Friday, September 7, 2007

Paula Rabinowitz, a BigU Faculty Member

Who Walks the Talk

We have a strike here at BigU. Mr. B. does not want to go into the details of who is right and who is wrong. That is not the point. One of Mr. B.'s colleagues is mentioned in a Strib article from which some material is quoted below. Faculty members like Paula Rabinowitz make Mr. B. proud to be at BigU.

University of Minnesota English Prof. Paula Rabinowitz stood in a Baptist church sanctuary just off campus Thursday afternoon, knowing school administrators wouldn't be happy as about 200 students filed in and plunked themselves down on piano benches and pews stacked with hymnals.

But in a show of support for striking union workers Rabinowitz, chairwoman of the English Department, defied university administrators and moved her class to the church across the street from the school's boundary. She is among several instructors who challenged a direct order to keep classes on campus or face disciplinary action.

"My work is to talk to students," she told the class. "Where it happens is not an issue."

In a letter to faculty members, teaching assistants and teaching staff dated Aug. 29, Provost E. Thomas Sullivan made it clear that classes should not be moved off campus.

"Every faculty member, graduate assistant and employee who is scheduled to teach, is expected to hold their classes, and to hold them on campus as originally scheduled," he wrote. "University employees who refuse to report to work as directed are considered under state law to be engaged in an illegal sympathy strike and are subject to discipline."

Rabinowitz said talk of discipline for relocating classes was "contradictory" to the university's intellectual mission.

Sullivan's directive to stay on campus is similar to instructions that teaching staff received during the 2003 strike, Sundin said. But the 2003 instructions did not invoke the Public Employment Labor Relations Act, which gives the university a legal basis to discipline, she said. The act requires university employees to report to work in the event of a strike by another union, Sullivan wrote in his letter.

"This year it's a less-veiled threat," Sundin [an AFSCME member] said.

"I didn't really mind because I respect what my teacher is trying to do," Erickson [a student] said as she left Rabinowitz's class. "[Strikers have] raised a lot of awareness. I respect them for it."

Said Rabinowitz: "The university has always said the university is not its buildings. It's amazing the amount of work you can do without a building."

Mr. B. is disappointed, but not surprised, at BigU's ham-handed handling of the strike and the predictable reaction of some of the faculty members who feel bound to act in accord with their conscience and principles. What is a university after all?

No comments: