An ode to Sam’s.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 6.55.53 PM

I read the news yesterday that Sam’s had closed on Saturday.

I won’t be back from our trip to Block Island and points east in time to have just one more red hot and fries at Sam’s.

This is the second time in the last few years that a place I loved in the neighborhood has been taken away from me.

Johnny’s Grill went all deconstructed food on me a year ago. I’m not paying nine bucks for a lonely hamburger on a plate with not even a little plastic cup of cole slaw on the side to keep it company.

And now Sam’s is gone.

I don’t think this can be blamed on gentrification or hipsters moving in.

It seems to be about family illness. Although the little triangle on Armitage must be worth a nice piece of change these days.

Back in 2008 I wrote about Sam’s in a blog post about Anthony Bourdain coming to Chicago and doing a story about Hot Doug’s.

Hot Doug’s was all duck fat fries and fancy cased meats.  As Casey Stengel once said, it got so popular nobody went there anymore.

I’m not waiting in a block-long line in Chicago for a hot dog. No way.

If Bourdain had asked I would have taken him to Sam’s, a little shack on Armitage near Western. Nothing fancy. No place to sit down. A steamed dog (the kind that snap when you bite into ’em) with mustard, onions and sport peppers wrapped in paper with a bunch of fries and a Pepsi for four bucks.

In Brooklyn on our way to Block Island I realized I had forgotten my bicycle helmet in Chicago. I walked over to 9th Street Bikes on 5th Avenue in Park Slope to buy one. The  25-year old guy who sold me the helmet asked me where I was from. When I said “Chicago,” he pointed to his t-shirt that advertised Hot Doug’s. “I lived in Chicago. Logan Square. You know it?”

“Uh huh,” I said.  I thanked him politely and walked back to where I was staying.

I have been going to Sam’s since 1975 when I first moved to the neighborhood. I have been stopping less frequently of late because of my desire for a healthier diet. I stopped drinking sugared drinks a couple of years ago.

But every couple of months I would drive down Armitage and pull over. I would get a dog and fries. No hot dog salad on top at Sam’s. Just the dog with mustard, onions, pickle relish and sport peppers. Rolled in a sheet of white paper with the fries so the steamed dog and steamed bun would get all squashed and some of the mustard, onions and pickle relish would mix in with the fries.

I would wash it down with Chicago’s finest tap water when I got home.

You just don’t know how much I will miss it.

You just don’t know.

Integrating schools works best for all students.


-I am on the road until later this week. I am blogging less. Today I am posting an episode of This American Life.  

What is the one thing that closes the  so-called achievement gap between Black and white students? Integration.


Ira Glass

Nikole Hannah-Jones is an investigative reporter these days at The NewYork Times. We’ve had her here on This American Life before, too. But her first real reporting job was back in 2003.

She was reporting on the schools in Durham, North Carolina. And like most places, there were good schools, and there were bad schools. And at the time, it was the heyday of No Child Left Behind. Durham was working really hard to improve the bad schools.

Nikole Hannah-jones

And I would go to schools. And they would just always be trying these new things that actually sounded like they might work. They would do things like, we’ll put a great magnet program here. Or we are going to really focus on literacy.

We’re going to start an early college high school, which kids would earn college credit in high school. We’re going to improve teacher quality. We’re going to replace the principal — more testing. They’re always talking, really, about the same things. I mean, you could take these conversations, and go from district to district to district, and you will always hear the same things.

Ira Glass

What she noticed was that it never worked. I mean, like, never. The bad schools never caught up to the good schools. And the bad schools were mostly black and Latino. The good schools were mostly white.

And sure, there might be a principal here or a charter school there who might do a good job improving students’ scores, but even there, they were just improving their student scores. The minority kids in their programs were still not performing on par with white kids. They hadn’t closed the achievement gap between black kids and white kids.

Nikole Hannah-jones

And my question is, all of these different ways that we say we’re going to address this issue aren’t working, so what actually works? And that’s what I really began to look at. And I find there’s one thing that really worked, that cut the achievement gap between black and white students by half.

