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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

When Students Strike Back -- Some Reactions

As Michael noted over at Discourse.net, and in light of the response by the UM law school faculty to the UNICCO strike (my own thoughts on which I previously posted about here), we held a town meeting today at the law school to provide a forum for students and faculty alike to air their concerns and questions about the strike, the law school's response, and the ramifications of both for the law school community. (The town hall followed a very interesting panel put together by UM law students about the substantive issues behind the strike, which included representatives from UNICCO, the SEIU, and the UM faculty, but, pointedly, _not_ the UM administration.)

Although I was not surprised at the town hall by the substance of the comments made by some of the students, several of whom spoke out against holding classes off campus, I must confess to being taken aback at the vitriol and unabashed animosity that pervaded their remarks. One of the first students to speak, reading a statement represented to be on behalf of a "large group of students," suggested that we, the faculty, were using the cover of the strike to force our own political agendas on our students; that we have shown callousness and unprofessionalism in our response; that we have a contractual obligation to show up when our classes are scheduled and at their scheduled location, and to teach them what they've signed up to take, regardless of any supervening factors; that we have no right to "take sides" in this debate (and are doing so), let alone foist our opinions upon them; and, perhaps most surprisingly (at least to me), that those members of the faculty who have moved class off campus (e.g., me and a small but significant group of my colleagues) should be sanctioned, either by docking their pay, taking away their sabbaticals, or terminating them, for fundamentally disregarding and otherwise neglecting their professional obligation to their students.

There was more, too, and I'm not doing justice to the breadth of the statement (although I believe I'm accurately portraying its tone), but what I've described above is what stuck with me.

Granted, a lot of this was previewed in the extensive comments to my last strike-related post. But I can't do justice to the tone -- to the extent to which the student was suggesting that we've betrayed him and his colleagues, and our responsibilities to them, by even thinking about having class off campus, let alone actually doing so.

There is a lot to be said in response. Much of it was said (some by me; some by my colleagues; some by other students) at the town hall. There are only a few points (okay, five) that I want to make here, if for no other reason than I've always thought writing is a good way to struggle with important issues, and to make sure I'm not way out on the edge with my own thoughts:

First: I have absolutely no problem with students who express their opinion that they disagree with a professor's decision to hold class off campus. It is not only their right; it is their obligation to speak up, and to provide an accurate representation to the professor of what they think and reasonably believe. I asked my own students, when this whole mess started, to share their thoughts with me, and was heartened both by the number who responded, and the responses of those who disagreed with me, but were willing to support my decision.

Second: I don't think that any professor who decides to hold class off campus makes that decision lightly, or with even the slightest disregard to their obligations vis-a-vis the students. As I noted at the town hall, it's entirely _because_ of how seriously we take our obligations that we even _hold_ class off campus. As has been noted here and elsewhere, the best way to show support using the classroom -- and to disrupt the daily goings-on of the University, with potentially pecuniary consequences for the University -- is to not have class at all. Yes, it is virtually impossible to hold class off campus without somehow inconveniencing the students. I accept that. I respect that students, all things being equal, would prefer not to be inconvenienced. We all would. But as inconvenient as it is to have class a mile or two from school, I can't even begin to imagine how inconvenient it is for the workers on the picket line, who are foregoing an already paltry paycheck because of what they believe in (and what many, like me, believe they are entitled to). I only wish I had that kind of courage.

Which leads me to third: Yes, having class off campus is, one way or the other, showing some modicum of support for the strike. I don't disagree with that, either. But it is simply not forcing our political agenda on the students. If, at that off-campus class, we spent the entire time extolling the virtues of organized labor, bemoaning the failures of UNICCO, and otherwise berating the response of the University administration, then, I think, we would be introducing our political views into the classroom. I object, however, to the notion that merely moving the class is, itself, requiring our students to adhere, especially because the faculty have effectively agreed that no student will be punished for missing an off-campus class, and have undertaken Herculean efforts to audio- or video-record every off-campus class and make the recordings widely accessible to all students. Indeed, if anything, this whole mess has prompted more dissent on the UM campus than I've seen since I got here. I just cannot accept that that's a bad thing. I'll come back to this shortly.

Fourth: We all care incredibly deeply about our students. We would not be in this profession if we didn't. And, for the most part, I think we all deeply respect our students, and the importance of our obligations to them. But our obligation is _as_ teachers. Students are here to learn from us. To learn civil procedure and contracts and property and torts, to be sure, but also to learn about advocacy and the American legal system. I do not think, and cannot accept, that we are betraying our educational mission simply by having class off campus. If anything, we are using our proverbial microphone to teach more than just the black-letter law that students can get out of the casebook. We are contextualizing it. And at a University that refuses to require its contractors to pay a living wage to its employees, we are teaching our students about dissent, a lesson they are using, quite effectively, against us.

Fifth, finally, and, I think, most importantly: We, like our students, are members of a community.  That community does not consist merely of students and faculty.  If it did, we would be teaching in the dark, in piles of filth, and handing out mimeograph copies of our incoherent, handwritten notes. What I think I object to in the vitriolic nature of the students' remarks is the implicit assumption that these workers are not part of our community.  My responsibility to students is only part of my larger responsibility to the University of Miami, as an academic community and as an institution.  As such, I also am responsible to and for the workers who allow me to teach, and who facilitate the means by which I do so.  What these students would have us do is treat our responsibility to them as completely overriding and indeed subverting our responsibility to the community as a whole.  This I cannot do. True, I was not hired to bring social justice to the University of Miami, nor is that my goal.  Nevertheless, my responsibility to the community includes acting in a way that I believe will make our community as a whole a better one, especially in a law school where we are purportedly teaching our students how to advocate on behalf of those unable to advocate for themselves.

Let me briefly reiterate: I don't mind the fact of the dissent, or even the substance thereof. What I object to is the insinuation that (1) I don't care about my students; (2) I am depriving them of their education by holding class off campus; and (3) my only obligation as a member of the faculty of the University of Miami is to my students. To put it as simply as I can: It's not that we don't care about our students; it's that we don't just care about our students.

And so, I'm stuck, in the end, with Martin Luther's aphorism, quoted today by one of my colleagues: "Here I stand. I can do no other."

Posted by Steve Vladeck on March 8, 2006 at 03:01 AM in Steve Vladeck | Permalink

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» When Labor Strikes Come to Law School from Workplace Prof Blog
Steve Vladeck over at PrawfsBlawg and Michael Froomkin at Discourse.net are both in the midst of dealing with a labor strike at the University of Miami School of Law. Both have decided to move classes off campus out of respect [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 8, 2006 11:21:27 AM

Comments

"As such, I also am responsible to and for the workers who allow me to teach, and who facilitate the means by which I do so."

It's not the workers who allow you to teach, it's you and the students who allow the workers to work.

"What I object to is the insinuation that (1) I don't care about my students"

And just who do you think is going to bear the costs of higher janitor wages and healthcare? Students are the ones who are going to take the hit, whether it comes in the form of higher tuition/fees or reduced services.

Posted by: anon23433 | Mar 7, 2006 11:50:29 PM

Anon --

Thank you for making my point about vitriol. I think that the statement that it's "[me] and the students who allow the workers to work" demonstrates a lack of respect for the workers themselves, who do the kind of work that neither I, nor I imagine you, would ever want to do in our worst nightmares. How is it, in your view, that we "allow the workers to work"? Because we could afford _not_ to have janitorial staff?

Even taking your comment at more than its face value, do you honestly believe that employers have no responsibility to their workers? Do you oppose health care, maternity leave, and OSHA regulations? Our only responsibility is to pay them (and not well, at that)?

And even notwithstanding that, I think it's just not true that the "cost" of paying these people a living wage will necessarily be passed on to the students. I, for one, would gladly sign a resolution/petition committing to a partial pay cut, and even if only a minority of my colleagues would join me, there are plenty of other places from which a University in the midst of a successful BILLION (with a "B") dollar capital campaign can find the $5 million (with an "M") it would take.

(See Michael's post at Discourse on this).

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Mar 7, 2006 11:59:00 PM

I am deeply heartened and grateful for Professor Vladeck's comments. One thing that has shocked and disturbed me as a current law student is the depth of many my classmates' self-involvement. Something about the law school environment, or some broader undercurrent in American society, or maybe just their personalities, has them convinced that anything that even minimally affects _their_ perception of what will maximize their success in law school is an outrage, and that he who has caused this should be drawn and quartered. This approach to their education, and to life, makes them painfully short-sighted, and disinterested in the larger community - that does include workers - of which they are a part. This is a shame, and constitutes much more of a loss for them than the slight they perceive to have been dealt.

Three cheers for those brave enough to stand up for the notion that we have a stake in each others' successes and failures. Three cheers for those who understand education goes beyond the textbook. And to those students who are so incredibly angry, a request: use that hour when the class moved by your "selfish" professor is meeting to go to the picket line, and talk to a worker who is marching on it. Ask them about their children's education. And then think some more about yours.

Posted by: Liza | Mar 8, 2006 12:03:08 AM

It sounds to me as if some of your students also wish you had the courage of the strikers. In their view--an entirely reasonable one, it seems to me--you should feel free to honor the strike, even to participate in it. What you shouldn't do, on their view, is enforce their participation in it, as a way of avoiding any consequence to you.

I'm wondering what classes are like at UM, if attendance isn't necessary and can be replaced by an audio/video recording.

And I wonder if the use of the "proverbial microphone" is consistent with the insistence that you're not forcing a political agenda on to your students.

I wonder who would think that the power relations in the classroom of a law school are such that a professor's speech could ever be construed as "dissent".

I don't see why the dissenting students' complaint should be understood as an insistence that only students matter (or should matter) to you. The disagreement, it seems to me, could come from a disagreement about the merits of the strike (if the strike isn't reasonable, then honoring it at the expense of your students isn't reasonable), from a disagreement about the harms inflicted by the alternate arrangements (even if honoring the strike in some circumstances might be appropriate, if it imposes significant burdens on students (or on some set of students), that might change the calculus), or from a simple prioritization of one constituency over another (if you owe more to your students than you do to your co-employees, then, in most circumstances where they conflict, you should honor your obligations to students over your obligations to co-employees).

Posted by: anon | Mar 8, 2006 12:06:57 AM

Anon -- I take your points, especially the last one. Would that I wish it were so, most of the comments today were prefaced with "I support the workers, but..." I do not think, and have no reason to believe, that there is widespread disapproval among our students with the substance of the strike, although I freely confess to relying only on anecdotal evidence. Instead, I take the substance of what those who are speaking the loudest are saying to be that we must prioritize them (the students) over the workers.

But here's the thing: I don't disagree with that. Prioritizing the students over the workers is why I hold class off campus, as opposed to not holding class.

As for your point about imposing political views, I do not think I am forcing my students to respect the strike and the metaphorical (and metaphysical) picket line. They are free to cross the picket line any other time, and find other ways of showing support for UNICCO and the University. But if they wish to attend my class, I will not make them cross the picket line. I still do not accept that that is "forcing my political views" on my students. It is, at most, _demonstrating_ my views in an expressive way, in much the same fashion as the small purple SEIU buttton I'm wearing.

And if my students still think I'm proselytizing, let them say so. They are free to, and indeed, I would hope they would feel comfortable telling me of their objections. What I have heard, to this point, is only the objections of those who are not in my class. I'm hard pressed to see how, from afar, they are in a position to tell me what I am and am not doing.

I've gone on too long, but I also want to address the notion that, by moving class off campus, I am "avoiding any consequence to [me]." I'm doing a pretty bad job of that, if so... I am happy to defend my decision, and to engage with those who would object (such as yourself, I gather). But the notion that what I've done so far is to avoid "any consequence to [me]" belies the very nature of the dialogue that I am trying very much to participate in.

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Mar 8, 2006 12:22:42 AM

"It is, at most, _demonstrating_ my views in an expressive way, in much the same fashion as the small purple SEIU buttton I'm wearing."

But they are not at all the same. It takes no special effort for anyone else to view your button (or lack of a button). But the "demonstration" of which you speak requires special effort by your students. They have to go out of their way, spend extra time. And it appears that you minimized that concern out of existence. It seems quite real to me.

Maybe your position is still "worth" it; but not without acknowledging that your "expression" is much more than mere expression. It imposes something on students.

Posted by: Ross Cheit | Mar 8, 2006 12:37:43 AM

Fair enough. But my point was not that having class off campus and wearing an SEIU button are the same thing. My point was that both are expressions of my support for the workers, but not by any means the forcing of my views upon my students. To the contrary, I try very hard _not_ to convince students of why I'm doing what I'm doing, but only to make sure they _understand_ why I'm doing what I'm doing. They remain absolutely free to disagree.

I absolutely and unequivocally accept, as I wrote in the post, that having class off campus is an inconvenience to the students, and, in your words, "imposes something on [them]." Respectfully, I just don't think that the "something" to which you refer is my politics.

But even if it is, that doesn't justify the venom and reckless disregard for civility with which some students have been criticizing those faculty, like me, who have made this agonizing decision.

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Mar 8, 2006 12:44:08 AM

Well, put it this way: if your politics were different, you wouldn't be imposing those costs on the students. So I think that your politics are obviously the reason for imposing these costs. I agree completely, though, that none of this justifies the venom. That's very sad.

Posted by: Ross Cheit | Mar 8, 2006 7:24:47 AM

I don't think that it necessary follows that if a professor's "politics were different, [he/she] wouldn't be imposing those costs on the students.” This sentiment actually underscores an interesting issue for the picket lines generally. At a minimum, holding class on campus would impose costs on student who felt obliged not to cross a picket line. There is an argument that maintaining the status quo (teaching and attending class without regard to the picket line) is somehow apolitical. But this seems to me to be a bit of a head-in-the-sand approach.

Much of this discussion and other earlier comments regarding the effect of holding off-campus classes seem to me a tacit argument of another issue: whether ANYONE's choice to cross a picket line should be seen as a show of support for management (or anti-worker). Clearly, many people feel it should not be seen in this manner. But the reality is that it is seen as anti-worker. Whether is should be is a different discussion. A valid and legitimate discussion, but a different discussion.

There are certainly legitimate reasons against viewing a picket line crossed by anyone as support of management because, as such, it makes any outcome “political” in some manner. That is, in part, why picket lines can be effective. Perhaps it would be more accurate of the politics of “crossing a picket line” to limit the political aspect to the actions of replacement workers or current workers who choose not to participate in the strikes. Regardless, though, that is not how it is, and thus the picket line has forced upon many unwilling participants a “political” decision. Choosing to hold classes as normal may be motivated largely by a feeling that political support for the workers simply does not trump other obligations. Nonetheless, while this may not be overt support of management, it is still political in that it indicates a hierarchy of values. Again, this can certainly be a valid and moral decision – it simply has some political implications.

Perhaps much of the vitriol comes from the fact that a picket line, when it must be crossed (or not), forces people to take sides. Some people apparently can’t take sides without being angry about it. It is unfortunate when people of differing views cannot have civil and respectful discussions about their differences without assigning a sense of immorality or underhandedness to those with opposing beliefs. Not everyone of differing views is an enemy. Often, we are all on the same team, but sometimes we see the world differently. I just don’t see why that is so often viewed by a vocal minority as such a bad thing.

Posted by: WaveLaw | Mar 8, 2006 9:03:47 AM

While I appreciate your obviously sincere concern as expressed in your posts, I'd be pretty irate if I were a student. The problem isn't inconvenience, in reality. The problem, in short, is that you're advantaging those who agree with your politics, or are willing to swallow their beliefs, over those who believe otherwise and feel themselves unable to attend your class. It's not good enough to say that you've taped all the classes, or are distributing notes. Unless you believe that being in a seminar environment adds no value, the promise that students avoiding the class will suffer no consequences is an empty one. Even worse, this is a prime example of the art of making others suffer for your beliefs. Clearly, continuing to teach, albeit off campus, allow you to extend your action longer than you might otherwise, because it lets you plausibly argue to your colleagues that your students aren't suffering. As others have said, the principled thing to do from my perspective was to have cancelled class, equalized the situation between those who agree with you and those who don't, and taken whatever consequences arose from refusing to teach. The solution you've chosen, obviously in good faith, leaves your dissenting students in a tough position.

Posted by: R | Mar 8, 2006 9:27:54 AM

Students are unbelievable in their capacity to complain. In order to attend Professor Vladeck's seminar, students merely need to walk or drive less than a mile from the campus to the building where he is holding class. UM is a commuter school anyhow! Parking is far more difficult on campus than off. Really -- why would a student be justified in being "irate" for having to attend class less than a mile from where it normally takes place? It just makes no sense to me. They are not being forced to drive to Orlando or even Fort Lauderdale.

The very miniscule "inconvenience" to students is so clearly outweighed in my mind by a professor's ability to show support for the workers and to accommodate students who would otherwise not attend class on campus due to the strike.

Posted by: Lindsay | Mar 8, 2006 9:45:05 AM

R -- The consequences of cancelling class, however, would have redounded to the students, on whose behalf we certify to the ABA that they've attended X # of classes for Y # of minutes. Punishing students by potentially undermining their ability to graduate is, for me, a bridge too far.

I continue to reject the idea that holding class off campus is "advantaging those who agree with [my]politics, or are willing to swallow their beliefs, over those who believe otherwise and feel themselves unable to attend your class." First, it's just as _inconvenient_ for those who won't cross the picket line to come to class off campus as it is for those who would. They may just mind it less. Second, as I've explained above, I just do not accept how attending an off campus class requires a dissenting student to _suppress_ their dissent.

And with all due respect, to say, as you do, that I'm making the students "suffer for [my] beliefs" is to marginalize the very real suffering motivating this strike in the first place. If this is what students think is "suffering," we haven't taught them very much, after all.

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Mar 8, 2006 10:03:00 AM

Let me briefly reiterate: I don't mind the fact of the dissent, or even the substance thereof. What I object to is the insinuation that (1) I don't care about my students; (2) I am depriving them of their education by holding class off campus; and (3) my only obligation as a member of the faculty of the University of Miami is to my students. To put it as simply as I can: It's not that we don't care about our students; it's that we don't just care about our students.

Very clearly said.

And

Well, put it this way: if your politics were different, you wouldn't be imposing those costs on the students. So I think that your politics are obviously the reason for imposing these costs. I agree completely, though, that none of this justifies the venom. That's very sad.

pretty much captures the rest of it.

I guess the real question is whether professors are humans or just social constructs.

Interesting series of discussions.

Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis) | Mar 8, 2006 10:04:49 AM

I'm a tenured professor at another law school and have no idea about the merits of this dispute, but I have to think that it would be pretty remarkable to inconvenience all of my students by arranging classes off campus just because I personally supported a particular cause and wanted to express that support. Surely a professor can express political views without incoveniencing the students we are here to serve: It seems unfair to make our issue their problem.

Imagine a professor scheduling classess off-campus to express his displeasure at the University's affirmative action policy, or its refusal to hire a particular professor. It would come off as incredibly arrogant -- message: "Students just aren't that important compared to my personal political agenda" -- and probably annoys students who see the issue differently. To the extent Professor Vladeck's message is "Yes, that's right: students really *aren't* that important, and they're gonna have to deal with it," a little anger from students bearing the brunt of the decision doesn't seem so surprising.

Posted by: lawprof | Mar 8, 2006 10:20:58 AM

Wait -- this is at the University of Miami?! I thought UM was Minnesota, where walking a mile each way to class in the winter might be seen as a nontrivial inconvenience. Miami? That's different! Now I'm starting to think that the virulent objections are not about inconvenience.

Oh, and I definitely like the idea that professors are supposedly role models. If we never take actions based on our beliefs, what message does *that* send to students? It also sends a political message--one that favors the status quo.

Posted by: Ross Cheit | Mar 8, 2006 10:21:22 AM

"they say in harlan county, there are not neutrals there..."

Steve, stick to your guns. As you've noted, there is simply no way to remain "neutral." Too bad, but that's often true in life: you just have to make the best choice you can. I think you've made the right one. And ppart of doing what is right is being willing to take flak for it. Good for you.

Posted by: lawprof | Mar 8, 2006 10:27:31 AM

First, it's just as _inconvenient_ for those who won't cross the picket line to come to class off campus as it is for those who would. They may just mind it less

I don't see how I could have been clearer in saying that convenience had nothing to do with my reaction. The thing could be 100 yards off campus and make no difference to me, at least. The point is that moving is a political statement, which I need not support.

Second, as I've explained above, I just do not accept how attending an off campus class requires a dissenting student to _suppress_ their dissent.

Well, you'll disagree, but to be entirely clear, it requires a dissenting student to suppress their dissent because showing up at class helps the people supporting the strike. Your position would be more difficult if you couldn't hold class off campus because, as you say, you'd be jeopardizing your students' chances at graduation. Showing up helps you, and unless you think your efforts are pointless, helps the strike.


And with all due respect, to say, as you do, that I'm making the students "suffer for [my] beliefs" is to marginalize the very real suffering motivating this strike in the first place. If this is what students think is "suffering," we haven't taught them very much, after all.

This is kind of a non sequitor, don't you think? I'm not equalizing the workers' suffering, whatever it turns out to be, and the students' suffering. Using a word that has the virtue of also being useful to describe what the workers are purportedly experiencing obviously doesn't mean that I view the two experiences as equally bad.

In any case, the causes of your students' anger aren't particularly mysterious. I'd think most people who didn't happen to agree with you would feel the same way, even if they sympathized with the strike, and I'm a little puzzled why you think they're being unreasonable.


Posted by: R | Mar 8, 2006 10:29:27 AM

Ross writes:

Oh, and I definitely like the idea that professors are supposedly role models. If we never take actions based on our beliefs, what message does *that* send to students? It also sends a political message--one that favors the status quo.

I suspect Ross only feels this way to the extent that "our beliefs" are more liberal than the status quo. Presumably he doesn't want professors to take actions to object to affirmative action or anything "political" like that. The status quo in academia is liberal -- should professors be fighting that liberal status quo, too?

Posted by: Sarah Adler | Mar 8, 2006 10:32:08 AM

Lawprof -- I take your point, but I hope I'm not saying that students "*aren't* that important." I'm trying to say that, as important as they are, there are other important responsibilities I have as a member of the community. Respectfully, I'm not sure I accept the analogy to affirmative action or professor hiring. The very act of holding class _on_ campus here would be to force a position upon my students that I am uncomfortable with. And, as my previous comments hopefully indicate, it's not that I'm not uncomfortable to the extent that holding class off campus might have the same effect on other students; it's that I think that discomfort pales in comparison to the other relevant considerations.

And Ross -- it's 75 here today. Although that might not make it less inconvenient, given Miami traffic... :-)

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Mar 8, 2006 10:32:27 AM

Forgive me for sounding too much like a law student here, but I think the key question is - what is the harm? As I see it, there are three potential harms to students from moving classes off campus: (1) process; (2) inconvenience; and (3) being forced to make some kind of statement. First, process concerns - if a professor acts with complete disregard to his/her students, students have reason to be upset. How to respond to a strike is a significant decision and should not be made lightly or without student input. Although I have no idea what every U of M law professor did, Prof. Vladeck indicated that he emailed all of his students to ask for their opinions and ultimately made a decision that took their concerns into account. He asked for input and made his reasoning transparent. Thus, the students (hopefully) could respect and understand his decision. Second, with respect to inconvenience, a professor has to make sure that any decision does not hamper the students' ability to learn. So, a professor shouldn't hold class a distance away or in a venue unsuitable size-wise or environment-wise for the class. By holding class close to campus, in a place with adequate parking, and in a venue large enough and comfortable enough for the class, Prof. Vladeck seems to have satisfied that criteria. Should the venue prove unsuitable to some or all students, Prof. Vladeck should try to make accommodations. Third, professors should not force their politics on their students. Prof. Vladeck would certainly be out of line in requiring his students to spend time on the picket line, wear buttons, or otherwise show support. But he'd also be forcing them to make a statement if he kept classes on campus and required those who supported the strike to choose between going to class (and crossing the picket lines) or skipping and maintaining their loyalty to the strikers. By holding class off campus, the only statement students make is that they want to learn - the same decision a student makes every day in deciding whether to go to class or sleep in or do something else. The action of not crossing the picket line is not a political statement. If students wish to protest the strike, they can do so without Prof. Vladeck's help by crossing the picket line, protesting the strike, complaining on this blog, etc.

Posted by: J | Mar 8, 2006 10:34:13 AM

Strikes suck. There is no question about it. They are specifically designed to inconvenience the people who would use the services of the party being picketed. In a society where the balance of power so favors the employer, the disruption of a strike is one of the few tools workers have to make their voices heard, their power felt. They literally draw a line, and force everyone around them to stand on one side or the other of it.

Because of the line-in-the-sand nature of strikes, there is no way to remain neutral in one, and all of the students who are faulting Professor Vladeck for not remaining neutral don't seem to understand that, or at least to be willing to admit it. They would seem to advance their side (presumably pro-crossing the picket line) as the neutral one simply because it pretends to maintain the status quo. But the status quo is, in fact, disrupted, and the decision to disrupt it is one that is entirely out of the hands of all faculty and students.

The fact is that holding classes on campus, holding them off campus, and not holding them at all are all decisions that have consequences and that state a political point of view - and that put students in a difficult position. I commend Vladeck for using this opportunity to foster dialogue and thought about workers’ rights instead of entrenching himself in a position that, given the explicitly disruptive nature of strikes, could never be utterly neutral, fair, and just.

Posted by: abi | Mar 8, 2006 10:35:53 AM

R -- I guess we're talking past each other. As I've said, I accept that, to some degree, holding class off campus is at least some kind of statement. Where I disagree is the extent to which holding class off campus is forcing my politics on my students. I don't know that anyone would understand a _student_ showing up for an off-campus class to be a particularly supportive move, as compared to a professor moving the class in the first place. I can't imagine it's not understood that students aren't necessarily doing what they would do if they had complete volition here.

As for your last point, I guess I just expect more out of my students than you would. I would hope that they'd understand and respect, even if they don't agree with, my decision, particularly where, as here, I've gone to such lengths to involve them in the decisionmaking process and to share my thoughts with them at every turn. I have done nothing but try to be as transparent as possible, and in return have been accused (not by _my_ students, mind you), of showing callous disregard for the students about whom I've spent so much time stressing. And these same students are wholly oblivious to the plight of those whom they encounter on a daily basis as fellow members of their community. I guess _that's_ what I find so surprising, for better or worse.

