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Abstract

As the U.S. starts to come out of the pandemic, public declamations about and private deliberations within colleges and universities are framed in part by negotiating getting back to some form of “normal.” At the center of and delimiting these labor/management negotiations is an all-too-familiar master narrative articulated by management invoking a “new normal,” a time of conditions and challenges borne of, transmitted by, and/or accelerated and amplified due to Covid-19. Yet, I suggest that yet another iteration of disaster/disastrous academic capitalism is neither called for nor does it offer a compelling future for higher education. In addition, there is a counter-narrative articulated by some in the media, scholars, activist groups, and labor that the pre-pandemic “normal” was deeply problematic due to systemic and enduring patterns of disinvestment and of inequity. The premise and promise is that we need to get to better than the preceding normal. If progress is to be made in that direction, then I suggest some important markers in broader public discourse and policy as well as in locally negotiated collective bargaining agreements. There has also been an increasingly expansive pattern of academic employees working coalition within and beyond the academy’s walls, even forming wall-to-wall units. In what could be framed as a “new progressive normal,” community and broader social concerns are becoming increasingly centered in organizing and contract campaigns. I suggest that therein lies the best future not only for academic labor but also relatedly for fulfilling academic institutions’ public missions and securing greater public support for higher education.

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