Ira Glass

By half?

Nikole Hannah-jones

By half. But it’s the one thing that we are not really talking about, and that very few places are doing anymore.

Ira Glass

That thing that is so effective but never discussed is not one of the tools that educators reach for normally. Can you guess?

Nikole Hannah-jones


Ira Glass

You mean just integrating schools? It was getting black kids and white kids together in the same schools.

Nikole Hannah-jones


Ira Glass

Old fashioned, Brown versus Board of Education, 1954 technology, loading kids on buses?

Nikole Hannah-jones

That’s right. Actually, what the statistics show is that between 1971, which is where the nation really started doing massive desegregation, and 1988, which was the peak of integration in the United States– 1988 was the peak–

Ira Glass

School integration, you mean?

Nikole Hannah-jones

School integration, yes. Well, the data shows that kind of the start of real desegregation, the achievement gap between black and white students was about 40 points.

Ira Glass

In other words, on standardized reading tests in 1971, black 13-year-olds tested 39 points worse than white kids. That dropped to just 18 points by 1988 at the height of desegregation. The improvement in math scores was close to that, though not quite as good.

And these scores are not just the scores of the specific kids who got bussed into white schools. That is the overall score for the entire country. That’s all black children in America– halved in just 17 years.

When I asked Nikole if that was fast, she said, well, black people first arrived on this continent as slaves in 1619. So it was 352 years to create the problem. So yeah, another 17 to cut that school achievement gap in half, pretty fast.

Nikole Hannah-jones

And so if you kind of picture that out, if we had kept going when we had cut it by half, I don’t know that we would have eliminated it totally, because there’s a long history here. But you could see where we would have been, like, so close to eliminating it. But instead, since 1988, we have started to re-segregate. And it is at that exact moment that you see the achievement gap start to widen again.

Back to school dreams and nightmares.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 11.17.05 AM

In 2009, in the depths of the Great Recession, I was speaking at a rally in support of striking teachers in Ottawa, Illinois.

Years after I no longer worked at Chicago’s U.S. Steel’s Southworks plant, I would have this stress dream.

In my dream it is twenty years since I had worked at the giant steel mill, but I am walking to the 96″ plate mill that (now longer) sits on the far end of the collection of production mills. The wind is bitter and cuts through my clothes. It a freezing cold and windy walk along the lake from the employee parking lot. It is dark and the dead of a bad Chicago winter. 11PM shift.

My oil and grease covered clothes and safety helmet are where I left them, still in my locker.

In this dream I change clothes and put on my metatarsal boots as I had always done. I walk into the shop. Nobody asks where I had been all these years. Nobody has aged. It was as if I had never left.

For years this was a recurring dream.

My teaching stress dream since retirement is that I can recognize every kid that misbehaved. Thirty years of kids that are now all in one class. And I am totally unprepared. I have no plan. I have no supplies. I have no idea what I am supposed to do. It is like my first day on the job and nothing is in my control.

It has been a year since I’ve had that stress dream.

Those were just dreams. The stress on teachers today is real. And it doesn’t come from an imaginary classroom collection of thirty years of misbehaving students.

A 538 report points out that the economic recovery has not come to America’s teachers or its schools.

We are still on our road trip. Talking to an old friend on Long Island who is from Massachusetts, I repeated the fact that only Mississippi spends less as a state on its schools than Illinois.

She was shocked.

“What is the matter with Illinois? I mean only Mississippi is worse?”

As millions of children across the country head back to school this month, they will be returning to schools with fewer teachers than in past years. Those teachers will be paid less, on average. And many of them will be working in school systems that receive less funding.

When I was on Rick Smith’s radio show last week we discussed this.

With legislative constraints on teacher tenure and seniority, veteran teachers are being laid off to save money.

Many district are adding minus-zero steps to their salary schedule, reducing the starting salaries of new teachers and adding to the total number of years a teacher must work until they reach the maximum salary.