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Mar 8, 2006 10:37:57 AM

We are talking past each other, but I thought I'd try to explain to you why someone could feel put out and angry as a result of your decision, because it seems clear that the students at the forum hadn't articulated their position in a way you felt was reasonable. The above is the best I can do, I guess, without writing something more extensive. To be clear, I don't think you're being evil. But in your students' place, I wouldn't have been happy with the solution you chose. I'll be interested to read how this eventually resolves, if you will post it.


Posted by: R | Mar 8, 2006 10:44:01 AM

Sarah,

I wonder why you are so willing to put words in my mouth. I actually support the idea that professors are models in the abstract, not for particular causes. The last time that I testified at the legislature in my state, for your information, it was for causes my liberal studetns would certainly label conservative. Time to check your own biases and assumptions, Sarah.

Posted by: Ross Cheit | Mar 8, 2006 10:47:08 AM

R -- Thanks, and I will... And it's not the objections I find unreasonable; it's their tenor and tone, which I took as somewhat unfair and disrespectful. But I'm very concerned about the extent to which I'm understanding the other side here, and to the extent anyone thinks I'm bringing this upon myself, well, I need to hear that, too.

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Mar 8, 2006 10:48:47 AM

Steve, I have no dog in this hunt, but I was rather struck by the opening of your post, which discussed a "very interesting" panel organized by UM students, which preceded the town hall meeting, that discussed the substantive issues behind the strike and that "pointedly" excluded representatives of the university administration. Were opponents of the strike represented on the panel? Is it possible, I ask sincerely, that the degree of heat behind the strike opponents' remarks at the town hall was motivated in part by the (apparent -- I wasn't there, of course, and am just going by your description) prior exclusion of that point of view on the panel; or that the heated views of the students were only surprising because they had hitherto been obscured? To the extent the discussion of the strike has taken place largely in exclusive deliberative enclaves, isn't it likely that each side is going to polarize in the nature and intensity of their views? Best, Paul

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Mar 8, 2006 11:06:56 AM

The University was invited to the panel and declined to attend, furnishing a written statement instead.

There were opponents of the strike represented on the panel.

There has been no effort to silence or exclude the voices of those who oppose the strike.

Posted by: Lindsay | Mar 8, 2006 11:14:37 AM

Steve:

You're doing the right thing in the right way. I and many of my colleagues were faced with a very real threat of a strike at our school earlier this year, and we resolved to do exactly what you did. Substantively, I think that the post by J pretty much nailed all the arguments why you've done the right thing. I would only add this has obviously become a teaching opportunity (or "teachable moment" as some used to call it), especially for a labor law prof.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 8, 2006 11:33:21 AM

Steve writes:

I guess I just expect more out of my students than you would. I would hope that they'd understand and respect, even if they don't agree with, my decision, particularly where, as here, I've gone to such lengths to involve them in the decisionmaking process and to share my thoughts with them at every turn. I have done nothing but try to be as transparent as possible, and in return have been accused (not by _my_ students, mind you), of showing callous disregard for the students about whom I've spent so much time stressing. And these same students are wholly oblivious to the plight of those whom they encounter on a daily basis as fellow members of their community.

Steve, I have the sense that you're making two assumptions that are quite questionable, and that suggest a bit of denial at work here. First, you assume that "going to such lengths to involve students in the decisionmaking process" somehow validates your personal decision. You have to take responsibility for your decision: It's your decision, not their decision.

Second, you also assume that the strikers are right, and students are "bad" if they don't agree ("Bad" in the sense of oblivious to the plight of others, which presumably is meant to be a bad thing). That's just you being political: You have personal political views, and you're letting your personal politics run the show. You might be so confident that your political views are correct that you don't mind elevating them to the status of objective reality, and not just opinion. But you have to realize what's happening: You're being a political actor making political choices, and people who disagree with your politics are going to find that quite objectionable. (Of course, you will be a hero to those who happen to share your political views -- that's how political decisions tend to work.)

Posted by: lawprof | Mar 8, 2006 11:38:37 AM

I appreciate Lindsay's clarification, and would note that Steve also clarified the passage in an email to me.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Mar 8, 2006 11:50:34 AM

"I can't imagine it's not understood that students aren't necessarily doing what they would do if they had complete volition here."

Wouldn't that apply equally to those students who would like you to move the class?

Posted by: anon | Mar 8, 2006 1:13:04 PM

Lawprof -- I absolutely respect the right of anyone affiliated with this whole mess (or not, for that matter), to disagree with the substance of the strike, and to argue for why the workers shouldn't (a) organize, and/or (b) be paid a living wage. That I would vehemently disagree with such an argument doesn't alter my willingness to entertain it.

But that's not how things are being phrased on campus. The students whose vitriol motivated this post in the first place are not opposed to the substance of the strike, but only to how I (and those other colleagues who have moved class off campus) have decided to respond. And I respect that, too. What I don't respect is the assumption, by these students, that I am motivated by base politics and my own agenda. Sure, my political agenda is not completely severable here, but that's just not the same thing.

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Mar 8, 2006 1:51:01 PM

Steve,

I appreciate your response. My suggestion is that if you step back a bit, you might conclude that this assumption by your student critics is more justified than you presently think. Just a thought.

Posted by: lawprof | Mar 8, 2006 2:01:00 PM

If I were in your class, I would show up for class every day in the appointed place at the appointed time and stare at the wall for an hour. My sympathy for management is every bit as strong as your sympathy for the workers.

I think the only question here is which has greater expressive value: continuing to hold class on campus and crossing the picket line or moving class elsewhere. It seems obvious to me that it's the latter.

Posted by: FXKLM | Mar 8, 2006 2:22:34 PM

First, to cross or not cross a picket line has equal expressive value. As was discussed in the previous thread, to cross aids the employer, to not cross aids the striking workers, and the sum of these decisions often dictate the success or failure of a strike.

Second, pro-management students should consider Prof. Vladeck's second point above. His approach really is a compromise. The traditional response by union-sympathetic workers at a struck employer is BOTH (i) not crossing the picket line, AND (ii) not performing any work for the employer. Prof. Vladeck is still performing his work for the employer (and providing service to students in what seems to be a very accessible manner). Calls for sanctions against professors who choose this compromise seems no more than extremist rhetoric.

Finally, I want to pick up on Prof. Vladeck's fifth point. Students, faculty, and workers are part of a community, and it's worth reminding folks of that. If students have studied the facts and the positions of both management and the union and have come out supporting management, that's fine (although isn't it true that a precipitating incident of the strike was a contractor firing/discriminating against union workers in violation of the NLRA?). But to the extent folks haven't thought this through, or thought through how and why customers, co-workers, members of a community, etc. behave certain ways during strikes, again, this is a good teaching opportunity.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 8, 2006 2:48:14 PM

I've faced the same dilemma teaching at law school, and never tried to rationalize the issue as not imposing my choice upon students, or as having my cake, eating it too, and giving the students a win-win.

