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  1. #1
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    crossing a picket line

    Hi everyone, I need some wise craftista advice!

    The professors at my school are most likely going to go on strike next week. I completely support their reasons for striking (heavy classloads, hiring of adjunct faculty w/o benefits, administrative incompetence, etc. etc.) and there is no way that I would consider crossing the picket line to go class.

    However, the instructor for the one class I'm taking this semester is an adjunct and he is planning on holding class off-campus as he won't cross the line either but wants to still make instruction available for those who want to attend. He hasn't been very clear on how not attending will affect our grades. The class is ethnobotany and I really, really dig it.

    Now, I'm just in school for fun & health insurance. I already have my BA and I work as a freelancer, so the insurance is the biggest reason I'm taking classes as this was the only way I could find decent coverage that was affordable & also offered mental health benefits. I'm also planning on starting my MLS next fall, so I thought this would be a good way to get back in the academic saddle. Thus, this class isn't a big deal to me outside of personal interest as my health insurance coverage will continue regardless.

    I have pretty strong emotions regarding unions -- my grandfather helped organize the GM sit-down strike that resulted in the formation of the UAW and I see a strong connection between the power of unions and my own relatively comfortable standard of living. Having grown up in the metro Detroit area, I can see this tranformation in the families of many of my friends as well. So, while unions have certainly changed since their heyday (and not necessarily for the benefit of the worker), I still wholeheartedly support workers' rights to organize and strike.

    I guess my dilemna is whether or not to go the off-campus classes? Is this considered a form of crossing the picket line? What if I don't go to class but finish my final paper? I'm just not sure how to balance my personal desires to finish the class & do well against my political beliefs. I plan on talking to one of my former profs about this, as she is someone whose opinion I value a lot, but I was hoping some of you might be able to offer your tales of strikes and unions. Sorry about the length and thanks!

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  3. #2
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    I don't have any stories about unions and crossing strike lines, except that when my mother was fired a week after her mother died, her union rep. got her the job back. So I support unions.

    But if my professor were holding class off-campus and it was possible for me to attend, I'd probably go, especially if I liked the class and professor. I might not make the effort if I hated the class. Especially since it sounds like the professor probably supports the union, but still wants to make sure his students have the knowledge they need in the subject area. I mean, I guess he could hold a makeup class later, but it's probably a little easier just to meet off campus.

  4. #3
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    <blockquote>Especially since it sounds like the professor probably supports the union, but still wants to make sure his students have the knowledge they need in the subject area.</blockquote>

    Heh. Grad school has made me cynical, but I think it's more likely that he supports the union, even though members of the union have things like benefits and job security which he can't even dream of. But if he doesn't work, he doesn't get paid, and since he's making a pittance and paying for his own health insurance (if he has it), he can't afford to lose the paycheck.

    Anyway, I'd call up the union and ask them if they're requesting that adjuncts honor the picket line. If they're asking adjuncts not to hold class, then don't go. (You might ask them whether they give equal support to adjuncts, though.) If they're asking adjuncts to hold class off campus, go ahead and go. If they don't have a policy, I guess I think it's ok for you to go.

  5. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by sallysunshine
    Heh. Grad school has made me cynical, but I think it's more likely that he supports the union, even though members of the union have things like benefits and job security which he can't even dream of. But if he doesn't work, he doesn't get paid, and since he's making a pittance and paying for his own health insurance (if he has it), he can't afford to lose the paycheck.
    Well, yeah, that too. I'm still a bit of an optimist about things.

    If he's holding class off-campus and if the school is essentially closed because all of the full-time faculty are striking, would he still be getting paid? I guess that's another question for the professor. Does the university have an official policy about such things?

  6. #5
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    So if grocery workers are striking and you cross that picket line, the management and company profit. And that's the problem with crossing that picket line, you're supporting the people who are mistreating their employees.

    But the economics of college is different - the admins don't really care if you go to class and they already have your money. So even if all the adjunct profs still held classes, it wouldn't matter because the college wouldn't survive firing all the famous professors. They've got prestige to worry about.

    I think the money question is key: is he holding class to make a buck or because he genuinely wants to make sure he can teach you everything about ethnobotany? Profs are usually cool, I'd say go in for office hours or schedule your own and share your strike stories with him. You might change his mind or at least find out if he's violating the strike from love of teaching or for the money.

  7. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by kindarana
    So if grocery workers are striking and you cross that picket line, the management and company profit. And that's the problem with crossing that picket line, you're supporting the people who are mistreating their employees.

    But the economics of college is different - the admins don't really care if you go to class and they already have your money. So even if all the adjunct profs still held classes, it wouldn't matter because the college wouldn't survive firing all the famous professors. They've got prestige to worry about.
    I think that what all strikes have in common is that their purpose is to disrupt the normal operations of the business or institution that they target and therefore to force the people in power to come to terms. When the business is a grocery store, that means preventing people from buying groceries. That will hurt the grocery store, and the owners will be forced to settled. When the garbage collectors strike, nobody loses any money, but the city starts to smell so bad (or the citizens are so inconvenienced by having to haul their own garbage to the dump) that the government is forced to settle.

