act and the various discourses at play around workplace democracy and fair labor issues in this case. I have grown particularly interested in how different constituencies observe the processes of democratization and corporatization unfolding at Pseudonym. Since I am wearing my academic hat (rather than my activist hat) here, I do not focus on developing a specific political agenda for student labor action. Instead, I have undertaken to discover and describe the issues at stake, and the discursive choices available, in the formation of a principled basis for action. I have tried to write a thesis that I, in my other hat, would find useful in informing the ideology and strategy of my work.

Conceptions of an appropriate role for student labor activists must, in my view, rely closely on some answer to the question of how workplace change takes place in the absence of students. It has been easy for students to construct our own role as necessary by highlighting the ways in which organizing is less risky and more convenient for us than it is for college employees, and for low-wage employees in particular. It is hard to argue with the truth that most students are in a situation of relative safety, but if we leap from there to a model of workplace organizing with students at its center, we are obscuring the agency of employees and ignoring the long history of workers who have organized themselves and advocated for their own interests even in situations of great personal risk. Clearly, the presence of students is not a necessary element of labor activism. What happens when we insert students as an additional ingredient into the dynamics of a workplace? Are student solidarity organizations a help, a hindrance, or an ambiguous actor in relation to worker-initiated change? Does it matter whether students are following workers’ lead or directing their own efforts?

Besides the presence of students, who comprise an unusual category of actors not present in many workplaces, a college or university is a strange social institution in numerous other ways. The history of its power structure—in terms of the tradition of faculty governance, for instance—is unlike any other kind of workplace I am aware of. It may also be argued that in certain senses, academic institutions have been subjected to both more and less critical scrutiny of their employment practices than corporations have—more, because colleges with their altruistic social commitments are held to a higher standard, and less, because colleges, unlike corporations, are assumed to be inherently more fair. A private college occupies a kind of strange liminal space, being a non-profit, mission-driven institution, but simultaneously a big employer which tends to see itself (increasingly, I think) as the marketer of a product, its particular brand of education, to its consumers, the students—who are also, in a certain sense, its advertising and the manifestations of its product. How do these conflicting conceptions of the college’s character play out in the relationships among its various constituencies? In particular, how do they shape the college as a workplace and an employer?

Finally, and perhaps most confusingly, higher educational institutions occupy a conflicted position in relation to socioeconomic class. In the United States, education is touted as the primary pathway to class mobility, and many academic institutions, through such programs as financial aid and affirmative action, make concrete commitments to expanding educational access and addressing structural inequalities. At the same time, one primary outcome of higher education is to train, credentialize, and socialize students for membership in the ruling classes. In trumpeting their own importance, colleges participate in the intense valorization of formal higher education that is often invoked as a justification for the class structure in general and wage inequality in particular. How does an institution that claims to promote social equality through educational access see its responsibilities towards those employees who do not have college degrees—and towards those who do? And how, if at all, do student activists relate their identities as beneficiaries of a class-reinforcing institution to their work on campus labor issues?

I conceive of these questions of power, social inequality, ideology, and transformation as primarily sociological. I am interested in how power inequalities function at Pseudonym College, and how different groups at the college understand their own roles and relate to one another. My data consist primarily of a series of semi-structured interviews that revolve around the questions I have articulated above, and I use the method of grounded theory to analyze these texts and to generate hypotheses to address these sociological questions. (See Bernard, 462-3)

Before conducting the research, I was able to frame hypotheses only in general and simplistic terms (as above—student activism increases staff power; student activism decreases staff power; or student activism has no effect on staff power). While useful in the initial framing of the project, these hypotheses were too abstract to be testable—and even if they could be tested, the answers would be too vague to be useful. What kinds of student work have what effects? How do we measure power in the workplace? As yet, only a small body of literature directly addresses these issues in the college context. I chose a single, interview-intensive case study to generate a sense of what factors and what outcomes may be at stake in student labor activism.

Literature review

As I have intimated, so far only a small amount of literature seems to exist about the campus living wage movement in particular. In his 2003 book, The Next Upsurge: Labor and the New Social Movements, Dan Clawson reflects on possible new directions for revitalizing the labor movement in the United States. One illuminating chapter recounts how organizing by the Student Labor Action Coalition at Wesleyan University led to unionization of custodial workers and the university’s acceptance of an employer code of conduct. Clawson highlights three new strengths of the campus living wage movement: the movement’s ability to reach low-wage workers whom more traditional forms of labor organizing might have ignored; the "energy, excitement, and sense of mission" of a social movement; and the potentially long-term coalitions built between labor and other groups. (164-5) At the same time, he warns of the danger that living wage campaigns can abdicate what has been an important framing principle of the labor movement, the principle of self-determination. When non-workers take it upon themselves to speak "on behalf of workers," they may have the effect of "raising wages and winning benefits," but not of "empowering workers—giving them a voice, a capacity to influence the circumstances of their own lives." (166) I share Clawson’s concern, and in my own case study I draw upon his framing of this critical question.

Perhaps it is too early yet for anyone to write survey literature analyzing the campus living wage movement as a whole. A few case studies exist, including Corey Dolgon’s "Building Community amid the Ruins: Strategies for Struggle from the Coalition for Justice at Southampton College;" Robert Wilton and Cynthia Cranford’s "Toward an Understanding of the Spatiality of Social Movement: Labor Organizing at a Private University in Los Angeles;" and several short accounts in Students Against Sweatshops, by Liza Featherstone and United Students Against Sweatshops. Most of these describe struggles within the last ten years. I look to these works for parallels with, as well as divergences from, my own case study; I also seek to build on the initial steps they take towards a general theoretical framework for analyzing campus living wage movements. Wilton and Cranford, for instance, work to synthesize contemporary social movements theorists with the recent theory on the social implications of space. (375)

Although very little literature currently addresses campus living wage campaigns per se, a broader range of work deals with labor and power within colleges and universities. A growing body of work focuses on academic labor, and in particular on the work of adjunct professors and teaching assistants. Of course, there are important differences between large universities and small colleges, between public and private institutions, and across other kinds of categorical differences as well. Nonetheless, some important themes carry over from one case to another. Both Amy Freeman’s "The Spaces of Graduate Student Labor: The Times for a New Union" and David Noble’s "Digital Diploma Mills" have greatly helped me in understanding some contemporary arguments around the implications of corporatization for higher education.

Questions of class are central to any account of power, but especially one that takes place in the space of an institution so tightly and contradictorily bound to class construction. A number of works directly address class in college spaces. Daniel Cogan’s short, incisive 1998 essay, "Seeing Power in a College Cafeteria," plays an important role in my understanding of class in the higher education context. Cogan, from his perspective as a student documentary videographer, focuses especially on visual/spatial factors as he explores how cafeteria workers are rendered structurally invisible to students, and recounts how a collective video project challenged those structures.

What is the class position of college students? It is a tricky question. Class is often linked to type of employment, but many full-time college students are employed for limited hours or not at all, because schoolwork is their full-time job. Of course, being able to pay for college without working for wages is a privilege dependent upon the financial resources of one’s family, and not all students have this luxury. Should we read students’ class status from their family’s occupations, or from the occupations for which they expect to qualify after graduating? Before graduation, students occupy a liminal place, performing unpaid work—indeed, often paying high tuition for the opportunity to do this work—which is understood to be for their own benefit.

David Smith’s 1974 Who Rules the Universities? presents a Marxist perspective on how institutions of higher education produce and reproduce class structures in the United States. Smith reflects upon the argument "that the contemporary middle class is more privileged than the working class," their privilege consisting of "a combination of higher levels of income, higher levels of education, less oppressive job conditions, and the absorption of a set of ‘middle class values.’" (180) Whatever their family backgrounds, students by definition have access to higher education, and I would argue that elite colleges like Pseudonym both teach and reward middle-class values. As for income, students come from a range of backgrounds, but as a group we are probably of a much higher average family income than are non-students. Smith, however, rejects this linking of class to social privilege, concluding that class is "definable in structural terms as the relationship people have to the process of production." (180) In other words, our class status is defined by "whether or not we are forced to sell our labor power for a wage smaller in value than the products of our labor," not by our level of education or our ownership to commodities. (181) In Smith’s assessment, then, most students—like most other people—are working-class, except for the few who are members of the ruling class, those who own the means of production. Differences of privilege—due to things like education level and social values—are still important, even "essential for full-scale political analysis," he writes, but such privilege is part of the political superstructure, rather than the economic structure; "it changes the appearance of the class structure, but not its essence." (183)

But Pierre Bourdieu makes an opposing claim. In his book Distinction and elsewhere, he posits the existence of three mutually convertible currencies: social capital, cultural capital, and economic capital. [cite!] Whereas for Smith the social and cultural are simply the trappings of an economic basis, for Bourdieu the three are equal and inter-reliant components in the production of class status. In Bourdieu’s analysis, attending a college like Pseudonym confers upon its students not only a body of cultural capital in the form of classroom knowledge and other skills, but also, probably more crucially, the social capital of a degree and opportunities to network with other high-status people. Sociologist Loïc Wacquant, in an introduction to Bourdieu’s The State Nobility, notes that, in Bourdieu’s analysis,

the granting of an elite degree is not so much a "rite of passage" à la Van Gennep as a rite of institution: it does not demarcate a before and an after so much as it differentiates —and elevates— those destined to occupy eminent social positions from those over whom they will lord. It evokes reverence for and consecrates them, in the strongest sense of the term, that is, it makes them sacred (anyone who has attended a commencement ceremony at a major British or American university cannot but be struck by their archaic religious feel that would have delighted Robertson Smith). As the etymology of the word "credentials," credentialis, giving authority (derived in turn from credere, to believe), testifies, the bestowal of a diploma is the climactic moment in a long cycle of production of collective faith in the legitimacy of a new form of class rule. (1995)

Students, of course, are not yet the authoritative bearers of college diplomas, but (barring misfortune or change of plans) they are earmarked for it, and for the social, cultural, and economic privilege that it will confer. Not everyone attending college—even an expensive, selective, fairly high-status college, like Pseudonym—will become rich or will end up owning the means of production. However, nearly all members of ruling classes will attend elite colleges. Attending means a chance to network with them and perhaps to acquire enough capital to buy one’s way into their ranks, in Bourdieu’s analysis. Undeniably, college attendance also confers privilege in employment opportunities. College graduates, if they do not become academics, are expected to become professionals. Some people I met who were employed at Pseudonym were also alumni of the college, but they tended to be administrators rather than support staff. I am fairly certain that no graduate of the college works in dining or custodial services, jobs which pay much less.

Adding to the complication of students’ status is their peculiar role in the institution. Students occupy a different relationship to power within their colleges than they do elsewhere in the world. Featherstone quotes this observation from student activist Todd Pugatsch: "we can think of the university itself as a brand, a logo, that students consume." (30) As consumers, students wield a certain kind of influence—what the scholar Leon Epstein has described (in another 1974 work, Governing the University) as a kind of "consumer sovereignty." (161) The more that education comes to be viewed as a commodity, and the more that corporate rhetoric prioritizes customer satisfaction at the expense of worker fairness, the more that this consumer role confers apparent power upon students. Yet, as Epstein also notes, because they are not employees of the institution, students’ potential for collective action is limited to the boycott rather than the more powerful strike. (180)

Unlike consumers of most other kinds of products, students are actually involved in the process of production. They do labor, although not for wages. In a certain sense, one could argue that, as consumer-workers, students actually benefit from the full value of their (not to mention other people’s) labor, making them unusual workers under capitalism. Indeed, as Epstein points out, through government subsidies or endowment funds, students generally receive an education whose actual cost far exceeds what they—or their parents—pay for it. (161)

Sociologist Erik Olin Wright articulates "an exploitation-centred concept of class" as "the complex intersection of three form of exploitation: exploitation based on the ownership of capital assets, the control of organization assets and the position of skill or credential assets." (109) He writes, "While I have some reservations about the class character of the third of these categories, this reconceptualization nevertheless has resolved many of the difficulties I had encountered with my previous approach to class structure." (109-110) The decision to include this third category suggests that, like Bourdieu, Wright would classify students’ acquisition of academic credentials becomes one aspect of their class position. Whereas Bourdieu emphasizes the way different forms of capital work together and one can be skillfully parlayed into another, Wright stresses the potential for his three aspects to work against one another in particular cases, so that people can occupy "contradictory locations within exploitation relations." (111) This is his explanation for the "middle class"—that its members are "simultaneously exploiters and exploited…. My guess is that most of these individuals and families are still more capitalistically exploited than they are exploiters through other mechanisms. Nevertheless, this does not obliterate the fact that they are exploiters and that, as a result, they have material interests which are fundamentally different from those of workers." (111-112) This model—in which the various components of one’s class position may be contradictory—makes Wright perhaps the most useful of the class theorists I examined in working out how to classify students. In this thesis I try to bear in mind the Wrightian tension between the ways in which students are privileged and the ways in which they are marginalized at Pseudonym.

To cope not only with the ambiguous position of students, but also with the complexity and contradiction of social organization at Pseudonym College more generally, Michel Foucault’s analysis of power has been a crucially helpful tool for me. For example, Foucault argues that courts, while apparently dedicated to serving justice, in fact function to subvert the popular justice by linking decision-making authority to a conception of the rational, objective, disinterested judge. (14-19) To a certain extent, I believe that these claims about the judicial system may be applied to college committee processes as well. More expansively, his conception of as a fluid, circulating medium has been vital to my analysis of a situation where—although so many people spoke to me of hierarchy—a model of simple, coherent stratification would not be adequate to describe the multiple, shifting relationships among the various campus constituencies.

In addition to comparing my own data with similar cases and specific analyses of college contexts, I try in this thesis to draw together several strands of theory to build an interpretive framework for the case and for the movement as a whole. From the social movements theorists Sidney Tarrow, James Jasper and others, I extract those aspects of the theory I see as applicable to student living wage campaigns, as well as reflecting on the ways that such campaigns diverge from these theorists’ definitions of social movements. The definitional ambivalence hinges upon the question of whether organizing led by one group but, in Clawson’s phrase, "on behalf of" another, can be called a movement. I therefore focus especially on the topics of coalitions, solidarity movements, and the roles of those who will not benefit directly from the cause being celebrated. In social movements literature, these people are sometimes formally called "conscience constituents"—a term I would roughly translate into activist parlance as "allies."

Finally—because I am interested in setting forward proposals for what can and should be done in the living wage movement—I examine theories of how to confront difference and inequality in community discourses. Central to my conceptions of these issues are insights about democracy from political theorist Iris Marion Young. Young distinguishes between deliberative and aggregative democracy, arguing, not unlike Hannah Arendt, for a democracy centered on collective conversation and deliberation, rather than simply an atomized voting process. (Young 19) Young further argues that acknowledgment of difference and power play a central role in constructive democratic engagement. "Where there are structural inequalities of wealth and power," she writes, "formally democratic procedures are likely to reinforce them, because privileged people are able to marginalize the voices of those less privileged." (34)


Because I have been so deeply involved in the Swarthmore Living Wage & Democracy Campaign, I chose not to study Swarthmore. I thought that my outsider status at Pseudonym College would help me do better research in at least two major ways. First, I felt that some personal distance would help me to more dispassionately consider both praise and critique of the students labor activists’ work. Second, I felt that people would be more likely to speak with me—and to speak more openly—if they did not perceive me as a member of a deeply invested group. Nonetheless, of course, Swarthmore was the source of my interest, and I was seeking a research site similar to Swarthmore.

Pseudonym College turned out to be a near-perfect match in many respects. Like Swarthmore, Pseudonym is a small, selective, private, four-year liberal arts college in the United States. Each college enrolls under two thousand students; each was founded in the middle of the nineteenth century. Both have in recent years gone through living wage campaigns leading to official committee processes and, ultimately, to policy changes. At the same time, I need hardly say, Pseudonym College turned out to diverge from Swarthmore in a number of ways. Most notably, Pseudonym College contracts with Unnamed Contractor for all of its janitorial and food service work, whereas Swarthmore directly employees people in these jobs.

My primary body of data consists of transcripts of interviews I conducted with members of the Pseudonym College community during my visit to College Town in the summer of 2004. Generously funded by a Joel Dean summer research grant, I spent about one month there, during which I conducted thirty-seven interviews in person; I completed two more interviews over the phone after I returned home later in the summer. In most cases I tape-recorded the interviews as well as taking notes, and from these two sources I generated a transcript of each interview before destroying the tape. In a few cases, I did not tape-record, but only took notes, and for those interviews I have close paraphrases including a few known direct quotations, rather than exact full transcripts. In one case I tape-recorded but did not take notes, so that transcript may be less complete than the others. A few interviews took place in Spanish, and there too I am sure that I was unable to gain as full an appreciation of all that was said as I might have in English. In all I conducted 39 interviews, including 6 interviews with students and alumni, 7 interviews with employees of college contractors, 7 with non-exempt staff members of the college, 10 with exempt staff members of the college, 5 with members of the college’s senior administration, and 5 with members of the faculty. A few interviews involved more than one interviewee, so in total I spoke with 46 people, including 6 students and alumni, 12 employees of college contractors, 7 non-exempt staff, 10 exempt staff, 6 senior administrators, and 5 faculty members. The interviews ranged in length from just under fifteen minutes to more than two hours; the average interview was about an hour long. While I framed questions for each members of each constituency, all the interviews covered the same themes. We talked about the best and worst things about the college as a workplace; whether, how, and why the workplace had changed; the relative power of different categories of people on campus; perceptions about the student labor activists; and an appropriate role for students in college workplace issues. (The full interview guides I created and used are reproduced in Appendix A.)

I found most of my interviewees through a snowball sampling method. I arrived in College Town having made contact with no one there except for the Institutional Review Board and the woman with whom I would be sharing an apartment. I began by emailing people whose names had been suggested to me by these people and by Swarthmore students who had been in contact with activists at Pseudonym. I asked each interviewee for suggestions of others I should talk to, and continued to follow up on these suggestions. At first I emailed everyone whose name was recommended to me. Later on in the month, as I noticed that I had plenty of interviewees in certain groups and not enough in others, I began to follow up with people in less well-represented constituency groups. When I heard people’s names over and over from various sources, I pursued them more assiduously, with phone calls and repeated emails. I also contacted people whose names I came across in non-interview research, such as people listed on the web-site of the fair labor group.

As the month wore on, I came to see that my methodology was shaping my distribution. Among the first half of my interviews, administrators and exempt staff are disproportionately represented, and there are no interviews at all with contract employees—those who work for Unnamed Contractor doing food service or custodial work at the college. I realized that my method of reaching potential interviewees through email and telephone was structured to be most convenient for people with desk jobs. Even had I known how to contact them, I had received very few names of contract employees. I had no problem getting other people I spoke with—administrators, exempt staff members, non-exempt staff members, and students—to suggest potential interviewees in most of the other categories, not just their own. However, almost no one seemed to know contract workers whom they would recommend I interview.

This was data in itself, of course, but nonetheless, I wanted to speak with some members of the contracted workforce. In consultation with the Institutional Review Board, I created a flyer describing the project, soliciting interview participants, and offering to treat them to coffee. (Versions of the flyer in both English and Spanish may be found in Appendix B.) I tried to post this at the entrance to the dining hall, but an employee told me that Unnamed Contractor had a policy against flyers of this kind. I did manage to pin a number of flyers to public bulletin boards, and tape them to walls and doors, in public buildings around campus, and I noticed some of the tear-off slips taken on some of them. However, I only received a few calls and emails in response to the flyers, and all were from students, not contract employees. By this time, barely a week remained in my visit to Pseudonym. If I wanted to speak with contract employees, I was going to have to approach them in person.

My reluctance to ask people in person about interviews was twofold. First, I am a shy person. When I must make the first contact with someone I do not know, I would infinitely prefer to do it over email, where I can worry the wording to perfection, then press "send" and know that the reply is out of my hands. Even calling strangers on the telephone usually makes me nervous and requires rehearsal. Though walking right up to people was a very intimidating prospect, my determination to do good research trumped my fear.

But a second, more serious concern had kept me from making direct contacts thus far. I had heard mixed reports about Unnamed Contractor’s character as an employer. There was no way to be sure whether an employee might be reprimanded for talking to me. I had hoped to avoid the risk to employees by arranging interviews to take place outside of work; the flyers would let potential interviewees know how to contact me from the privacy of their homes. If, instead, I approached people on the job, I would be taking the risk of being spotted by supervisors. Especially with dining services workers, who were consolidated in a few centralized locations and open to supervisors’ observations, I could neither be sure of being discreet nor of avoiding a supervisor when I hoped to approach a worker.

I decided to take the risk and proceed as carefully as possible. I felt that the total absence of perspectives of contract workers would make my research significantly less useful. I reasoned that employees could always rebuff my overtures if they chose or if they were suddenly hassled by supervisors, so my actions would be unlikely to endanger people’s work situations without their consent. Still, I cautioned myself to approach these interactions with a particular openness—leaving room for people to say no or to let me know how the process could be safest and most convenient for them. I did try slipping a note to a member of the dining services staff, but this only led to an awkward, confusing interaction (for both of us both, I think). After that I spent some reconnaissance time in campus dining spaces, nursing a snack and lingering over a newspaper while I tried to figure out who were supervisors and when would be the best moments to approach people. I felt vindicated in my caution when I ultimately did speak with some people, both in dining services and in custodial work, who, while consenting to talk with me, told me they felt their supervisors would be nonplussed to learn of the interviews.

I also learned, when I did speak with Unnamed Contractor workers, that the ways I had laid out the interview process itself tended not to be convenient for them. For instance, in most of my interviews, I asked people to plan to allocate about an hour for the interview, and we generally met either in the person’s private office or in a café just off campus. (This was especially true of professors, administrators, and exempt staff. Non-exempt staff and students were more likely to propose meeting in some public space on campus.) For the Unnamed Contractor workers, however, the most convenient thing seemed to be to meet in or near their work space, either during a break or just after they got off work before going home. An hour, then, was usually more than people could reasonably spare. In some cases, too, people wanted to meet with me in groups rather than one on one. I had designed my questions to gradually lead into a long and somewhat free-ranging one-on-one conversation, and the success of my approach often seemed to depend in part on developing a certain rapport of trust over the course of the interview. Dealing with various other contingencies—having only fifteen minutes to talk, talking with a whole group at once, struggling to communicate and comprehend through my imperfect Spanish, or doing the interview in a space where it seemed possible the boss might turn up at any moment—I sometimes felt that a different set of questions would have been more appropriate. I did modify my interview guide somewhat in the field, but if I were to do this project again, I would redesign the interviews, with an eye towards how the arc of the interview could most productively flow in different kinds of circumstances.

Perhaps most urgently, in any future work I would certainly want to shorten and clarify the consent form. The form I composed fills most of a page, including two paragraphs describing the project and a lengthy prose section about risks and rights, in which I followed almost verbatim the example offered by the Institutional Review Board. (The consent form I used, in both a Spanish and an English version, is included in Appendix C.) Some participants seemed unconcerned, even amused, by the form—especially those, like professors and administrators, who I suspect often have to skim wordy text as part of their jobs. However, a number of participants took the time to read it carefully, and sometimes it seemed to me that people found parts of the form hard to understand. In one case, I was unable to conduct an interview with an Unnamed Contractor employee who said they would have been willing to speak with me, but did not want to sign the form without reading and comprehending it carefully, and did not have time to finish that step before having to return to work. I wished I had made the form much more succinct and user-friendly—in bulleted points, for instance, rather than in blocks of text.