Either way, whether I hold the class as scheduled, or hold it elsehwere, I necessarily forced my choice on the students. So I had to decide what duty took priority. As a teacher, I felt my duty to students took top priority. We held the class as scheduled for those students who wanted to cross the picket line, and then held the class again in a way that didn't cross the line, so that those students didn't have to cross the picket.

Steve, I appreciate your efforts to be fair, but your will be forcing others to pay costs for your choice. Rather than try to explain that away, you should embrace that fact and either justify it or not. Also, you shouldn't be subject to venom, but rather only to criticism by some students.

Posted by: been there | Mar 8, 2006 3:01:22 PM

Joe Slater writes:

Calls for sanctions against professors who choose this compromise seems no more than extremist rhetoric.

Professor Slater, isn't this argument just empty rhetoric? You're trying to bring sympathy to Vladeck's position by casting it as a compromise, and then trying to position critics as unreasonable people who reject compromises. I don't think it works. Of course, I suppose every position in life is a compromise: I only drove 80 mph in a 50mph zone to work today because I was compromising between the speed limit and my car's maximum speed. But I think we should be able to take responsibility for positions rather than pass them off as beyond sanction because they are less extreme than they could be.

Posted by: Sarah Adler | Mar 8, 2006 3:12:45 PM

Steve V. wrote: I think that the statement that it's "[me] and the students who allow the workers to work" demonstrates a lack of respect for the workers themselves, who do the kind of work that neither I, nor I imagine you, would ever want to do in our worst nightmares. How is it, in your view, that we "allow the workers to work"? Because we could afford _not_ to have janitorial staff?

A few weeks ago, we had a plumber fixing things in our house. When he finished, he said, “Thank you for giving me work. I appreciate your business.”

Unwashed masses often show spectacular economic sophistication.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Mar 8, 2006 3:13:20 PM

"Been there":

While I agree that either crossing or not crossing is a political/moral choice, what, exactly, are the "costs" that are being imposed on students here? Having to go to a different location, less than a mile away? Those "costs" seem negligible. Making a student that supports management somehow appear to not support management? One would have the analogous problem with pro-union students if going to class required crossing a picket line. Again, the "strong" union position would be "don't teach." If that were true here, then we would be talking about some real or potential "costs." But that's not true here.

I know a number of law profs. at a number of schools who have rescheduled classes for reasons ranging from illness to religious reasons to wanting to attend certain conferences or other professional opportunities. Does such rescheduling impose "costs" on students that deserve criticism?

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 8, 2006 3:14:51 PM

Sarah Adler:

Do you really think that moving a class off campus to a reasonably convenient alternative location deserves the serious professional sanctions that Prof. Vladeck described, such as docked pay, taking away sabbaticals, or forced resignation? If so, I would be interested in why you think so. Because I do indeed think that's extremist rhetoric. And my reasoning for that is indeed in part because Prof. Vladeck's position is a compromise: he is still teaching classes; he's just moving the venue a bit. Law profs. often reschedule classes for various reasons. Should such profs. be forced to resign or be denied significant benefits? Finally, I don't think your "I could be driving 80 mph" hypo is analogous. Co-workers routinely honor the picket lines of striking workers (and do no work), and in a number of cases have a legally enforceable right to do so.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 8, 2006 3:21:17 PM

Joseph:

You identify the key point when you say "One would have the analogous problem with pro-union students if going to class required crossing a picket line."

There is no win-win-win here for the pro-union prof, the pro-management students, and the pro-union students. All three cannot prevail, as your own comment proves. But you can pick two of three, publicly defend your choice, and then not pretend that it's winners all around.

I chose "prof loses." If another prof picks "pro-union students lose," or "pro-management students lose," then the prof shouldn't pretend that she/he didn't pick who the loser. Belly up to the bar and defend the choice.

Posted by: been there | Mar 8, 2006 3:31:08 PM

Maybe I'm just dense, but I don't get this whole "crossing the picket line" business. (Of course, I come from a right-to-work state and am pretty young, so forgive the ignorance). To me, you are making a statement crossing the line if you are helping the management break the strike (to use some pro-union language; I'm trying to be agnostic on the merits here). For example, going in a store and buying a product despite cashiers picketing outside would be crossing the picket line. So too would be going in as a replacement worker. But simply going in and using a room doesn't strike me as "crossing the line" in any but the most literal sense.

Now, if you hired Merry Maids to come in and clean your office, then yeah, I would say that action is making a statement. But merely going in and having class, the way I see it, neither helps nor hurts the workers (if anything, it seems like it hurts their cause, since it decreases the need for their services for the time). Maybe I'm just totally wrong about these things and don't get the symbolism, or whatever, but I really don't see still having class in the building as making a statement against the union (which you seem to imply).

Sorry if you've covered this elsewhere, or if your greater experience with unions and workers' law makes this seem obvious to you, but if having class in the building doesn't hurt the workers, why should they care if you "cross" or not?

Posted by: Chris | Mar 8, 2006 3:43:27 PM

Been there:

We do agree on that point. But I don't think Steve V. or I or anybody defending Steve V.'s position has said, "winners all around." And I think Steve V. in this thread, and more importantly, in his discussions with his students, has bellied up to the bar, as you say.

And I still say that for students, the "costs" of moving the location of a class 3/4 of a mile or so are not great. Again, such "costs" are less than the costs law profs. not infrequently impose on students by rescheduling classes to different dates and times. So I'm not sure how much the pro-management students have really lost.

Indeed, one could argue that it's a bigger "loss" for a pro-union student to be forced to cross a picket line to attend a class than it is for a pro-management student to not have an opportunity to cross a picket line during the time that class meets. The pro-union student wants to avoid crossing the line entirely; the pro-management student who wants to cross the line to make a statement will have other opportunities.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 8, 2006 3:43:42 PM

Been there:

Forgive the multiple postings (well, that horse may have left the barn, but ...) Re-reading your post, I'm not sure what you mean when you say: "I chose 'prof loses.'" Isn't the point on which we agree that some students would have some (arguably minimal) loss either way? What's the "prof. loses" option, and whatever it is, doesn't it require some students to lose too?

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 8, 2006 3:52:34 PM

Wow. Is Kate Litvak for real?

Kate -- Ann Coulter called. She wants her personality back.

Posted by: Lindsay | Mar 8, 2006 4:00:21 PM

Joseph,

I appreciate your thoughtful comments and patient responses.

First, I found Steve's explanation to be one where he explains to the losers that they didn't really lose after all, or barely lost, or lost something that doesn't really count.

