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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Strikes and the Classroom

Before setting sail for parts sunnier and warmer than Miami (is that possible?), my colleague Michael Froomkin noted his thoughts about the impending UNICCO strike here on the UM campus. [Michael also summarizes the very sketchy anti-unionizing campaign that led to all of this.] Anyway, the long and short of it is that the strike is now set to begin effective 7:00 a.m. today (Wednesday).

I come from a family of labor lawyers and union supporters (often wondering whether the two categories are that distinct, except when we're suing Isiah Thomas), and so my loyalties default to the workers. But even if they didn't, I accept that it's a sign of disrespect to cross a picket line, whether you support the strike or not, and would gladly not cross if my decision had no impact on anyone.

And so it didn't, when I was a 3L at Yale (so many years ago...), where, as Michael notes, "strikes are as regular as clockwork." Although the 2003 strike was pretty long, even by Yale standards, I didn't cross. It helped, of course, that all my classes were off campus. But my decision not to cross was entirely my own. This time, it's different.

Unlike Michael, I am teaching this semester, and have 23 students (well, 22 students and one auditing librarian) in a seminar that meets every Thursday afternoon. And so, I'm torn. On the one hand, I think the best way to support the workers, which I wholeheartedly do, is to show solidarity with them and keep my class (and my students) off campus. On the other hand, although I'm not sure I accept Michael's contractual obligation point (and I don't suffer from his available space point, given the size of my class), I do understand that my decision is no longer mine alone, because what I decide to do could, if not will, have a substantial effect on my students. That is, whether the obligation is "contractual" or not, I feel the sense of obligation to the students, which, in my book, must come before my politics.

Michael invokes Charles Black (just like he did in my job talk, as it would have it), and in a perfect world, I aspire to that approach -- hold two classes, one on-campus, and one off. Which is not to say that there aren't drawbacks: Sheer inertia would likely mean that a majority of the students, if not virtually all of them, would stay on campus. All I'd accomplish is providing a way for those students who feel strongly enough to not fall behind by missing class.

Even notwithstanding that concern, I'm reluctant to follow the Black ideal here, because a seminar wouldn't be the same as two half-seminars, especially this one, in which the classroom dynamic has really been a wonderful part of the experience. That is, holding two half-seminars doesn't seem any better to me than not holding class.

And so, I'm curious what my fellow prawfs (and our loyal readers) think: Does the obligation we as teachers have override the inconvenience that holding class off campus would entail? Is it possible to take a position that's not offensive to one side or the other? Is it necessary to take such a position?

For the time being, I've deferred, and have asked my class to weigh in. Not to vote, per se, but to give me a sense of how many of them feel how strongly about having class on campus or off. But even if their responses overwhelmingly tilt in one direction, this seems like a Catch-22.

Which, by the way, is all the more reason for the University to wield its big stick (i.e., require its contractors to pay a living wage), if you ask me... but I'm biased -- I wouldn't be allowed home for Thanksgiving otherwise. :-)

Posted by Steve Vladeck on March 1, 2006 at 03:01 AM in Steve Vladeck | Permalink

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Comments

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The thing that admire about you is that you are taking your students into consideration. I have yet to hear from 2 of Prof's thoughts on the strike. I would do everything in my power to NOT cross the line, and yet I may very well be forced to because of attendance policies and a graded mid-term. There is only so much that supporting students can do without professors who support them. You are asking for class feedback (which is easier for you because of the class size and the one day a week schedule)and understand that whatever decisions you make are important. Take the next few hours and think about it...unlike me, I have to make a decision in the next few minutes if I am going to cross or not and go to my 9:30 class.

Posted by: Aaron | Mar 1, 2006 8:30:44 AM

This can be a difficult issue. I'm a former union lawyer, and I thought a lot about this when some unions on my campus came close to striking last semester. I decided I would teach the classes off-campus. It doesn't really seem *that* burdensome to students, in that I found a reasonably suitable venue near the campus for my 28 students or so in each of my two classes. Not crossing a picket line is a moral issue for me, and I don't see why I have a "sacred duty" to teach phyiscally in a classroom on campus.