These interviews, then, comprise the bulk of my data. While in College Town, I also made daily field notes of observations, methodological developments, and ideas for analysis. I found and photocopied a number of relevant newspaper articles from the history of the Pseudonym Fair Labor Campaign, and I also collected copies of various related documents from various interviewees. All these texts form parts of the body of data as well.

As with any research project, my methodology establishes bounds to what I have learned in this study. While I strove to include members of as many major campus constituencies as possible, my sample was one of convenience, and indeed I sought out participants with particular involvement or interest in campus labor issues and student activism. I did not seek to interview a representative sample of the campus as a whole. Further, my questions and interviewing strategies turned out to be a better fit with some groups than with others; specifically, for a variety of reasons, I feel more confident about the validity of data in cases where I felt I established a genuine rapport with interviewees during the course of the interview. I know that my subject position also functioned as both an asset and a limitation to my understanding of each of my interactions. I believe that almost everyone perceived me as a student, and while I tried to stress my outsider status, many probably suspected by virtue of my identity—and my interest in the case—that I must be sympathetic to the student activists at Pseudonym. I did, in fact, find myself frequently drawing parallels to the Swarthmore situation, although I think my identification with the students sometimes led me to be especially critical of them. Certainly I tended to frame questions around the issues with which I was familiar—and no doubt this sometimes aided, and sometimes limited, my comprehension.

Probably the greatest structural limitation to the project is a temporal one. Although I set out to learn about change over time in the power dynamics of the college, my entire study took place after the fact of the student-led campaign at Pseudonym College. Had I conducted similar interviews before and during the fair labor process, as well as after, I could have investigated change over time. Since this was impossible, and all my interviews instead took place at roughly the same moment in the timeline, these data do not really allow me to analyze change at the college, but only to examine people’s perceptions of change.

That said, I found the work exciting and fruitful. My research participants were generous with their time, and quick to engage thoughtfully with questions of how power and change operated in the college community. I entered the project laden with apprehensions about talking with people about potentially delicate workplace issues, but in general I was surprised to find people willing to speak about and interpret their work experiences. I wondered at the origins of my own hesitation. I suspect that I am not alone in my awkwardness, my sense of lacking the vocabulary to speak across divides of difference about work, power, and class. Among the most hopeful aspects of the nation-wide campus living wage movement is its potential, in local contexts, to begin to broach these topics and breach these divides.

Road map

I have chosen to organize this thesis thematically. In Chapter 2, I examine changing conceptions of what kind of an institution Pseudonym College is. I encountered the College in the midst of a number of specific transitions, some of which reflect broader processes of change in American society in general and the realm of higher education in particular. In particular, the twin projects of democratization and corporatization—which, I will argue, operate sometimes in tandem and sometimes in opposition to one another—raise fundamental questions about the purpose, character, and responsibilities of a college. I consider some ways that various constituencies conceive of the college in its various social roles—as workplace; as socially-minded organization; as academic institution; and as self-contained local community.

Chapter 3 focuses on the various college constituencies themselves and how different people articulated their power and status relative to one another. Over and over, I heard the words "class," "caste," and "hierarchy," but different accounts weighed the relations among groups differently. I pay particular attention to the contentious positioning of three constituencies whose roles, for different reasons, are liminal or ambiguous: administrative staff, the employees of Unnamed Contractor, and students. I not only consider the ordering of the hierarchy, but the real modes through which these power relations are acted out, including the key currencies of time, space, and voice.

Chapter 4 deals with ways of talking about compensation and what it signifies. I examine the competing ideologies of the market and of the living wage movement, and potentially limiting aspects of these discourses. I consider and categorize the criteria that people invoked when talking to me about standards for establishing fair wage levels, and I reflect upon what it can mean deliberately to set out to pay wages according to a different system of values than the society one inhabits.

Chapter 5 deals directly with the student-led Fair Labor campaign, covering its ideology, structure, activities, strengths and weaknesses. I focus not only on how student activists described it, but also on how others talked about it, about the students themselves and about the role of students in campus workplace issues. In particular I dwell on questions of power, centering on the question of how students use of their own privilege may undermine or re-inscribe the hierarchies of the institution.

Chapter 6 focuses on democratization. I analyze different conceptions of what it means to have a voice in one’s own workplace. I highlight three aspects of voice in the college context—being at the table, feeling free to speak, and having your voice count—and show how mechanisms of unequal exclusion operate at each level.

In Chapter 7, my concluding essay, I seek to draw together analyses from the entire thesis to show the ideological and social context into which we students—mayflies in the time scale of the college—enter. I describe some of the choices available to student labor activists in their organizing, and I try to highlight what is at stake in those choices, how students’ framings and tactics might bear on the discourses already at work. My wish is for this thesis to help provoke a critical and long overdue conversation—among scholars and activists and college community members all, but most especially between student activists and campus workers—about what shared analysis and collective goals should shape the campus living wage movement.

A note on terminology

Some of the prevailing terms used to identify constituencies at the college are in transition or used differently by different speakers, making it difficult for me to find ways to describe the positionings of research participants in ways that are simultaneously respectful, confidential, consistent, and clear. Most salient, the general category of staff at the college has for some time been divided into two major categories: "administrative staff" (sometimes just called "administrators") and "support staff" (occasionally just called "staff," though this term more usually includes both categories together). The distinction is loosely one of socioeconomic class, in the sense that administrative staff positions are higher-status, tend to be professional desk jobs or supervisory positions, and are more likely to require higher educational credentials, whereas support staff positions include grounds and maintenance kinds of jobs as well as clerical jobs, and are generally lower-status. The distinction is not always coherent or clear, however, and indeed some people told me that some categorizations were counterintuitive.

During the summer when I was there, an official statement had just gone out that these categories were being abolished in favor of the single category of "staff," now to be differentiated only by the legal categories of "exempt" and "non-exempt," which describe people’s eligibility for overtime. The two systems of categorization produced almost the same groups—that is, most exempt employees were administrative staff, and all (I believe) non-exempt employees were support staff—but prior to the change a small anomalous class of exempt support staff, had emerged. (One person estimated their number to be about thirty.) I believe, although I am not positive, that this group corresponds to the new job category of "professional staff" that the college considered adding between administrative and support staff, before deciding to drop that categorization system altogether in favor of exempt and non-exempt staff. (It should also be noted that some people describe themselves or others as "professionals" in the word’s more common, adjectival sense, rather than in reference to this never-realized job categorization.) Since most people I spoke with saw the shift in terminology as positive, I have tried out of respect to use the labels "exempt staff" and "non-exempt staff" in most cases, but I occasionally resort to the old labels of "administrative staff" and "support staff" where it seemed more clear. Many of the people I interviewed, however, while expressing support for the change, in fact used the old terminology in our conversations, so these terms are present in many direct quotations in the thesis.

One final source of confusion is the category that I sometimes refer to as "senior administration" or "senior staff." People rarely spoke of this constituency at all, but when I said "the administration"—which is what we would most commonly call this constituency at Swarthmore—they generally seemed to understand that I meant the body of President and Vice Presidents, deans, directors of Human Resources and other high-level administrators, as distinct from the bigger category of "administrative staff." The official term at Pseudonym College, I believe, was "senior staff;" however, as I no longer have access to a Pseudonym College directory, I fear that I may occasionally have assigned people to the category of senior administration—based on my own Swarthmore-based sense of who comprises the college administration—who might not in fact be officially classified that way.

A note on confidentiality

For the sake of confidentiality, I use pseudonyms whenever it is necessary to refer to specific actors at the college. I have devised false names for the college, the town, the state, the campaign, and the corporate contractor, although I also warned each person I interviewed that the identity of the college would probably be decipherable to knowledgeable readers. In Brechtian fashion, I have in many cases chosen whimsically self-referential names—to remind readers of the artifice and thereby of the subjectivity of my analysis, and also for the joy of play.


A Changing Institution

It used to be that there were—in the prior version of the college pool, which has now been remodeled to be much deeper and colder and not suitable for children—but there was another college pool, and everybody's kids had lessons there every Sunday. You know, like custodial workers and faculty, and it was just a really nice thing. We don't have that anymore, because the pool isn't like that—and custodial employees aren't college employees, exactly.

—faculty member, Pseudonym College, interview

One familiar public discourse defines colleges and universities as constituting spatial regions distinct from, and indeed quite different from, "the real world." Sometimes the tone of this comparison celebrates the college as an idyllic haven from the unfortunate realities of the broader society; other times, the real world is invoked with a sneer to dismiss colleges as delusional and self-important. Either way, the idea tends to imply that events on college campuses have limited relevance to events off of them.

At the same time, however, it would be hard to deny that institutions of higher education play a number of key roles in the production of the social order in the United States. College attendance, if not always graduation, is a major signifying credential for the exercise of ruling-class privileges, and campuses are key sites for the accumulation of what Bourdieu calls social and cultural capital. Then, too, as employers, as social institutions, and as variously constituted communities, colleges and universities must constantly interact with the same systems—and indeed with the same people—as other institutions in the United States do. I assert that, far from being an isolated anomaly, the college is in fact an integral part of the social order it inhabits. More specifically, colleges both help to sustain, and are sustained by, broad systems of inequality.

This kind of claim—that colleges are actually integrally connected to the society they inhabit—is part of the ideological grounding for many political mobilizations that call for colleges to take increased responsibility for their social and economic impacts. I think not only of living wage campaigns but also of fair-trade and anti-sweatshop campaigns, divestment and shareholder responsibility campaigns, and struggles around gentrification, among others. At the same time, there is something to the idea that colleges are in some ways anomalous among institutions—that there is something unique and special about them. Interestingly enough, these two apparently almost contradictory ideas—the continuity and the singularity of colleges among United States institutions—can both be mobilized to argue that colleges should take seriously their social responsibilities. In this chapter, I investigate how people talked to me about what kind of an institution Pseudonym College is—and how it is changing.

The college community: family, small town, school, and business

When I asked interview participants what were the best things about Pseudonym College as a workplace, their responses often emphasized personal relationships within the institution. Descriptions of the college as a small community—and the driving metaphors of the college as a family and the college as a small town or village—surfaced over and over. Not everyone constituted the boundaries of this community in the same ways; for many people, the salient community was some subset of the college as a whole. For instance, a number of staff members, especially non-exempt staff, praised their particular departments, their bosses and co-workers, and took care to note that they could not speak for how it was in other departments; some reported hearing rumors that departments other than their own could be more contentious. Senior staff, on the other hand, tended to speak expansively about the community as a whole. The connotations of the "family" metaphor are therefore quite different in the following two quotations, the first from a non-exempt staff member:

Some of the best things about working for Pseudonym are that it's like a family. People help each other out when needed, especially in our department…. We always trade off favors. I'd say that's the biggest reason I stay at Pseudonym College.

and the second from a senior administrator:

We do strive very hard to have all people in the community, whether they're support staff or—exempt or non-exempt support staff—or faculty, feel like they're part of the Pseudonym College family. It's been that way for a long time.

In the first quotation, the metaphor of a family describes a set of individual personal relationships and exchange interactions. The second quotation deals more with a policy stance by the administration. Since hundreds of people are involved in the college community, it is hard to imagine how their network of relationships could resemble a single family in the same personal sense as in the first quotation. A metaphor like that of the small town might have been more scale-appropriate for describing the whole college community. The senior administrator’s choice to invoke "the Pseudonym College family" thus seems more rhetorical than directly analogous. This use of "family" echoes the language many contemporary large corporate employers adopt. This linguistic choice appears aimed at promoting a sense of community among employees, but on this level it is an impersonal kind of community, grounded in some kind of shared identification with the institution rather than in direct personal interaction. The term "family" in this context evokes the ways that states deploy such biologizing and intimate terminologies to promote sentimental attachment to the imagined community of the nation, and more recently the growing trend of corporate management using these kinds of terms to talk about the relationships between their employees and companies. (See Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities.) Clearly this administrative focus on the large-scale, official community does not prevent personal-scale, reciprocal relationships from developing, as described in the first quotation. Nonetheless, there seems to be some disconnect between the two speakers’ conceptions of what community means for the campus.

Of course, while such personal relationships may be one of the best things about working at Pseudonym, there is no inherent reason that they should not develop in non-college workplaces as well. Similarly, when people spoke of the relative openness of the administration to community feedback, this might be true of even a non-college employer—and was not always so true of this college employer, according to some accounts. By contrast, some of the other attributes that many people cited as virtues of the Pseudonym workplace seem more directly connected to the traditions of its college-ness. Many people described their commitment to the college’s educational mission, and a sense of shared values with the institution and its other employees. As one exempt staff member said, "It's not just a work environment—it's being part of something. It's being part of educating students." Some people spoke of the energy and vitality that the presence of students brings to the workplace. Of course, people also mentioned the concrete benefits of working at Pseudonym College in particular—benefits like full tuition remission for employee’s children to attend the college, a sliding-scale child-care center, the summer and winter breaks in the college calendar, and the cultural and sporting events. Some said that these benefits were the most important factors in their choice to continue to work at the college. Some of these benefits also function as the kinds of shared experiences that can build relationships.

In the epigraph to this chapter, a faculty member nostalgically recollects an era when shared use of a swimming pool nourished a sense of college community. It is interesting that the notion of family—this time in the literal sense of people’s children—reemerges to animate this narrative of a lost golden era. Again, the invocation of family evokes strong sentiment and a set of values distinct from the single totalizing value of efficiency. A number of people mentioned the college’s "family-oriented" character as an important benefit of the college workplace, and at least one staff member said that the college’s child-care center is the primary reason they stay at Pseudonym. Unlike the swimming lessons, however, the child care—despite its sliding scale—is not affordable for most custodial workers. Perhaps the shared experience of parents at the child-care center might form community in the same way as their shared experience at the poolside used to; however, custodial workers and probably most dining services workers as well are now likely to be excluded from a community thus constituted.

As the faculty member points out at the end of that lyrical anecdote, the people who do these jobs are no longer direct employees of the college, as they once were. Pseudonym now has a contract for dining and custodial services with the major corporation Unnamed Contractor. From my contemporary vantage point, of course, I cannot know how accurate is the professor’s romantic account of a bygone community. I can see clearly, however, the profound confusion and nervousness that flowed through conversations about the present role of the Unnamed Contractor workers in the Pseudonym College community. For a whole constellation of reasons, many members of other college constituencies were hesitant to describe the contracted workers as full members of the college community, or to present a clear idea of what should be their role in campus decision-making. A number of people expressed unease with the ethics of the whole project of contracting out work to a private corporation (a process also known as outsourcing or subcontracting). In Chapter 3, I will dwell in more detail on these thorny questions of outsourcing and how, from a certain perspective, subcontracting may be seen as conflicting with the underlying values of the institution.

The classical sociologist Emile Durkheim described how social solidarity may grow out of a shared experience—like everybody taking their kids to the same pool—or of interdependence. Does a sense of solidarity, of one kind or another, ground today’s Pseudonym campus community? Whether intentional or not, in a sense we may read the remodel of the pool—into something "much deeper and colder and not suitable for children"—as an undermining of one aspect of shared experience, and hence potentially a diminishment of solidarity.

Surely, like so many of the changes that take place on college campuses, the remodel of the pool was undertaken for some sound reason contributing to the educational mission of the school. Indeed, I will argue that the project of corporatization of the college—of which subcontracting is one aspect—is defined in part by a kind of single-mindedness, a strict definition of the college’s primary purpose and an unequivocal prioritizing of that purpose. In the following discussion of corporatization, it will be useful to bear in mind the Durkheimian question of what happens to a sense of shared community identification, of community solidarity, when a school is run with the mono-focused ethos of a business.

Corporatization: the bottom line is the bottom line

"Corporatization of the university" here means a series of developments that have made the presence of corporations on university campuses and boards more prevalent and powerful, intensifying the commodification of university education by introducing free-market management practices aimed at making universities more efficient and profitable.

—Amy Freeman, "The Spaces of Graduate Student Labor:
The Times for a New Union," 246-7

A commodity is something created, grown, produced, or manufactured for exchange on the market…. The commoditization of higher education, then, refers to the deliberate transformation of the education process into commodity form for the purpose of commercial transaction.

—David Noble, "Digital Diploma Mills," 45

Surprisingly enough, administrators and senior staff who spoke with me were quick to praise the students of the Fair Labor Campaign for their hard work, their commitment to the living wage effort, their smart scholarship—but above all for their savvy, reasonable acceptance of budgetary realities. In Chapter 4 I will further explore the relationship between the college administration and the student labor activists. Here, I want to focus on the perspective that administrators were so pleased to find that these students shared: the belief that fiscal constraints are more real than anything else, that the bottom line is always, finally, the bottom line.

A number of binary oppositions are bound together in the administration’s discourses about student activism, with the most prominent ones being the oppositions of idealism versus pragmatism and antagonism versus cooperation. Coming down squarely on the side of pragmatism and of cooperation, the administrators linked these virtues to a conviction that the numbers of the budget are fundamentally more real and immutable than any other considerations are. Being practical, in their frame, means accepting fiscal limitations, and cooperation means being willing to be constrained by authorities’ interpretations of the realistic possibilities of the budget. Student activism, they claim, is fine with them as long as it works within this framework—one which yields the legitimate ground of final decision-making to the administrators who control the budget.

Some student campaigners I spoke with indeed seemed to share this perspective. One student in the campaign told me they personally came to see economics as the most useful field to pursue,

because in the end it all boils down to numbers. You can't conceive any social policy, or any public policy, unless you have a firm understanding of what the costs are. And business has so much influence, so if you can speak their language—which I think we actually did very well—you can do a ton.

Note that this primacy of economics would not be a self-evident conclusion to all observers. One could just as easily argue that an understanding of history, of sociology, of politics, or of psychology is fundamental to policy-making. However, it is harder to dispute the student’s second claim—that the primary reality of the budget is indeed the ideology of the college’s senior administration. As the student points out, buying into this discourse makes some space for activists to maneuver for their goals, as the Fair Labor Campaign did.

The amount of possible leverage here is limited, however; compared to administrators, students will always be considered relatively ignorant of the budget, despite the economics expertise they may acquire. This is, in part, a function of students’ comparatively short span of time at the college (an issue that will arise again). One exempt staff member told me:

Do students understand how the budget works? I didn't understand how the budget worked until I sat in on [a few years] worth of meetings on the budget. And I still now don't have a clear idea on every aspect of the budget. So I can't believe that students have a clear understanding of the budget, in terms of—I mean, down to material detail—you know, a tenth of a percent of the total budget. Do students understand how all that's being spent? I don't think so. I don't, and I've been here for [many years], so I've got a feeling that students who have been here for nine months probably don't get it either.

Students and other activists may be able to generate some leverage from their knowledge of economics, but ultimately a few people in positions of authority can always claim specialized knowledge of the real, practical, and immutable budget.

This privileging of the budget over other considerations is hardly unique to the administration of Pseudonym College. I label it one aspect of corporatization because the focus on the bottom line is a fundamental tenet in the business world. Indeed, it is a pervasive ethic in the United States generally; even non-profit organizations are run by boards of directors who are structurally charged with minding fiduciary responsibilities as their primary concern. Further, I do not deny that budgets are in fact a real or important concern—what I want to highlight, rather, is the non-inevitability of considering them most real, the final limiting factor. In fact, I argue, budgets, like other concerns, are subject to some fluid reconsideration of what is possible; budgets can shift somewhat in response to other concerns. Consider, for instance, the account one student gave me of an effort to get the Pseudonym College bookstore to adopt an anti-sweatshop Code of Conduct. At first the response was that it would be financially unfeasible:

So we sort of came in and we said, "This is something that we think you guys need to do," and they said, "Whoa, that's totally unrealistic. We can't—we have no idea where these people are getting their clothes from. It'll make our prices go up. We can't do that."

The students then set up a web site which would compete with the bookstore by helping students acquire their textbooks online more cheaply. When the students confronted bookstore authorities with the threat of publicizing their web site to the student body,

They were like, "Don't do that! [laughs] We'll sign the Code of Conduct." And so I think that sometimes it was them knowing or thinking that we had the big stick.

Of course, in this case, it was another kind of budgetary pressure that the students brought to bear. Nevertheless, it also revealed the mutability of what the authorities had first claimed (at least in this student’s narrative) were budgetary constraints absolutely preventing them from signing the Code of Conduct. The living wage initiative, too, demonstrates the possibility of what was initially claimed to be financially impossible. Nonetheless, despite such examples of how, in the face of political pressure, the borders of fiscal possibility can grow fluid, senior administrators and others at the college continue to claim that everything must defer to the budget.

This belief in the bottom line is part of a broader, business-oriented discourse that I heard from administrators and senior staff and that, I argue, reflects a trajectory of corporatization at Pseudonym College. This business discourse turned up in language about efficiency, and in particular in framing the educational endeavor as a service provided to student consumers. One senior administrator described it to me this way:

Well, the campus is here for one reason, and one reason only, and that is to provide a high-value, high-complexity service to the students. And it's a complicated transaction. It's not like telephone service. It's not like going to the library and asking for a book. It's a twenty-four-hour service in which part of what you're doing is challenging students. It's not the kind of service where I say, "I just want to make you happy, Alexandra, because if I make you happy then I've succeeded at Swarthmore."[2] No. I want to challenge you, Alexandra, I want to push you, I want to test you, I want you to hone your intellect and your values. So everything that students experience while they're on the campus, and indeed while they're off the campus but part of the college, everything that they experience contributes to what is the product or the service that we're trying to deliver, which is intellectual and personal growth of a high order.

I quote this passage at length in order to highlight the tension between the administrator’s extended emphasis on complexity and the limiting character of the opening: "Well, the campus is here for one reason, and one reason only…" In a sense the whole rest of the paragraph strives to mitigate the single-mindedness of that beginning by characterizing this single-minded purpose as expansive and holistic. Nonetheless, to claim that the college exists only to provide a service to its students—no matter how broadly that service is conceived—is to choose a narrow and undeniably corporate view of the social role of an institution of higher education.

It is true that liberal arts colleges like Pseudonym, as opposed to universities, traditionally focus more on undergraduate education than on faculty research. To couch this educational focus in terms of providing a service, however, does two limiting things, in my view. First, it cements the student-faculty relationship into a one-sided transactional framework in which faculty transfer knowledge and skills to students. Compare this service model to a conception of education as a process of apprenticeship, in which students learn from faculty as they work together. Packaging school as only a service, no matter how complicated or challenging, says that the one role of a student is to learn, the one role of a faculty member is to teach, and the only important outcome of their interaction is the transfer of educational capital. This definition obscures the possibility that faculty and students engage together in a process of reciprocally learning from one another, as well as the possibility that their collaborative engagement could actually be a part of the central academic project of generating knowledge.

While this administrator confines education narrowly to the paradigm of a service, they also take care to define that educational experience broadly as extending beyond what goes on in the classroom. This emphasis reflects a gradual change taking place in the institution. As several people explained to me, Pseudonym and other colleges like it have in recent decades seen the emergence of a new professional class whose work focuses on the co-curricular aspects of students’ college experience. These are jobs that faculty members used to fulfill in addition to their academic work. As one exempt staff member explained,

[O]ne of the reason the administrative ranks have grown, too, over the past couple decades, is because faculty don't want to do that work. They don't want to make financial aid decisions, or admission decisions, or be responsible for monitoring students in residential life. Or they in fact don't want to be responsible for always setting all the budget technicalities. So there's a specialist class in the higher education ranks of administrators.

