Monday, November 24, 2014

A legal strike? How unfair!

Perhaps you have to feel a little sorry for the administrators at the University of Oregon. For at least a generation, it's generally been a good career move to show trustees that you can bust faculty and student chops at will; Miles Brand parlayed his pre-Shock Doctrine wet work as president of UO in the early 1990s into getting hired for more money than God by Indiana University to kneecap the previously untouchable Bobby Knight. And, not surprisingly, he went from there to being Executive Director of the NCAA.

And yet, the UO faculty finally unionized a couple of years ago after decades of watching as their employee rights and powers of self-governance got trampled.

And now – is there really no limit? – from Corey Robin at Crooked Timber comes word that U of O grad students are on the edge of going out on strike. Just in time to throw all the end-of-term grading into a cocked hat. That means that, for every grad teaching assistant with grading responsibilities (and unless things have changed drastically since I was in the business, that's most of them), there are somewhere between, say, 20 and a couple hundred students who may or may not get their final grades on time. That's what we call a force multiplier

The issue at stake is unpaid leave for illness or childbirth. The city of Eugene guarantees it for all city employees, but the employees at UO have no such arrangement. The grad students opened and reopened negotiations with a university whose bargaining position fell just shy of running to the dictionary to refresh their memory of the term "bad faith" before each go-round.

Pity the administrators. Where do the rabble think they are? Don't they understand that the University of Oregon is a multi-platform entertainment provider operating as a nonprofit corporation that, for historical reasons, is also empowered by the state to award college credits?

As Erik Loomis at LGM points out, the administration is handling this in just about the most ham-fisted manner imaginable, featuring a leaked memo to deans and department heads outlining strategy in the event of a strike. Spoilers: It includes discussion of bringing in scab workers, plus heavy reliance upon Scantron final exams and indefinitely-delayed grade reporting. Again, I haven't been in the biz for a good while, but I do wonder somewhat if the UO admin feels embarrassment, as Loomis predicts. I would predict it's more like mystification.

To their everlasting credit, a dozen UO department heads and program directors have signed an open letter promising that, while it's not their preferred outcome, they will resign rather than implement any strikebreaking activities the university might be contemplating.

Unless something surprising happens during the holiday week, the strike begins on December 2.

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