I was also intrigued, in the piece Steve V. links, to see that (i) the potential strike is being provoked by what appear to be clear unfair labor practices by a contractor, but that (ii) the article says that "As a technical legal matter, the University of Miami is not implicated here. It's not guilty of anything (in law) other than trying to save a buck." I guess that's true in the sense that the university can't be charged with a ULP here, but the moral culpability is clear.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 1, 2006 10:29:50 AM

This is exactly the sort of thing that drove me crazy when I was a student. Could the faculty please please pretty bloody please keep their politics out of students’ faces? Support unions or support Bush or support your favorite American Idol character all you want, just do it on your own time. If your convictions are so strong that you cannot perform your job, resign.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Mar 1, 2006 10:32:51 AM

Kate -- I aspire to keep my politics out of the classroom, as I imagine most of our colleagues do as well. But I think your comment is somewhat unfair. To not move class is not "to keep my politics out"; rather, it is to put students with whose politics I agree in a very awkward and difficult position. That is, I don't know how, no matter what I do in this situation, I _could_ keep my politics out of the students' faces. And so, if one is put in a position where anything they do will be "political," shouldn't one be true to their own beliefs?

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Mar 1, 2006 10:46:52 AM

Steve is exactly right. It's not "keeping politics out" to cross a picket line: that's taking a side just as much as not crossing a picket line is. And it's forcing students that don't want to cross picket lines to take a side too.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 1, 2006 11:06:58 AM

Apologies for posting twice in a row, but I do want to respond to Kate's line: "If your convictions are so strong that you cannot perform your job, resign."

That's absurd. Steve V. and I were both talking about moving a class meeting or two off campus. That doesn't = "cannot perform your job." The other alternative would be to reschedule a class. We all have colleagues who have rescheduled classes because of conferences and other professional obligations, illnesses, religious holidays, etc. That also doesn't = "cannot perform your job." Every post about this issue has featured profs. wrestling with how to handle this situation, and none of the solutions offered come close to being a reason to "resign."

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 1, 2006 11:13:28 AM

Steve: there is one simple point that every student needs to understand – there is no right to have one’s political activities subsidized by someone else. Regularly scheduled classes conflict with all kinds of great things: union organizing, picketing at an abortion clinic, volunteering at a soup kitchen, teaching fellow citizens about the evils of Communism/Bush/American Idol. If you are not planning to repeat your classes for students who want to attend an anti-abortion rally, you should not do so for those who want to sympathize with a strike.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Mar 1, 2006 11:21:16 AM

Kate -- The issue here is not cancelling class; the issue is moving it off campus. So I don't think your analogy is apt. And Joseph's point reinforces mine -- not moving class is, itself, a political statement. Not in every situation, but unquestionably here... And so, forced to choose between making one political statement vs. another, I'll choose the one I agree with as opposed to the one I don't.

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Mar 1, 2006 11:26:54 AM

Actually, student funded activity fees on campus regulary provide subsidies from some students to others for their political activities. And courts have found no constitutional problem with that.

More broadly, again, holding a class on campus during a strike is distinguishable from the anti-abortion rally hypo in that the very act of crossing a picket line is taking a side. And again, I wouldn't repeat the class, I would just hold it off campus in some relatively convenient spot. If you can't find one, I'll bet the union would help you do so.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 1, 2006 11:27:03 AM

Since I started the comments, I'll chime in again. I agree with both Steve and Joe on this one; but it's already happening that some professors feel that they are imposing their own views onto a captive audience if they don't change the venue (this happened in my class this morning, Professor to remain unnamed. So Professor said I want to move class for 1 day, as a symbolic gesture, so can we meet at venue X which is large enough to hold a survey class (~90 people). One student had an issue because if there weren't enough electric outlets, he wouldn't be able to use his computer, and this would greatly hinder his ability to take notes. For one class. This is ridiculous, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. So now all classes will be held, as usual, on campus, sans attendance policy for those who wish to make a statement with classs audiotaped. But where will the audiotapes be held? In the library, where students would have to cross the line to hear the classes they missed. This is the quandry that students are being placed in because of indecisiveness.

Posted by: Aaron | Mar 1, 2006 11:42:21 AM

Steve: can’t you see that the two hypos are interconnected and the analogies are in fact relevant? For example, what if the abortion-clinic-picketing students demand that you move your class to the place of their picket (rather than reschedule it)? What if the soup-kitchen volunteers demand that you move the class to the shelter? What if your own students refuse to go to another location and therefore change the hypo back to “cancelled versus not cancelled” scenario?