Governor Rauner and the Democratic Party-controlled Illinois legislature is threatening a third retirement tier, turning pension over to the private sector with no guarantees of a defined retirement benefit.

The 7-year-old economic recovery has not been kind to the American public education system. In May 2008, as the Great Recession was just beginning, U.S. school departments employed 8.4 million teachers and other workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This past May, they employed just 8.2 million — despite public-school enrollments that the Department of Education estimated have risen by more than 1 million students during the same period. Student-teacher ratios are as high as they’ve been since the late 1990s, though they’re still well below their levels of the 1980s and most of the 1990s.

The staff cuts reflect a broader pullback in education funding in recent years. Public schools actually came through the recession relatively well, as stimulus money from the federal government helped offset cuts at the state and local levels. But federal dollars dried up before states were able to pick up the slack. In 2014, the latest year for which full data is available, state public-education funding was 6.6 percent lower than in 2008. (Local funding, which accounts for about 45 percent of school budgets, was down about 1 percent over the same span.) Federal spending rose, but not enough to overcome the state cuts: Per-student spending fell 2.4 percent after adjusting for inflation. (All spending figures in this story have been adjusted for inflation.)

The Chicago Teachers Union, without a contract for over a year, is threatening a strike if the CPS board sticks to its demand of a 7% pay cut.

During the Great Recession I would hear from those who complained about teacher salary and benefits as they or their family members faced stagnant salaries or job losses.

The truth was that teacher salary increases were never that great. Most of the contracts I saw negotiated in those years after the near-collapse of Wall Street included big increases in health care costs to teachers and district employees.

It is now clear from the 538 report that teachers are now among those not included in whatever counts as the economic recovery.

That is why the pay cut to teacher salaries demanded by Rahm, CEO Forrest Claypool and the CPS board cannot be allowed to stand.

Keeping retirement weird. Learning theory and the ukulele.


Even on this idyllic island off the coast of Rhode Island, I keep one eye on politics back home.

Particularly pension politics.

Yesterday, Friday, the TRS board lowered the estimate of investment returns from %7.5 to 7%. It is not much more than an actuarial number unconnected to what the investments do or do not earn,  but will affect the amount the state pays into the state public employee pensions funds by about $500 million.

The Trib and the Governor will scream. But the state carries a pension liability of over $111 billion. So an extra $500 million? C’mon. And the state wouldn’t even have to pay that if it weren’t for the huge pension liability that it carries in the first place.

Do not expect the state legislature, Democrats, Republicans or the Governor – especially the Governor – to address basic fundamental revenue issues.

On the other hand.

I have been watching my 13-year old granddaughter take on the ukulele.

I have been reminded again about the fundamental basis for how people learn.

I was with her a few weeks ago when she showed me her new instrument. She knew I played. Her’s was a pretty uke with engravings in the wood. She had taught herself a few chords by looking it up on her cell phone.

On our way to Block Island we picked up her and her family in Brooklyn. When we got to the island she realized she had left her new uke at home.

Fortunately I had my my Lanakai tenor uke.

Over the past week I have watched her (without any interference by me) go from making up her own songs with the chords she knew, to going online and learning to play songs by reading the chords.

If you asked me 40 years ago when I began teaching elementary Art if I knew anything about school budgets, insurance, contracts, bargaining or pensions I would laugh.

Some of it I had to learn because of my responsibility to others. Some of it I was interested in learning.

It was primarily self-taught.

It may turn out that my granddaughter will take some lessons.

But the drive to learn is always present.

Everyone is learning all the time.

Even if it’s not on the test.


TRS reduces estimated investment return. What does it matter to retirees and active teachers?


As expected, the Illinois Retirement System board of trustees did as the actuaries suggested and this afternoon reduced the estimated return on investments from 7.5% to 7.0%.

Nothing about this is a reflection on the actual return on investments. It has been lower than even the 7% that the TRS board will recommend to the legislature.

