Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why I do not endorse the UC Faculty Walkout ---

Today I have an Editorial in the Sacramento Bee, co-written with UC Davis Prof. of German Winder McConnell, regarding the proposed UC Faculty Walkout for Thursday 9/24/09 .

In the Editorial (My View: UC Davis strike: Teaching is more than just about being paid) we discuss why we do not support the idea of stopping teaching.

Some quotes:
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.
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.

The Editorial does not capture all my feelings about the walkout but does capture some of them. I would like to add a few things here that relate to what led me to want to write more about this issue

One thing that really bugs me about some aspects of the proposed walkout is the suggestion that there is some sort of conspiracy by the UC Administration to do harm to UC -- For example, consider this from web site from the pro walkout group:
Under the cover of the summer months, UC administration has pushed through a program of tuition hikes, enrollment cuts, layoffs, furloughs, and increased class sizes that harms students and jeopardizes the livelihoods of the most vulnerable university employees. These decisions fundamentally compromise the mission of the University of California. They are complicit with the privatization of public education, and they have been made in a manner that flouts the principle of shared governance at the core of the UC faculty's capacity to guide the future of the University in accordance with its mission.
The lines like "Under the cover of the summer months" and "sent at the opening of a late summer weekend, with unimpeachably cowardly timing" (from other material) are both non-helpful and unsatisfactory. The throwing of such accusations is really too bad, since there are some valid complaints to be made. If you skip over the conspiracy accusations, which I have a hard time doing, I think the main complaints by faculty can be divided into two categories: 1) The budget and furlough decisions are not wise or fair and 2) The process of making the decisions was not inclusive enough.

Some aspects of these complaints are sensible. But do they rise to the level of calling for a walkout? I confess, though I sympathize with many of the faculty concerns, I just do not see the justification for a walkout at this point.

For example, in regard to the #1 complaint above (the budget/furlough decisions being unwise and unfair), it is hard for me to imagine ANY decisions that would make people happy. Somehow, either people have to get laid off or their salaries slashed. And somehow fees have to get raised. Or possibly, just possibly, money could be scrounged from various sources such as cutting new building, digging into reserves, etc. But that to me just says "lets pass on the pain to future times." From my perspective, the UC administration has been put in a horrible position. They get unpredictable, sudden, very large cuts in support the state government. And they are forced to balance the books somehow.

In regard to complaint #2 (that the process of making the decisions has not been inclusive enough) I can see why some faculty are not pleased with some of the decision making process. First UC solicited input about furloughs vs. pay cuts, then they announced that they would use furloughs as requested. Many faculty wanted this because they thought furloughs should happen on instructional days. But then UC did an end run around this by announcing that furloughs could not be taken on instructional days. This was no doubt a roundabout way to get to a policy and it was not handled very smoothly.

But in the end, as we discussed in the editorial, I think the decision to not allow furloughs to happen on instructional days was the right decision (See my previous blog about this here). One reason I support this decision is that I do not agree that we should spread the pain of furloughs to students as some have suggested. The logic here is that for Sacramento to understand the effects of the budget cuts they must see that education is truly affected and what better way to show this than to cut instruction? I agree this could work this way, but think much more likely this would backfire politically and the faculty would look spiteful.

I am not saying there are not things to complain about here. There are many. But I think the real complaints should be directed towards the State Government. The lack of support from the California government for UC and CSU and education in general is sad and mystifying given how important UC/CSU and public education is to the state. If the pro-walkout groups emphasized this in their language I might have supported the walkout. But with the way it is now, with suggestions of conspiracies in the UC administration and with nebulous complaints about budgets, it just does not make sense for faculty to walkout of classes. Mind you, I think the unions and students have some valid complaints of their own and I am not saying I object to their strikes/walkouts. I am just saying that the faculty walkout right now does not seem right.


  1. Thanks very much for your very balanced and illuminating comments. As UC faculty I feel that some action at this point, no matter how imperfect, is better than none.

  2. Yes, I can see your point. Action will get some attention no matter how imperfect. But (1) we can have action without scheduling a walkout of class. And (2) I think this action will lead to more negative attention than positive regarding the faculty part of the UC equation.

  3. But who are you arguing with? I'm not even sure what group is behind the walkout website. I do agree that walkouts on campus are a bit silly; educating university affiliates on the social costs of the budget is the least effective way of altering the mindset in Sacramento.

  4. Yes, I have also wondered who I am arguing with too. But the walkout site is the hub of information about the faculty side of the walkout for many. And what is there is consistent with what I have seen in emails and in discussions.

    So I do think it is important to point out that I do not believe there is a consipiracy by the administration to do things in the dark of night (note - we did not mention this in the editorial - it is just in my blog ...)

    For the Editorial, our main goal was not to attack the walkout per se but to express our opinion that we think faculty walking out of class is a bad idea for a few reasons.

    As I said in my blog, I am sympathetic to the student complaints here. And to some of the union complaints. But I believe it is a mistake to walk out on class to try and get some points across ...

  5. I certainly appreciate the commitment to teaching and the sympathy for students and their parents financial predicament. However, the State of California has been using public education, one of the pillars of a decent civilization, as a discretionary income source for quite a few years now culminating in this year's debacle. So, donating our time in hopes that next year will be better is probably unwise. The legislature will just assume there's more money to be had from discretionary source and then take even more. This has to stop! We are already seeing irreparable damage to the university (premier faculty are now leaving for other universities and taking their resources with them) and we cannot let this continue. I believe that students and parents need to push back on the legislature, not allow them to continually ask the university to do more for less. So, a symbolic strike on the first day of classes is the least harmful (to the students) means of getting our point across.


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