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What is The Point?


Greetings, Colleagues:

Welcome back to campus! We hope the first week of the semester has treated you as kindly as possible.

First things first: we want to assure you that the title of this email blast is not demanding that you engage in a major existential journey. Our title question is not “what is the Point?” but rather “what is The Point?”  And the simple answer is that The Point is a weekly email blast we send out to raise questions that go beyond the nuts-and-bolts of our other regular weekly missive.  For the past couple of years, in my role as Communications Director for the FSU, I have regularly written this blast and used it as an opportunity to talk about non-contract related campus issues, broader higher education concerns, national labor movement conversations and so on. This year the FSU Executive Committee has decided to form a Communications Committee that will be responsible for The Point (among its other duties): this year’s CC will include ExCom members Linda Liu, Lynne Benson, Jessica Holden, and me.  We have some ideas for upcoming weeks, but please let us know if you have topics you would like us to cover—or better yet, a blast that you would like to write yourself!

What is The Point this week?  Above all, we want to call your attention to the Executive Summary of the outside audit of our colleagues in Africana Studies recently commissioned by management at UMB.  There is so very much to comment on in this report and its dissemination, including that it puts the department’s most recent AQUAD study on blast in a public way that we imagine most participants in that process did not imagine would happen.

Also, as a scholar in American Studies, where we always insist that equal weight be given to text and context, I also urge you to take note of who was responsible for writing this report. The provost tells us that the audit was completed by “three highly esteemed attorneys with higher education and employment law expertise.”  I have no doubt that this is true, as far as it goes, but think you might want to have a look at what this firm promotes about that expertise (these are all direct quotations from their webpage):

  • Assisting clients maintaining non-union status;
  • Defending employers against retaliation, harassment, discrimination, and whistleblower claims;
  • Counseling employers with respect to critical employment decisions, such as terminations and disciplinary action

There will be many opportunities to support our colleagues in Africana Studies, but for now we urge you to read the report carefully and think about what it means for management on our campus to have hired (not surprisingly) a management-side law firm to write a report that (not surprisingly) concludes that “the Department’s problems are largely of its own making.”  At the very least we want to introduce the phrase “observational bias” into the conversation.

In case you want some deeper context on all of this and have a few extra minutes to read, I also want to share with you a piece I published in Truthout this past summer in which I raise the concern that the recent rebranding effort rolled out by our administration might serve as a “distraction from important matters” (such as the gutting of Africana Studies over the past few years) and might, unfortunately, establish UMB as a “beacon of missed opportunities and bait-and-switch austerity politics.”

This is your union.  Please let us know at what you would like future issues of The Point to engage with.


Jeff Melnick

Vice President

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