The strike and campus closure by faculty at Rock Valley College last week emphasizes the incongruous nature of faculty unions. A contract is a binding agreement between two people or organizations that, when signed, is enforceable by law according to Charles Fried, former U.S. Solicitor General, and contracts professor at Harvard Law. The closer the two people are to each other, the more deeply penetrating the contract is. This is, of course, the nature of marriage and the millennia-old commitment of one person to another for the rest of their natural lives. It’s a personal promise.
When contracts between people become abstract as they have at Rock Valley College they become impersonal. “Law-like” instruments create liberties that would never otherwise be assumed, such as withholding educational opportunity. No legislator, no member of the public, no faculty member, no parent, and no student can believe this action is correct individually. It only becomes tolerable when it is a faceless collective protected by statute and anonymity, not educational intentions.
Faculty members engage students on a one-at-a time basis. Even effective online teaching requires direct interaction — through emails, Skype, FaceTime, or Adobe Connect. The document that defines this relationship beyond any applicable law, any organizational cannon, any university regulations, or any collective bargaining agreement is the course syllabus. It is an interpersonal contract for learning between faculty member and student. It defines the nature of the class, the basis for assessment, and every other aspect of the teaching/learning environment. It is closer to a “determinate marriage vow” of a fixed length prenuptial agreement than a labor contract at GM (UAW), Peabody Energy Corporation (UMW), or NUCOR (USW).
Whether or not the teachers at Rock Valley College are in line with the collective bargaining agreement, a contract with the institution, they are committing a violation of their class syllabus, a contract with the student, when they walk out on strike. The syllabus is a contract, and unless it identifies the possibility that classes will be suspended because of a strike, that contract is being violated.
Intellectual independence is appropriately demanded and expected by faculty through tenure. That same intellectual independence carries with it the responsibility — especially in the rarified relationship between faculty and student pronounced by Polonius in Hamlet, “This above all: to thine own self be true.”
During a November 2011 faculty strike on my campus I filled in for a number of people who exercised their state legislatively protected right to strike. However, they broke a contractual obligation, moral and legal, with individual students. I sent an email to all students encouraging their attendance as I would be filling in for the striking faculty. An analysis of what each student paid for the class was given: It is paraphrased in part below.
This four-credit hour class, ARC 251 costs $1,938 in tuition and fee expenses according to the university catalog, if you pay in-state tuition and fees. The class has 9 contact hours per week (it is a studio/laboratory setting) for 15 weeks for a total of 135 contact hours during the semester for which you have paid $1,938 or $14.35 for each hour of contact. If you missed one class this week — it meets Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons — that amounts to $43.05 per class day, or $129.15 for the week, and you are walking, or running as the case may be, away from the best pair of Nike’s money can buy.
But, there’s more.
If you live in a dormitory and eat campus food, you are spending $4,120.00 dollars for 15 weeks for that provision. If you prorate that per contact hour, assuming you are in class or studio for a total of about 20 contact hours per week, or 300 contact hours for the semester, that means when you give one up, you are tossing $13.73 out the window, or for the class day, $41.20.
The cost of a single 3-hour meeting of ARC 251 at Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 2011 — in real dollars not monopoly money – is $84.25. Since there are 3 classes per week, the total cost for one week of this one class is $252.75 for each student.
There were 15 students in this class. All students deprived of educational opportunity total collectively to $3,791.25. This is a crime. And it is organized according to the Illinois Labor Relations Board, and the Illinois Federation of Teachers.