The reduction in the estimation will increase the unfunded liability

But if you read what I just wrote you will immediately identify the problem here. With the state of Illinois owning an unfunded public pension liability of over $111 billion, this is all just so much a tempest in a teapot.

The TRS board is not playing politics. They are recommending what is actuarially responsible.

But the same cannot be said for the Governor.

Facing political troubles in November and an inevitable deal with the Democrats, Rauner is not happy about sitting down with Madigan on a tax increase with a larger pension hole.

Those knowledgable about Springfield (No. I haven’t even read any other internet reporters or Springfield observers. This is all from conversations and email exchanges with people I know) have told me they don’t agree with the Rauner people who have suggested Madigan’s fingerprints can be found on the TRS board action today.

Quoting one Illinois pension expert, “I haven’t detected the Madigan fingerprints on it, though some folks are saying that. Rauner is not necessarily trying to kill it, but he wants to see the numbers and a bill to “smooth” the impact of the rate change over five years like we do now with variations in annual investment returns. As a practical matter, returns below the assumption add to the liability and above it reduce the liability. Changing the assumption moves the “hurdle” if you will, for how much the liability moves in future years and discounts the present value of the fund assets at a lower rate, causing a one-time increase in the unfunded liability and, in turn, the required State contributions.”

In the short run, state contributions will go up.

That’s a good thing, unless Rauner tries to “reform” or stiff us out of some contributions.

In the long run, the state pays slightly more.

Rauner’s appointees all voted for the change except the two new ones who abstained. 

Rauner’s big blunder was an attempt to fill the third seat with someone ineligible because of a Chicago residence.

For active teachers in TRS and for retirees nothing much changes. Our system remains underfunded and only a revenue fix can change that.

A union at the University of Chicago and the great debate between John Dewey and Robert Hutchins.

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 11.12.33 AM

Yesterday I posted the letter that University of Chicago sent out to teaching assistants and student teachers regarding the ruling of the National Labor Relations Board that permits them to unionize.

On one level, in spite of all the high-falutin language, there is not much different about this letter than one any union-fearing boss would send to their workers who wanted a union.

Let’s pretend that there is a serious debate here about the nature of learning, teaching and the role of the university.

I know.

Just go with me for a moment.

In 1936, University of Chicago president Robert Maynard Hutchins published a slim volume entitled The Higher Learning in America.

The purpose of the essay was two-fold. Hutchins believed in knowledge for its own sake and believed that the liberal arts and the universities which taught them had lost their way.

But it was also a polemic against the progressive education ideas of John Dewey.

And Dewey knew the essay was directed at him.

Hutchins argued for a life of the mind, knowledge for its own sake uncontaminated by questions of practice, work, empirical sciences or current events.

Dewey, on the other hand,  understood “knowledge for its own sake” to be a part of what was called “vocational knowledge,” both within the liberal arts and the world outside the university.

Dewey believed in the uniting of theory and practice, knowledge and reflection on experience.

For John Dewey, a liberal arts education had to  address the fact that ideas and practice are two connected things. As Dewey puts it in Democracy and Education:

While the distinction [between labor and leisure] is often thought to be intrinsic and absolute, it is really historical and social. It originated, so far as conscious formulation is concerned, in Greece, and was based upon the fact that the truly human life was lived only by a few who subsisted upon the results of the labor of others. The problem of education in a democratic society is to do away with the dualism and to construct a course of studies which makes thought a guide of free practice for all and which makes leisure a reward of accepting responsibility for service, rather than a state of exemption from it.

Many University of Chicago students teachers and teaching assistants may never join another union for the rest of their lives. They can join one now.

Hutchins, if he were alive today, might find that disturbing.

Dewey, always a union man, would have been supportive, I am sure.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia two years ago.

10303872_10152943075917067_137374449637881810_n (1).jpg

Lily Eskelsen Garcia in 2014.

-I’m on the road until the end of August. In between intermittent posts of my own I have been posting other bloggers and posts. Some have written to say these have been the best things I have ever posted. Oh well.