Yet between faculty and this new class of administrative staff has arisen an underlying current of contention. Despite perhaps not wanting to do these co-curricular tasks themselves, some faculty members are reluctant to acknowledge the value of administrative staff to the institution, and many exempt staff told me that some faculty members treat them with condescension and disrespect. One exempt staff member said:

Some faculty members spend most of their time when they're on committees talking about how we have too many staff at the college. Things like this. And they have very strong voices. They're on their Faculty Executive Committee. And that's sort of their bone to pick, and every time they get the chance, they mention it.

When they spoke about their class conflict with faculty, staff members spoke to me about at least three distinct, though closely connected, issues. One was the personal disrespect that some faculty members showed for staff and their work; another was the special institutional privileges that faculty members enjoy; and a third was the privileged role that faculty occupy in college governance. However, while these three issues are theoretically distinct, in many situations of practice they prove almost impossible to disentangle. For example, over and over, staff members told me they were happy to defer to faculty on academic issues, but resented faculty’s disproportionate influence in matters of institutional policy pertaining to all employees, such as the committees that make recommendations on pay and benefits.

The apparent peevishness of those faculty members who resent administrative staff’s presence on campus is likely in part a function of faculty elitism, and in this sense the senior administrator’s acknowledgement of the importance of co-curricular work (in the extended quotation, above, about the institution’s educational purpose) is an anti-elitist move. Indeed, from this perspective, the whole discourse of education as a service has democratizing implications, because it places faculty and administrators on a relatively equal footing as just two different kinds of professional providers of educational services. Many administrative staff members spoke to me in the language of professionalism, asking that the value of their work and their professional expertise be honored. One exempt staff member told me that they and their colleagues want to have "the institution and faculty colleagues view them as, if not equals, people with just as much, kind of, professional ability as they do, just in a different field." Another pointed out:

I've always said, students spend two-thirds of their time outside the classroom, not in it. So what's going on there? Yeah, they're doing their work, but how are they doing their work, in what environment are they doing their work? Who's helping them do their work? Who's assisting them in that process? It's not the faculty, in that sense.

It is worth noting the limited scope of these arguments about respect for college employees, in terms of how they might bear on the status of support staff and contracted employees at the college. The professionalism argument makes the explicit claim that administrative staff’s skills place them on the same level as faculty; the implicit claim contained therein is that others without comparable skills do not belong in the same category. In some sense, when they make the professionalism argument, members of the emergent class of staff professionals align themselves with the dominant faculty, rather than with the subordinate support staff, in the traditional academic order. In this sense, the democratizing potential of this discourse is limited. Perhaps the discourse about how administrative staff’s work supports the project of student education has some more democratizing potential—after all, through their work, clerical, custodial, and food service workers all affect students’ college experiences as well. Nonetheless, this framing sets up the terms for an argument about whose work is more central or more influential in shaping students’ educational experiences, an argument which has the potential to re-inscribe rather than undermine hierarchy.

At the same time, other anti-hierarchical discourses are emerging to draw the parallel between an unfair faculty/administrator opposition and an unfair administrator/support staff opposition. As one administrator told me,

You know, we could all tell you stories about the way we feel we're treated at times that really distinguish the fact that you're not as good as a faculty member. That same thing, though, is necessary between all the faculty and administration together, and the support staff.

In Chapter 3 I will deal more with the democratizing potential, as well as the limited scope and ambiguity, of Pseudonym’s recent move towards undermining the distinction between administrative and support staff—a move which, in turn, continues to exclude subcontracted employees. But let me return to the question that drives this chapter: what kind of an institution is Pseudonym College? What principles define its essence?

I have already suggested that an elitist attachment to their own position of privilege may partly motivate some faculty members’ reluctance to accept administrative staff as having a status equal to their own in the institution. However, broader principles are at stake for faculty as well. It is easy to see how the tradition of faculty governance is elitist and exclusive of other constituencies in the institution, but the question of yielding up governance is complicated in a way that again relates to the theme of corporatization. I want to make the claim that in a certain sense faculty governance is also a radical tradition—and that faculty attachment to their power over college decision-making, while anti-democratic, also reflects a certain kind of idealism.

Recall that I said defining the college’s mission as providing an educational service was limiting in two ways. The first was that it frames the student-faculty relationship as the unidirectional transfer of a commodity, even a complex and intangible one, rather than as a collaboration in generating knowledge. The second is that it denies that the college has a broader social responsibility—that the institution has various important roles to play, of which educating students is only one.

Traditional rhetoric about higher education defines its mission as broad and plural. For instance, the prominent value of academic freedom is not simply a matter of making sure professors have the freedom effectively to educate students in their classrooms. Academic freedom is about protecting a space where people can develop and exchange controversial ideas—because we think society at large benefits from having all these different ideas around, and because we think there may not always be space for unpopular ideas to grow outside the space of colleges and universities. In the face of McCarthyism, for instance, or in the recent Ward Churchill controversy, when people have risen to the defense of academic freedom, they have spoken not primarily on the grounds of preserving the privilege of faculty as a special class of people; rather, they have generally argued that, for the good of our democracy, we all need to know that somewhere it is still safe for people to make any and all critical political analyses. The function that the senior administrator describes fulfilling for students—not just making them happy but rather challenging them, pushing them, testing them, honing their intellects and values—is what a university is supposed to do for society as a whole. The university fulfills a function integral to society precisely by establishing a space which is separate from the rest of society and which operates according to different rules.

Much of the world outside the university, of course, follows the rules of the marketplace. In a sense, the idea that the production of knowledge should be conducted under special protected conditions implies a critique of the market system. The university says the market will not value ideas correctly, and it presents an alternative model of value. It acts as a sanctuary or oasis, a protected space, which is to say that there is something hostile and destructive about the market forces outside its walls. In this sense the university is structurally radical. Furthermore, not only do these alternative space exist, but, in the United States, all the children of privilege (middle class and affluent) are required to pass through them on their way to credentialization. Perhaps universities can be framed as necessary anomalies, moderating institutions that correct for any problematic extremes of the market, and in this sense may function to support the status quo. However, insofar as they can be framed as prototypes, alternative models for how broader communities might be organized, universities have the potential to operate as engines for change.

How far-reaching is the difference between a college and a university? In the corporatizing discourse, the college not only focuses on undergraduates and education as opposed to graduate students and research; it also denies the social responsibility of providing an alternative to the marketplace—indeed, it denies that its values are distinct from, and oppose, the market. The idea that you can and should carry on the education of students in an ordinary market-driven context undermines the longstanding, potentially radical tradition of the institution of higher education as a place apart.

The corporatized model of education is not amoral; it simply replaces the traditional ethos of the institution with its own, very different moral imperative. When you add together the conviction that only the budget is real and the narrow conception of the mission as singularly service-oriented, then what you get is the principle that at all times as much as possible of the institution’s money should be spent on providing the service of education. But whereas the traditional concept positioned the university to be the iconoclastic moral visionary showing the way for the rest of society, the corporate model positions the institution to follow the same market ethos that everybody else follows. From a pro-market perspective, this might be read as an anti-elitist move, pulling education down from its pedestal and inviting the professorate to join the real world of fiscal bottom lines. From the perspective of activists who envision alternatives (such as living wages) to the values of the market economy, however, losing the ideal of the university as a unique institution with unique social responsibilities means losing a highly mobilizeable discourse.

It is in the context of this conversation about the narrowing of the college’s vision that the issue of faculty governance becomes salient. Corporatization is not only a process of shifting discourses, but also of structural change. Recall that for-profit companies are run by boards of directors whose primary obligation is always to the bottom line and to the interests of the shareholders; non-profits are also run by boards of directors, who serve a mission but who also have a primary legal duty to the financial health of their institutions. In nearly all organizations in the United States, then, the budget is structurally the most real consideration for those who make the decisions.

Faculty members, by design, have a different set of commitments. Surely most do care about the fiscal health of the institution, but unlike board members, they are not legally constrained to place it above other concerns. Faculty are positioned to be invested in a lofty vision of the goals of the academic project, because their own labor is—in a traditional conception of the institution—central to that project. Surely tenure and the long time-scale of their involvement with the college help shape faculty members’ commitments as well. But the central point I want to make is that, because the budget is not their primary work, their area of expertise, or necessarily their first priority, faculty members are particularly free to identify with a plural conception of the values of the college. Given this, faculty governance—the idea that the faculty as a body play a serious role in college decision-making, instead of or in tandem with the budget-minded board and administration—is a radical idea. As Jeffrey Goldfarb writes in his book Civility and Subversion: The Intellectual in Democratic Society, "All American universities, then, have built into their organizational structure a tension between the academic, professional model of self-governance and the corporate model of administrative control." (128)

Hence the faculty’s ambivalence about processes that undermine their governance, even in the service of apparent democratization. One professor described for me a feeling that the faculty is under threat:

[Faculty] also see themselves and their traditional positions being kind of chipped away at by the professionalization of these other groups at the college. Like, I mean, the group that comes to mind most immediately is Student Life people…. Plus the sort of corporatization of colleges and universities in general, and a sense that increasingly, as this guy [name of faculty member] in the [name of department] department here has put it, rather than driving the bus, the faculty increasingly is just a sort of passenger on the bus, and somebody else, or something else, is actually driving the bus at these colleges.

The real power struggle here, if one can couch in such terms what is surely a very civil interaction, is between faculty and the board and senior administration, not between faculty and administrative staff, who after all are not really driving the bus of college governance either. Nonetheless, it is easy to see how two distinct processes become entangled here. There is certainly nothing inherently democratic about the anti-market ethos, and indeed the traditional academic order is very hierarchical and full of class privilege. Corporatization is not the only transforming ideology that could bring about social democratization at the college, but corporatization in this form does have some democratizing effects, among other effects. The same rhetorical project that now undermines faculty’s elite status position within the college hierarchy simultaneously undermines the ideological grounding of their special role in college governance; the transformation of education into a service does equalize the roles of different employees at the same time that it limits the scope of college’s social vision.

Pseudonym College is in a moment of transition, then—on an ambiguous, and to many eyes troubling, trajectory of corporatization. Faculty members are by no means the only ones ambivalent about the process. One exempt staff member, who described Pseudonym to me as "a very class-ish society," went on to say,

—Employee groups are fairly distinct and obvious, administrators versus support staff versus faculty versus senior staff, say. I'd call them a separate employee group.

AB: And have you had the sense that that [the class-ish-ness of Pseudonym College society] has gotten more or less so over the time you've been here, or has it been about constant?

—Um, I think it has—if I were to map a trend it would have been kind of decreasing for probably fifteen years, and I would say increasing over the last seven years I've been here.

AB: What do you think has caused that change?

—I think we're getting very business-oriented. We're actually—it's maybe inevitable in the world today, but we're acting more like a business and less like a community, I think, than we used to.

It is interesting that this staff member cites corporatization as a marker of more, not less, hierarchy—conceiving of business in opposition to community. Many staff members, even though they celebrated recent advances in the flattening-out of hierarchy, also said one of the best things about the college was the way its climate differed from the corporate world—that the college was more interesting, more principled, and more humane. What is particularly fascinating about this staff member’s account is the way the trend of democratization hits a turning point and then begins to erode again, suggesting that perhaps two distinct processes were at work. Administrators, when speaking to me of change in the institution, tended to elide the breaking down of old hierarchies with the new rhetoric of service-orientation in one smooth verbal gesture, as though corporatization and democratization were one and the same process.

For purposes of conceptualization, consider the graph shown in Figure 1, which represents my interpretation of this staff member’s account. Of course, the actual experience of hierarchy is more complicated than could be represented in one variable, but this rough sketch shows how two distinct and contrary transformations might sum to produce the effect of first decreasing, then re-increasing hierarchy that the staff member describes. Interview participants seemed fairly unanimous in their assessment that one trend in recent years has been a lessening of the entrenched hierarchy of the traditional order, which privileged faculty and academic work over staff and non-academic work, and which confined workers’ involvement in governance to participation in powerless committees. They seemed less unanimous in their perceptions of what effects corporatization has on the institution. I read this staff member’s account as suggesting that the incursion of corporate values is not simply a force for democratization—rather, it is replacing this diminishing hierarchy with a growing hierarchy of its own. As Freeman cautions, "To speak out against free-market forces in public universities is not synonymous with embracing nostalgia for the university of yesterday," which was none too democratic—but neither is dismantling the exclusive old-boy networks of tradional academia necessarily synonymous with embracing the new corporate ethos in education. (254)

This staff member was not the only one to reveal concerns about potentially harmful effects of the college’s transition to a more business-minded model. Several people told me about a retreat the previous spring—it seems that both Staff Council and one of the students who had been involved in PCFLC were involved in organizing the event—where the assembled group, mostly composed of staff members, reviewed progress forward and what remained to be done. They then compiled a report and took it to meetings with senior administration. The account I heard from various sources was that Joe Newpresident responded favorably to many points in their report—saying, indeed, that much of it was changes they could have made on their own without even consulting him—but that he immediately turned down their request to change the administrative structure so that the head of Human Resources, rather than reporting to the Business Office, would report directly to the president.

The first time someone told me about this, I did not understand what that proposal was about—it seemed bewilderingly esoteric in its focus on the details of hierarchy among senior administrators. I assumed, I think, that the interests of all senior administrators were more or less unified—and I was unfamiliar with the Business Office/Human Resources distinction, since Swarthmore’s administration is structured somewhat differently. It became clearer, though, as I heard people speak more about these two offices and noticed that many people spoke of the Director of Human Resources as, to some extent, an ally. One representative comment was this wary remark by an exempt staff member, after describing how a change in college retirement policy was causing confusion and apprehension among some categories of employees:

—Interesting thing about that particular program is that the research and interest in it was all inspired by the Business Office. It was financially driven. It wasn't driven by HR.

AB: Hm. That is interesting.

—It mostly solves a Business Office problem, so that's the reason why, but.

This conception of Business Office problems, as opposed to Human Resources problems, reflects what seemed to be a general understanding that Human Resources is more concerned with people and the Business Office is more concerned with the bottom line. Everyone seems to prefer Human Resources. There is, then, a general ambivalence around the layers of meaning of corporatization at Pseudonym.

For living wage campaigners, all this entanglement may mean that it is impossible effectively to agitate for compensation principles opposing the logic of the marketplace without simultaneously engaging the question of democracy in the workplace. Faced with the processes of corporatization, the onus may fall onto living wage activists to develop alternative ideologies, to find strategies for making spaces that are simultaneously democratic and anti-market.


A Shifting Hierarchy

By and large, everybody's great, but you do run into class issues—which has gotten better, but for a long time there was quite a three-tiered perception of faculty practically being the Brahmin in the caste system and the staff being untouchable. Where faculty would have parties completely apart, administration would have parties completely apart, and in fact I have been invited to those if I wanted to come and clean up. Which I refused to do. [laughs] Because, you know. You're staff, but you're really not second-class citizens

–non-exempt staff member

Many people spoke to me of social inequality in the Pseudonym College community, often using words like class, caste, and hierarchy—a vocabulary of discrete and unequal categories, of stratification. Most often it was members of the staff—both exempt and non-exempt—and of the senior administration who introduced such analyses. These conversations tended to revolve around the relationship among support staff, administrative staff, and faculty members. In fact, most people acknowledged the existence of three other constituencies on campus as well—senior administration, contracted workers, and students—but they were far less likely, without prompting, to position these groups within the hierarchy. Likely the focus on these three groups of employees is related to the framing of the broader public discourse about transforming structures of class at the college.

In the narratives people shared with me, relationships among support staff, administrative staff, and faculty tended to resolve themselves into two binary oppositions; faculty versus the two groups of staff combined, and support staff versus the combination of faculty and administrative staff. In part the choice between these two binaries is a question of with whom the class allegiances of the administrative staff lie.

Faculty versus staff

Really what it amounts to is those people who might get tenure at Pseudonym College and those people who might not.

-exempt staff member

Faculty can make those demands because faculty can demand anything they want to. They're tenured. They're going to outlive all of us—I mean there's almost no administrator who ever stays as long as a faculty member. Nobody stays for 40 years, mostly. But the problem that they [faculty] have is that they don't have control over the purse string.

–exempt staff member

[O]ur role really is to be supportive of the institution and to be good advocates for the institution. So there's always this kind of lingering question, how critical can we be or should we be? …. How vocal can you be before you cross that line and are not seen as—you know, the administrative is the team that supports the stands of the institution. If you're a faculty member and you disagree with a college policy and you're tenured, you say whatever you want. Like, "That's really silly for the college to build that building there." You probably shouldn't say that as an administrator.

-exempt staff member

In the traditional academic social order, the faculty always comes first—well, except for perhaps the senior administration and the Board of Trustees, but people rarely seem to talk about these constituencies—and tenure is the supreme marker of their primacy, even though, of course, not all faculty members have tenure. In the increasingly corporatized work environments of the United States, the practice of tenure is coming to look more and more audaciously iconoclastic. Although no one explicitly suggested this to me, I am inclined to wonder whether the fear of ultimately losing the institution of tenure might be an important undercurrent in faculty’s sense of being under attack. The idea is not so far-fetched—while small colleges may not yet be in quite this situation, Freeman notes that already the trend of increased reliance on graduate student and adjunct labor has reached the point where "some universities have attempted to eliminate tenure track positions altogether." (250)

Tenure draws upon two major currencies in the college/workplace community: safety and longevity. The safety comes in the form of near-absolute job security, and is closely linked to the freedom to speak one’s mind. As I will discuss more in Chapter 6, job security is one key factor that many people identify in determining how much voice one has in the workplace. One of the speakers quoted above claims that "faculty can demand anything they want to," and many others made similar statements in equally strong terms.

The safety of tenure creates a special privileged class at the college, since, to some extent, everyone else has to worry that their jobs might be on the line in any action they take. As the administrator quoted in the third epigraph notes, administrators feel more constrained both by their lack of tenure and by their understanding of their expected role in the institution. Perhaps because administrative positions as a category have been emerging over some of the same period as the corporatization of the institution has been going on, their positions are designed around the single-minded, goal-oriented business ethos, which stands in sharp opposition to this characterization of the extreme, almost anarchic freedom of the professorial class.

The other thing that tenure does for you is keep you at the college for a long time, and many people told me that longevity buys you a great deal of respect in the Pseudonym community—and conversely, that community members who tend not to stay long or are not expected to stay long have less legitimacy to claim a right to influence decision-making. This value can function to disenfranchise both contract workers and students. Many people cited the high turnover rate of Unnamed Contractor custodial workers as one barrier to their coming to be seen as full members of the college community. Some staff members, I was told, are suspicious of student activists because most will only be at the college for four years. An administrator told me that sometimes, when students organize opposition to college projects, decision-makers will simply choose to wait them out, carrying forward the plans as soon as those students have graduated.

Insofar as longevity is a source of power and legitimacy, then, faculty have got everyone beat—"they're going to outlive all of us," as the administrator notes above. (Or as one professor quipped to me, "In the faculty community, most of us are here forever. Tenure is more permanent than most marriages.") But there is an interesting ambiguity in the second epigraph above, when the speaker notes: "I mean there's almost no administrator who ever stays as long as a faculty member…. But the problem that they have is that they don't have control over the purse string." Here again is an ambivalence about the relationship between faculty and administrators, linked to a broader dynamic of change in how power is allocated in the college community. One part of corporatization is the emergence of a new class, administrators, whose job is to control some of what faculty used to control; another part of corporatization is the increasing centrality of the budget to all other decisions, and hence the increasing relative influence of the group, administrators, whose job it is to make budgetary decisions. Of course, this generalization is truer of some administrators than others, since the category includes people in a variety of jobs, some of which have more control over "purse strings" than others.[3]

In relation to the system of faculty privilege, administrators sometimes define themselves in solidarity with support staff members. In fact, a formal process of combining the categories was underway while I was visiting Pseudonym. However, there are also moments in which administrators seem quite invested in identifying themselves in opposition to support staff, sometimes by placing themselves in the same category as faculty members. Support staff, in turn, sometimes talked about administrators as their allies, and other times talked about them as a constituency just as oppressive as—or even more oppressive than—the faculty.

Administrators (and faculty) versus support staff

It's kind of easy to assume that the class structure is primarily the fault of the faculty, but in fact I don't think that appears to be the case. It's more widespread than that. I've had support staff tell me, "Compared to administrators, faculty aren't bad." [laughs] The real problem, in terms of people perceiving class based on that employee classification, they see as being among administrators rather than among faculty. Which really fascinated me, and depressed me.

-exempt staff member

You need economists, to be able to have those kinds of conversations, because you need to be able to look at the numbers in really complicated ways. You know, opportunity cost. Lost opportunity cost. The value of x number of employees. The value of senior employees versus junior employees. I mean, for example, it doesn't cost you very much to replace a groundskeeper who has children at the children's center. It costs you a lot to replace a vice president. So how do you judge the value of the Children's Center, who should get into the Children's Center, all those kind of things.

-exempt staff member

I repeatedly heard people invoke the idea that some people are more central to the college’s mission than others; often the argument was that faculty are the most directly engaged with the educational project, and therefore attracting good faculty is more important than attracting good candidates for other jobs at the college. Sometimes, however—as in the second quotation above—administrators drew on a similar kind of rhetoric to argue their own importance relative to other groups on campus. From the idea that money is the most real consideration, it follows that people’s real relationship to the college community can usefully be quantified in fiscal terms—the monetary value of an employee, for instance, and the cost of suitably replacing them. This speaker suggests that such calculations ought to play some role in determining eligibility for benefits like the Children’s Center. In the context of the interview, this administrator certainly made this suggestion with a fair amount of ambivalence and hedging—but they made it nonetheless.

The underlying ethos of both arguments is that the college should do more for those who are more valuable to it. These are elitist discourses—they promote and sustain the inequalities of class within the institution. I argued in Chapter 2 that, even as the elitism of faculty dominance is on the decline at Pseudonym, a new elitism rooted in corporatization is on the rise. The speaker in the first epigraph suggests that in some ways administrators—those identified with the increasingly important currencies of professionalism and market value—are emerging as a new, or an additional, elite class in the institution.

If this is possible, then whatever it is that has been undermining the old hierarchy must not be damaging the foundational ideology. To some extent it is still possible for groups to claim privilege on the grounds of being more important or valuable to the college. It is only faculty’s access to such a claim that is being challenged—so that even as it becomes less politically feasible to say that faculty are more valuable than staff, it remains (or becomes increasingly) acceptable to say that some staff are more valuable than others. In response to this second trend, this developing hierarchy between the two broad classes of staff, the college decided to make what seems at first, at least in some ways, to be a structural solution.

From administrative and support staff to exempt and non-exempt

While I was visiting, Pseudonym College was in the midst of a social and organizational shift, an official reorganization of the system of classifying staff. Part of this change involved abandoning the terminological distinction between "administrative staff" and "support staff." As various people explained to me, both groups would now fall under the general category of "staff"—though they would still be divided into the legal categories of "exempt" and "non-exempt" status, depending on their eligibility for overtime. (These categories were mostly, but not entirely, coterminous with the old administrative and support staff categories—more on this later.) The change also involved some concrete equalizing of such things as benefits between the groups, but people I spoke with were not clear exactly how far the leveling might extend. They pointed out such things as continuing discrepancies in vacation days and meetings still closed for administrators only, and wondered whether or not these might become standardized across the new, broader category.

