By Bryan O'Keefe
Inside Higher Ed has a good story today about a possible strike looming in the California State system. For the most part, the dispute seems to center around normal labor relations issues – pay raises, benefits, etc. What the story doesn’t address however is the broader point of why some colleges and universities are unionized in the first place. Any time that some of us who are pressing for higher education reform couch things in economic terms, we are told that universities are different; they aren’t like regular businesses, etc. But it seems that some faculty members have no problem using the old industrial model of labor/management when it suits their fancy.
Beyond that, it seems to me that there should be some sort of no-strike clause in these contracts, much like we have for other public service employees. Yes, being a professor at a state college is not the same thing as being a police officer. But students are paying a lot of money in tuition to attend the ivory tower. I don’t think it’s possible to have “replacement professors” on hand to teach classes, meaning that if the faculty really does walk out, academic life at Cal State will pretty much come to a halt. For students who are looking to graduate on time or move on with their life’s work, this could pose huge problems. When we are asking students to foot the bills, they deserve to at least have professor show up for work, even if they are disgruntled about their pay or benefits.
There will be a lot more on this in the weeks and months to come. Stay tuned.