This is from a 2014 interview with NEA President Lily Garcia by Washington Post education columnist Valerie Strauss.  

To call the woman who is about to take the helm of the National Education Association “outspoken” would be something of an understatement. Lily Eskelsen García, who will take over next month as president of the largest teachers union in the country (and, for that matter, the largest union of any kind in the country), is nauseatingly sick of what she calls “factory school reform” and she doesn’t mind telling everybody about it in clear, challenging words. “Stop doing stupid,” she says.

That’s not all. Acknowledging that sometimes it is hard for her to be diplomatic, García says she wants to shake things up: “The revolution I want is ‘proceed until apprehended.’” Translation: Teachers, administrators and everybody else involved should ignore bad school reform policy and do “the right thing” for kids. “Don’t you dare,” she said, ” let someone tell you not to do that Shakespeare play because it’s not on the achievement tests. Whether they [reformers] have sinister motives or misguided honest motives, we should say, ‘We are not going to listen to you anymore. We are going to do what’s right.’”

The biggest problem in education today, she said, is the obsession many school reformers — including Education Secretary Arne Duncan — have with standardized tests and using student scores to make high-stakes decisions on  whether students move to the next grade or graduate high school, how much teachers get paid and whether they can keep their jobs, and even if schools are reconstituted or closed. “I will go down to my last breath telling people that the most corrupting influence in public influence today is a high-stakes consequence for not hitting the cut score on a standardized test,” she said.

What would she do if she were still teaching and an administrator told her to do something in class to improve student’s standardized test scores so that her test-based evaluation would be better?  “I would totally ignore them,” she said. ” ‘Go stand out in the hall and don’t waste five seconds of my time.’ I would not make that change one thing in my classroom.”

You can read this story by my colleague Lyndsey Layton about García’s rise to the top of the NEA, a journey that started when she worked in a school lunch room, moved through years of teaching (during which she was named Utah’s Teacher of the Year)  and took her to the leadership of her union. And here are some excerpts from the recent interview I just had with García about her views on challenges facing educators today.

On Education Secretary Arne Duncan:

Arne Duncan is a very nice man. I actually believe he is a very honest man. And that cannot excuse the fact that he is wrong wrong wrong on just about every thing that he believes is reform. I could just give him hugs when he talks about preschool. I love when he talks about affordable college. Its not that he is in the pocket of the Koch brothers and wants to destroy public schools. But he has drunk the Kool-Aid. He has drunk the factory reform Kool-Aid.  So now it’s you have to hit a number and that number is what we call accountability and we have to blame someone and there has to be a punishment for not hitting that cut score. And I believe will go down to my last breath telling people that the most corrupting influence in public influence today is a high-stakes consequence for not hitting the cut score on a standardized test.”


On the Common Core State Standards and aligned testing:

“We have something with incredible promise, like the Common Core. My own friends will go, ‘You know they are just going to mess up the Common Core.’ Yeah, and then we have Texas. Texas isn’t in the Common Core but it’s a mess there. It’s not the standards. It’s what they are doing with these standards, or whatever standards. So you have a New York situation, which is the “I Love Lucy’ thing. ” We have the Common Core and add one more test and judge you and punish you by it and ramp up the factory thing and you have chocolate falling to the fall — and there is no more tragic metaphor to me than chocolate falling on the floor. Educators, my colleagues, are trying to take the high road and explain that … 100 percent of the kids cannot statistically be above average. And you can’t throw these wonderful new problem-solving, critical-thinking skill standards at teachers when we haven’t trained then on it or given them any curriculum and tell them that the tests are being field tested but they are still going to be judged on them, even fired, and third graders can’t go to fourth grade because of test results. Imposing this toxic testing regime makes no sense.

“Stop the stupid. And I’ll try really hard to make that diplomatic.”

