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The Point: ICYMI


Greetings, Colleagues:

Some weeks I think my job in The Point is to communicate what seems like breaking news, FSU Ex-Com business of particular note, or announcements of upcoming events and actions.

But some weeks I think my job as Communications Director is to help the membership to catch up on the news—sort of like the job of what used to be called the “lector” in cigar factories. The job of the lector (first in Cuba in the 19th century, then in Florida in elsewhere in the early 20th century) was to read the news to workers as they rolled cigars.  Often, as Alex Q. Arbuckle explains, the practice “led to friction with the factory owners, who were not particularly keen to have their employees pondering class struggle and economic justice.”  The past week seemed so full of fascinating and pressing news at UMB that I thought I would use The Point this week as an ICYMI (“In Case You Missed It”)—an opportunity to amplify some stories that deserve the widest possible attention.

Statement from The Cypher

The first entry comes from the group that calls itself The Cypher—an inspiring group of students, staff, and faculty from the Leadership in Education Department here at UMB.  This group, committed to values of equity and racial justice, worked through the summer of 2020 and issued a powerful and provocative report in August which served to “identify and uproot racism and disrupt white supremacy to create meaningful and sustainable change” at UMB. I urge you to read this powerful work of scholarship and advocacy.  More recently the group has been organizing particularly around issues of workload and the unwillingness of upper administration to commit to staffing fully the Urban Education, Leadership, and Policy Studies and Educational Administration Programs.  As you will see in this essay written by a student member of The Cypher, these incredibly successful programs, with 52% BIPOC graduate students and 70% full-time faculty, have come to suffer—doing “more with less”—as a result of chronic disinvestment.  FSU President Steve Striffler has recently written us all to remind us that the funding in the American Rescue Plan Act means that it is really time to move out of our austerity crouch and stand strong for reinvestment in higher education.  The Cypher shows us one crucial arena where we need to be doing this.

American Studies Statement on Anti-Asian Violence

The events of the past few weeks have served as a terrible reminder that anti-Asian violence has been a central constituent of state-building and the political, social, and economic history of the U.S. for hundreds of years. My home department has issued what I think is an incredibly useful sketch of that history, that reminds us of its “deep roots in the multiple histories of U.S. imperialism and militarism in the Asia Pacific.” Written by my colleagues Professor Denise Khor, Professor Lynnell Thomas, and Professor Aaron Lecklider, this statement is at once a concise summary of anti-Asian violence in US history and a call to action: the brief but powerful overview reminds us all to keep in mind  the “intersectionality of anti-Asian racism” and particularly to take note of the “disproportionate impact on Asian American women, working class people, and the undocumented.” The statement also emphasizes that “universities possess power and responsibility to create a better world, advocate for justice, and frame news events in broader cultural and historical context.”

Fighting against “Transcript Ransom”

There is an old adage—maybe it originated with P.T. Barnum or maybe with songwriter George M. Cohan?—that is usually reproduced as “I don’t care what you say about me, as long as you say something about me, and as long as you spell my name right.”  Many of us at UMB were not happy to see our name spelled correctly in this chilling story from WGBH about what alternately gets referred to as the “transcript trap” or “transcript ransom.”  A collective on campus that includes the FSU, the Department Chairs’ Union, the Graduate Employee Organization, the Professional Staff Union, and members of undergraduate student government quickly came together around this issue and have written to the chancellor and provost to urge them to “suspend its practice of withholding student transcripts/degrees over unpaid bills until a full review of the policy is conducted.”  While the practice is not uncommon around the country (and sometimes involves collection agencies, the IRS, and garnishing of wages), it is cruel and certainly not in keeping with our commitment to transforming UMB into an antiracist and health-promoting institution.  We need a better policy that more accurately reflects our shared goals and values.

This is your union. Please tell us at what important stories having to do with life on campus, in Boston, in the Commonwealth, and beyond you think we may have missed.


Jeffrey Melnick

American Studies Department

Communications Director, Faculty Staff Union Executive Committee

For information on the FSU, links to our contract and bargaining updates, and a calendar of events, see the FSU webpage