Wednesday, April 6, 2011

On the collective bargaining teach-in

The text of today's DE article on yesterday's Teach-In includes some pretty representative quotations from people describing the conversation at the meeting, though the headline is unintelligible and the lead misrepresents the amount of time spent talking about the possibility of a strike.  The conversation really revolved around the threat to collective bargaining at our campus, its connection to wider trends at places like Wisconsin, and how faculty and others could better articulate their side of the story.  

My favorite part of the conversation was a point the article gets to toward the end. Ryan Netzley, whose evaluation of a recent missive from the Office of the Chancellor you may have seen on a blog near you, argued that the key to winning a broader set of hearts and minds is to get beyond the financial details and the procedural issues of collective bargaining in order to articulate the rival visions for the future of the university.  

The administrative vision, here and elsewhere, seems to be driven by a corporate model.  Our Chancellor does, after all, have a Ph.D. in management, while our president has a Ph.D. in, well, never mind about his Ph.D. On the corporate model, as far as I can make out, universities exist to produce degrees, attract grants, and serve as "economic engines" for their regions.  Articulating a goal more in keeping with the teaching and research mission as faculty understand these is trickier, in part because one can't count all the things we value, the insights we discover and pass on, our efforts not only to help students make a living but to live more meaningful lives.  That is a topic for another posting, to say the least.  

Of course the financial details and the procedural issues are also terribly important, in my view, but they are a harder sell, and in some sense they are means rather than ends; we have to win those fights (and so can't simply afford to avoid all the boring financial details and the legal niceties of labor law), but if we can't connect those fights to something larger that all faculty can (or at least should) buy in to we're less likely to emerge from this crisis with a stronger university rather than a weaker one.

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