Profs might honor pickets

by Jake Weyer

If workers strike at the University, some faculty members would consider moving classes off campus.

Four unions are currently discussing final offers from the University and preparing to take strike votes over proposed wage freezes, health-care cost increases and benefit reductions. At least one union’s negotiating committee is recommending its members reject the University’s offer and strike.

If a strike does occur, union members plan to form picket lines around University buildings. University officials hope students, faculty and nonstriking staff will cross picket lines and continue business as usual, but some professors have other plans.

Jack Zipes, a University German, Scandinavian and Dutch professor, said he would consider honoring a union picket line in the event of a strike.

“I’m basically always in support of unions,” he said.

Zipes said he would have to look very carefully at the issues before making the decision of whether to hold class on campus.

In a letter to all nonbargaining University employees, University officials said, “Employees have a responsibility during a strike to cross the picket line.”

The letter told employees to avoid confrontation with pickets and not engage in arguments, debates or shouting, “even if subjected to verbal harassment.”

If resistance is encountered while attempting to cross a picket line, staff and faculty are to leave the area and report any violence or criminal acts to police.

Carol Carrier, vice president in the University’s Office of Human Resources, said there is no specific policy that deals with professors honoring a picket line or holding classes off campus, but it is suggested they don’t.

“We’re going to ask that all classes are held where they’re scheduled to be held,” she said.

“The professors take a big risk not showing up to work,” Hamline University law professor Joseph Daly said. “As long as they teach their class, they could probably teach at a coffee shop, Northrop, anywhere where there is not a picket line as long as that doesn’t violate University policy.”

Carrier said if professors held classes outside their regularly scheduled classrooms, students could be inconvenienced, and liability issues might be raised about holding class in an unauthorized space. Other issues might also arise, she said, but holding class off campus is not necessarily against any rule.

“It would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis,” Carrier said.

Bjorn Bakker, a pre-veterinary sophomore, said he does not know much about University union issues, but if his professors thought it was best to have class off campus, he would attend, as long as the location was not too far away.

“As long as it’s within reasonable walking distance,” he said. “The whole point to a campus is it’s located in an area you can get to with ease.”

Maria Damon, a University English professor, said she often holds classes off campus. If a strike were to occur, she said, she would consider honoring a picket line, depending on the union’s issues.

Harvey Sarles, a University cultural studies professor, said he would initially conduct class on campus if a strike occurred because some of his classes are related to democracy and “who gets what” in America.

Sarles said he would discuss with his students what is in the union’s contract, what it means, how the University operates and other topics related to the strike. After a discussion, Sarles said, he would let his students decide whether to honor the picket line.

If a strike was ongoing, Sarles said, he doesn’t know what he would do, but he would try to take advantage of it while it was in progress. He is not, however, hoping for a strike.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” he said.

– Jessica Weaver contributed to this report.