And no, refusing to move the class is not a “political statement” – it’s simply a refusal to breach a contract. The deal was for class participants to show up at a certain time in a certain place and do a certain thing. That’s what you were hired to do. That’s what you should do. You can then spend your own private time picketing.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Mar 1, 2006 11:45:13 AM

Kate -- I think we're talking past each other here. This isn't about what the students "demand." It's about what I feel my obligation is to them. I would not feel obliged, in your hypotheticals, to move class solely for their convenience. If the choice for them is protesting or going to class, that's a choice they have to make _for themselves_.

But by not moving class off campus, _I'm_ making that choice for those students who won't cross a picket line. And I _have_ to weigh that against the inconcenvenience to the other students of moving class.

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Mar 1, 2006 12:06:06 PM

Steve: I fail to see the difference between abortion-clinic protesters and your union-picket-respecters. Both groups _can_ go to regularly-scheduled classes, but choose not to because of their political believes. By refusing to move your class to the abortion clinic, you are making the choice for students who cannot let babies die. This is not “merely” a matter of convenience to them; this is a matter of fundamental belief. Why don’t you feel an obligation to those students too?

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Mar 1, 2006 12:19:44 PM

Kate:

My contract doesn't say "the professor will never move/reschedule classes." Does yours?

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 1, 2006 12:55:23 PM

Kate -- Having class on campus does not, of itself, adopt the opposite viewpoint from that of the abortion-clinic protestors. It's "viewpoint neutral" in a way that having class on campus to those who won't cross a picket line isn't.

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Mar 1, 2006 12:56:41 PM

As far as I know, abortion protests don't last all day, everyday, for months on end and disrupt the everday lives of 1,200 (law school) to 8,000 (undergraduate) people who must make a conscious decision to openly break through something they believe in. If, using your hypothetical of abortion clinics, what if for some reason a class was held in a building where there was a planned parenthood type group, where protesters were outside picketing about freedom of choice. Does this mean because of "contractual obligations" a professor couldn't move his class one street away so his pro-life students didn't have to deal with this everyday? In UM's context, moving of classes isn't moving it TO the picket, but to a location, most likely a single block away within walking distance of where every other class is held

Posted by: Aaron | Mar 1, 2006 1:06:10 PM

Steve: I am not following again. Having a class on campus forces union-sympathizers to do something they don’t like (cross the picket line to attend classes). Likewise, having a class anywhere other than the abortion clinic parking lot forces anti-abortion activists do something they don’t like (leave the protest to attend classes). In both cases, students have to choose between their politics and class attendance. How is one case “viewpoint neutral” and other is not?

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Mar 1, 2006 1:42:23 PM

Kate -- In the abortion example, I just don't see how having class on campus is _itself_ expressing disagreement with the principle behind the protest. Yes, the student is forced to choose between the protest and going to class, but going to class does not itself symbolize acceptance of the opposite viewpoint from that of the protestors. Here, by contrast, the student by going to class is not just not supporting the protest; s/he is affirmatively rejecting the principle behind the protest by crossing the picket line.

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Mar 1, 2006 1:49:28 PM

I'm a bit puzzled by this issue. (I was at Yale with Steve and was puzzled then, too.) I guess it boils to my not entirely understanding what it means to "cross a picket line." My rough understanding, as someone with no labor law background, is that if widget-makers at Firm X go on strike, then gadget-makers at Firm X won't cross the widget-makers' picket line and come in to make gadgets. Without gadgets *or* widgets to sell, there'll be more pressure on Firm X to give in to the widget-makers' demands. Or, customers of Firm X might not cross picket lines, and so won't come in to Firm X's store to buy widgets. Again, fewer sales, additional pressure on Firm X.

That's how I guess it works in most industries. In universities, though, the refusal to cross picket lines doesn't seem to put much pressure on the university. The customers are students, and those who want to support labor, instead of just not buying the product (not going to class, withholding tuition, whatever), are still buying the university's product. They're just buying it in a different location. I don't see how this hurts the university. (I'm conflating the university with UNICCO here, in part because my Yale experience involved strikes against the university, and in part because the obvious way to pressure UNICCO seems to be to make UM dissatisfied with them. Certainly UNICCO suffers no direct harm when some law students don't show up for class at UM.)