If, OTOH, Steve really does communicate to the losing students, "I've decided that you get the short end and here is why ..." then we're probably not disagreeing. But I doubt it.

I'm not hearing anyone say to the losing faction "you tell me you find it inconvenient but I've decided you are wrong about that or have decided to discount your views because ...." And more importantly, I am not hearing anyone say to the losing faction, "you say you don't want to honor a picket line but I have decided to discount that view to zero because ...." I am guessing that there aren't a lot of attractive to finish that sentence, but there are some candid ways to do it.

As for my solution, there was a solid, unified block of students who said they wanted to undertake inconvenience as a show of support to the union, and a group that said they didn't. For the latter, I held the class as scheduled. For the former, I let them pick the time and place to hold a duplicate class.

Posted by: been there | Mar 8, 2006 4:15:35 PM

Been There:

Thanks for the explanation. As to your first point, about what Steve and his students said to each other, Steve is obviously the person to ask. It's still my opinion that the "losing" students in Steve's scenario really aren't losing much, for the reasons I've already listed. But I'm all for a full, open discussion of that between the prof. and the students on that point.

Second, I owe you an apology because you already had described what your "prof. loses" scenario was in an earlier thread, and I failed to put 2 and 2 together. I wouldn't criticize you for doing it that way, but I still wouldn't criticize Steve for doing it the way he's done it. And again, if that situation ever happens to me -- and it came very, very close to happening here a month or so ago -- I would make the choice Steve made. And I would try to belly up to the bar, as you suggest.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 8, 2006 4:23:16 PM

Joseph,

Thanks. Please indulge me here. When you tell the losing students "you say you don't want to honor a picket line but I have decided to discount that view to zero because ..." how will you finish the sentence?

"Because I'm the boss and my politics govern"?

"Because, leaving my views aside, opposition to unions objectively weighs less than support of unions"?

"Because you're not really opposed to unions, you're just saying that"?

"Because if you were more enlightened you'd hold the opposite view"?

Something else?

The reality is that there isn't any way to finish that sentence without deeply offending some reasonable students. I believe that a failure to grasp that reality is why Steve and others can't understand the persistent negative reactions to his choice, and why the rationalizations are so long, convoluted, and unsatisfying. So, just belly up to the bar with a short and sweet explanation!

Posted by: been there | Mar 8, 2006 4:41:49 PM

Been There:

What I would say would depend on what my students would say, who was striking, and why they were striking. But on the likely assumption that I wouldn't cross the picket line, I would say some combination of what I've already said. I don't think it's much of a burden to pro-management students to meet at an alternative site. Again, it's less of a burden than the not-infrequent practice of law profs. rescheduling classes on different times and dates. Nor is it depriving them of their ability to cross picket lines at other times, multiple other times, any time other than the time my class is meeting. On the other hand, I don't want to cross a picket line, and neither do (presumably) a significant number of students in my class. And so, I'm making the choice to teach off-campus.

I really find it hard to credit the notion that even students who strongly support management or dislike the union are burdened in any significant way, assuming I can find -- and I would -- a reasonably close, alternative site. Again, they can cross the picket line and sing pro-management songs to their heart's content any other time apart from when my class is meeting.

Frankly, I think the stronger critique of my position is the "so if you're so pro union, why don't you just cancel classes and put more pressure on the employer"?

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 8, 2006 4:53:38 PM

Been there:

P.S. I really need to stop multiple posting, but .... Of course I would try to explain to my students why I felt it was an important value for me and others not to cross picket lines. I would try to do that, however, in a way that made it clear that I wouldn't retaliate against them for feeling differently.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 8, 2006 4:58:16 PM

Joseph Slater writes:

Do you really think that moving a class off campus to a reasonably convenient alternative location deserves the serious professional sanctions that Prof. Vladeck described, such as docked pay, taking away sabbaticals, or forced resignation? If so, I would be interested in why you think so. Because I do indeed think that's extremist rhetoric.

I think it entirely depends on the circumstances, and I would need to know more details to say with any certainty.

Posted by: Sarah Adler | Mar 8, 2006 4:58:29 PM

One more comment for Professor Slater: I also think it's unfortunate to invoke the "extremist rhetoric" line because it shuts down dialogue. The students are powerless, and are trying to come up with a way that they can influence the environment run by the powerful professors. The powerful shouldn't dismiss the powerless by simply calling their arguments "extremist."

Posted by: Sarah Adler | Mar 8, 2006 5:04:17 PM

Joseph,

Thanks. But, with respect, you didn't offer any explanation of why your political values trump their political values. You're still ducking the question. That's not "bellying up to the bar." That's the equivocating that causes the strong negative reactions.

I suspect that the reason you are reluctant to answer the question directly is because every answer will be very unattractive to say aloud. IMHO, the only coherent answer is "because I'm the prof and I have the power to choose my values over yours." Coherent, but not attractive.

Posted by: been there | Mar 8, 2006 5:08:24 PM

Joseph,

eek, now I've done it too. I see you did in fact give a much longer answer of what you'd say. I'd boil down that long answer to "I've weighed your concerns and I've decided yours weigh less than mine."

But, and this is the last time I'll repeat myself (sorry!), I find the longer answers to be dodging the real answers -- and so do the students who are so upset.

Posted by: been there | Mar 8, 2006 5:17:50 PM

Wow -- I go to one meeting, and have like 22 new comments to think about.

Two quick thoughts:

First, Michael's weighed in over at Discourse, and I think his latest thoughts, worth reading in their own right, only further highlight some of the points I made in the initial post about we, the professors, and how we feel about our students and our community.

Second, and just to clarify what I already thought was clear, I had both an electronic and an in-class discussion amongst my students concerning the strike. In the initial electronic conversation, I explained what I viewed as the dilemma I was faced with (which is largely reflected in my first strike post). Once I decided to hold class off campus anyway, we spent the first 15-20 minutes of the first off-campus class discussing the strike, my response thereto, and my students' feelings.

As for what message I sent, and what message was received, I basically told my students that I didn't think I had a choice that would not redound negatively to _somebody_, and that I chose what, from my perspective, would have the least "harm." Of course, that decision is based on my own personal understanding of harm, and my students may well have assessed the situation differently. My point, though, is not to tell those students who don't support the strike that "they've lost, and here's why"; my point is to tell them that they're free to express their lack of support for the strike, but will have to do so either by attending class off-campus, and sharing their views with me and the class, or not attending class, either of which is their right.

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Mar 8, 2006 5:56:01 PM

I'm joining the party a little late, but I'm surprised to see Prof. Vladeck make the following statements:

For the record, I am one of his students and told him that I didn't care where class was (and I still don't). However, I feel the need to respond to these points as I think they are not accurate.

