Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Digital Scabs

No, not those scabs! I'm talking about picket-line-crossing. And this entire post won't be a rant about policies and unions, although it starts off sounding like it. Please read on - there's digital pedagogy relevance down there somewhere:

If you haven't heard, the union of faculty in the California State University system (the California Faculty Association, CFA) has approved strike action for five days in mid-April if the CSU administration doesn't return to the bargaining table to negotiate between their offer of a 2% salary increase and the CFA request of a 5% increase.

According to some reports, this would be a historic (in the USA) strike, partly because the CSU system is the largest university system in the country.

I'm not going to announce here which side of the argument I come down on. However, I will say that, as a DISCOVERe (tablet instruction) faculty fellow at CSU Fresno, I will certainly admit that my first thought, when I heard about the impending strike, was: would a strike impact digital instruction?

My primary concern about the strike is that both sides of the disagreement seem to have made similar statements about the potential effect of a strike on students. In various media outlets, reports have stated that the CSU administration has indicated that a strike should have no effect on student graduation or timely degree progress (I'll note that they were quoted as using the word "should" and not "would"…) Likewise, CFA representatives apparently have made the same claim - leaving me wondering what incentive a strike has to motivate CSU administration if student success isn't placed in the crosshairs? This approach doesn't make sense to me. But, never mind that…

A number of my colleagues, in opinions expressed over years past, have consistently stated that they feel taken advantage of, because administrators know that we put as much time and effort into our passion: teaching and mentoring students, because we love what we do. Part of our reimbursement, in some way, is the good feeling we get by the job we do. That's worth something to us, but it is hard to put a dollar sign on. And, that may be why a strike could be necessary - to remind administrators that we won't always be pushovers when it comes to increased course loads/enrollments without increases in compensation.

However, I'm dangling in the balance. On one hand, I understand (intellectually) the important of solidarity in union affairs. I'm particularly sensitive to this as an untenured faculty member. I suspect I'd be more likely to consider crossing a picket line if I had tenure and was relatively more immune to what fellow faculty members would think of me afterwards.

All of this leads back to the same point: how might a strike impact digital instruction? I'd love to hear some of your comments, especially from any of you who might have been through this before. Would I be a "digital scab" if I established, in advance of the dates of planned strike action, all of the reading assignments, exercises, pre-recorded lectures to watch, exams, etc.? Sure, I might not do any active faculty work (reading/responding to e-mails, committee work, class prep, grading, teaching, etc.) during the strike, but am I weakening the faculty cause if I use the digital pedagogy tools my institution has helped me develop to help students continue learning on their own in my potential absence? So far this term, I've done my best to set my students up to succeed as self-learners. Maybe a faculty strike is in their best interests? A not-so-gentle nudge into the deep end of the pool. Maybe the students don't really need me at this point. Maybe this is how we'll find out…

What's a professor to do?

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