Aside from the actual change of labels, the biggest effect people talked about was the combination of the two staff governance organizations, the Support Staff Advisory Council (SSAC) and the Committee on Administrative Issues (CAI), into one new Staff Council (too new, or too concise, to have an acronym). Staff members from both sides of the divide were excited about this—the general sentiment was that it would benefit support staff to be allied with this more powerful group, but also that many of the issues of the two groups were similar and becoming unified would be a stronger position for both. Similarly, staff members were mostly in favor of unifying the two classifications in general—support staff were universally so, but a couple of administrators admitted to some ambivalence about the prospect of giving up the social status and material advantages of their administrative status.

I heard a variety of narratives about who or what initiated this constellation of changes around staff categorization; it seems likely that each of these factors played some role in the process, but perhaps some more than others. Some people credited conversations that took place as part of the Mapping Process, a kind of strategic planning process that Joe Newpresident had laid out, in which members of all campus constituencies (except the contract workers) had the opportunity to involve themselves in a series of meetings about the college’s future. Others, including many who had been involved in the two staff governance organizations, told me that—long before the Mapping Process began—the particular leaders of the SSAC and CAI had started meeting together to talk about their common ground and about the possibility of combining. Still others told how the Human Resources department had considered adding this new category, "professional staff," which would have been in between support staff and administrators—according to this narrative, the prospect of such a change made people realize that more hierarchy would be counterproductive when the college should really be moving towards more equality. Of course, these explanations may, and probably do, overlap to reflect a multilayered truth. Nonetheless, it is worth considering the variation in originary stories and emphases as part of the larger question of how change happens at the college. A few people suggested that the student-led Pseudonym College Fair Labor Campaign played a role in making the change possible—but if they did, it was in a subtle and indirect way, a matter of climate and discourse and empowerment, for these issues of status and categories were never an explicit part of the PCFLC’s program.

The symbolic and the concrete

—But still. I'm an administrator, I get 22 days of vacation a year. For support staff, you start out with 10. And you can build to 20 over a period of 15 years.

AB: Wow. So you started with 22?

—We start with 22, we end with 22. We actually get more days off in a year that, because we also get 8 or 9 days at the holiday break in December, and a couple days at Thanksgiving. But just in terms of discretionary vacation days, a support staff starts off with 10, and then gets one a year over a period of years, so that I think after the end of 15 years they're up to 20. And then that's just one example of—even if we've now moved to the point where we invite all staff—meaning, there's now the term "faculty" and "staff." All staff now are invited to things like academic luncheons where people might talk about their research or talk about something interesting. Interestingly enough, those are mostly always given by faculty only. But now at least everyone's invited.

-exempt staff member

And that's a place where the support staff-administration thing has been this really like—underneath it is a kind of class warfare thing. That is the great unspoken conflict in United States society, is about what class you're in. So administrators are invited to faculty lunches, faculty parties, you know, the faculty club parties, various kinds of faculty things. Because we're generally college-educated, we're people that they consider to be—well, not quite their peers, dear, because we don't have a Ph.D., but, you know—although some of us do, or terminal degrees, whatever.

-exempt staff member

People kept bringing up the opening-up of the faculty lunches, which was one aspect of the recent constellation of changes. Apparently, it used to be that administrators, but not support staff, were invited to these monthly events. No one who spoke with me emphasized the value of the actual content of the lectures—indeed, a few people noted that not many support staff really wanted to attend the events. What was important about the change was not the material benefit to support staff, but rather the symbolic meaning of being invited or not, and what it said about the institution’s relationship to its employees. It was an issue of respect.

People complained that the old policy of exclusion was disrespectful. For one thing, it assumed that support staff would not be interested in these faculty lectures. Such an assumption is grounded in notions of class, class in the sense of a whole set of characteristics—education, intellectualism, wealth, income, skills, and tastes—bundled together into one ruling category. The idea that people in lower-paying jobs are less intellectual has particular sting in a college setting—for while educational credentializing still carries a fair amount of weight throughout the workplaces of the United States, it probably looms largest in institutions of higher education. The valorizing of education as the central mission of the college exacerbates the tendency to value highly-educated people more and sneer at others.

Here again is evidence of how de-centering the faculty from their special position in the institution can be part of a move towards democratization. At the same time, what I want to make clear is that I think corporatization, with its single-minded focus on the educational mission, is mostly counterproductive in this process. Corporatization does two things simultaneously to the mission of the college. One is that it somewhat expands the definition of students’ educational experience, in a way that is minimally democratizing because it includes the work of some staff members, not just faculty. But at the same time, by narrowing the mission to this focus on delivering the product of education—rather than on serving as a model for, an oasis from, and a provocative influence on society as a whole—it helps entrench this new class hierarchy among staff and closes the door to some arguments for a broader democratization grounded in social responsibility.

It is easy to see why the symbolic world of invitations and terminology matters to people, because it signifies respect—on an interpersonal level, a faculty member’s respect for a staff member, for instance, and also on an institutional level, the college’s respect for all of its employees. Yet I want to distinguish these kinds of elements, which I am calling symbolic, from the more concrete aspects of hierarchy—such as tenure, number of vacation days, and of course rate of pay. The staff member quoted in the first epigraph to this section draws a distinction—and a connection—between these two types of hierarchy when they note that the policies of vacation days remain unequal, "even if" all staff are now invited to the same social functions. The concrete elements tend to be the ones that involve significant reallocations of money—and it is worth noting that, by labeling them concrete, I verge on taking part in the same discourse I have critiqued earlier in this thesis, the one that says that money is the most real thing. Conversely, the senior administrators, whom I have described as generally budget-focused, nonetheless tended to talk about hierarchy exclusively in the symbolic mode of labels and social events, rather than in the concrete mode of benefits and pay. A very cynical reading of this apparent contradiction might suggest that their commitment to undoing hierarchy is not sincere, that they deliberately engage the conversation in these terms to avoid having to spend college money on the project. A more generous and nuanced reading could be that it accurately reflects how they perceive the problem of hierarchy at the college. A hierarchy in which people are accorded different levels of respect reads as viscerally unjust, whereas perhaps for the senior administrators I spoke with there is nothing inherently wrong with a hierarchy in which people are accorded different levels of compensation. This is where the framing of the issues becomes so critical, and the question arises of which of the college’s ideologies is at stake—for symbolic problems call for symbolic transformations, whereas concrete problems call for concrete transformations.

Three perspectives on the change in categories

At first I was puzzled that the old binary of administrative and support staff was to be replaced with the new binary of exempt and nonexempt. If the problem was distinction itself, what good would new labels do? What difference in meaning resided in the new terminology? In response to my question, one senior administrator gave the following explanation:

AB: On the switching of the terms from support staff and administrators to exempt and non-exempt. Why is that an improved set of terms to use?

—Um, support staff seemed somehow to be menial, let me put it that way, as distinct to administrative staff. We also had—there was pressure to create a third, a new category, called professional, who were somewhere in between. By using exempt and non-exempt we're using pretty neutral terms that relate specifically to the status vis-à-vis pay and benefits rather than some category that's attempting to describe sort of what people do.

In this account, then, the change is highly symbolic. The speaker ascribes enormous power and meaning to the words themselves. They seem to imply that class distinction inheres in the actual words rather than in people’s attitudes towards one another—or, perhaps, that a shift in vocabulary of the labels will be enough to transform the relationships among subjects to whom they are affixed. The last sentence of the quotation attempts completely to disengage actual inequalities of "pay and benefits" from social categorization—where "attempting to describe what people do," I think, is a way of saying class. The speaker implies that people’s descriptive notions of class, rather than structural inequalities in institutional policies, do the major work of promoting hierarchical injustice at the college.

In the middle of the quotation, the speaker invokes the never-realized possibility of creating a new category of professional staff. This third group[4] is described as vague and liminal—"somewhere in between"—and this liminality seems to have threatened, indeed undermined, the whole system, but for reasons that are never explained. Unlike some other people, who explained to me that the idea of creating a third category threw into sharp relief the distastefully hierarchical nature of the existing categories, this speaker simply implies that the addition of the third category was itself untenable. Further, even though, as a senior administrator, they wield significant power in decision-making in the institution, the speaker begins the sentence with the impersonal "there was pressure to," as though some unspecified external force mandated the change. Why would a new category be undesirable, and why would there be pressure to create one? Two other quotations begin to shed some light on the nervousness around the idea of adding new categories.

I have spoken of the two categorization systems as generating roughly congruent groups, but in fact they were not identical, and so the change was not purely a linguistic shift but a regrouping as well. (The legal categories of exempt and non-exempt had existed all along, but with the abolition of the old distinction these terms became for the first time the primary markers of staff categorization.) One person now categorized as an exempt staff member spoke to me about their experience of the new label’s becoming more salient:

There’s about—in the thirties, about thirty-some exempt staff members that aren’t considered administrators…. And so this thirty of us are kind of out there in weird limbo land. No one really knows exactly how to address us. [laughs] You know? And what's weird for me too is to be in the category that I considered, um, kind of an elitist—like there's this hierarchy, and so to be promoted into that category seemed like very foreign to who I was trying to be and make Pseudonym become. So it's kind of put me in a really weird position to say I'm exempt. I'm like [hides mouth with hand], "I'm exempt." You know? [laughs] When people ask, [both laugh], it's sticky to tell them. It feels weird. [laughs]

The speaker describes a strong sense of unease (four uses of the word "weird," along with "foreign" and "sticky") about occupying an in-between category, a liminal space ("a weird limbo land") in the hierarchy. Part of the problem is a sense that their status itself is ambiguous—that exempt staff are supposed to be administrators, and support staff are supposed to be non-exempt, and therefore to be an exempt support staff member is to transgress social boundaries and make social interaction difficult. The line "No one really knows exactly how to address us" points out that people rely on their readings of social categories to know how they are supposed to communicate with one another. The social uncertainty of how to treat people in an in-between category makes it very clear that administrators and support staff are routinely treated differently from one another, and that exempt and non-exempt staff are routinely treated differently from one another. Perhaps this is part of how the posing of an added category threatens the existing social order, because it calls attention to practices that have been normalized perhaps to the point of invisibility, at least from some vantage points. It is worth noting that the new category’s in-betweenishness, its position on the borderline between two categories, is central to this function, because a focus in on it inescapably becomes a focus in on the border itself. Hence, the addition of a new category which can be read as entirely outside the existing system—as, for example, I imagine might have been the perception of contract workers when the college first began to subcontract—would not operate in the same way. There is certainly anxiety around the idea of contract workers, as I will explore further later on in this chapter, but it focuses on their difference and indeed draws the other categories closer together into one comparatively less-differentiated group.

The other half of the problem this speaker articulates is that they feel a strong solidarity with one group, while the institution categorizes them with the other. This class allegiance seems to be rooted not only in a sense of social identity but also in an anti-hierarchical ideology and agenda. The speaker says that being identified as an exempt staff member is "very foreign to who I was trying to be and make Pseudonym become," implying that this re-categorization in fact undermines their own activist project in working to reshape the institution. It feels like disloyalty or hypocrisy to be identified with a group one sees as "elitist"—this is why this person expresses discomfort about telling other people about their exempt status. Again, I point this out not to suggest that decision-makers in the institution deliberately designed policies to undercut the employees’ democratizing activism. What I do want to highlight is that, contrary to the opinion of the senior administrator quoted first, this speaker makes clear that exempt and non-exempt are not neutral or unmarked terms at all—and furthermore, that classed divisions among staff members are deeper and more complex than can be erased by a simple switch of vocabulary. At the moment of this interview, anyway, the categories of support staff and administrative staff were still tangibly present for this person—both in personal identity and in institutional policy. Eliminating these categories from official use did not erase their significance in college life, but only drove it underground to some extent, exacerbating the experience of liminality and discomfort of position, at least for this person.

A narrative like that of the senior administrator might lead one to expect that people would want to be re-categorized up—that, for instance, support staff members like this person would be happy to be relabeled as exempt, a move that apparently increases their social status by removing a stigmatizing label and realigning them in the upper rather than the lower category of the binary. But in fact nobody ever remarked to me in any interview that they themselves wanted to be moved up from a lower-status to a higher-status category. Instead they tended to talk about their objection to the disrespectful nature of the whole system of categorization and the various kinds of unequal treatment mapped onto it. They seemed to look at the stratified system and their place within it and see, not a reflection of their own self-worth, but a reflection of the degree of justice in the college workplace.

I will cite one more quotation on the issue of how the old and new staff categorization systems interact. This one is notable, first of all, in that the speaker brought the issue up in the context of a discussion of corporatization rather than democratization. Here is the exchange we had:

—There's a strong trend at the college, I think, towards exempt support staff. Which I think is primarily a cost-cutting measure, money-saving measure, and I'd say disrespectful for the people involved in [unintelligible].

AB: How does that save money?

—The more support staff positions they can make exempt rather than non-exempt, the less overtime they have to pay.

AB: Oh, gotcha.

—And the more work they can expect out of the staff member. There are a lot of federal laws and labor regulations that affect that as well. But I just—it seems like a growth in exempt support staff.

Recall that the basic definitional difference between exempt and non-exempt is whether or not the employee is eligible for overtime. According to this person’s interpretation, the development of this new intermediate category—whereas more traditionally all support staff would have been non-exempt, and all exempt staff would have been administrators—is an exploitative move on the part of the college. It is "disrespectful for the people involved" (presumably the exempt support staff) in that, as employees who on some level ought to be entitled to overtime, they are being denied that compensation through the re-labeling.

Recall that this development was prior to the official switch in categorization. The rise of exempt support staff, which this person characterizes as a gradual shift, happened during the period when support staff and administrative staff were the prevalent social categories, while exempt and non-exempt existed as legal designations. What then was the interaction between this trend and the changeover to a single set of terms?

Nobody said this explicitly to me, so this is a speculation on my part, but my hunch is that the proposed new "professional" category was going to designate more or less to this same intermediate group of staff, the exempt support staff. In this case, the "pressure" to generate this category, as described by the senior administrator, perhaps originates in the tension of disjuncture between the two systems of categorization. The situation of exempt support staff liminality can only last for so long—no one knows how to deal with them, and so the system generates social pressure to assign them to a recognizable category with predictable rules. Why not do so, then? One hypothesis, in a sort of marxist reading where management’s desire to exploit workers’ labor drives its social policies, is that officially recognizing the category would make the exploitation too overt. Or perhaps, taking a less cynical view, the decision-makers simply genuinely share the feelings about social hierarchy that many people described: that to add another category would be to further stratify the institution, which runs counter to the friendly, family spirit of the community. In fact, this belief is quite consonant with the perspective the senior administrator shared at the beginning of this section—that language produces the social order, rather than the other way around. This respect for the power of discourses is consistent with much prominent contemporary social theory; it is only my sympathy for a marxist analysis, where conversely the imperatives of the structures of labor are the motor force that produces the social superstructure, that leads me to view it as naïve.

Yet in some sense, the motivation of the decision-makers, here as elsewhere in this thesis, is a red herring. Whether the choice is made in the best egalitarian spirit or to further some other agenda, the elimination of the distinct categories of support staff and administrative staff does have the effect, in practice, of making the trend of greater numbers of exempt support staff less visible. They can be pointed out neither as an anomalous, illegible in-between category nor as a coherent, newly labeled category for which new rules might need to be negotiated. Rather, they are folded in undifferentiated among the exempt staff, where their significance as a group can more easily vanish—and where, indeed, even if one did read them as somehow different from the other exempt staff, it would be bad manners to point it out, since "support staff" is now read to be a disrespectful category—since, in other words, linguistic differentiation is understood to generate hierarchy, and the project of the terminological shift is to erase the difference.

Contracting out

AB: So what do you think should be the role of the contract workers in the college community and in decision-making on campus?

—Mm-hm, mm-hm. Well, that's a tough one, I think, because an entity like Unnamed Contractor, being a for-profit corporation, and an entity like ours, as a non-profit, 501(c)3 educational institution, we have such different goals, we have different values, and we have very different budgets [laughs]—and, you know, and fiscal priorities. So in some ways that makes it really tough, because we speak a different language, in some ways. And we cannot force Unnamed Contractor—we could, I guess, by just not using them at all, but—That's a tough one to answer. I can't see, just as a human being, I can't see certainly preventing or barring anyone from having a voice here, I don't think that's right. But as far as influencing the wage structure for a separate corporation, I just don't know how you can mesh that, but—Yeah. Well, I'll be interested to read your study and see what [laughing] other people think about that.

-senior administrator

When staff members spoke to me about hierarchy at the college, they tended to talk mostly about the relationships among administrators, support staff, and faculty—and less about how students, senior administrators, or contract workers might fit into that picture. Each group, I think, was excluded for a different reason. The senior administration seemed to be an almost invisible constituency, of whom everyone must have been aware but who they rarely talked about as a body—instead, people frequently mentioned individual members of the senior administration, most often Joe Newpresident and his predecessor Jane Oldpresident; I also repeatedly heard people talk about the Director of Human Resources, the head of the Business Office, and the Vice President for Business and Finance. Rather than a unified body of senior administration, most people seemed to think of a disparate group of individuals—and indeed, as I noted in Chapter 2, some people perceived them as having distinct interests such that the power relationships among them would be pivotal, as in the issue of whether or not Human Resources would report to the Business Office. The students, for their part, I think were often excluded from reckonings of the hierarchy of power—at least in the accounts of staff—because they were perceived in an amalgam of different roles, including both youthful wards to be protected and consumers of the college’s major service—among which, to my surprise, the role of privileged political actors was often not seen as primary. Why subcontracted workers were generally not considered within the same hierarchies, however, is more complicated to explain.[5]

As I have already suggested, nearly everyone I spoke with talked about subcontracting and the contract workers with a great deal of nervousness. Frankly, this could be a whole thesis, just the conversation about subcontracting, and instead I am making it only one section of one chapter—in part because my interviews with contract workers themselves turned out to be fewer and more limited than I had hoped. But I do want to cover what I see as the main points in how people talked about contracting and how those ideas bear upon broader conceptions of the meanings and functioning of the college community.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the quotation from the senior administrator above is the speaker’s sense of uncertainty around the role of contract workers in the Pseudonym community. In general, even people who expressed a strong commitment to the rights of all staff members to democratic roles in governance were often uneasy about how to structure the involvement of contract workers in college decision-making. Despite this general attitude that "just as a human being" one would want contract workers to have a voice like anyone else in the community, almost no one saw this as feasible. When I asked some version of the question above, I do not think anyone at all took me up on the implicit suggestion to propose some kind of structural democracy like a separate governance body of contract workers or contract worker representation in the Staff Council. Instead, people fell into two groups—those who argued that the current role of the contract workers was as it should be, and then hastened to justify this; and those who confided to me that in truth they wished the college would stop outsourcing and hire all of its employees directly.

Why would people think that contracted workers could not be full members of the college community and its decisions in the same way that other college employees could? The most commonly invoked reason was simply that they were employed by a different company, with a right to be autonomous in its choices about its policies towards its employees. While the justification for contracting out was always explained as a matter of cost—that for a variety of reasons, Unnamed Contractor as an experienced and large-scale provider of food service and custodial service could do those tasks with more budgetary efficiency than Pseudonym College could—the implications of what it meant to contract out rather than employing within the institution clearly stretched beyond the budget into more ideological realms. To me the budgetary and social aspects of contracting out seem hypothetically distinct—that is, it seems possible to imagine a situation in which Unnamed Contractor provides its resources of equipment and training and large-scale buying in coordination with its other clients, and in return the company makes profits by keeping some of the money that the college saves through efficiency, but the college retains control of the workplace and its policies. However, I am apparently alone and somewhat naïve in this imagining. For others, it seems, this is an unthinkable or perhaps simply unworkable proposal, because there is a fundamental autonomy to a for-profit company. The principle—which I think is not unique to people at Pseudonym, but in fact is basic to the understanding of capitalism in the United States—is that a company must be free to make its own decisions in pursuit of its own bottom line. To ask it to subordinate these interests to a different set of values and interests, like those of the college, would be to violate the integrity of the company and its very ability to operate. This is profoundly off-limits.

I think this ideology of corporate autonomy is closely linked to the rising ideology of corporate personhood. Another senior administrator said to me:

It's taken a partnership, and I think the college and Unnamed Contractor have had a long, long relationship, and I think they felt—it wasn't the kind of thing that we're going to throw them out tomorrow. We felt we had to come to something that we all felt comfortable. And I think they've appreciated—I think they've learned more on this issue, but I think they've appreciated the partnership.

Most striking in this quotation is that it is the company—not its workers—with whom the college has a relationship, and to whom its has a sense of responsibility or loyalty. While the workers of Unnamed Contractor were generally acknowledged to be not quite seen as full members of the college community in the ways that other constituencies were, in the eyes of this administrator it is the company itself who instead is a seen as a full member of the community. Wordings like "partnership," "relationship," "felt comfortable," and "appreciated" suggest a very personal quality to the interactions between the institution and the corporation, so that to "throw them out" takes on the character of unacceptable incivility—whereas the language of deciding not to renew a contract, for instance, might have sounded more like a perfectly civil and ordinary organizational activity.

I want to stress that I am not only claiming that the company takes on the identity of personal community member, but also that it does so at the expense of its workers being identified as full community members. These moments in the interview conversations were moments of taking sides—I asked about the role of the contract workers, and the speakers responded to deny my implied claims of workers’ rights by talking about rights of the company. What then makes possible this displacement of personal community membership off of the contract workers?

As I have said, many people told me that longevity was an important determiner of legitimacy in the college community; this is part of what makes tenure such an empowering tool for faculty members. In this sense, contract workers are in the least advantageous position of any constituency on campus. The rate of turnover among employees of Unnamed Contractor, especially custodial workers, is very high. In the time scale of the college, even students, who tend to be around for four years or so, are considered short-term members of the community and are sometimes dismissed as decision-makers for that reason—how much more so with contract employees. I gathered no hard data on longevity, but the sense I got anecdotally and from people who claimed to have looked at the actual figures was that a few custodial workers may stay around the college for twenty years, but most stay a much shorter time, and many are gone within the year.

Certainly this reflects the subjective experience of many other college community members I spoke with; people tended to place a strong emphasis on personal relationships as an element of community-building, and to complain that the high rate of turnover among custodial workers frequently broke off those relationships or prevented them from developing at all. Custodial workers, too—especially, but not exclusively, those on the night shift—tended to talk about their experiences of the workplace in terms of their co-workers and supervisors, and not so much about interactions with members of other constituencies or about feelings of community membership.

Insofar as direct personal interaction was set up as a tool of community-building, the dining services workers were more likely to feel integrated them into the college community, since they saw many students and some other college community members each day in the course of their work. Both of the dining services workers I spoke with described the special joy of working with students on a daily basis, and in this way they shared the sense that I heard from many other college employees, that of the college being a special place. They also spoke some about the tangible benefits that came with working at a college in particular. Unlike nearly everybody in the other constituencies, however, they did not talk about the college as having a special climate as a community. The trope of the college as a small village, which I heard over and over again from members of other groups, did not really arise in my interviews with contract workers. I had the sense that the domain of the college in which they felt membership was confined to the space of their workplaces and the community members who peopled them—whereas faculty members, students, senior administrators, and to a lesser extent staff members were likely to speak, with a more expansive sense of belonging, about the entire space of the campus and the entire populace of the college, even the places they did not go and the people they did not see. To draw once more on Anderson’s trope, many people described to me an imagined community of the college as one coherent whole, whereas contract workers were more likely to talk about the more narrowly defined community of their own concrete experience.