"First, it's just as _inconvenient_ for those who won't cross the picket line to come to class off campus as it is for those who would. They may just mind it less."

This is not correct. The students who choose to support the strike by not going to campus make an affirmative choice to bear the costs associated with that decision. This is a classic opportunity cost. The students who do not support the strike, however, have to make a choice: they either take the inferior alternative of missing class or they are forced to pay the costs of having class off campus. This cost paid by students not supporting the strike is not an opportunity cost, it is a tax because they were not given an effective choice whereas the students who do support the strike were given a choice (they had to weigh their beliefs against the costs). So you are correct, it is no less incovenient from a physical actions standpoint for either student, however this dodges the real issue that it shifts the costs to the students who do not support the strike and is therefore, arguably, more inconvenient for the student who does not support the strike.

"Second, as I've explained above, I just do not accept how attending an off campus class requires a dissenting student to _suppress_ their dissent."

I feel this is wrong as well. You've shifted the viewpoint to one of this: crossing the picket line once is bad for supporters but not crossing the picket line once is not bad for non-supporters. I do not think this is accurate, what about hte student who is so anti-strike that they feel the need to wear a UNICCO button and be on campus every time they are supposed to be for class in order to protest? This student does have to suppress their dissent to attend your class.

And for the comment about Minnesota and Miami...being from Minnesota I'd much rather crawl a mile through a blizard in a pair of boxers than drive a mile in Miami...I think my chances of survival are about equal either way...

Posted by: Barsk | Mar 9, 2006 10:52:41 AM

Sarah Adler:

I'm all for polite discourse, and I agree that profs. should be sensitive to the "powerful vs. powerless" dynamic vis-a-vis students. But substantively, I still feel that calling for a professor's resignation or other truly significant sanction for moving a class to a convenient alternative site is ... well ... if "extremist rhetoric" is too harsh, how about "greatly disproportionate response" or "unjustified"?

Also -- and this applies to Been There too -- I'm suprised that nobody has addressed my point about professors cancelling and rescheduling class meetings for other reasons. I've rescheduled a class, for example, because I didn't want to teach on Yom Kippur. I have colleagues and I know folks at other schools who have rescheduled classes in order to attend conferences. Finding new times and dates is a bigger inconvenience for students than moving a class a few blocks. Is my rescheduling a class originally slated to meet on Yom Kippur me forcing my religious preferences on students such that I should be sanctioned? Is Professor Q's rescheduling a class so that she can attend a big Federalist Society conference her forcing her political preferences on students such that she should be sanctioned?

Been There:

I appreciate the dialogue because it's allowed me to clarify my thinking on the matter. Here's what I would tell my students. First, there is a long tradition among those sympathetic to workers and labor unions of not crossing picket lines, and this is a core moral value for such folks. I would explain in detail why I -- and others -- feel that way. For the sake of relative brevity, I won't recount all those arguments here, but they would certainly include the sorts of things Steve V. says he told his students, including his point about living in a community and valuing the work and lives of others. As a labor law professor, I would consider this a teaching moment.

But OK, even after I've said my piece, let's assume not everyone is going to agree with me. I would stress that I understand that, and that nobody would be penalized in terms of grades for taking an opposing position. So what are my options? As you say, somebody is going to be burdened in some way no matter what I do. Here's why I think the balance of options favors the solution Steve came up with: moving the class to a convenient alternative spot.

Option 1. The burden involved in having the class in a place that requires students to cross a picket line is that both I and a certain group of students would be violating a deeply held moral/political/economic belief, namely that one does not cross picket lines period, or at least that one does not cross picket lines when one supports a particular strike.

Option 2. The burden involved in holding a class at a convenient alternative spot is that students ... have to walk/drive a few extra blocks and/or that those students can't FOR THE 90 MINUTES MY CLASS MEETS, show support to management by crossing a picket line. This seems like a pretty light burden, again one that is often exceeded by professors who reschedule classes for any of a host of reasons.

Option 2. The burden involved in your solution, teaching two meetings of the same class, one off campus and one on campus, involves a burden to me. But I believe the burden to me in teaching the same class twice plus the burden of crossing a picket line when it violates my deeply held beliefs to do so is greater than the burden of students walking a few extra blocks and not crossing a picket line for 90 minutes. Also, to the extent my decision not to teach on campus sends a message to the employer that things won't be "as normal" during a strike, at the margins, me teaching on campus aids the position of the employer and undercuts the position of the union.

At the end of the day, I believe I have the right to decide that Option 2 involves the least total amount of burden, just as I have the right to decide that the burden to me (and some students) of teaching on Yom Kippur is greater than the burden (to a majority of my students) of rescheduling class meetings that fell on that day. These are not decisions done lightly or on a whim, and I would make that clear.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 9, 2006 11:03:24 AM

Argh, the second "option 2" should be "option 3" ....

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 9, 2006 11:06:32 AM

As a student I have an alternate position that I would like to comment on. Should I decide not to cross the picket line because of a certain belief OR should I decide not to attend off-campus classes because I do not want to support your statement doesn't matter. I feel if I do not attend class, I am at a disadvantage compared to the other students academically. There is such pressure to do better than your classmates that it comes down to a battle on whether to honor your convictions or to ignore them and attend class to get better grades. I know the classes are taped but, personally, I don't think I learn as much via videotape as when I am in class and can interact with the professor. This quandry occurs no matter which "side" of the strike you are on.

Posted by: student | Mar 9, 2006 11:10:35 AM

"Student" -- I think your quandary is only a quandary if you believe, as, I take it, "Barsk" does, that to attend an off-campus class is to support the fact that I am holding class off campus. I'm not sure I accept that, for reasons I've explained in some of the earlier comments...

But I also want to respond to "Barsk." First, thanks for writing. Second, you, yourself, agree that the difference isn't convenience; its opportunity cost. It simply isn't less inconvenient for those who support having class off campus; it's an inconvenience that they are likely to _mind_ less. Given how things have been framed by the most outspoken critics of me and my colleagues, I think this is a distinction worth a difference.

Second, as your post (and your e-mail) makes abundantly clear, I am not suppressing dissent. As to your point about the pro-UNICCO student who can't spend the two hours during class on campus, subverting the picket line, and otherwise lauding the virtues of a $6.40/hr wage, I guess you're right, and I concede the point. But I have yet to encounter such a student, and would gladly excuse that student from class.

What bothers me, what continues to bother me, and what no one has yet satisfactorily responded to, from my perspective, is the notion that the students who are the most upset, who are the angriest, and who are complaining the loudest actually _support_ the substance of the strike. It's not that they'd rather spend those two hours counter-picketing; it's that they'd rather the strike not be their problem, and they object to the extent that we, their professors, have forced them to confront it. And _that's_ what I find so upsetting.

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Mar 9, 2006 11:26:28 AM

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