On ‘value-added measures’ (VAM is a way of evaluating educators that takes student standardized test scores, plops them into a complicated formula that can supposedly weed out things like how much living in poverty or being sick affects a child’s performance on a test and determining the “value” of an individual teacher.)

Voodoo value-added. It is beyond ridiculous. Have you ever seen the formulas? Here’s what I think. Let’s make it so complicated no one will ask a question for fear of looking stupid. I’m the teacher who told my kids there is no such thing as a stupid question. … I looked the year I had 39 fifth-graders and looked at what is factored into the value-added formula to determine my value. That year I had Brandon and Chris, both of whom had behavior disorders. How is that factored in [to the formula]? You cannot surgically remove every factor that might affect some child’s test score, and then attribute a “value” to a particular teacher. I know that part of what I did was build on what the teacher the year ahead of me was able to accomplish. It is not surgery. And anybody that stands up and sends us the voodoo value-added should be ashamed of themselves.

I’ve always told people — because I am that obnoxious — that  I am the best freaking teacher you have ever seen. You want your child in my class… I am not afraid of an evaluation system. Bring it on. But what I would do with value added? I would totally ignore them. ‘Go stand out in the hall and don’t waste five seconds of my time.’ I would not make that change one thing in my classroom. If a principal said, ‘We can’t do the blood drive because we have to prep for the test,’ I would say, ‘Go away’. That’s where the rebellion would be.

There is no law that says we have to race around and catch that testing tail. We do it to ourselves. The revolution I want is, ‘Proceed until apprehended.’ … Stop listening to the salesmen. Stop listening to phony reformers. And stop listening to those good-hearted and absolutely wrong people and do the right thing with kids. We are the educators, the professionals. We actually know what to do with children.”

On No Child Left Behind:

“I am so convinced that No Child Left Behind is really based on the ‘I Love Lucy’ episode in the chocolate factory [when Lucy and Ethel work in a factory to box chocolates that appear on a increasingly fast assembly line]. I really believe that someone spent a little too much time watching ‘Nick at night’ and said, ‘Let’s just speed up the chocolate. We will find a way to wrap it and put it in pretty little boxes. And Lucy and Ethel couldn’t do it of course. We have corporate reform. It doesn’t make any sense.”

On corporate school reform and whether Democrats who support it have abandoned teachers union:

“I talk about factory school reform. Its not even like a well-run modern corporation that they are suggesting. It’s a 1920’s factory. And …on both sides of the aisle we get the same misguided list of reforms. Basically its privatized, standardized, deprofessionalized. The exact opposite of what very successful international success stories like Finland or even Singapore do. They personalize. They use data to make good decisions. They have ramped up the professionalism of education. They make it harder to get into your college of education than to get into your law school. They make it a career, not a summer project for someone who just graduated from college. Even KIPP [charter schools] will say one of the secrets of their success is a stable, highly professional faculty. How do you make sense of a churn system of Teach For America where you give two years and go on your way? The corporate factory reformers have this evidence-free zone that surrounds them… We are like waving red flags of evidence in front of them. Stop doing stupid. Can we just do what we can show you makes sense?…

“I would challenge the premise that the Democratic Party is not a friend of organized working men and women. But there are disconnects on more and more issues. And of course we are seeing that disconnect seriously in the education world….

“We just need to say this is no longer partisan. It is just stupid.”

University of Chicago: ” We hope all members of our community will take the time to look more deeply into the challenges and potential negative consequences of a union and participate in dialogue around these issues.”


University of Chicago.

To: Faculty and Graduate Students
From: Robert J. Zimmer and Daniel Diermeier
Re: NLRB Ruling on Student Assistants
Date: August 24, 2016

Yesterday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that student teaching and research assistants at private universities have the right to unionize in their capacity as workers. For a number of months, the University of Chicago community has been engaged in active dialogue on this subject and its potential impact on the College, graduate students, faculty and the University as a whole. In light of the NLRB’s decision, it is more important than ever to reflect on the fundamental nature of education at UChicago, and the potential impact that graduate student unionization in particular could have on the University’s distinctive approach to research and education, including the relationship between graduate students and their faculty advisors.

