To All Faculty, Students, and Staff:Well, this could be a set up for some complex interactions Monday. As many who read this blog know, I am incredibly disturbed by the pepper spray incident. I am also very upset about the budget cuts and the challenges facing students on campus. I am committed to working to fix the things that are broken at UC Davis and to also help students in as many ways as possible deal with tuition and fee increases.
Some of you may have heard or read that there will be a general strike on Monday, November 28, 2011. Please note that the campus is open for business as usual and students should plan to attend courses as scheduled unless they hear otherwise directly from their instructor. This expectation applies equally to all Faculty, Lecturers, Teaching Assistants, and Associates.
Please have a safe and restful holiday break.
James E.K. Hildreth, PhD, MD
College of Biological Sciences
University of California, Davis
I note, I have been attending the rallies and the protests on campus in the last few days. I have made food donations to the OccupyUCDavis group and I plan to donate time, equipment and more food as well. I am very supportive of their right to protest and in some of the complaints they have raised. And I believe that it would be helpful if all faculty and staff on campus support the protests in some way as we need a show of force/solidarity in response to the pepper spray incident.
However, that does not mean I would walkout on teaching class. I am not teaching that day, but a colleague is. And I personally am planning on being there. I do not think faculty should walkout and not teach Monday as this does not seem fair to students who want to go to class. I would be fully supportive of faculty protesting, walking out on administrative activities, and doing other forms of protest. But if I was scheduled to be teaching, most likely I would hold my class. I am open to being convinced otherwise but faculty walking out to "support" students and the challenges in access to education seems wrong. I would love to hear people's opinions on this issue ...
Note - in 2009 there was also a proposed walkout at UC Davis. The situation then was different - there was no horrendous pepper spraying incident, for example. But the underlying issues were similar - fee increases, budget cuts, students suffering, etc. So I thought it might be relevant to repost some postings from then.
- Blog post of mine: Why I do not endorse the UC Faculty Walkout ---
- Davis Vanguard Blog post about an Editorial I cowrote on the walkout Nude Protestors Demonstrate That the Emperor Has No Clothes
Sacramento Bee, The (CA) 2009-09-23 EDITORIALS METRO FINAL A19
Jonathan Eisen and Winder McConnell
Special to The Bee
UC Davis professors 'walkout' debate: Teaching is more than just about being paid
There's a cacophony of voices of late on the University of California, Davis, campus and in the media related to the state and UC administration's handling of recent educational budget cuts. Spurred on in particular by complaints about the UC administration's decision to furlough faculty but to not permit furloughs to occur on "instructional days," many faculty have signed on for a "walkout" scheduled Thursday.
While the proposed walkout has now expanded to include student groups, unions and others protesting a variety of issues, all this chatter has spurred the two of us to think about a couple of very basic questions that drove us to do what we do today:
Where would we be today as professors without students? And, just as important, where would those students be without us?
As each of our colleagues makes his or her personal decision as to whether to walk out Thursday, we'd like to make a case for why it's wrong for faculty to cut class.
Simply put, we see it as a moral, pragmatic and political misstep for faculty to abandon their classrooms and their students.
The two of us couldn't be more different: Jonathan is a scientist, a professor of evolution and ecology, and medical microbiology and immunology, who has been at UC Davis for 3 1/2 years after spending eight years at a private research institute. Winder is a humanist, a professor of German who has been at UC Davis for 31 years and who served as a department chair under nine deans. And yet, it's hard for either of us to imagine being more passionate about anything other than the classroom experience.
Yes, we have many time-consuming responsibilities as faculty members, including research and public service. But UC Davis has more than 31,000 students -- more than 24,000 of them undergraduates -- and we have a commitment to them, first and foremost, as educators. Our commitment to teaching is not simply because we're getting paid to work. It goes much deeper than that.
In a typical academic quarter, we have 10 weeks -- and only 10 weeks -- to interact with students in ways that could change the course of their lives and careers. In that regard, the classroom is sacrosanct. Our time there is not something that's up for negotiation. Whether to be there is not negotiable.
And so it's painful to us that much of the basis for the proposed walkout is literally that many faculty wanted to "spread the pain" to students to make a political point about the effects of furloughs on education. This is an unacceptable use of students as pawns in this high-stakes game, especially those students and their families who are already shouldering a heavy financial burden that is soon likely to get much heavier.
Indeed, what kind of message does faculty members cutting classes send out to those students and their families who work hard to afford a world-class UC education? Do we really want to add more fuel to the fire of higher education naysayers who would question, "What are they teaching out there?" and, "How many classes does a professor teach, anyway?"
We accept that the entire UC system could do a better job of communicating to Sacramento's policymakers about the "pain" and "consequences" of budget cuts, and that teaching less would be a way to show that the cuts have a real impact on education. But abandoning the classroom is the wrong way to go. It would be a horrible political move right now. California's budget could still go down next year and there could be more cuts. If UC works to build political capital in the coming year, then perhaps we will avoid some cuts next time around. But if we slash instructional time as a way to spread the pain, it will come back to bite us.
Then there is the practical or pragmatic argument. Jonathan is teaching an introductory biology course in the fall to about 700 students. The class has four lectures a week for each of two sections and coordinated labs running in parallel taught by teaching assistants. How would we redesign this class, and hundreds of others, to accommodate furlough days? We could hand out lecture notes, pile on the reading and simply tell the students, "Well, we are not going to teach as much as normal, but you are still expected to learn as much. You'll just have to do it on your own."
We know we're not alone. The independent, dues-paying Davis Faculty Association recently asked its 166 members whether the association should support the walkout. Of those who cast ballots, 65.7 percent voted "No." None of us wants these miserable budget conditions and furloughs. We all want to work together next year to impress upon policymakers in Sacramento that deeper education cuts and higher student fees are not the pathways to training California's next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs. They lead to dead ends.
So, would faculty members cutting classes help the cause? Is it something we could justify to the students themselves? The answer is "No."
Jonathan Eisen is a professor of evolution and ecology, and medical microbiology and immunology, at UC Davis.
Winder McConnell is a professor of German at UC Davis and director of its Teaching Resources Center.