Since custodial workers’ direct experience tended to bring them into contact with even fewer members of other college constituencies, they were structurally set up to feel more separate from the rest of the college. For instance, when I asked about the best and worst things about the college as a workplace, they spoke about social dynamics among their co-workers and supervisors, and about Unnamed Contractor’s compensation and other policies. One person shrugged their shoulders and told me it was "como cualquier trabajo" ("like any job"). Again, they did not speak of the values or overall community or climate of Pseudonym College.

The politics of space circumscribe custodial workers’ experiences of the campus. One exempt staff member told me of Unnamed Contractor workers, "Most of them don't actually have a, quote, home on campus, an office. Some do, but many don't." The idea of "a home on campus" is certainly evocative; it recalls the domestic analogy, the language of the college as family, as well as the college as village. Indeed, a group of custodial workers working on a night shift told me they felt the lack of any space belonging to them on campus—specifically, they said, the problem was that they had no break room in the buildings they cleaned. Having no assigned space, they simply chose a room to take their break in, but they had periodically had to abandon the room of their choice and seek out another. At least once, this move was precipitated by their arriving one day to find that their stuff had been removed from the room, left just outside the door, without explanation. In this and other stories I heard, the dynamics of shared space and distinct time schedules conspired to create a situation where custodial workers and other college community members interacted with one another only in an extremely mediated way through the movement of objects in space.[6]

One day I came across a sign in a building that read:

The Brown Common Room is a space for faculty members to retreat, read, or meet with small groups of colleagues. Please do not use it without permission.

As with moving the items out the room, here again it is an inanimate object—a sign, literally—that conveys the meaning that certain spaces are proscribed for certain community members. It so happened that a student later mentioned to me having attended an early PCFLC meeting in the Brown Common Room. After all, the informal rules of space use may be more flexible than the formal ones. Students, who interact with faculty face-to-face, may get permission to use the faculty’s special space, or learn that they can in fact get away with using it without permission. An experience of the delineations of space when mediated through personal interaction, it seems to me, will tend to be softer and more malleable than when mediated through the cold matter of objects.

I have outlined a number of ways in which I think the dining services and custodial workers are set up—both spatially and temporally, for instance—to experience little interaction with the rest of the college community. I would be remiss if I did not mention that differences of social identity in the forms of class, race, and language also play a role in the sense of separation between Unnamed Contractor workers and others. While other constituencies at Pseudonym College are majority-white and most speak English as a first language, the majority of custodial workers are Latino/a and speak Spanish as a first language, although many also speak some or a lot of English. Certainly also discomfort around the awareness of social inequality inhibits relationships from both sides. One custodial employee who had just started work that summer told me they liked the new job fine and thought they would stay in it for longer than they had planned, but they were afraid of how they would feel when the students returned in the fall:

—The people here are really nice. The only thing that scares me is the—when the students come back.

AB: Yeah? [both laugh] How come?

—Well, I—I don't know, it just—you know, I look at it, and it's like, "Oh, I should be in school!" You know, instead of [laughs] cleaning the toilets! That's the only thing that sort of like held me back about telling them I'm definitely going to be here from now on. You know. It's hard.

But many of the factors that promote the separation between Unnamed Contractor workers and other college constituencies—factors like the spatial and temporal circumstances of their work and the demographic differences of class and other social identities—may be read as functions of the type of work itself, not the fact of its being subcontracted. How much social division is an effect of the contracting? What would it look like if Pseudonym College employed people directly in dining and custodial jobs? These questions are hard to answer with an n of just one school at a single moment in its history. They call for a broader comparative study across many schools.

Hypothesizing on the basis of an informal comparison to what I know of my own college, Swarthmore, I will say this much. Like Pseudonym, Swarthmore employs its lowest-paid workers in dining and custodial services, and these workers, especially the custodial employees, are disproportionately women of color. As at Pseudonym, many of Swarthmore’s custodial employees work at night, and therefore their interactions with college community members other than co-workers and supervisors are primarily mediated through the physical environment.

Unlike Pseudonym, however, Swarthmore directly employs these categories of workers—and as such, they are represented by the same governance body as other staff members. To be sure, low-wage staff members are often marginalized and intimidated in governance processes—and, I hear anecdotally, sometimes in workplace situations as well. But I do identify a difference between the two schools in at least the rhetoric about the relationship of low-wage workers to the college. At Swarthmore, low-wage workers themselves, as well as members of the senior administration, do speak about the college’s having a responsibility to all its workers; they do talk about everyone, including dining and custodial workers, as being part of the same broad community.

I have described how, at Pseudonym, both contract workers themselves and other college actors speak of the world of the contract workers as distinct from the realm of the broader college community. Surely the spatially and temporally circumscribed circumstances of their work are part of how this distancing is possible. But these circumstances cannot themselves be the sole cause—after all, other jobs at Pseudonym confine the movements and interactions of employees in various ways, and yet somehow do not have the same constraining effect on their roles in the community. It is clear to me that, at least from the senior administration decision-makers’ end, the discourses of corporate autonomy and of efficiency have much to do with the ways that Unnamed Contractors’ workers’ roles are framed. Subcontracting is in one sense a manifestation of the corporatization trend—a forfeiting of one part of the conception of the college’s social responsibility within its own community, or rather a narrowing of how it defines that internal community of responsibility, in the service of the bottom line. In the spatial sense, it is also perhaps the boldest stroke of corporatization yet, for it represents the physical incursion of an actual corporation into the sanctuary space of the college.

The project of building democracy is long, complex, and sometimes wearying. As I explore in Chapter 6, officially inclusive rhetoric and even a sense of collective community identity are far from enough to ensure equitable democratic processes of decision-making in the workplace. But without such grounding, how can we even begin?


A Brief Interlude:

Talking About Compensation

So it's a question of student value. And not moral value, but it's value for the dollar. How much, how much value is there in the education, and how much do they pay for it, and do we increase value by increasing salaries of low-paid employees?

-exempt staff member

I worked with a woman who's now retired, but when she complained about her rate of pay, which was really quite low compared with the rest of the city, her boss took her outside and said, "Yes, but where else can you see [a local natural feature] every day from your office?" And she said, "Well that doesn't feed the family, you know, that's just a stupid thing to say."

-non-exempt staff member

The idea of a living wage raises a whole constellation of questions about the nature of fairness in compensation. One part of the allure of the market as a standard for wage-setting is that it presents a relatively clear algorithm for working out what wages should be—which is not to deny that setting market wage rates is a complicated task of data analysis, but only to say that after the first, large moral decision to base one’s wages on the market at all, the process is generally unencumbered by a need for judgments of abstract moral principle. It becomes a technical problem of working out the most accurate facts. By contrast, attempting to set a wage based on ethical principles demands a whole series of judgments grounded in stances on the nature of justice, of responsibility, and of compensation itself.

One might distinguish between two categories of issues about fairness in wages—on the one hand the fairness of absolute wages, which is to say, how much one’s pay is worth in the context of the overall system of monetary value, and on the other hand the fairness of comparative wages, which is to say, how different jobs or different employees in the same job are paid relative to one another. In theory, the concept of a living wage—which is that any full-time job should be paid at least enough for a worker to be able to meet basic needs for themselves and their families without needing to work an additional job—only speaks to the issue of absolute wages, promoting the idea of a minimum for all while remaining neutral on the question of relating one job to another. Proposing this kind of philosophical principle as a basis for compensation, however, almost inevitably precipitates a broader conversation, drawing in both absolute and comparative principles, about what, in a moral sense, a wage really means. For instance, does a wage represent how much the institution values a person’s labor? And if so, how could that figure be set?

The market, of course, is one kind of guiding principle for establishing an absolute standard for compensation. Some kind of assessment of basic needs—couched perhaps in the terminology of living wage or of self-sufficiency wage—is another. Of course, one can conceive of other bases for establishing absolute wage standards—a percentage of the institution’s total budget, perhaps, or any of a number of methods for estimating the value of people’s work to an institution. The living wage idea, however, has particular contemporary political currency.

The underlying principle of a living wage, as articulated above, is deceptively simple, but even campaigners who share that goal may not agree about the underlying reasons for the principle. Perhaps the central ideological question about a living wage is what, in fact, is its relationship to need. Because it is defined in terms of meeting people’s basic needs, the living wage can easily be interpreted to be all about striving to meet the particular needs of individual employees. The immediate question becomes, what do you do about the fact that different people—in different family circumstances, for instance—have different quantifiable amounts of need? It would be too costly to pay everyone the highest figure that anyone needs, and illegal to pay people differentially according to their family sizes. One research participant suggested to me that the most efficient solution is to meet families’ needs through additional benefits, since benefits, unlike wages, can be differentially available to different people based on their needs.[7]

This kind of need-centered understanding of a living wage, however, sets up a dynamic of the wage as a humanitarian project rather than a fairness project—and in some ways this becomes a limiting discourse. It promotes the subjection of staff members’ personal budgets to a closer scrutiny than the college would ever exert to examine, for example, the personal spending of faculty members. Further, a focus on needs may be read as patronizing, in the sense that it implies that the college, out of charity, is paying people more than they deserve for their work. Wages are traditionally read to more directly compensate for the value of one’s work rather than for some assessment of basic needs. What does it mean to set the wages of particular groups of people according to a whole different kind of standard than the wages of all other groups? Furthermore, beginning to use a standard of need to compensate all of the employees in an institution might have quite different ideological implications than making this switch only for the lowest-paid categories of employees, while continuing to pay others based on the market’s assessment of the worth of their labor. Is the living wage project visionary and radical, a pioneering effort in a larger socialist project of gradually separating the distribution of wealth from the sale of one’s labor in the figurative marketplace? Or is it paternalistic and piecemeal, a charitable handout to those for whom the market wage generates hardship, but one that poses no fundamental challenge to the idea that market wages accurately reflect the value of people’s work?

I know of no integrated national conversation in the United States living wage movement about how we define the living wage in view of these kinds of ideological questions. Indeed, the loose student coalition of anti-sweatshop and living wage activists networked through United Students Against Sweatshops, Jobs with Justice’s Student Labor Action Projects, and other organizations is certainly plural, often ambivalent, sometimes even evasive about its large-scale vision. In Students Against Sweatshops, Liza Featherstone quotes a Yale student labor activist who remarked to reporters, "We are training an entire generation to think differently about [pause] capitalism," then laughed and added, "Oops, maybe I shouldn’t have said that." (34) But many of the Fair Labor activists I spoke with at Pseudonym certainly would not have characterized their project as anti-capitalist. A number said that their strategic presentation of a fair wage as a moderate project free of broader ideological implications was key to their success. Yet even if such a public stance is an effective tactic, it is risky for activists to continue to dodge at least an internal-to-the-movement conversation about the philosophical and political-economic groundings of our work, because no stance is truly neutral. The outcomes of our rhetorical and tactical choices are freighted with repercussions, not only for our specific goals, but also for how we affect the flows and power and understandings of work, community, and respect on our campuses.

It is possible to conceive of the living wage project in a way that acknowledges the concept of meeting needs without abandoning the ideological grounding of compensating people for their work. Rather than perceiving that the institution is re-centering its wage policy around need, one can understand it to be simply recalibrating its assessment of the value of work. One explanatory narrative for this ideological turn is that the market is not a reliable tool for assessing the real value of work, since the market can be demonstrated to reflect historical biases that, for instance, systematically undervalue the work of women of color. In this ideology the need calculation becomes a benchmark, a standard distinct from the labor market against which the value of work can be read. We may not know exactly how to determine the real value of people’s labor when we accept that the market is not a reliable measure, but perhaps one easy-to-agree-upon standard is that clearly anyone’s full-time labor must be worth more than the minimum amount it would take to sustain oneself and one’s family. This kind of narrative sidelines hyper-specific projects that seek to assess particular individuals’ needs and meet them as efficiently as possible, because in this vision meeting needs is not really the point of a living wage—needs are, rather, the rough calculation by which a living wage is determined.

One exempt staff member spoke to about the ideology of compensation—specifically, the health care benefit—in a related way, drawing on the notion of how the institution values its employees’ work:

Health care. You know, that it just keeps rising and rising and rising—as it does everywhere. But I think that Pseudonym always has done things differently, so even if health care increases, if they value their employees and the amount of money the employees get to bring home to their families then maybe they'd take a bigger chunk. And they do take a big chunk, they do pay a big chunk of the benefits, but maybe they'd just pay more! I don't know! You know, maybe they'd just decide that that is valuable.

It is possible, then, to conceive of an absolute living wage in a way that retains at its core the notion of how much the institution values its employees work. All these questions of framing are critical considerations in the work of student labor activists (and others) who plan to deploy discourses like the living wage.

In complement to various standards of absolute wage there are the factors that make up conceptions of comparative wage. Discourses of how one wage should compare to another can draw on a number of criteria; many people I spoke with at Pseudonym, for instance, invoked the relative importance or centrality of one’s work to the college’s educational mission; relative longevity; relative replaceability; and relative skill or competence, among others. Probably the most contentious bone in the comparative wage conversation, both at Pseudonym and at Swarthomore, has been the competition of discourses around wage compression, the issue of how the wages of employees not at the minimum are affected, or perceived to be affected, by changes in the minimum. As the bottom wage rates increase, are employees already making above the minimum entitled to some increase as well? Again, answering these questions requires drawing upon the underlying ideologies of wages, the questions of whether compensation is about meeting needs, respecting work, promoting equality, preserving hierarchy… It is worth noting, however, that two distinct kinds of wage compression are too easily elided. When faculty members in particular brought up the issue, they tended to grapple with the question of what it might mean to accompany a minimum wage increase with decompression, a strategy apparently for preserving class hierarchy in the institution. When non-exempt staff and contract workers brought up the issue of wage compression, however, they were more likely to be referring to compression within one job classification but across degrees of longevity, with the problem being that people who had worked at the college for a long time would find themselves at the same rate of pay as people who had just started.

I should make two more brief points here. One is that union bargaining represents a third, distinct, and politically potent method—separate from the market and from the living wage idea—for establishing a standard by which wage rates can be determined. The other is that contracting out work shifts the discourse of wage comparisons in a powerfully significant way—because the industry within which contract workers are conceived of, and the context in which their wages are compared to others, is no longer the context of college wages but instead the context of other wages paid by Unnamed Contractor. This potentially exerts downward pressure on what is perceived to be a fair market wage rate.


The Pseudonym College Fair Labor Campaign

In this chapter I investigate the orientation of the Pseudonym College Fair Labor Campaign towards power. My concern is broadly structural. How did the students’ activism reflect their perspectives on power in the institution? How did classed knowledges and practices affect the Campaign’s overall strategic approach? What are the ideological implications of rooting solidarity activism in student privilege?

This is neither an oral history nor an ethnography of the Fair Labor Campaign. While I begin the chapter with a short account of the basic events in the Campaign narrative, I have not attempted to thoroughly document the specifics of the timeline, the tactics, or even the issues of contention. A more exhaustive examination of all this would surely provide fascinating material for a much longer, more ambitious project than the present study. In this volume, I am concerned primarily with the relationship of student activism to worker empowerment at the College. This chapter draws on topics in the Campaign’s story that I feel help to illuminate the dynamics of that relationship.

The basic elements of the Pseudonym College Fair Labor Campaign story, drawn from various interviewees’ accounts, are these: A small group of (mostly white, mostly male, mostly middle-class[8]) students involved in an Amnesty International chapter, along with their faculty advisor, grew interested in working to improve the wages and working conditions of the College’s janitorial and food service staff. (These workers were all employees of Unnamed Contractor, a well-known company with whom Pseudonym College had a contract.) According to some accounts, students originally had the idea of trying to unionize the workers, but after speaking with union representatives who advised them that the local climate was very anti-union, the students decided to organize a living wage campaign instead. They began talking with employees of Unnamed Contractor, in both formal and informal ways, and writing a comprehensive research report, filled with annotated data and strongly-worded recommendations, about wages and other workplace issues involving Unnamed Contractor—both specific to Pseudonym College and on a national level.

The students released their report to the college and threatened to publish it more widely, and the administration responded by agreeing to put Unnamed’s contract out for bid rather than just renewing it. Then the President of the College appointed a committee of college staff members, students, and faculty members—but no employees of Unnamed Contractor—to look at the recommendations. The Campaign had no representation on the committee but shared a lot of information and advice with its members. Eventually this committee issued its own set of recommendations, including a new College minimum wage of $13.07 per hour. The President responded that these recommendations were too expensive, and ended up implementing a compromise proposal which included raising the College’s minimum wage—affecting Unnamed Contractor employees as well as direct employees of the College—to $9.64. (According to the report, the starting wage for janitors had previously been $7.50.)

From early in the campaign, students focused a great deal on the tone of their interactions with the administration and the public. They deliberately kept everything on the level of civil, rational, academic discourse. A number of students and others told me that they saw this as an important strength of the campaign, something that distinguished it from previous student activism at the college and helped make it uniquely effective.

One student told me that the Campaign always expected to have to get more confrontational once the administration flatly turned them down, but that the administration kept surprising the activists with its cooperation, and in the end it was never necessary to move from working within the system to working outside it. The students also never did extensive mass mobilization. Although they gathered signatures of supportive students, polled the student body regularly, and kept supportive students updated through a website and other means of publicity, most sources I spoke with agreed that a small core group did most of the work of the campaign, and that most of this work involved such activities as research, writing, and meeting with administrators, rather than mobilization or recruitment.

In the field of social movements, the Pseudonym College Fair Labor Campaign presents a definitional ambivalence, an instance where some would argue that the very term "social movement" does not apply. Of course, this depends in part on which definition one chooses. In the introduction to their book The Social Movements Reader, sociologists Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper write:

A social movement is a collective, organized, sustained, and noninstitutional challenge to authorities, powerholders, or cultural beliefs and practices. (3)

The Pseudonym College Fair Labor Campaign was certainly organized and sustained, and while they were a fairly small core group their work was certainly collective. A certain ambiguity hangs around the word "noninstitutional" in this definition, however. The group was an autonomous student organization, explicitly working to express opposition to policies of the College administration. At the same time, as a student organization, it received institutional funding for its expenses. As students, its members all had a particular kind of privileged access to the institution and even to the administration. What concerns might Goodwin and Jasper be raising when they say "noninstitutional?" What issues might arise for a movement that—while not exactly institutional—is inextricably tangled up with the institution it challenges? Please, bear these questions in mind for a moment—they will arise again.

Political scientist Sidney Tarrow gives a more complex definition, claiming that social movements are

those sequences of contentious politics that are based on underlying social networks and resonant collective action frames, and which develop the capacity to maintain successful challenges against powerful opponents. (2)

Central to this definition, it seems to me, is the idea that a social movement somehow transforms the structure of social organization. Tarrow goes on to explain:

The irreducible act that lies at the base of all social movements, protests, and revolutions is contentious collective action…. Collective action becomes contentious when it is used by people who lack regular access to institutions, who act in the name of new or unaccepted claims, and who behave in ways that fundamentally challenge others or authorities….

Contentious forms of action are different than market relations, lobbying, or representative politics because they bring ordinary people into conflict with opponents, elites, or authorities. They have power because they challenge powerholders, produce solidarities, and have meaning within particular population groups, situations, and national cultures. (3-4)

A social movement produces social change, not just political results—it empowers people and democratizes institutions. Presumably, at least some of the time, people’s "new claims" in fact include gaining "regular access to institutions." This provides an interesting counterpoint to the work of movement scholars Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, who claim that people produce change by disrupting (only) those institutions to which they already have regular access; very poor people, for instance, have access to the streets and can disrupt them by rioting. (23)

What, though, is "regular access," in Tarrow’s sense? Recall our ambivalence about students’ relationship to the College administration. Surely no one could doubt that students have regular access to the College itself. However, they do not usually have access to influencing its financial decisions. In this era of increasing corporatization, students are often described as a college’s customers—but, to carry on the corporate analogy for a moment, there is a great distance between concerned customer and board member, or even stockholder. Are students "ordinary people" in this context, or are they members of the elites? Is the Fair Labor Campaign a case of students asserting new power in decision-making, or acting on their existing privilege in the institution?

In a sense, both are true. As we saw in Chapter 3, students[9] are surely more powerful than staff members, yet less powerful than the administrations at their colleges. Their mobilizing to claim a role in shaping the values that underlie the institution’s finances is, in a sense, a bid for a more communal and democratic, as opposed to corporate, institutional structure. At the same time, structurally their action is only democratic on the level of the student-administration relationship. It has no direct democratizing implication for the roles of staff.

This is not to say that students and staff could not come to see their empowerment in the institution as linked together, symbolically and practically. Sociologist Corey Dolgon describes just such a bond developing out of a coalition struggle to save custodians’ jobs at Southampton College of Long Island University:

The issue for students had become more than just the custodians’ mistreatment by the college administration; it had evolved into a question of who had power to make campus decisions…. The linkage between the custodians’ self-interests and the students’ self-interests raised larger questions of social justice: Who should have power and authority to make decisions in a democratic society, and how might we democratize our own community to increase the level of control and dignity in all people’s lives? (225)

However, such a link between students’ and workers’ democratic interests is not automatically present. Unless a coalition works to frame the issue as one of collective interest, there is no reason that increasing student power would necessarily increase the power of staff.

In talking about power relations at Pseudonym College, one student activist who spoke with me drew a distinction between hard power—the ability to compel people to do what one wants—and soft power—the ability to talk them into it.

So I don’t think we had any hard power, which is the traditional sense, but I think that when the student body sort of as a whole makes some sort of a moral statement, that that gets listened to. So we decided that we couldn’t force [the College administration] to do anything, but that we could probably persuade them.

Access to meetings with the administration—and the freedom to speak their minds without fear of losing their jobs—are privileges available to students, though not necessarily to low-wage employees on campus. But even when they use these privileges, students have often failed to achieve their objectives. Various people told me that this student campaign was unprecedented in its effectiveness at the College—for instance, a few years earlier, students had unsuccessfully campaigned for an end to the contract with Unnamed Contractor on the grounds of the company’s involvement with privatized prisons. Winning concessions towards a living wage, then, was not a matter of simply flexing students’ access, but rather of strategically targeting authorities. In this sense the students were certainly involved in what Tarrow calls "contentious politics." (3) It was, however, a peculiar kind of contentious politics, a quasi-movement form that has begun to appear, not only at Pseudonym, but at other colleges around the United States.

Movements theorists John McCarthy and Mayer Zald use the term "conscience constituents" to describe those who do not stand to be directly affected by a victory. (175) In a traditional grassroots organizing effort, one might expect that workers would lead the organizing to increase their own pay, while students, as conscience constituents—or, to loosely translate into activist parlance, "allies"—would play supporting roles. In this case, however, it was students who were the primary actors in the struggle. Recall, too, that the Fair Labor Campaign never sought to galvanize a mass mobilization, choosing instead to get as much political mileage as possible out of strategically deploying the privilege of a small group of members. In a sense it was not so much a social movement as it was a lobbying campaign by students in solidarity with campus workers. Indeed, I think a self-reinforcing cycle was at work: because they were mostly students to begin with, the activists chose strategies that fit their student skills and worldviews—but these choices of strategy, in turn, tended to exclude most workers from involvement in the campaign.