It is the collective responsibility of students, faculty, staff and University leaders to ensure that the University of Chicago is a place where students can flourish. Central to the success of graduate students is the intellectual relationship between students and faculty, particularly between students and their advisors. These relationships reflect the University’s character as a place of intellectual openness and scholarly autonomy, where students and faculty constantly work together to push the boundaries of understanding. These formative and mutually advantageous collaborations often move in novel directions, across disciplinary lines and established responsibilities. Each student’s path reflects their own goals, interests, intellectual ambitions, and subject matter.

Ensuring that students are flourishing is not a simple or easy process. Ongoing attention is required to make sure programs are working well and adequately supporting students throughout their time at UChicago and beyond. Our graduate students already are active partners in identifying the elements of a successful education, and they have worked with the faculty, chairs, divisions, schools and the provost’s office to make many improvements. Bearing this progress in mind, and the fact that there is still more work to do, the fundamental question now is whether a graduate student labor union would advance or impede students’ overall educational goals.

While reasonable people can come to different conclusions on this point, it is vital that we maintain the special and individual nature of students’ educational experiences and opportunities for intellectual and professional growth. A graduate student labor union could impede such opportunities and, as a result, be detrimental to students’ education and preparation for future careers. It could also compromise the ability of faculty to mentor and support students on an individualized basis.

Students follow their own unique paths at the University in coordination with their faculty advisors and do so in a way that is quite different from the well-defined and important work of employees in skilled trades or clerical positions, where the University has had productive relationships with unions for many years. Unionization by its very nature will mean that a labor union, which may be unfamiliar with what is involved in developing outstanding scholars, will come between students and faculty to make crucial decisions on behalf of students. These decisions could range from which classes students teach, to how best to collaborate with scholars in other departments, to the steps students can take to further their long-term career development. Ceding the power to bargain over some or all of these decisions to a union, which by design focuses on the collective interests of members while they are in the union in the short-term, could make it more difficult for students to reach their individual educational goals.

Recent experiences demonstrate that efforts to enhance the graduate student experience are highly successful when graduate students, faculty, deans and the provost’s office work together directly. Dialogue among students and faculty has led to increased stipends under the Graduate Aid Initiative and increased remuneration for teaching, more support for students in the sciences, expansion of health insurance coverage, child care grants, and major investments in the Chicago Center for Teaching and UChicagoGRAD to help students with fellowships, pedagogical training, writing and presentation skills, and preparing for future careers. It is unclear whether a graduate student labor union would have achieved any of these outcomes.

Faculty and graduate students at the University of Chicago are not only engaged in scholarship, we are stewards of the legacy we have inherited. Together, we will help define the University’s future. If there is a union representation election here, students will have the opportunity to decide what course is best for their own education. We hope all members of our community will take the time to look more deeply into the challenges and potential negative consequences of a union and participate in dialogue around these issues.

Progressive Block Island.


Accompanied by FBI agents Daniel Berrigan is brought to the mainland after his capture on Block Island.

Our immediate family comes here every summer the last week in August. Others often join us. Our rented house looks out over the lagoon and out to sea. The perfect spot.

Each summer I come I learn more about the place.  Google Block Island history and there are huge gaps.

The island’s history often leaves out those who first lived here for a thousand years.

The Narragansett were the first inhabitants of Block Island. Their name for the island was Manisses which translates to Island of the Little God.

There is a hotel in town called Manisses. Otherwise you might not know.

The first white guy to see it was probably Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524.

He seems to have sailed on.

Verrazano was followed by a Dutch explorer,  Adrian Block. In 1614 Block planted the Dutch flag. He named the place after himself.

Funny how white guys do that.

Even when the place has a perfectly good name already.

The island of the Naragansett was finally done in as part of the Pequot War. Using the excuse of a murdered trader, the Governor of Massachusetts ordered the slaughter of every male on the island and the capture for slavery of every native woman and child.