Similarly, the gadget-makers here are professors, and their way of not crossing picket lines is to have their classes -- make their gadgets -- somewhere else. The annoyance of making students have class somewhere else is vaguely harmful to customers (students), and so vaguely harmful to the employer, but it's not exactly the same as just not coming in to work. The gadgets still get produced, UM still holds classes, and the direct costs of moving the classes off-campus seem to fall almost entirely on others (students, profs, entities that donate space, etc. -- though I think Yale may have paid for some off-campus spaces).

In short, when you "don't cross a picket line" in most circumstances, the employer directly suffers -- it produces less when workers don't cross the line, and it sells less when customers don't cross the line. Neither effect seems to exist in the university setting.

This gets even more puzzling when the strikers are janitorial workers. Janitors keep buildings clean. When buildings aren't used, there is less need for their services. When profs hold class at their houses, churches, etc. for a month, there's no real need to have janitors at UM. Teachers teach, students attend classes, and UM gets to have school for a month without needing to pay for janitorial services. UM produces the same product and the same revenue, but at a lower cost. So why would they cave in to the workers' demands? I wonder if it might help the workers more if the profs held class at UM every day. After holding classes for a few weeks without any cleaning, administrators might have a renewed appreciation for the work of their janitors.

I recognize the symbolic value of not crossing picket lines, and that, as Steve says, it's a sign of disrespect to cross. And clearly there's some symbolic pressure on UM when nobody shows up on campus, even if there's no financial pressure and they're all showing up next door. So maybe it's a matter of pure symbolism. But it still seems odd to me to have this symbolism so divorced from practical effects.

One more thing. When Joseph says "And it's forcing students that don't want to cross picket lines to take a side too," I don't think he has it right. In any other circumstance, it seems to me, someone who doesn't want to cross a picket line will naturally be forced to take a side -- to not go to work or to do without a product. Again, I don't entirely understand the background on picket lines, but as far as I can tell it's only in university strikes that it's possible to refuse to cross a picket line without any consequences to yourself. To that extent I'm sympathetic to Kate's point that the demand here is to subsidize one group's political activities at the expense of another.

Posted by: Matt | Mar 1, 2006 1:55:41 PM

Matt:

You make an interesting point, but I think it cuts against Kate's point that profs. that relocate classes should resign, not mine. Yes, if professors reschedule classes off campus, students, and arguably the university, aren't hurt as much as Ye Olde Widget Shop is hurt when the widget-makers strike and customers and gadget makers avoid dealing with that Shop (labor law folks would note that the gadget makers need to make sure they aren't violating 8(b)(4) secondary activity rules, but that's another story).

So, students can refuse to cross the picket line, get their classes taught elsewhere, and not be denied the product in a way that people that refuse to buy at the Widget shop are denied widgets from that shop.
That seems like a good deal to me: students don't have to violate their moral values, and they get their education with a minimum of inconvenience.

That all just shows how reasonable the "move the class off campus" position is. The hard-core pro-labor position could be, "we're not teaching, in solidarity with the strikers, and thus we're putting pressure on the employer because its customers aren't getting the product." But that's not my position.

The result that students can avoid acting contrary to their values and still get the product doesn't seem like a problem in my argument, unless you posit that one can only be acting in furtherance of one's values if it involves some sacrifice greater than walking a few blocks to an alternate site.

As to "subsidizing one group's political activities" -- again, in a labor dispute, you are picking a side whatever you do. Making some students cross a picket line to attend class is like making a student participate in a pro-choice (or anti-choice) rally. I would prefer a neutral site where the "subsidy" consists of walking or driving an extra couple of blocks at most. As you say, the students are still getting the product.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 1, 2006 2:23:43 PM

Why does my choice to simply continue living my life as usual mean that I “affirmatively reject the principle behind” some unexpected interference? By the same standard, does my choice to go to work today mean I “affirmatively reject the principle behind” every rally that I could conceivably attend instead? Has my daily tooth-brushing routine clashed with some political principle yet?

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Mar 1, 2006 3:29:51 PM

Kate -- I'm not sure I'm accomplishing anything here, but let me try one more time. I really don't accept your analogy.

Going to work instead of going to a rally isn't affirmatively rejecting the principle behind the rally. It's not going to the rally. I'm not saying anything to the contrary.

But crossing a picket line is fundamentally different, even if you are only crossing to conduct a "normal" activity. By crossing, you are not just telling all of the people on the picket line that what's on the other side of that line is more important to you than what they're marching for; you're telling them that you do not support them. Going to work instead of going to an abortion rally, in contrast, is just the former.