This situation of conscience constituents leading a campaign is not unique to Pseudonym College, but it is a fairly novel phenomenon that has begun to appear with the recent rise of campus living wage campaigns around the country. As an activist with the Swarthmore Living Wage and Democracy Campaign, I grew interested in studying other campaigns precisely out of a desire to work out the implications of this structural issue. To be sure, not all campus living wage campaigns in the United States can be described this way—some are led by workers, or by strong coalitions of workers and students—but a number of colleges are to some degree like Swarthmore and Pseudonym.

Labor movement scholar Dan Clawson cautions that, although the living wage movement is a promising new direction for labor, it could do more harm than good if students and other allies of labor take on the paternalistic role of advocates for workers, substituting their own leadership for worker self-determination:

If this new form of struggle were to become doing things for workers, it would undercut the greatest, most democratic premise of the labor movement: that workers have both the right and the capacity to get together, organize, decide for themselves what is in their own interests, and then go out and fight to win…. Any group, any group that argues that it acts on behalf of workers, and that therefore workers do not need to organize and select representatives of their own choosing, is not to be trusted. (emphasis in the original, 188-9)

Clawson describes how students at Wesleyan University took the lead in organizing a union there, then grew concerned about their own overbearing role in the process, and have begun developing strategies for backing off and supporting worker empowerment. (189-90) At Pseudonym, where students chose to advocate what they perceived to be staff members’ interests rather than trying to organize a union, workers had even less power in the process. Some Pseudonym students who spoke with me acknowledged this issue, but for most it did not seem to be a primary concern. Indeed, one student activist told me in positive terms how, over time, students had come to be able to intervene with administrators on behalf of individual workers:

And now we're at the point where if I hear a problem, I have my high-level contacts in the administration, people like [an administrator], who I'll go to and say, "Here's a problem with this manager, this is the person who told me, you should go talk to that person." Because I know that [the administrator]'s now going to protect that person's identity and deal with the problem that way.

This student drew on an established personal relationship of trust with administrators to try to address workplace conflicts. In the student’s experience of privilege, calling upon one’s "high-level contacts" is likely often an effective problem-solving strategy; certainly this approach proved to be part of the successful strategy by which Pseudonym Fair Labor won the wage increase. However, even conceptually, this is a problematic strategy for coping with the unequal power dynamics of a worker-manager dispute. The student believes that administrators can impose effective top-down solutions; this implies that the student fundamentally sees workplace conflicts as isolated and personal. Even assuming that the administrators fully cooperate, student intervention with administrators does nothing to transform the power inequalities that make workers vulnerable to mistreatment by managers. Furthermore, this strategy makes students and their privilege continually essential to the process, without making the students at all structurally accountable to the staff members to whom they become self-appointed representatives. As Clawson points out, worker-led organizing and representation is a far stronger solution, because it has the potential to actually shift power into the hands of workers. Routinizing a process of unaccountable representation by students certainly does nothing to empower workers. Arguably, it even helps disempower them, by obscuring the need for worker-led organizing and drawing legitimacy away from such efforts.

That said, in counterpoint to the student’s account, I heard a very different story from two senior administrators who spoke with me together in a joint interview:

—I think what was very tough here, especially for the management people—they had two audiences. They were trying to get a good job done, clean up buildings, meet our expectations—and at the same time, they had a lot of people—and again, we hire them to manage their employees—and then there was a lot of this, "Well, their supervisors aren't good," and there was a lot of activism. So I think it was very tough and difficult, and I'd say there were some of the management people for a while became pretty gun-shy. And they came back to us and said, you know, "Are you going to the administration? I mean we're hired to do a job and we feel we can do a good job, but we can't have every time a supervisor has to make a difficult decision with an employee, the custodian doesn't like it, the custodian goes to a student and complains."

—And we had several cases we took clear through to the conclusion that we found the employees were wrong. And we had to terminate several of them for theft. They were using the students, in a way that wasn't appropriate.[10]

As confident as the student quoted was in their relationship with the administrators, they didn’t take into account the competing relationships to which the administrators would also answer. The College’s relationship to its custodians is mediated by Unnamed Contractor, and the administration sees itself as primarily responsible to the managers and supervisors of Unnamed Contractor, not to its workers. Meanwhile, because the College also plays a parental role to students, administrators are able to invoke a paternalistic concern ("they were using the students") to dismiss what students say.

By bringing up "several cases we took clear through to the conclusion," one administrator invokes the trope of an objective, judicial process. The philosopher Michel Foucault has argued perceptively against the court system as a mechanism for enacting justice. He objects to the idea that "someone who can remain quite detached… an intellectual, and expert in the realm of ideas" should be the arbiter. (30) Instead, Foucault advocates a justice, not backed by state (nor other) authority, but simply carried out by the people, who "do not rely on an abstract universal idea of justice, they rely only on their own experience, that of the injuries they have suffered, that of the way in which they have been wronged, in which they have been oppressed." (9) Workplace justice, Foucault would say, is to be found not in supposedly neutral arbitration by College administrators, but in a general empowerment which would free workers as a group to enact their own justice unconstrained by legitimized College authority. In this workplace context, the way to best approach Foucault’s ideal of popular justice would be to form a democratic and non-hierarchical union. By bringing workers’ and managers’ conflicts to the administration for arbitration and accepting the outcomes, students reinforce the legitimacy of the supposedly neutral authority dispensing justice over justice as a socially agreed-upon concept by all parties.

I was alarmed at what I perceived to be a wide gap of communication between students and administrators. The student I have quoted appears to believe their ability to call on administrative allies is an effective strategy for solving workplace problems, whereas the administrators seem to be saying that they have come to reject as inappropriate these patterns of communication over the heads of managers. I wondered whether the student was aware that some of the situations they had brought to the attention of administrators had ended in firings of workers they sought to defend. What seems clear is that the situation is utterly lacking in accountability. Just as the students are structurally unaccountable to the workers they seek to represent, so too are administrators structurally unaccountable to the students who appeal to them. Whatever persuasive power students exercise depends entirely upon the administrators’ consent to be influenced.

At Pseudonym College, the strategies that students in the Fair Labor Campaign chose—and the tactics that followed from these strategies—played into the power norms of an institution that valorizes calm, well-researched, academic reasoning. The students consciously avoided activist images or rhetoric, preferring to sound too moderate rather than too radical. One student described it to me as "a very special dynamic, which was very rooted in research and facts." This emphasis on information enabled the students to take advantage of the special legitimacy accorded to intellectual discourses in an academic community.

Sociologist David Croteau has written that middle-class, college-educated activists often focus on "information politics." He notes:

Middle-class activists do not see daily life experiences of workers as an adequate source of information about politics. Instead, they tend to emphasize formal schooling as a central site for political education…. [S]uch references are always to college education—a sphere more readily available to middle-class students. (155)

It is not surprising that middle-class people place so much value on college education, since for many it is a defining personal experience as well as an important signifier of class membership. At the same time, it is also unsurprising that many working-class people find this attitude alienating. Croteau quotes William Greider: "[O]rdinary citizens are silenced and demoralized—made to feel dumb—by the content of information politics." (154) Working people do not lack information or knowledge, but a college education trains people to produce and understand information in particular formats that others may find intimidating or hard to decipher.[11]

By making the academic presentation of information the primary tactic of persuasion for the Pseudonym College Fair Labor Campaign, students excluded employees of Unnamed Contractor from major involvement. After all, as one student activist told me;

So we certainly talked with a ton of workers, but there was very little in terms of worker leadership. Because most of the workers we started off dealing with was, ah, food services and housekeeping. And to do a really public-policy type research paper, while they—you can add anecdotal evidence—that's the type of work that, you know, students and academics do very, very well. And so you have to talk and make sure you know what the important issues are, but it terms of writing a high-quality paper, those aren't the skills these people tend to have, and if they had those skills they wouldn't be working in those jobs.

Of course, workers have many other life skills that can be applied to workplace organizing. Plenty of workers, in plenty of historical moments, have been involved in workplace organizing without having been trained in public policy research. One can conceive of many different ideological approaches to the living wage project, some of which would center on collective ideals of justice and workers’ own experiences and knowledges. Foucault writes about what he calls "subjugated knowledges," of which one category is "local and specific knowledges," those that are considered to be "naïve knowledges, located low down on the hierarchy, beneath the required level of cognition or scientificity." (82) These local knowledges, he says, are one important source for recovering "a historical knowledge of struggles." (83) Working people’s lived experiences could certainly prove a rich source of rhetorical and tactical grounding for a living wage campaign. Indeed, from my perspective, a living wage is in essence a compelling moral principle drawing on a radical political perspective on history, far more than it is the logical result of rational or economic analysis. However, the students chose to approach the project through tactics such as academic research papers—in other words, to communicate as one elite to another. It was an exclusionary choice.

It was also in some ways a very effective choice within the cultural context of the College. As Jasper points out, one’s credibility is a resource, a form of cultural capital that can be mobilized. (350) In an elite academic institution, credibility is closely linked to deploying sophisticated academic discourses, and the students very successfully mobilized this resource for their cause. The administrators I interviewed universally spoke in laudatory terms about the intellectual acuity of the student activists, frequently using words like "brilliant." They also spoke glowingly of the Campaign’s rational and civil tone—sometimes contrasting this with what they saw as the counter-productive tone of many other student activist groups. Said one administrator:

I guess one of the nice things about working in higher education is, students bring issues to you that are complex issues, and I've got to indicate about this, I didn't know a lot about the sustainable and living wage part, but I got a real education out of the process. So one of the nice things here at Pseudonym is students do it.

The other I think that's so important here is the good research and sane conversation we were able to have with students. There were a couple times initially where it was sort of the old activism thing of beating you over the head type of thing, and what I really appreciate is that, when we began having good conversations and sharing research and putting an all-campus committee together to deal with it, it was a good tone. But if they had come and said, "We're going to have a boycott of food service," then there would have been no conversation. So I think what I appreciate here is the responsible manner in which our students and other interested members of the community sat down and had good conversations and discussions to try to find a solution.

In celebrating the cordial, reasoned, conciliatory approach the students took, the speaker implicitly condemns confrontation and impassioned emotion as socially inappropriate. The disparaging comments about "the old activism thing of beating you over the head" and about boycotts makes this attitude even more explicit. It is not entirely clear why there could not have been conversation in the context of a boycott—would the administrators have refused?—or whether this is a bluff. Nonetheless, the administrator clearly communicates comfort with the Campaign’s chosen tactics and a distaste for the kind of polarized tactics made famous by community organizers like Saul Alinsky, who wrote, "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it…. [A]ll issues must become polarized if action is to follow…. One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other." (227-8) Certainly a conciliatory approach falls easier on middle class sensibilities—mine as well as this administrator’s—than does Alinsky’s Manichean approach. At the same time, the idealization of objective, unemotional deliberation is part of a long and oppressive tradition in which the rational European man is posed in opposition to the hysterical woman and the illogical non-European. More to the point, the fiction of the neutral intellectual is constantly used to discredit the validity of people’s real interests and emotional investments in issues, and to elevate to judge status those whose privilege makes them appear disinterested. Civility "and sane conversation," so praised by the administrators, can be a code for maintaining the kind of friendly middle-class social solidarity in which, by unspoken agreement, the intensity of people’s real interests and the searing injustice of the distribution of wealth will not be invoked. As Jeffrey Goldfarb writes,

[T]he commitment to civil society and civil discourse, unquestioned, without disruptions such as those of Malcolm [X], becomes a force for the continued subjugation of the marginal, in the US particularly the continued functioning of racism. (181)

And yet, despite the passionate force of that quotation, Goldfarb does not reject civility—only civility unaccompanied by subversion. In his book Civility and Subversion: The Intellectual in Democratic Society, he argues that both of the titular elements are essential to the work of progressive scholars. Subversion cannot stand alone any more than civility can, for "[t]he task is not only to speak truth to the powers, but also to set up the conditions for such address to occur, to provide the time and space for public deliberations…" (219) Progressive students, too, must walk this line as they pursue both integrity and effectiveness in their activism.

One possible reading of the administrators’ apparent comfort is as evidence of what Jasper would call a "virtuosic" maneuver on the part of the student activists, who deployed an effective dose of civility to win a major concession. (319) The students knew the culture of the college and how to play it successfully—charming, convincing, and pressuring the administrators in ways that would allow the power-holders to save face. Indeed, for some administrators, it seemed that not only their public image, but also their own good opinions of themselves were at stake. I was startled at how personal and emotional were the terms in which they spoke about their roles in the process, pleading for acknowledgement that administrators are "people too," as one put it. Another said,

It’s tough at times to still see reports that come out, and there was one recently, there was sort of a retreat down in March that I think was still pretty critical, and feeling like our Human Resources hadn’t been responsive, and in some cases we hadn't been responsive. And, you know. And that bothered me. We think we’ve really worked hard…. But I think it’s tough sometimes to see the criticism, when people don't feel they've been involved, and don't think they’ve got it as good as they’ve got. Maybe if you were to walk up, in some cases, and ask a custodian, how does he feel about life here at Pseudonym, he might not realize everything that we've done for him.

It appears that the student activists did a masterful job, framing their issue in a way that created a problem of conscience for the administrators but simultaneously also provided a solution that would allow the administrators to retain their self-image of benevolence. Indeed the administrators and student activist leaders remained on friendly terms, even entertaining one another socially. I am reminded of a rule of etiquette that I learned at my middle-class hearth: one should always leave some socially graceful avenue open to the other person. Indeed, these administrators’ apparent desire for students to like them reminds me of my own visceral impulse to make figures of authority approve of me, even when it contradicts my political and intellectual convictions. Our shared class conditioning kindles in us a kind of social solidarity. As Croteau writes, "The effective socialization of students into a role of compliance is perhaps best achieved with middle-class students, who identify with teachers and authority figures and learn to play the system effectively to reap its rewards." (156) Students deployed this relationship with the College’s administrators as a tool in their progressive reform project. At the same time, they reinforced the relationship and the shared class privilege that it signifies.

I find the administrator’s last two sentences very troubling:

But I think it's tough sometimes to see the criticism, when people don't feel they've been involved, and don’t think they've got it as good as they’ve got. Maybe if you were to walk up, in some cases, and ask a custodian, how does he feel about life here at Pseudonym, he might not realize everything that we’ve done for him.

These lines reveal important limitations to the students’ approach. This administrator, it appears, views the wage problem as temporary and the solution as complete. They imply that the increase was an act of generous charity rather than of compensatory justice. The successful campaign does not seem to have led them to a broader analysis of the ongoing wage inequalities at the college, nor to a deeper consideration for the validity of workers’ accounts of their own workplace issues. In fact, most ominously, the speaker seems to be suggesting that they now feel justified in placing less stock than before in what workers have to say. They claim that they have access to an objective truth about how good the workers have it, while the workers themselves might be mistaken. And, somehow, a custodian’s own account of how they "feel about life here at Pseudonym" would be less valid because they don’t know what the administration has "done for" them.

Of course, I do not know whether the administration really listens to workers any less than they used to. They may have used a different excuse, or no excuse at all, to ignore workers’ concerns before the advent of the student campaign. The possibility of a negative change, however, must be taken very seriously by students interested in promoting democratic campus workplaces. It is one thing to campaign for material gains even while acknowledging that you do not know how to promote worker empowerment; but it is quite another thing to actually contribute to the dismissal of workers’ voices. Recall Foucault’s critique of the specious neutrality of the disinterested intellectual judge. In a sense, Foucault’s conception of popular justice also describes the ethos of a democratic social movement, where legitimacy derives not from any kind of hierarchical authority but from the lived personal truths of all the people. By participating in the championing of academic knowledges and reinforcing the system in which intellectuals collude to decide the objective truth about workers’ realities, students risk worsening the classist anti-democracy of their College. Even though winning a stronger role for students in College decision-making seems like a democratic victory, winning on the grounds of students’ academic knowledge and social class solidarity with the administration also re-inscribes oppression.

Perhaps, in this sense, those students who would have liked to see a movement for democracy allowed themselves to be co-opted. The Campaign did win an increase in the wage, but rather than "develop[ing] the capacity to maintain successful challenges," as Tarrow would have it—rather than laying the groundwork for further action, rather than creating more long-term space for labor concerns at the college—they left administrators feeling more self-righteous and reluctant to move than ever. (2) This does not negate the very real victories won, nor does it necessarily prevent the decision-makers from being persuaded to do more in the future. Indeed, activists in reform movements do not expect to win everything they are asking for, all at once. As Tarrow says, this is the way change happens in such movements—"a portion of their message is distilled into ‘common sense’ of public or private culture while the rest is ignored or discarded." (175) A movement can move forward because, in a series of intermediate victories, activists not only win material objectives, but also gradually transform the social reality. Material victories without social transformation to back them up are unstable and vulnerable to being undermined or rolled back.

In an account of student pro-diversity coalition organizing at Indiana University sociologist Christopher Bickel analyzes what he learned about the danger of co-optation by the administration:

[I]nstitutions of higher learning achieve legitimacy by partially integrating student concerns into the overall institutional framework. In short, they strive to incorporate student opposition by winning students’ consent. This is often accomplished through the use of moderate reforms. An often unmentioned pitfall of liberal, and even progressive, reform is that it tends to incorporate opposition without significantly changing oppressive power relations. Reform sets the stage for cooptation of organized resistance, and ultimately strengthens the institution by winning the consent of oppositional movements. As a result, student movements are usually co-opted at the very moment when they have the most strength to affect university policy. (210)

In a world of compromise, organizations can experience these reforms as important victories—but unless the relations of power are changed, Bickel argues, the chain from reform to co-optation can quickly lead to the undoing of even these reforms. This is what happened at Indiana, writes Bickel:

Although the administration publicly stated that it had met all the demands, in reality, it only agreed to begin the implementation process—a process that tied up the Student Coalition in countless administrative meetings. The greater and more important call for democratic transformation that we had hoped would lead to future progressive action was overshadowed by our concrete demands, which, like the demands of previous student movements, were far too moderate to significantly affect power relations at the university…. It was incredibly difficult to keep the coalition together, especially when so many of the core members were graduating." (216)

Indeed, one student activist at Pseudonym spoke to me grimly about this very problem. The student predicted the impending end of the Fair Labor Campaign, arguing that all the concessions would soon be lost when the last few students involved had graduated. More of a long-term, mass mobilization would have been necessary to sustain the progress, this student argued:

And that's why you need a kind of institutionalized student group with constant recruitment and this type of thing, to kind of hold their feet to the fire. I have no doubt that, once [the last couple students who had been involved in the campaign] graduate, in eleven months or so, ten months, that the business department and the college administration… if the economy goes on a downturn again, and they start to cut costs, they're going to, you know, go to the easiest cuts first.

This activist, at least, harbored no illusions that the reforms equaled any kind of long-term transformation, nor that the friendly administrators could be relied upon to hold to their conscientious positions.

Why, then, did the students not choose more democratically minded, socially transformative organizing strategies? They tended to feel that the strategies they chose were the only effective, or the most effective, ones; many student activists I spoke with contrasted the effects of this campaign favorably with other, more traditional activist efforts at their school. These tactics might mean compromise and moderation, but they argued that more confrontational, movement-style tactics would yield no concrete results at all. Even the pessimistic student quoted above was sure that the small, carefully choreographed, strategically businesslike group had been essential to the victory:

But, you know, getting a broad-based group—and that was the thing, I mean, we didn't really want a broad-based group, because you lose that kind of control, and you may succumb to the people who aren't on your same level. And when you're kind of operating within a very—you know who the elites of the college are, and you have to operate with them on a face to face basis all the time. If you have a bunch of bomb-throwers, kinda ideological bomb-throwers, who won't take no and they won't take compromise and they want immediate results, it's just not gonna work. And I think that's really—you know, on the one hand, yeah, it's gonna—once [the last couple of students from the campaign] graduate, there's no more. On the other hand, if it was broad-based and a big activist group, it might not have happened at all. So it's kind of damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, indeed. By all accounts, the students of the Pseudonym College Fair Labor Campaign were very skilled, and very effective, at what they did. They mobilized their educational capital and their middle-class social capital to win significant reforms in the cause of social justice. But what if it should turn out to be true that their victories would not last because they did not rest on a base of social transformation? What if, in fact, by re-inscribing privilege and de-legitimizing workers’ voices, the students’ strategies were fundamentally at odds with a democratizing project? As one faculty member remarked to me, "although the students who were involved in it had many extraordinary skills, community organizing was not one of those skills." Where, after all, would they have acquired such skills? Strategies for organizing for democracy across the divides of class and for supporting worker empowerment in an oppressive institution are not, after all, such standard elements of middle-class social training. (If these knowledges are to be found anywhere, surely they are part of Foucault’s subjugated knowledges.) What should well-meaning, progressive, privileged college kids do? A responsible answer must surely hinge upon a close analysis of democratization and the meanings of staff empowerment.



A Voice in the Workplace


In this thesis I often use the words "democracy" and "power," but in interviews, when people spoke to me about how different constituencies related to various kinds of decision-making at the college, the most common word I heard was "voice." The idea of a voice in the workplace is an evocative metaphor, and perhaps clearer, more concrete, than the abstract concepts mentioned above. As I combed through my interview texts, however, I came to see the references to voice clustering around three different aspects of meaning, which I would sum up as being at the table, feeling free to speak, and having one’s voice count. It is worth distinguishing among these significances, even as they overlap and interconnect, because it takes different tools to solve different kinds of problems—and because eliding the distinctions among these meanings of voice can be one way of perpetuating anti-democratic situations.

Being at the table

And she [Jane Oldpresident] agreed to have a [Fair Labor] task force, made up of faculty and staff. And students. You know, in hindsight, though, there was an absence of any Unnamed Contractor. I wonder why. Why wasn't someone from Unnamed Contractor at the table? An employee, versus, you know, their management.

-senior administrator

So I think, if, in fact, the Community Council happens—which is that next step after Staff Council, where you get people from all walks of life on the campus [laughs] come together to hear each other—that will go a long way, because it will add some legitimacy and power to the other voices. Because if you're all sitting at the table and the voices are equal—that's the understanding, that all voices are equal, around that table—then it automatically adds some power and legitimacy to those typically un-empowered voices. And at this point the Faculty Executive Committee is completely unresponsive to requests, anything, that come from outside.

-exempt staff member

We've integrated most events on the campus, so that what used to be a faculty luncheon is now a faculty-led luncheon, but it's open to anyone on campus who wants to sign up. And we've initiated a series of presidential luncheons where we have interesting people talking, we provide free lunch to people, but the deal is in order to get a ticket, you have to put together a table that involves students, staff, and faculty.

-senior administrator

In his book Power/Knowledge, Foucault analyzes how the traditional spatial arrangement of Western courts—and the orientation of the subjects with respect to a table, in particular—reflects and reproduces a particular ideology about neutrality and justice. Foucault says that the judge’s position behind the table renders them neutral and distant from the parties in the case, and further that the table imputes an authority to their decisions. (8) I was reminded of these insights when I began to notice how often the trope of the table—sometimes metaphorical, sometimes literal—occurs in these interview transcripts.