In 1636 John Endecott claimed the island as part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Twenty-five years later we can mark the beginning of Block Island’s white progressive history with the arrival here of 16 settlers in 1661. They were followers of Anne Hutchinson, a leader in the fight against the Puritan establishment of Boston.

You know how we call people who aren’t fun, “puritanical.”

This was them.

The late Civil Rights attorney Arthur Kinoy writes about the sixteen settlers in his book, The Mystery of Block Island.

Hutchinson is an important person in the development of religious freedom in England’s American colonies. She was not puritanical.

She is also an early figure in the history of the fight for women’s equality. Hutchinson would not accept the authority of the male Puritan ministers, exposing the subjugation of women in colonial Massachusetts. Hutchinson was put on trial for her beliefs and forced into exile from Boston.

Along with Roger Williams who established Providence in what became Rhode Island.

There is a statue of Roger Williams on Federal Hill in Providence.

Anne, who went to high school in Providence, tells me that kids used to smoke dope behind the statue of Roger Williams.

Not very puritancial.

For her early belief in the dignity of women and men and democracy, Hutchinson may have been considered the most dangerous woman in the New England colonies.

As is true for the rest of America, Block Island was settled by Europeans after the murder of most of its indigenous people.

That is way more like the Puritans.

It wasn’t until years later that some of the Europeans who sought greater intellectual and religious freedom, exiled from Boston, arrived on Block Island to create a safe place, protected from the tyranny of Boston Puritanism.

Jump ahead.

It was almost 300 years later that Daniel Berrigan, a Catholic priest and anti-war activist came to Block Island to evade arrest by the FBI.

Berrigan died this past May.

In 1968 Berrigan was part of a group that burned draft records in Catonsville, Maryland in protest of the War in Vietnam.

Convicted, Berrigan fled and hid in the Block Island barn of two locals who provided him space.

“We have chosen to be branded peace criminals by war criminals,” Berrigan famously said while a fugitive of justice, days before his arrest by FBI agents in a barn on Block Island.

I’m pretty sure that Daniel and Anne would have gotten along well.


Rauner is not looking forward to this week’s TRS meet.


IEA President Cinda Klickna will be chairing this week’s TRS board of trustees meeting.

A Reuter’s report by Dave McKinney and Karen Pierog suggests that Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner is not happy with a possible TRS decision to lower the assumed rate of return on pension investments.

A Monday memo from a top Rauner aide said the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) board could decide at its meeting this week to lower the assumed investment return rate, a move that would automatically boost Illinois’ annual pension payment.

“If the (TRS) board were to approve a lower assumed rate of return taxpayers will be automatically and immediately on the hook for potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in higher taxes or reduced services,” Michael Mahoney, Rauner’s senior advisor for revenue and pensions, wrote to the governor’s chief of staff, Richard Goldberg.

When TRS lowered the investment return rate to 7.5 percent from 8 percent in 2014 the state’s pension payment increased by more than $200 million, according to the memo.

While TRS investment returns have been weak the last few years, it is considered among the healthiest of investment returns compared to other state pension systems.

That doesn’t improve the $111 billion liability carried by the five Illinois pensions systems, TRS being the largest of the five.

A decision by the TRS board to lower its estimated rate of return would increase the liability. The board is required to submit the estimate each year to the legislature.

The Governor and his people want the board to delay submitting an estimate until after the November election.

Way after.

As I reported earlier, there are three empty seats on the TRS board that the Governor has seemed not to have had any interest in filling until now.

Reports are that Rauner is demanding that no decision on lowering the estimated return until after he names his people to the TRS empty seats. But TRS is scheduled to meet this week with IEA President Cinda Klickna chairing the meeting in place of the expected absence of Rauner’s pick for board President, Tony Smith.

Klickna wears two hats as TRS board member and IEA President.

Since assuming office, Rauner has insisted on pro-corporate, anti-union concessions in exchange for a budget agreement.

This situation doesn’t help him.