Profs support strike, move class

by Mike Rose

Nicholas Hengen, a graduate instructor at the University, held his freshman writing class outside Lind Hall on Thursday.

Although it was a nice day, Hengen wasn’t outside simply to enjoy the weather.

“I support the strikers, and they’ve asked us to honor the picket lines,” he said.

Hengen is not alone. Other instructors and professors have held classes either outside or off-campus to support the striking American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.

Tuesday, the first of two scheduled “teach-ins” was held at the Oak Street Cinema. This off-campus event brought in union members and various professors and educators to discuss the current strike and general labor issues.

History professor Anna Clark has been a driving force in setting up the teach-ins. Clark said the events are no different from class field trips.

“The strike is a learning opportunity,” she said. “Just as in any class, we respond to what’s happening.”

However, the University warned faculty days before the strike started about teaching off-campus.

University Provost E. Thomas Sullivan sent an Aug. 29 e-mail to faculty, teaching assistants and teaching staff.

In the e-mail, Sullivan said instructors are expected to hold classes on campus as regularly scheduled.

“We must remain committed to the integrity of the educational process,” Sullivan said. “Fulfilling teaching obligations is fundamental to our mission.”

Sullivan also said holding class off campus creates logistical problems for students. Instructors holding class off-campus would be participating in a sympathy strike, a violation of the Public Employment Labor Relations Act, he said.

University spokesman Dan Wolter shared Sullivan’s sentiment.

“We have an obligation to our students (to be on campus),” he said.

Wolter said teachers holding off-campus classes are in violation of University policy and state law, and could potentially face contract termination.

Despite the University’s warnings, Clark remained undeterred.

“They’re making a lot of threatening noises, but we have academic freedom,” she said.

Others have sided with Clark and said the events provide practical learning opportunities for students.

Julie Wilson, a graduate instructor in communication studies, said her media production class went to Tuesday’s teach-in to simulate television coverage of an event. She also said she was in support of the workers.

“It’s a good opportunity to get (students) practical skills,” she said. “I’m happy (the strike and the assignment) overlapped.”

Professor Mary Vavrus, who also works in the communication studies department, said the strike ties in well with course curriculum, and teach-ins don’t raise ethical concerns.

“People have field trips all the time,” she said. “This is a good way to learn the other side. There’s been a lot of PR from the University.”

Al Tims, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, forwarded Sullivan’s e-mail to his faculty. In his e-mail, Tims also addressed Jay Weiner, a University instructor who wished to hold his class outside Murphy Hall but still remain on campus property.

“Your obligation is to hold your class as scheduled somewhere on campus,” Tims said. “If you want to enjoy the lovely morning on the lawn, then you may do so, so long as it doesn’t disrupt your ability to conduct the class.”

While not participating in the teach-in, sociology professor Liz Boyle moved her class to a new location.

Boyle moved her freshman seminar to Mapps Coffee and Tea on Tuesday. The coffee shop is located about a quarter-mile from the class’ normal meeting place, the Carlson School of Management.

Boyle said she will continue to hold class at the new location at the request of her students, who she said brought the idea to her.

An anonymous vote was held, with 13 of her 16 students voting for the move, Boyle said.

“In this case, I really felt I’d be doing a disservice to students if I held class on campus,” she said.

Boyle and others in the department sent a letter to University President Bob Bruininks, which criticized the administration’s inability to settle and urged them to approve of off-campus classes.

Student reaction to the shuffling of classes has varied.

Journalism senior Nick Nelson said he didn’t like the idea of classes being held outside of the classroom.

Even though he said he sympathized with the striking workers, Nelson said he felt the University faculty is wasting top-rate facilities.

“We’re paying a lot for these facilities,” he said. “I feel it’s a little unfair to (students).”

Environmental science first year Jessica Curry went to the teach-in with her women’s health and history class Tuesday.

“It was a good learning experience, because I didn’t know much about the University,” she said. “(A teach-in) helps broaden your horizon.”

Ashley Salazar, an elementary education junior, went on her own.

Salazar, who works at Wilson Library, said she skipped work to go to the teach-in and show support for co-workers who were on strike.

“I think (the teach-in) is legitimate,” she said. “It would be great if more classes could be off campus to prove that the University really needs (the striking workers).”