Now, people should feel free to cross the picket line -- it's everyone's right. But that doesn't mean that crossing it is as innocent and unsubstantive a political statement as going to work instead of a political protest.

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Mar 1, 2006 3:38:46 PM

Steve, it doesn't sound like you have much of a choice -- particularly if you want Thanksgiving dinner :)

As you explain, holding your class on-campus is not a neutral move; it sends a clear message to the workers that you (personally, when you walk across the line) don't support the strike. (And, as you again explain, it sends this message in a way that holding your class on campus rather than at an anti-choice protest does not send a pro-choice message. Your campus is the actual site of this unfair labor practice dispute. It is not similarly the site of any pro-choice/anti-choice dispute.)

It also sounds as though there will be little practical or expressive harm to your students. If you find a location they're not likely to be terribly inconvenienced, and few would view a decision merely to attend your off-campus class as much of a political statement. Besides, it sounds like the contractor committed serious ULPs so you don't even have to care about working people to decide not to cross. You just have to believe that your school shouldn't knowingly permit its contractors to violate the law.

Posted by: Claire | Mar 1, 2006 4:09:02 PM

I think there's disconnect between Kate and Steve because picket lines are an unusual example of political meaning. Kate is right in that we don't usually allow folks to say that we are making a statement just by following our normal routine. What if an anti-abortion group set up a picket line and said, "Do not cross our line if you are pro-life." Then students would be in the exact same position as they are in this scenario. Except -- we might think the anti-abortion group was pulling a fast one. They'd be violating a norm that you can't force meaning onto people who are just doing what they always do. When I was in college, a "gay jeans day" provoked resentment from some who didn't want their clothing turned into a political statement. Of course, your choice of pants is a little more optional than your choice of whether to attend or teach a class.

Because of the history of honoring picket lines, we create an exception for unions. Our society accepts that unions can turn our ordinary behavior into a political act. If a new group or cause tried to do that today, they'd have a tough time establishing the tradition. But honoring a picket line is part of the culture, and therefore entitled to different treatment.

Posted by: Matt Bodie | Mar 1, 2006 4:46:20 PM

I agree with Matt B. I would only add that the fact that a decision to cross or not cross a picket line necessarily is a political act is not just because of history or tradition. If you cross a picket line, you help the employer continue to run normally during a strike, thus undermining the effect of the strike; if you refuse to cross when you otherwise would have, you are, at least in a small way, siding with the strikers by denying the employer your business or help.

So it's not the same as a pro choice group or gay group announcing that a certain act or piece of clothing symbolically stands for support or opposition to something. Not crossing a picket line or crossing a picket line is an actual economic act in and of itself, and the sum of such actions often determine the success or failure of the strike. We may be losing sight of that reality of 99.9% of strikes, because in this particular case, the "not cross" alternative includes still providing the service (teaching the class). Usually, it doesn't.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 1, 2006 4:56:41 PM

That's true -- I oversimplified. Continuing to patronize a company whose employees are striking is an economic choice with economic ramifications. Another reason why this case is particularly unusual.

Posted by: Matt Bodie | Mar 1, 2006 6:09:44 PM

"Not crossing a picket line or crossing a picket line is an actual economic act in and of itself, and the sum of such actions often determine the success or failure of the strike. We may be losing sight of that reality of 99.9% of strikes, because in this particular case, the "not cross" alternative includes still providing the service (teaching the class). Usually, it doesn't."

Right. But we're talking about the 0.1% case. And I'm still confused why people think that moving class off campus is somehow the right, worker-supporting, don't-cross-the-picket-lines approach. Shouldn't the choice be (1) have class on campus (support management) or (2) cancel class entirely (support workers)? (Or, in the case of students, attend class on campus vs. don't attend class.) Having class off campus may symbolically be "not crossing the picket line," but economically it seems to me to be the same as crossing the picket line.

Given the fact that you are producing/buying the good, I'm curious why exactly people think the symbolism works. It's like boycotting McDonalds restaurants but still using their drive-through window.

Posted by: Matt | Mar 1, 2006 6:46:42 PM

I am a law student at UM who is not attending classes. By paying tuition I'm indirectly subsidizing UNICC not paying their employees a living wage. Therefore, I have some stake in the outcome of this dispute.