Of course, the most immediately notable difference between Foucault’s court table and the various tables invoked in the epigraphs to this section is that the judicial table imputes unequal authority, whereas the college tables seem to represent equal participation: "that all voices are equal, around that table." As though to drive the point home even further, some people even spoke to me of "round table" events; others referred to different groups coming together at "the same table," and people often used words like "all" and "together" in talking about the table. The symbolism of the table is about even-handed communication among people of different, perhaps unequal, positions.

Like Foucault’s table, the college table is often a space of decision-making, a space where work is to be done, and in that sense being "at the table" may be seen as the first step to having influence in decision processes—a necessary but not a sufficient condition. The clearest example of this is the fact that no Unnamed Contractor workers were present at decision-making table of the Fair Labor Committee, as a senior administrator notes in the first quotation above. Mere membership on the committee would not have guaranteed the contract workers a voice—in the other senses of the word—in the Fair Labor decision; their absence from the table, however, structurally excluded them from the process. Even if the table lives up to its promise as a space of interaction on equal terms, this will only be meaningful for those who have a place at it. I use the table here, then, not only in the same literal, spatial sense as Foucault, but also as a signifier for a broader category of structures of differential access to decision-making processes. Official college committees place people at a table of some level of decision-making; so do governance organizations, like the staff and faculty representative bodies; on some level, so do activist organizations like the Fair Labor effort, insofar as they produce meetings between activists and decision-makers; and, in the strongest sense, so would a union, which places people at what is generally known as a "bargaining table." As these examples highlight, not all tables confer the same degree of decision-making influence upon those who sit at them; a great deal depends on the agreed-upon context of the table, its rules and the scope of authority granted to its decisions.

Many tables are spaces of decision-making, but all tables are fundamentally spaces of encounter. When people brought up the Mapping Process that Joe Newpresident initiated—and many people spoke about this—they most often spoke, not about helping to shape the college’s future, but about the opportunity to interact with members of other constituencies, and the discovery of issues in common. Many people suggested that it was partly as a result of those Mapping Process conversations that the idea developed to combine the Support Staff Advisory Council and the Committee on Administrative Issues together into one body—although others pointed out that some leaders in both groups had already begun to initiate that project before the Mapping Process came about. The growth of this new Staff Council, of course, was itself an opportunity for encounter that many described as pivotal in shifting their perceptions of the power relations and the links of commonality or solidarity within the college community.

I think the second quotation, above, illuminates why the table is needed. It is not by happenstance that discourses about tables are often about unequally positioned groups meeting together. When a group with more power exercises its option to ignore those with less power—when, for instance, "the Faculty Executive Committee is completely unresponsive to requests, anything, that come from outside"—a table provides a structural remedy. Perhaps by its neutrality and equalizing structure—or perhaps, most basically, just by acting to authorize everyone who has a seat around it—"it automatically adds some power and legitimacy to those typically un-empowered voices." One way or another, the table is imagined to be structurally equal—and you need that kind of frame for your democratic encounter to be successful, because in the world outside the table, pervasive inequalities will shape and inhibit all inter-group interactions.

It is, of course, important to note that the Community Council this staff member envisions is critically a space of decision-making as well as of encounter. This is the gap between such changes in governance structures and the presidential luncheon initiative that a senior administrator describes in the third quotation. While their content is unspecified, I take the implication to be that the talks by "interesting people" will not generally focus on issues of contention in the college workplace; instead, the luncheon talks are designed to create a neutral context for interaction across constituency lines, leading to community-building. These two projects, the Community Council and the luncheons, invoke the symbolism of the table for very different goals. Both use the equalizing potential of the table to facilitate increased understanding across constituencies, but because only the Community Council involves a table of real decision-making, it has broader potential for democratizing the institution.[12]

In her book Inclusion and Democracy, Iris Marion Young writes, "Where there are structural inequalities of wealth and power, formally democratic procedures are likely to reinforce them, because privileged people are able to marginalize the voices and issues of those less privileged." (34) Structural problems call for structural solutions. In the second quotation above, the staff member proposes that bringing to bear the weight of the table idea can help to transform the power relations in college governance. Perhaps it will indeed do a great deal of democratizing work. But for all its symbolic and discursive force, the table on its own is not an infallible tool, for getting to the table is only the first step in exercising one’s voice.

Feeling free to speak

So we have to really promote the sense of voice with the staff members that are on committees. So they can feel like their voice is valuable enough. But it's intimidating, I know, for a lot of staff members. And I've even been in a group of mostly faculty, and I was the only staff member I think, and then there was a few students. And I kept going like this [makes motion of being about to speak] to speak, and everybody's just speaking over each other, not listening to each other. And that is frustrating too, in committees—they can't wait to say back to the other person what they want to say, and so they're thinking so hard about what they're going to say next that they don't listen to the other person, and that's frustrating too. The communication that sometimes faculty have with each other, I don't understand it. And so finally I just sit back. I'm just like, "Okay, I'm not going to talk." And I'm a big mouth! So I can imagine somebody who's not, [laughs] how they must feel in those situations. They'd never say anything. Because I couldn't jump in. I couldn't. In this one meeting, this one situation, I just—And it was, um, it wasn't about anything like, it wasn't labor, it wasn't…. [laughs] It was so not relevant to my employment at Pseudonym. And I just couldn't even get a word in.

-exempt staff member

People in positions that don't have a lot of power, I think if they felt empowered and they felt like they had a voice without being fearful for their job, I think that would help a lot. I think that's still an issue. Because we can have a voice as a community, but you as an individual in your department, in your office, with an individual problem—you know. You have to feel the support of the community to be able to have a voice.

-exempt staff member

Another word I heard over and over again, counterposed to voice, was fear. People spoke to me about others not wanting to speak up about workplace issues for fear of some form of more or less severe social sanction: losing their jobs, getting in trouble with their supervisors, or in some subtler way being perceived as abrasive. One non-exempt staff member told me that combining the staff governance bodies might help alleviate these kinds of fears by creating strategic exempt allies for non-exempt staff members:

AB: Do you think that's a good idea, that combining of the support staff with the [administrative staff]?

—Yeah, I think it is. I think, you know, it's hard for some people to be real vocal about things, and maybe with a little more support from the administration side, it might help.

AB: Why do you think it's hard for people to be vocal?

—They're afraid of the repercussions. You know, if they go to a meeting and say what's on their mind, it might get back to their supervisor or something, and whether it's the supervisor's fault or somebody else's fault, I just think they're afraid to say anything to the general public.

Most people prefaced these remarks with caveats that they themselves felt comfortable speaking, but that they perceived others in slightly different situations to be more fearful—and this is not altogether surprising, since after all these were the people who agreed to speak with me. People most often attributed explicit fear of losing their jobs to the Unnamed Contractor workers, and indeed these were the workers who expressed by far the most apparent apprehensions and hesitations in agreeing to participate in my project. We conducted many of these interviews in what felt like a somewhat furtive manner during breaks from work, and some—though not all—of these workers said to me that their supervisors would be nonplussed to learn of their participation. Only one person other than a contract worker expressed significant concern about the confidentiality of their involvement in the study itself, and this person was an administrator. However, a number of people suggested, as does the speaker above, that some support staff as well as contract workers fear that speaking up about workplace issues could cost them their jobs.

One key question in the analysis of these statements is how much legitimacy the speakers accord to others’ fear. Some, like the person quoted above, take no particular stand, simply claiming that people feel fear, without opining about how justified the fear might or might not be. But others do make some attribution of truth value, and their responses fall at various points on the spectrum of respect for the validity of other people’s perceptions. For instance, it is probably more respectful to believe people’s fears to be grounded in experience, but now out of date, than to believe them to be altogether irrational. One exempt staff member told me of a recent experience at a meeting with staff members, where those who had been involved in campus politics lately and experienced recent changes in climate firsthand felt much more comfortable speaking than some who had developed fears in an earlier period when the administration had been less open:

And the interesting thing was hearing someone who's been on campus for, I think, close to twenty years, and male—and everyone would say, several of us would say our piece, you know, speaking freely, and this person said, "I just—I'm sorry, I can't. I can't speak." "And why is that?" "Well, I'm afraid that my name might be associated with some of these thoughts, and I don't want repercussions." [laughs] It's like, "Hello, we don't live there anymore." That's not what the environment is about now. And in some ways, I think people in the past were actually afraid of being fired for expressing themselves.

Apparently some fear holds over from the past—but the speaker suggests that this fear, while understandable in the historical context, is simply unnecessary in the current environment. The question of legitimacy here is critical, because the solution to a problem of actual employee intimidation is different than the solution to a problem of unwarranted fear. It is an identification of whether the problem resides with the more powerful or with the less powerful actors in the relationship.

The speaker in the first quotation attributes greater freedom of speech to administrators than to support staff, and indeed this accords with the general assessment that administrators occupy a higher position in the hierarchy. Some described this differentiation in the structural language of contracts, a vocabulary more easily quantifiable than the ambiguous conversation about fear. One exempt staff member, for instance, told me:

I know that I can say a lot and not fear for my job, just because I know what my terms of employment are: first I have an implied contract that lasts a year, and if the college wants to fire me they gotta buy me out of that contract. Hourly staff don't have that.

Again, note that the framing of the problem greatly informs what is to be done. This staff member went on to suggest that the college consider giving all employees the same kind of contract that administrators have, to drive out fear by establishing structural security. This is a very different kind of solution than retraining supervisors to avoid creating intimidating working environments—a project that some senior administrators told me was underway. I do not mean to suggest that there is anything mutually exclusive about these two constructive projects, or, for that matter, about these two understandings of what prevents people from feeling free to speak. The two problems might even operate in tandem, as might the two solutions. What I do intend is to highlight the range of possible understandings and why it is important to make clear precisely what we mean when we talk about barriers to democracy.

Even in a conversation that takes place in the apparently straightforward language of contracts, there is room for ambiguity. Recall from Chapter 3 the question of administrative staff aligning with one or the other side of the binary opposition of power. Compared to support staff. as the above speaker notes, administrative staff enjoy a relatively secure employment situation. Another exempt staff member pointed out, however, that the position of administrative staff is tenuous when opposed to that of faculty:

I mean, I've said to the Vice President of Finance over the years—not the current one, but past ones—or my faculty colleagues, "Look, you're the only folks who have a union around here. Because you're the only folks who get to talk about your compensation as a group without concern or fear." I think part of that, of course, is just related to tenure. If you're a tenured employee, you can say whatever you want to. My first appointment letter said, "While your contract is annual and renewable, you serve at the pleasure of the President and Board of Trustees."

Note the reference to the idea of unions as a structurally empowering system that would counteract fear. A union would do this by actually shifting the parameters of the power relationship between workers and their employer, in kind of the same way that changing the terms of employee contracts would do—whereas a project of retraining supervisors is different in that it operates solely on the plane of intentions. Another way of thinking about this distinction is that unions and contracts (and tenure) affect the structure of workplace relationships, whereas training affects the content of these relationships.

Interestingly enough, among the staff members I spoke with, administrators were at least as likely as support staff—perhaps more so—to describe personal experiences of feeling uncomfortable speaking up. Theirs was not so much a specific fear of dismissal or concrete reprisal as a general unease with the propriety of complaining, connected to the meaning of their roles as administrators. One said:

The administrative body is in an awkward position, in some ways. Another example of "We shouldn't complain, but—" We're, you know, we don't have the same kind of respect or status as faculty, and our role really is to be supportive of the institution and to be good advocates for the institution. So there's always this kind of lingering question, how critical can we be or should we be? … [Y]ou don't want to become labeled as less than supportive of the institution as a whole. And for the most part I think this is a pretty good place for that. You know, I think the feedback that I get anecdotally or through the grapevine at times is I'm a very well-respected employee around here, highly valued, seen as competent and reasonable—but I sometimes think that I am way too vocal. Way too outspoken.

Perhaps this anxious uncertainty reflects, in part, the college’s liminal position on a trajectory of corporatization. Whence, after all, comes the ideological grounding for a voice in one’s workplace? It comes, on the one hand, from the unique tradition of faculty governance in higher education; and on the other hand, more broadly, from the labor movement. In the logic of business, it makes sense for people to exert influence only over decisions to which they bring relevant professional skills; the fundamental value is efficiency, rather than democracy or justice, and everything must be subordinated to the most efficient delivery of the service. This administrative staff member, who says, "our role really is to be supportive of the institution…. I sometimes think that I am way too vocal," feels their voice inhibited not by anything so clear-cut as a threat of firing, but rather by a set of hegemonic expectations about the meaning of professionalism. On this kind of subtle level, corporatization is able to do significant covert work to undermine democracy, even while furthering overtly democratizing projects.

But the corporate ethos has no monopoly on this kind of undercover silencing work; the traditions of the academy can act equally insidiously. In the first epigraph to this section, another staff member describes an experience of intimidation in a college committee meeting. Again, as the speaker points out explicitly, it is not a matter of fearing for their job. In this case, it is the hegemony of faculty’s aggressive modes of communication that lead them to the point where they give up on asserting their voice in the meeting. Faculty, in numbers and status, dominate the meeting and dictate the norms under which the discussion will take place, acting out the scenario in which, to return to Iris Marion Young’s words, even "formally democratic procedures" reinforce existing hierarchies "because privileged people are able to marginalize the voices and issues of those less privileged." (34) It is again easy to see why, in the face of this entrenched traditional inequality of voices, the democratizing potential of corporatization can be very welcome, even though notions of efficiency and professionalism so severely limit its scope. One exempt staff member described to me how their own expertise made a college project successful, and noted:

If we'd have done that when I first got here with the faculty that were involved, I would have had virtually no say in the whole process. I would have just been like, you know, a gopher. Now we have a different group of faculty involved who respect the professionalism that I and others on our staff here bring to the table.

A discourse of professionalism, unlike a discourse of academic erudition, is one to which not only faculty members but many staff members also have access.

To return once more to that first epigraphic story, about the meeting: It is notable that, in setting up the narrative, the speaker recollects being the only staff member in the room. Although they then qualify this statement with "I think," the fact that they bring it up in describing the situation reveals that a feeling of being alone was important to their experience of frustration and intimidation, whether or not another staff member was actually present. As the speaker in the other epigraphic quotation points out, "You have to feel the support of the community to be able to have a voice." A sense of isolation is silencing.

Having your voice count

—Staff and administrators sit on the Compensation Committee as well. There's always been representation, as long as I've known it, on the Compensation Committee. And staff and administrators are able to attend the general faculty meetings that occur once a block. Quite a few of them do. They can't vote—only faculty vote on issues that come before the faculty meetings—but they certainly can sit, and they speak, as well.

AB: Does the Compensation Committee—does it make decisions about compensation, or recommendations?

—They make recommendations.

AB: Okay. To...?

—I believe the FEC [Faculty Executive Committee].

AB: Okay. And then does the FEC make compensation decisions?

—No, they only make recommendations to the President, who makes recommendations to the Board of Trustees.

-senior administrator

If the first step is getting to the table and the second step is feeling free to speak, the third step in exercising a voice in your workplace is having your voice count in decision-making. Senior administrators I spoke with tended to speak about their commitment to openness and listening to voices from all constituencies, but there is an important difference between having the decision-makers listen to you and having, yourself, power to influence the decision. To be fair, these administrators in fact seemed happy to concede actual hard power to the organized staff on some issues. Several people recounted to me the story of how Joe Newpresident, when representatives of the staff brought to him their list of proposals after the staff retreat, responded—like the good witch enlightening Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz—that the staff need not have asked his permission, that they had had the power to make most of these changes on their own all along. To their proposal of reordering the senior administration so that the Human Resources director would report to him rather than to the Business Office, however, he gave a flat no. And on the issues that marxists and businesspeople agree are basically most real—the issues of money, and specifically of how money is exchanged for labor—the model remains that of the senior administration listening, but yielding no hard power to its constituencies.

This is the difference between a union and the Staff Council or even the Faculty Executive Committee. As a senior administrator acknowledges in the above quotation, the FEC is one level closer to the decision than the staff are, but the actual hard power of the decision remains in the hands of, technically, the Board of Trustees.[13] If this account is true, then despite an opinion I cited earlier, the faculty cannot in fact be said to really have a union—for even they make recommendations rather than actually negotiating with the administration, relying on the latter’s good will and willingness to listen rather than bargaining with the threat of withholding their labor power.

Sometimes people are reluctant to talk about institutional dynamics in the blunt language of power because it seems to undermine the discourses of civility and familial community with which some characterize the college dynamic. One senior administrator bristled in response to my question:

AB: Do you think—beyond the policy change in the wages—do you think the process has had any lasting effect on the way workplace issues are talked about or the balance of power in the institution?

—Well. Unnamed Contractor's gone through some management changes recently, and I think with the Unnamed Contractor workers, what affects them more than anything else is just who their supervisors are. And I don't know the new people very well. I don't know that the, quote unquote, "balance of power" is an issue. I don't know that it ever was. I think there is awareness that we want to compensate workers fairly.

I think that the speaker is right that for many subcontracted workers events in the world of the workplace are more salient than events on the scale of the institution—and as I argued in Chapter 3, this may be in part a function of the way that contracting seems to distance its workers from the sense of campus-wide community shared by other college constituents. Nonetheless, power operates on scales both large and small, within the workplace as well as around it. Indeed the two can be linked together, as the staff member I quoted earlier in this chapter noted:

Because we can have a voice as a community, but you as an individual in your department, in your office, with an individual problem—you know. You have to feel the support of the community to be able to have a voice.

Who your supervisor is certainly has a major effect on your experience of the workplace, but it is not the only factor that has an effect. It is also important what recourse you think you have, if any, when things do not go well with the supervisor, how you interact with your co-workers, how much leverage your supervisor is able to bring to bear on your behalf when you need it, and what kinds of pressures bear on your supervisor as well. Furthermore, it is not only for contract workers that these balances of power might be relevant. Power operates in every workplace, for everyone, all the time.

Democracy scholar Iris Marion Young draws a distinction between external and internal processes of exclusion. The external processes of exclusion are those that might prevent someone from, in my terminology, getting to the table—including such prosaic facts as the places and times at which meetings are held. (54) Internal processes of exclusion are those which operate once someone has gotten to the table, to nonetheless exclude them from decision-making—such as having people "dismiss or patronize their statements and expressions." (55) I have chosen to use two distinct categories—feeling free to speak and having one’s voice count—in lieu of this one because I want to draw a distinction between gaining access to processes and gaining access to actual decisions. Perhaps this is an issue particularly salient to the realm of academic politics, where extensive committee processes are the cultural norm but are often widely understood to be ineffective or merely advisory to the actual decision-makers, and where administrators may invest strongly in a self-presentation as open and benevolent but yield no actual hard power. I wanted to represent voice in three distinct aspects because I believe that each represents a separate way in which staff members’ voices may be disenfranchised in the institution—by being excluded from democratic processes altogether, by being intimidated into silence, or by having their voices finally discounted by decision-makers—and so campaigners for campus democracy must take action on all three fronts. Note that a union, because it deploys the hard power of workers, can be a powerful strategy for overcoming all three kinds of obstacles to a voice in one’s workplace.



Notes Towards a Role for Student Labor Activists

Mom: We now join the freeway, which is already in progress!
Dad: Well—it looks like this wasn’t an original idea.

-my parents, whenever we merge onto I-5 and find ourselves in the midst of a huge traffic jam

It is dangerously easy for students to construct our role in campus staff workplace organizing as essential. After all, it is clear to us that, in some ways, we occupy positions of privilege in our institutions—that we have access to plentiful resources, including hegemonically potent academic discourses, copious disposable time and energy, and portions of the significant economic resources of our colleges—that we can take actions in utter safety that would be seriously risky for staff members to take. Nonetheless, to imagine ourselves indispensable to labor action is to forget not only the whole of labor history but the present state of worker-led movements as well. In countless places and times, marginalized workers have taken, and continue to take, risky political action on their own behalf—and sometimes they win. A foundational principle for any historically grounded ideology of student-worker solidarity must be that we are not necessary, although we may be useful. What then may be the implications of student interventions?

It will fall to others with more explicitly partisan projects to lay out proscriptive plans for student labor action, but in this thesis I have sought to outline some key elements of the social and political contexts in which such plans may be considered. A great weakness of students is the shortness of our view; we glimmer and vanish like lightning bugs while our elephantine institutions slowly trundle on their trajectories of change. The long-term transformations I begin to explore in this project affect, and are affected by, our political work, and we must learn to seek out and be mindful of these dynamics even as we operate within the limits of our own timelines.

Students are an unusual, perhaps even a unique, constituency, ambiguous and sometimes contradictory in our relationship to the college. We are central to the institution’s essential project, but simultaneously we exist outside the hierarchy through which its employees relate to one another. It is true that we wield great privilege, but we are inexperienced in the implications of its use and risk inadvertently re-inscribing it through its exercise.

Our very liminality makes us a potentially useful resource, for, as Mary Douglas suggests in Purity and Danger, actors positioned anomalously on the borders of categories can introduce new energy into the system. Various people said as much to me. Indeed, when I asked staff members about what roles students should play in campus labor movements, I was surprised to hear much less talk of privilege than I expected. A few people did mention the concrete resources that students could mobilize—free time, for instance, access to faculty members, and the attention the administration accords its customers—but just as often they talked about the personal qualities of students, about youthful idealism and optimism and energy. Students’ freshness and inexperience with the institution can be an asset, more than one person told me, to those rendered cynical by years of disheartening realism. As Fred Rose writes in Coalitions Across the Class Divide: Lessons from the Labor, Peace, and Environmental Movements, effective coalitions depend upon building trust and building relationships, appreciating one another’s perspectives and being willing to rethink our own views. (160-2) As long as everyone approaches coalition work genuinely committed to according this kind of openness and respect, students and staff working together can complement one another’s strengths precisely because they are different.

Yet the value of students’ naïveté does not negate its potential harmfulness, and this seems likely to be a particular danger when students work on their own rather than in tandem with staff members who can bring a longer-term perspective to their collaborations. Students face a number of high-stakes choices in how they position themselves. For instance, the discourse that privileges students’ educational experiences as the highest goal of the institution is potentially highly mobilizable, because it draws an administrative ear to students’ voices; at the same time, however, buying into that discourse can be limiting in a number of ways. It acknowledges the administration, in the role of teachers, to be a final authority over students, in the role of learners; it embraces the student-centered, single-mission-oriented ideology which is one part of the trend of corporatization; and it tends to privilege a strain of information-focused politics to which academics have more or less exclusive access, a focus which in turn contributes to the hegemonies of rationality over passion, pragmatism over idealism, compromise over persistence, and the primacy of the budgetary bottom line.

Writing of the ideology of leftist activism in the 1960s United States, Wini Breines introduces the notion of "prefigurative politics."

The crux of prefigurative politics imposed substantial tasks, the central one being to create and sustain within the live practice of the movement, relationships and political forms that "prefigured" and embodied the desired society. (6)

In this conception, a broad, principled vision shapes not only the end goals of activism, but also the structure of the movement itself. Breines’ words challenge those concerned with building a democratic campus living wage movement to work out what the desired society will look like and then how to embody it in our organizing. Coalition politics can no longer be seen as simply one tactic that may or may not be most effective way to pursue the goal; the establishment of strong, democratic coalitions becomes, itself, an important part of the movement’s work.

