Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My classes this semester are awesome! I am looking forward to a semester filled with bright lights. I have 33, 30, 26 and 24 students in my classes, and 6 in the independent study (classroom observers for my consulting project).

I tried some experimental things this first week. I didn't hand out paper syllabi on the first day. Instead, I emailed them a copy the day before class, with a few links to short articles. I made a powerpoint of the important bullet points in the syllabus. I handed out pieces of drawing paper and pencils. I had them brainstorm what they hoped to learn in the class, draw their impressions, write what the drawings were about, then asked for brave souls to share their drawings and their words.

I followed that in toleration with the same ice breaker activity that I have done for the past few semesters (writing 10 things about oneself on a piece of paper; taping to shirt; I time five two minute exchanges where the students have to circulate and discuss the 10 things). That class went pretty much as expected, but in foundations, the articles were about the recent study on limited learning taking place in college. (Also this and this.) We discussed whether that is true, and whether there are flaws in the study. It went great, the students seem very engaged and interactive. I'm extremely pleased!

On Friday, I received an email from my union, UUP, with the following attachment. The attachment was not directed at me personally, it was more FYI in nature. I had not, and still have not received the original email from S.O.S. (Save Our SUNY) proposing the walk-out.

I have been provided a copy of an email (with the subject heading of: “Draft of Open Letter to the Faculty about Walk‐Out”) and an attachment that was sent to you. Although that message was not addressed to me, I want to share with you my concern that the actions proposed are likely to be construed as violating New York’s Taylor Law. Therefore, I ask that you cease and desist from engaging in this type of activity.

A public employee violates the Taylor Law prohibition against strikes by “engaging in” a strike or “condoning, instigating or causing” a strike against a public employer. Additionally, a public employee may not “authorize, approve, condone or consent” to a strike under Civil Service Law §210. A “strike” can be “any concerted stoppage of work or slowdown by public employees.”

UUP‐represented members involved in planning, instigating and causing the concerted action proposed in the January 19, 2011 Save Our SUNY (S.O.S.) notice; that is, encouraging students to walk out of their classes and have faculty instead “teach in,” may be construed as condoning, instigating or causing a strike. Penalties resulting from a strike‐finding can include disciplinary penalties under Article 19 of our collective bargaining agreement and the loss of two day’s pay for every day or part thereof that the member is found to have struck.

The Taylor Law also prohibits the bargaining agent from condoning, instigating or causing a strike. Hence, I must formally state that UUP cannot support these proposed actions and urges its members to refrain from participating in them.
I fully understand the concerns that have been raised by the actions of administrators at UAlbany, brought about by decreased funding over the past several years. UUP has raised similar concerns through many venues. And, more importantly, UUP will continue to press and advocate for appropriate funds to support the operating budget of SUNY. I invite you to join us in our organized activities to bring such concerns to the attention of our governmental officials as well as the public. UUP has organized a number of Outreach Activities at which you would be most welcome. Please feel free to contact me [deleted contact information].

Then yesterday, I noticed this poster taped to the (newly painted!) wall in the hallway near my office (I also saw it in many other places around campus). It doesn't mention S.O.S., instead the sponsor is listed as the Student Crisis Committee.

No mention of faculty on the poster. I would not have interpreted "teach-in" as code to professors. Is it? If so, is that a relic from the '60s, and that's why I didn't get it? If I didn't get it will other instructors (some are younger than I am) get it?

If it was being held where most of the (pretty minimal) activism takes place on campus (it isn't), I would walk by the protest on my way to class. Maybe I could get a picture, if the crowd was interesting. But I would not have participated, even if the union had not copied me on the cease and desist letter. It isn't in my nature. I would never withhold my contracted services. I expect students to attend class, and in fact, attendance counts for ten percent of the final grade. So I would not encourage them to walk out, and I would not excuse them from class. Class time is precious.

Luckily my class is at 1:15, hopefully the walk-out / teach-in will be over by then. Although I don't think the students in my afternoon class are the type to attend something like this. No one has asked, anyway. In fact, it has not come up at all in class. I suspect it is too early in the semester for students to risk blowing off class, especially when I just let in several on overflow. My classes are much in demand.

Would I have participated when I was a student? Yes, if I was free at noon. I would have been very motivated and excited, maybe even would have made signs or worn a button. I'd have listened to the speakers and shouted the slogans. I would not have missed class to participate, however.

I am wondering what they hope to accomplish in Campus Center 375, though. I am not sure how big that room is, or even exactly where it is. I know it is cold outside and often it is snowing, but they are mostly hearty young folks of 18-22 years. Wouldn't they get more attention if they were on the podium, in front of Campus Center?

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