As such, I'll be emailing Dean Lynch and President Shalala every day just to remind them how much money I've wasted (it costs around $60 per class hour to go to UM) on classes that I can't in good conscience attend.

So far (just today): $150
Expected to waste tomorrow: $270

Posted by: Andrew | Mar 1, 2006 7:12:20 PM

Steve and Matt B: The people who think that the announcement of a strike somehow inevitably alters the meaning of daily routines of innocent bystanders remind me of two-year-olds playing peek-a-boo: if _their_ eyes are shut, the world doesn’t exist! Since we apparently have the union exception to the rules of causal inference, I wonder what else I need to know about the meaning of my everyday activities. Is it sexist to carry a backpack on Tuesdays? Is it anti-Semitic to brush my teeth? Does bicycling to work mean I support abortion? Please enlighten us!

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Mar 2, 2006 4:29:51 AM

Two thoughts: (1) As Joseph S. points out, crossing a picket line usually means crossing it to patronize the struck employer. If you brushed your teeth with toothpaste made by a Nazi company, then yes, that could be characterized as anti-Semitic. (2) In this case, honoring the picket line is more symbolic. But the practice has a century of tradition behind it. Other groups are free to create their own traditions, and we'll see whether they become ingrained in the culture.

Posted by: Matt Bodie | Mar 2, 2006 7:21:26 AM

Kate - are you arguing that there is no norm that crossing a picket line to engage in normal activity during a strike constitutes an affirmation of the employer's behavior, or are you making a normative claim that we should not permit unions that inference? If it is the former, I think you are the two-year old playing peek-a-boo. Open your eyes - you can't just ignore this country's history involving labor unions. It is one thing to argue that we accord too much political weight to labor unions, but quite another to argue that unions have never had such weight.

Posted by: Lindsay | Mar 2, 2006 9:08:02 AM

Kate, do you understand what a strike actually entails? Workers stop providing labor and appeal to customers and (where legally permitted) other workers to stop patronizing or working with the struck employer. The purpose of this is to put economic pressure on the employer such that it will give in to some of the union's positions. Thus to cross or not cross is inevitably a political/moral choice because your very action in crossing or not crossing helps or hurts the employer at the margins. And strikes are routinely won or lost based on how many customers and workers honor the picket lines and how many don't. Thus this is in no way equivalent to asserting that bicycling to work has a meaning regarding abortion, and it's silly bordering on insulting to suggest that this is like "two year olds playing peek a boo."

If you don't like or sympathize with unions generally, fine -- although I note that this particular union, according to reports, is striking in reaction to blatantly illegal acts (firing people for union support), so one could argue the union has the moral high ground here. But you don't even have to believe that. It would be nice, however, if you could make a more serious attempt to respond to the arguments made by folks here that disagree with you.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 2, 2006 10:26:49 AM

I got it. There is no union exception to the rules of causal inference. There is a labor history exception to the rules of causal inference. Is it on the bar exam?

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Mar 2, 2006 11:57:15 AM

Kate,

If abortion protesters are picketing outside an abortion clinic, and you cross their picket line to go into the clinic and (a) have an abortion, (b) perform an abortion, or (c) otherwise do most things that go on in an abortion clinic, then I think it's reasonable to infer that you in some sense support the activities of the abortion clinic and reject the picketers' position.

Similarly, if strikers are protesting outside the store that employs them and you go inside to (a) buy things at that store or (b) work as a salesman at that store, then it's not unreasonable to infer that you in some sense support the business of the store and reject the strikers' position. It's not as strong an inference as if you, say, punched the strikers and screamed "I love management!," but it's not fantasies and peek-a-boo either.

To continue the analogy, though, if you refuse to cross the abortion picket line but instead perform abortions at your house, I'm not so sure that you're really supporting the picketers' position. It still seems to me that that's what's happening in the have-class-off-campus situation.

Posted by: Matt | Mar 2, 2006 12:30:00 PM

Matt:

You ask an interesting question. If the prof. is going to teach classes anyway, isn't it just symbolic not to cross the picket line? In some senses, yes. But law profs. have to consider their role as fairly high-up employees of the university. While I could respect someone who did go all the way and cancel classes, I could also respect someone who felt that, balancing various concerns, they had a duty continue to teach. Teaching off-campus, however, does send a message that things are not as normal, and allows teachers and students not to violate deeply held values -- whether or not those values are on the bar exam.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 2, 2006 12:53:47 PM

The annoyance of making students have class somewhere else is vaguely harmful to customers (students), and so vaguely harmful to the employer, but it's not exactly the same as just not coming in to work. The gadgets still get produced, UM still holds classes, and the direct costs of moving the classes off-campus seem to fall almost entirely on others (students ...