    In my experience, universities which have professor strikes are generally not prestigious places that put a lot of emphasis on research. They're generally schools that focus on teaching. Strikes work because the university exists to teach students, and if students aren't being taught, that's a problem. Since adjuncts can basically teach as well as full-fledged profs, adjuncts could easily disrupt the strike if, say, they took over classes for striking professors. If the university could get students in classes taught by striking professors to transfer to classes taught by non-striking adjuncts, then the strike wouldn't be effective and the union might have to give up.

    I think the money question is key: is he holding class to make a buck or because he genuinely wants to make sure he can teach you everything about ethnobotany? Profs are usually cool, I'd say go in for office hours or schedule your own and share your strike stories with him. You might change his mind or at least find out if he's violating the strike from love of teaching or for the money.
    I actually think it's more forgivable if he's holding class for the money. Unless they have other jobs or employed spouses, most adjuncts are hanging on by their fingertips, financially speaking. I think it's a lot to ask to go into a two-tiered system and demand that the most oppressed people give up their health insurance or sacrifice their grocery bills so that the privileged members can maintain their privileges. I'm really pro-union, but I also think that if professors' unions are going to survive, they're going to have to start offering something to adjuncts. They can't just rely on the lefty principles and goodwill of people who are barely getting by.

  8. #7
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    strike

    It's clearly unethical for your prof to make off-campus classes more or less mandatory during a strike. (You say your mark will be affected if you don't attend). The whole idea of a strike is to disrupt services, as someone else pointed out, and the fact that he is willing and able to teach for free (if that's the case) does not make it right. Does he not have to be on a picket line?

  9. #8
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    Re: strike

    Quote Originally Posted by jocelyn brown
    Does he not have to be on a picket line?
    Nope, because he's not in the union. At least, the overwhelming majority of professors' unions don't allow adjuncts to join.

    Adjuncts are basically the academic equivilent of temps. They work on a per-class basis with no job security and no benefits. The unions have really concentrated on convincing universities to hire full-time professors with benefits, rather than farming out classes to adjuncts. And I'm totally behind that. But the universities persist in hiring adjuncts, and it's hard to expect those people to honor picket lines that offer them nothing and ignore their fairly desperate situation.

  10. #9
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    When I was in school, there was a strike organized by TAs, I think. From my experience, most everyone attended class. Those that didn't want to cross picket lines were given an invitation to come to office hours so the instructor could relecture on the material.

    The only ones that I noticed who didn't attend class were the slacker types who used anything as an excuse to miss class.

    As I recall, the buses refused to cross the picket lines as well, and that's what basically caused everything to grind to a halt on campus. If you've ever seen UC Santa Cruz, you would understand this completely.

    I attended class during the strikes. I was paying way too much for my education to miss classes. And it's not as if the bigshots on campus actually listened to students. Students did all these protests and things for their causes, but it never made a difference in the end. The admin just did whatever they wanted to do, and they only cared about how their changes affected projected enrollments and funds. I guess I'm jaded...

  11. #10
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    Thanks for all the responses, they've been really interesting to read! The profs started striking today after negotiations broke down late last night.

    The administration has stated firmly that classes are not to be held off campus, that faculty who teach off campus will not be paid for their time, and that only on-campus class meetings will be counted toward fulfilling class requirements. Also, they are cautioning students not to attend off-campus classes because they can't guarantee our "safety," whatever that means. Their attempt at PR has been weak at best.

    In light of that, our instructor is a little worried about being fired for going off campus, but refuses to cross the line. He's trying to get around this by calling the remainder of our classes field trips, but I'm not sure if that will really fly. I think, too, that we'll only be required by him to attend one of the final two classes, which he's holding at his apartment, since we have to give a presentation as one of the class requirements. Oh, and also to turn in our final research paper.

    And yes, he is an adjunct who is not in the union; he's actually finishing his dissertation and I believe this is the only class he teaches, here or elsewhere.

    So, anyway, I've decided to play it by ear for now. Our first "field trip" is actually a real field trip, but to a place I've been before, so I'll probably skip it. Some students have organized a very active group in support of the profs (in fact, I just saw them on the news out picketing in the rain) and I will most likely join in next week with that. More importantly (I think), I'm going to write a few letters in support of the profs today. From the research I've done, they've been getting a raw deal and the administration is woefully inept at running the joint, especially considering exceedingly generous raises they've been given in the past few years.

    It'll be interesting to see how this plays out, as the community college system here (Chicago) recently settled a strike over very similar issues. This university has a similar student profile (lots of first-generation college students, part-timers, etc.) as well as a big teacher ed program and is definitely an institution geared toward teaching rather than research. I got my BA from Michigan, so the contrast between the two has been interesting. My expectations of this place were about as low as the tuition ($125/hour for graduate tuition, no joke!), but I've been pleasantly surprised at the quality of teaching.

    Thanks again!


 
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