A first step for student activists, then, is to set out to be listeners first and always, to apply diligent care to working out what long-term dynamics are at stake and what it means to position ourselves in relation to these dynamics. At Pseudonym, one basic contention in which labor activists engage—wittingly or not—is the negotiation over what is the essence of the college, to what extent it will continue on a corporatizing trajectory, and what alternatives are available to it. In some sense this question is really about to whom the institution is accountable. In the corporate model, it is to its customers and shareholders—students (or their parents) and donors. In the alternate model I imagine in Chapter 2, it is to all the members of its local and national communities—including everyone who works at the college. It is not difficult to see how student activists, in deploying the advantages available to them in order to pursue immediately compelling ends, might—without really realizing or intending it—end up furthering the discourse that frames the interests of students as the institution’s primary concern. Whether this is worth it is a matter for students to consider carefully.

Also at stake at Pseudonym are the various kinds of hierarchies at play in the college workplace, including the triangular negotiations among exempt staff, non-exempt staff, and faculty, as well as the collective relationship of these groups to the marginalized contract workers. In a clear sense, as well, student labor activism acts on the field of the contention of competing discourses around fair compensation—the choice to deploy or not to deploy the concept of a living wage, for instance—but then, too, how to define that concept, whether to frame it around meeting needs or repairing historical injustices or respectfully compensating work, and also how to position our campaigns with respect to wage compression in particular and the issues of staff above the minimum wage categories in general. These choices have obvious implications for the immediate political feasibility of our work, but they also have the potential to more broadly affect the relationships among college constituencies and the evolving philosophical discourses of our colleges.

Finally, and perhaps most critically of all, student labor activists in all of our choices act out ideologies about the nature of democracy and empowerment in our colleges as both communities and workplaces. A fundamental question, perhaps in all organizing, but especially in organizing led by conscience constituents—or allies or solidarity activists or whatever we call ourselves—is how we seek to transform the relations of power in the institutions we act upon and within.

Student activists cannot help but engage with all of these dynamics as we devise our campaigns. As we enter the labor movements on our campuses—not start them, mind you, but join them, always—we would do well to acknowledge that, however invisible to us, these are already in progress, are not our original idea—for in every workplace people daily negotiate the dynamics of power, in every workplace they strategize individually or collaboratively to cope with and to shift these dynamics, and in every workplace, in large or small ways, people are already working to make change.



Works Cited

Alinsky, Saul. "Protest Tactics." The Social Movements Reader: Cases and Concepts. Jeff Goodwin & James M. Jasper, eds. Blackwell Publishing: Malden, MA, 2003. 225-228.

Bernard, H. Russell Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Third edition. New York: AltaMira Press, 2002.

Bickel, Christopher. "Reasons to Resist: Coalition-Building at Indiana University." Forging Radical Alliances across Difference: Coalition Politics for the New Millenium. Jill M. Bystydzienski and Steven P. Schacht, ed. Rowman and Littlefield, New York: 2001. pp. 207-219.

Breines, Wini. Community and Organization in the New Left: 1962-1968. Praeger: New York, 1982.

Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, 2002. Trans. Richard Nice.

Clawson, Dan. The Next Upsurge: Labor and the New Social Movements. ILR Press, Ithaca: 2003.

Cogan, Daniel. "Seeing Power in a College Cafeteria." More Than Class: Studying Power in U.S. Workplaces. Ann E. Kingsolver (Ed.) State University of New York Press: New York, 1998. 173-185.

Croteau, David. Politics and the Class Divide: Working People and the Middle-Class Left. Temple University Press, Philadelphia: 1995.

Dolgon, Corey. "Building Community amid the Ruins: Strategies for Struggle from the Coalition for Justice at Southampton College." Forging Radical Alliances across Difference: Coalition Politics for the New Millenium. Jill M. Bystydzienski and Steven P. Schacht, ed. Rowman and Littlefield, New York: 2001. pp. 220-232.

Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger. Routledge, New York; 2002.

Epstein, Leon D. Governing the University: The Campus and the Public Interest. Jossey-Bass Publishers, Washington: 1974.

Featherstone, Liza and United Students Against Sweatshops. Students Against Sweatshops. Verso: New York, 2002.

Foucault, Michel. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews & Other Writings 1972-1977. Pantheon Books, New York: 1980.

Freeman, Amy. "The Spaces of Graduate Student Labor: The Times for a New Union." Antipode. 2000.

Gilpin, Toni et al On Strike for Respect: The Yale Strike of 1984-85. Charles H. Kerr Publishing: Chicago, 1988.

Goldfarb, Jeffrey. Civility and Subversion: The Intellectual in Democratic Society. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1998.

Goodwin, Jeff & James M. Jasper. "Editors’ Introduction." The Social Movements Reader: Cases and Concepts. Jeff Goodwin & James M. Jasper, eds. Blackwell Publishing: Malden, MA, 2003. 3-7.

Jasper, James M. The Art of Moral Protest: Culture, Biography, and Creativity in Social Movements. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1997.

Lee, Jenny et al. "Tangles in the Tapestry: Cultural Barriers to Graduate Student Unionization." The Journal of Higher Eduxation. 2004

McCarthy, John & Mayer Zald. "Social Movement Organizations." The Social Movements Reader: Cases and Concepts. Jeff Goodwin & James M. Jasper, eds. Blackwell Publishing: Malden, MA, 2003. 169-186.

Noble, David. "Digital Diploma Mills." Steal This University: The Rise of the Corporate University and the Academic Labor Movement. Johnson, Benjamin et al. (Eds.) Routledge: New York, 2003. 33-47.

Piven, Frances Fox, and Richard Cloward. Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail. Vintage Books, New York: 1977.

Rose, Fred. Coalitions Across the Class Divide: Lessons from the Labor, Peace, and Environmental Movements. Cornell University Press: Ithaca, 2000.

Smith, David N. Who Rules the Universities?: An Essay in Class Analysis. Monthly Press Review: New York, 1974.

Tarrow, Sidney. Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1998. Second ed.

Wacquant, Loïc. "Reading Bourdieu’s ‘Capital.’" Foreword to the English-language translation of Pierre Bourdieu, La noblesse d'État. Grandes écoles et esprit de corps (Editions de Minuit: Paris, 1989); The State Nobility (Polity Press: Cambridge, 1997). [15 May 2005]

Wilton, Robert and Cynthia Cranford. "Toward an Understanding of the Spatiality of Social Movement: Labor Organizing at a Private University in Los Angeles."

Wright, Erik Olin. "A General Framework for the Analysis of Class." Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United States. Thomas Shapiro, ed. Mayfield Publishing: Toronto, 2001. (Second ed.) 99-113.

Young, Iris Marion. Inclusion and Democracy. Oxford University Press: New York, 2000.

Appendix A: Interview guides

Questions for staff members

-How long have you been at Pseudonym College?

-Are you in an exempt or a non-exempt job?

-What would you say are some of the best things about Pseudonym College as a workplace? What would you say are some of the worst things about Pseudonym College as a workplace?

-In the time you’ve been here, what changes have you seen in the workplace, like changes in the College’s policies, wages and benefits, the atmosphere of working here, or other factors? What do you think caused those changes to happen?

--Who do you think makes decisions about wages and other workplace issues? What do you think are the most important factors they consider in making those decisions?

-How important do you think the decision-makers consider the opinions of people in jobs similar to yours when making decisions about wages and other workplace decisions? How much do you think they consider the opinions of staff members as a whole in these decisions? How much do you think they consider the opinions of faculty members in these decisions? How much do you think they consider the opinions of students in these decisions? How much do you think they consider the opinions of members of the administration in these decisions?

-How much do you think each of these groups’ opinions should be considered in these decisions?

-What are the most important issues you’d like to see addressed or changes you’d like to see made in your workplace now? Do you expect to see those issues addressed or those changes happen? What kind of process would you like to see for those issues to be addressed or for those changes to happen?

-What workplace issues do you think get talked about most on campus? Why do you think those issues are the ones most talked about?

-Do you think Pseudonym College Fair Labor Campaign has caused changes in the workplace? If so, what changes? Why do you think PCFLC has or hasn’t been effective in making changes?

-If you’ve been here since before the founding of PCFLC, do you think that the College community now pays more, less, or about the same amount of attention to workplace issues as before? Do you think the College community now pays more, less, or about the same amount of attention to what staff members think about workplace issues compared to before PCFLC was founded?

-How do you feel about PCFLC? Why?

-How do you think other staff members feel about PCFLC? Why?

- Have you been involved with PCFLC, or taken any actions supporting or opposing it?

-What do you think are the reasons why PCFLC is a student-led group? What do you think are the effects of this?

-Anything else you want to talk about?

Questions for students

-What year are you. and how long have you been at Pseudonym College?

-From what you know, what would you say are some of the best things about Pseudonym College as a workplace for staff members? What would you say are some of the worst things about Pseudonym College as a workplace for staff members?

-How did you learn the things you know about what Pseudonym College is like as a workplace? How much do you hear about workplace issues here from staff members, faculty, students, or administration?

-In the time you’ve been here, what (if any) changes in the workplace, like changes in the College’s policies, wages and benefits, the atmosphere of working here, or other factors, have you been aware of? What do you think caused those changes to happen?

--Who do you think makes decisions about wages and other workplace issues? What do you think are the most important factors they consider in making those decisions?

-How important do you think the decision-makers consider the opinions of staff members when making decisions about wages and other workplace decisions? How much do you think they consider the opinions of faculty members in these decisions? How much do you think they consider the opinions of students in these decisions? How much do you think they consider the opinions of members of the administration in these decisions?

-How much do you think each of these groups’ opinions should be considered in these decisions?

-What workplace issues do you think get talked about most on campus? Why do you think those issues are the ones most talked about?

-Do you think Pseudonym College Fair Labor Campaign has caused changes in the workplace? If so, what changes? Why do you think PCFLC has or hasn’t been effective in making changes?

-How do you feel about PCFLC? Why? Have you been involved with PCFLC, or taken any actions supporting or opposing it?

-How do you think other students feel about PCFLC? Why?

-How do you think staff members feel about PCFLC? Why?

-What do you think are the reasons why PCFLC is a student-led group? What do you think are the effects of this?

-Anything else you want to talk about?

Questions for faculty members

-How long have you been at Pseudonym College?

-What would you say are some of the best things about Pseudonym College as a workplace for faculty members? What would you say are some of the worst things about Pseudonym College as a workplace for faculty members?

-From what you know, what would you say are some of the best things about Pseudonym College as a workplace for staff members? What would you say are some of the worst things about Pseudonym College as a workplace for staff members?

-How did you learn the things you know about what Pseudonym College is like as a workplace? How much do you hear about workplace issues here from staff members, faculty, students, or administration?

-In the time you’ve been here, what (if any) changes in the workplace for staff, like changes in the College’s policies, wages and benefits, the atmosphere of working here, or other factors, have you been aware of? What do you think caused those changes to happen?

--Who do you think makes decisions about wages and other workplace issues at the College? What do you think are the most important factors they consider in making those decisions?

-How important do you think the decision-makers consider the opinions of staff members when making decisions about staff wages and other workplace decisions? How much do you think they consider the opinions of faculty members in these workplace decisions concerning staff? How much do you think they consider the opinions of students in these decisions? How much do you think they consider the opinions of members of the administration in these decisions?

-What staff workplace issues do you think get talked about most on campus? Why do you think those issues are the ones most talked about?

-Do you think Pseudonym College Fair Labor Campaign has caused changes in the workplace for staff? If so, what changes? Why do you think PCFLC has or hasn’t been effective in making changes?

-How do you feel about PCFLC? Why? Have you been involved with PCFLC, or taken any actions supporting or opposing it?

-How do you think other faculty members feel about PCFLC? Why?

-How do you think staff members feel about PCFLC? Why?

-Why do you think PCFLC is a student-led group?

-Anything else you want to talk about?

Questions for administrators

-How long have you been at Pseudonym College?

-From what you know, what would you say are some of the best things about Pseudonym College as a workplace for staff members? What would you say are some of the worst things about Pseudonym College as a workplace for staff members?

-How did you learn the things you know about what Pseudonym College is like as a workplace? How much do you hear about workplace issues here from staff members, faculty, students, or administrators?

-In the time you’ve been here, what (if any) changes in the workplace for staff, like changes in the College’s policies, wages and benefits, the atmosphere of working here, or other factors, have taken place? What do you think caused those changes to happen?

--Who makes decisions about wages and other workplace issues at the College? What are the most important factors they consider in making those decisions?

-How important do you think the decision-makers consider the opinions of staff members when making decisions about staff wages and other workplace decisions? How much do you think they consider the opinions of faculty members in these workplace decisions concerning staff? How much do you think they consider the opinions of students in these decisions? How much do you think they consider the opinions of members of the administration in these decisions?

-What staff workplace issues do you think get talked about most on campus? Why do you think those issues are the ones most talked about?

-Do you think Pseudonym College Fair Labor Campaign has caused changes in the workplace for staff? If so, what changes? Why do you think PCFLC has or hasn’t been effective in making changes?

-How do you feel about PCFLC? Why? Have you been involved with PCFLC, or taken any actions supporting or opposing it?

-How do you think other administrators feel about PCFLC? Why?

-How do you think staff members feel about PCFLC? Why?

-Why do you think PCFLC is a student-led group?

-Anything else you want to talk about?

Appendix B: Flyers

I want to buy you coffee
and hear what you have to say about your workplace!

I’m a visiting student from Swarthmore College. I’m doing a study about Pseudonym College as a workplace, and about how it has or hasn’t changed over the last few years since the group Pseudonym College Fair Labor Campaign got started. I’m really interested in hearing all sides of the issues, and I want to hear what you have to say!

So I would love to treat you to coffee while we talk about your experiences and opinions about working here, and about how you see your role in decision-making at the College. The interview will be totally confidential and anonymous – I will use no names in my report and I won’t tell anyone the names of the people who speak with me. And we can meet either on or off-campus, at a time and place that’s convenient for you.

If you’re willing to come talk with me – or want more information about the project – please give me a call right away! I am only in town until Saturday, July 10, so please call (or email – either way is fine) as soon as you can. Feel free to tear off one of the tabs below.

Thanks so much! I look forward to talking with you!

Alexandra Bradbury [email address] email [phone number]



Empleados de Unnamed:
¡Quiero comprarle una taza de
café y platicar de su trabajo!


Soy una estudiante de Swarthmore College. Estoy estudiando el Pseudonym College como un sitio de empleo y si ha cambiado o no desde que empezó la campaña de labor justo. Quiero escuchar diferentes opiniones y lo que usted piensa. 


Me gustaría comprarle un café y hablar de sus experiencias como empleado y como ve su participación en las decisiones que toma el Pseudonym College. La entrevista será completamente confidencial y anónima. No usaré su nombre en mi reporte ni le diré a nadie los nombres de las personas que hablan conmigo. Podemos reunirnos en el colegio o en un lugar más conveniente para usted. 


Si quiere hablar conmigo o saber más del proyecto, por favor llámeme inmediatamente. Estoy aquí hasta el 10 de Julio. Por favor llámeme pronto. Puede llevarse mi número en una de las etiquetas de abajo.  


¡Gracias por todo! ¡Espero hablar con usted!

Alexandra Bradbury phone number email address

Appendix C: Consent forms

Pseudonym College

Effects of Student Labor Action on Social Dynamics of a College Workplace


Investigator: Alexandra Bradbury

[email address & phone number]

In June and July of 2004, I am interviewing members of the Pseudonym College community as part of a research project. The goal of the project is to learn about how student-led living wage campaigns affect the social dynamics among staff members, students, faculty, and administration.

In the interview, you will be asked to answer questions about your experiences, perceptions and opinions about Pseudonym College as a workplace, about decision-making and community politics at the College, and about the organization Pseudonym College Fair Labor Campaign. The interview will be tape-recorded and will last approximately one hour, though the exact length will vary depending how much the participant chooses to say about each question.


I, _____________________________, agree to participate as a volunteer in the Effects of Student Labor Action on Social Dynamics of a College Workplace research project which has been explained to me.

I understand that no names will be used in the research report. I also understand that I am free to refuse to participate in the project or answer any question at any time. I further understand that I am free to withdraw my consent from the whole research project at any time. Agreeing to participate in this research and signing this form does not take away (or waive) any of my legal rights. Once the project is completed, interview tapes will be destroyed; transcripts, with no names attached, will be kept by Alexandra Bradbury for future projects.

The only risk associated with participation in this research project is any personal stress the participant might feel about discussing these issues in the interview. It should also be noted that while care will be taken to ensure that individuals will not be identifiable in the report, Pseudonym College—while not named—may be identifiable to some knowledgeable readers.

The research report, which will be a senior thesis, will be finished in the spring of 2005. To receive a copy of the report, participants may write their email address (preferable) or mailing address at the bottom of this consent form.

_________________________________________________ ____________

Participant's Signature; Date

Colegio de Pseudonym

Los Efectos de la Acción de Labor de Estudiantes

en la Dinámica Social de un Lugar de Trabajo Colegial


La investigadora: Alexandra Bradbury

[phone number]

[email address]

En junio y julio de 2004, entrevisto a miembros la comunidad del Colegio de Pseudonym como parte de un proyecto de investigación. La meta del proyecto deberá aprender acerca de cuán estudiante-dirigido campañas para salario digno afectan la dinámica social entre los empleados, los estudiantes, los profesores, y la administración.

En la entrevista, usted será pedido contestar unas preguntas acerca de sus experiencias, sus percepciones y sus opiniones acerca del Colegio de Pseudonym como un lugar de trabajo, acerca de la política de la toma de decisiones y la comunidad en el Colegio, y acerca de la organización Pseudonym College Fair Labor Campaign (Labor Justo de Pseudonym College). La entrevista será cinta-registrado y durará aproximadamente una hora, aunque la longitud exacta variará dependiendo cuánto el participante escoge decir acerca de cada pregunta.


Yo, _____________________________, concuerdo en participar como un voluntario en el proyecto de investigación sobre Los Efectos de la Acción de Labor de Estudiantes en la Dinámica Social de un Lugar de Trabajo Colegial, lo que me ha sido explicado.

Entiendo que ningunos nombres se utilizarán en el informe de investigación. Entiendo también que soy libre negarse a tomar parte en el proyecto o contestar cualquier pregunta en cualquier tiempo. Entiendo también que soy libre retirar mi consentimiento del proyecto entero de investigación en cualquier tiempo. Concordar en tomar parte en esta investigación y firmar esta forma no lleva (ni renuncia) cualquiera de mis derechos legales. Una vez que el proyecto se completa, cintas de entrevista se destruirán; expedientes escritos, con ningunos nombres conectados, serán mantenidos por Alexandra Bradbury para proyectos futuros.

El único riesgo se asoció con la participación en este proyecto de investigación es cualquier pena personal que el participante quizás se sienta acerca de discutir estos asuntos en la entrevista. Se debe notar también que mientras el cuidado se tomará para asegurar que individuos no serán identificable en el informe, el Colegio de Pseudonymmientras no denominadopuede ser identificable a algunos lectores informados.

El informe de investigación, que será una tesis académica, se terminará en la primavera de 2005. Para recibir una copia del informe, los participantes pueden escribir dirección de correo electrónico (preferible) o su dirección de envío en el fondo de esta página.

_________________________________________________________ ____________

Firma de participante; Fecha


Opcional: dirección a que se debe enviar una copia del informe completado


[1] The Seattle School District has since given ground on this issue.

[2] The administrator here names me and the college that I attend, Swarthmore, drawing an analogy to Pseudonym. It is worth noting that the administrator here highlights my student status, positioning our relationship as administrator/student (despite our different institutions) rather than as research participant/researcher. While I sought to present myself primarily as a researcher and outsider-and at least one or two interview participants initially mistook me for a graduate student-it was unavoidable that many participants should read me primarily as a student like the students of Pseudonym College. This is of course in many ways an accurate reading, and I know that it played a strong role in shaping the personal dynamics of the interviews.

[3] This is also where the fuzziness of the boundary between administrators and administration-that is, between administrative staff and senior administration-becomes most noticeable to me, because the biggest fiscal decisions are really in the hands of senior administrators and the Board of Managers. While they are officially administrators, it seems clear to me that senior administration is not really the same constituency as those represented by the Committee on Administrative Issues.

[4] Some people talked about the professional staff category as a potential "third" group of staff; at least once I also heard it referred to as a "fourth" group, where faculty were the other category of employees referred to. In a somewhat related phenomenon, more than once a staff member made a statement about all employees of the college, then interrupted themselves to amend their statement to exclude faculty or to label faculty a special case. I read these incidents as reflective of an ambivalence about the extent to which faculty and staff are in the same category or operate according to the same rules. On the one hand, staff articulations more often than not represented themselves as distinct from faculty members, but on the other hand, it occurred to them to mention faculty as potentially similar yet actually distinct, whereas other categories of college employees-contract workers and senior administrators-did not even come up in these conversations as potentially comparable groups.

[5] In the interests of intellectual honesty it is worth noting that sometimes the phenomenon of separating contract workers into another category was probably sometimes partially a reflection of my own bias in framing the question. Sometimes I asked people about the balance of power among "staff, faculty, students, and administration," or some order thereof, in part because at first I was not sure whether people would classify contract workers as staff members.

[6] In a more prosaic example of the same phenomenon, I write this chapter today at a computer in Swarthmore's library. I was here at the same computer until closing time last night, and arrived shortly after the library opened this morning. I can tell that the custodial workers on the night shift have been here in the intervening time, because my pretzel wrapper has vanished from the wastebasket. While we occupy the same space on a daily basis, it is difficult to imagine how, through this extreme mediation, we might ever develop a personal relationship that could work to support a sentiment of shared community.

[7] This idea also came up in the deliberations of Swarthmore's Ad Hoc Committee on a Living Wage, and indeed an expansion of the benefits available to workers with dependent children became a major part of the committee's recommendation and of the plan eventually adopted by the Board of Managers.

[8] Following the sociologist David Croteau, whose book Politics and the Class Divide: Working People and the Middle-Class Left has played an important role in the development of this chapter, I use the terms "working class" and "middle class" in this chapter to denote roughly a "manual/mental division" and a wage/salary division. (Croteau xii) I do so ambivalently, bearing in mind the complicated and contradictory character of class relationships in the institution. For a longer exploration of students' class position, see Chapter 1; for a fuller discussion of the changing class relationships and contested criteria among different groups of employees at Pseudonym, including faculty, exempt and non-exempt staff, and subcontracted employees, see Chapter 3.

[9] or faculty members, for that matter.

[10] These two paragraphs come from two different administrators whom I interviewed together. The one paragraph did follow immediately on the heels of the other, as shown here.

[11] This thesis, for example.

[12] The Mapping Process seems to represent an interesting middle ground on this continuum. More so than at the luncheons, real decision-making was on the table; however, the projects at stake, which centered around defining the mission, vision, and values of the college and its long-term plan, may or may not have been framed in ways that would address the most urgent concerns of the institution's least empowered constituencies. Also, as always, Unnamed Contractor workers were not at the table.

[13] This is where the notion of hard and soft power becomes, I think, a little cut and dried for the situation-because while technically the President makes recommendations to the Board and the latter makes the final call, if Pseudonym is anything like Swarthmore then in ordinary cases the President can be said practically to wield some of the hard power, for it takes a rare and extreme situation for the Board to actually vote counter to the immense authority of the President.