What is interesting about this discussion is that as it goes on, Kate is being addressed in clearer terms than "thats absurb" -- which doesn't make much of an impact in the way of explanation.

The other interesting issue is the right of a group to impose itself on public space -- something obviously outside of Kate's experience.

She is basically being told that the union has a right to pre-empt her use of public spaces and force her to incur personal harm in disrupting her life for their benefit -- that they get to impose a tax on her. She isn't too happy about that, especially since it is new to her.

Especially since, as has been pointed out, the target of the strike suffers no harm from the strike and does get a small benefit from it.

When she asks "how about other causes" she is told that since unions have been able to impose this cost in the past in analogous situations, it is ok for them to do so here, even if it is outside of her experience. Others, she has told, don't get to do that without significant social struggle.

The fact that the answers keep talking past her is a good indicator of failure.

Her complaint is "they get to hurt me, and you are helping them when your duty is to me." A sort of implied fiduciary duty of a teacher to a student (which, of course, we know is not required at law. A teacher sued soon discovers that the standard of care an educator has to meet is to avoid intentional torts directed to the students).

The professor's response is to say (paraphrasing how it looks to a student, now how it actually is) "but it is a social norm that I endorse, even if it does not extend to other groups and even if it is not a part of your history or social norms and even if you weren't told about it prior to starting law school -- you need to accept that professors can inflict harm on you in the name of political feelings, even if those feelings have no direct impact or even are slightly contraindicated as to effect."

Interesting interplay.

Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis) | Mar 8, 2006 9:56:23 AM

Stephen M. -- If you think that Professor Vladeck (and others) were talking past Kate, (a) you're neglecting the extent to which she never seriously responded to her critics on their terms, and (b) the very real response manifested in the more recent post and comments.

But thanks for minimizing the very real feelings that many of us have -- it's nice to know that outsiders feel like they know everything based on a few wholly unconvincing comments by another outsider.

Posted by: ls4763 | Mar 8, 2006 10:07:04 AM

Stephen: is there anything wrong with the professor's response even as you caricature it? It is a social norm that crossing a picket line has an explicit meaning not held by other ordinary social acts. I don't believe there's anyone in this country who can honestly say that the social meaning of crossing a picket line isn't "a part of [their] history or social norms." It is part of the way that labor disputes have been run since the first union set foot on U.S. soil.

And -- I hate to break this to you -- some social norms are sometimes inconvenient to people who disagree with them. If I crudely proposition a woman on the street, there is a social norm that permits her to slap me, notwithstanding the facts that (a) I have a legal right to crudely proposition people on the street, and (b) she does not have a legal right to slap me. No jury in the land would convict her. That's a social norm that's incompatible with my crude-propositioning interests, and the proper response to those interests is: "tough shit." Even if I somehow wasn't told about it prior to making the crude proposition, and even if the slap I recieve is based on (pro-feminist, anti-street harassment) political feelings, and even if the slap has no direct impact on street harassment or is even slightly contraindicated as to effect insofar as it reinforces traditional gender roles of sexually aggressive men and resistent women.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Mar 8, 2006 4:25:47 PM

is there anything wrong with the professor's response even as you caricature it?

Not at all. I'm merely stating how it is perceived, not how it is.

some social norms are sometimes inconvenient to people who disagree with them. -- always, and it is part of learning to understand those that is part of growing up.

If you think that Professor Vladeck (and others) were talking past Kate, ... (b) the very real response manifested in the more recent post and comments.

Only that they were talking past her here, in this thread. I'm glad that the discussion has continued.

(a) you're neglecting the extent to which she never seriously responded to her critics on their terms, and

That would be an important criticism if I were saying she was right, or passing judgment on the issue as a whole. I'm not, just making an observation on the dynamic here, which I found interesting.

paraphrasing how it looks to a student, now how it actually is ...

Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis) | Mar 28, 2006 10:52:18 PM

Hmm, that should have been "not" rather than "now" which seems to have created misperception which is my fault.

Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis) | Mar 28, 2006 10:53:41 PM

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