SWA a necessary presence on campus
I read with interest the letter to the editor of Student Life, Sept. 9, 2006, by Jake Greenblatt. I read with interest the article on Student Union policy concerning demonstrations, by Ben Sales, in the same issue. Both refer to the Student Worker Alliance (SWA) rather critically. This criticism is mild and appropriate. Apparently some students, faculty and administrators are concerned about what the SWA might do next.
However, some expressions of this concern cross the line of acceptable behavior: for example, threats of violence to the SWA if they try anything this year. A threat to the SWA, or to anyone else for that matter, is a threat to us all. We do not have to agree with them or to like their tactics of civil disobedience, but we must be civil and nonviolent.
Now may be the right time to clarify my relationship with this group, because I am publicly linked to them. I support their broad goals but not necessarily everything they have ever done, or might possibly do. When I was asked to speak at the SWA sit-in in Spring 2005, I asked if I could come as a worker, not a faculty supporter. I had read the SWA fliers posted in dormitories in Autumn 2003 and was intrigued by their concern about the exploitation of lecturers and adjunct faculty. When I was in graduate student government at the University of Pennsylvania I addressed these issues, and now that I am employed here, I have my own issues (see “Students Protest Removal of Lecturer’s Job,” Sept. 27, 2006, and “Lecture Positions Valuable to Students,” Sept. 29, 2006). I was proud to be a participant-observer at the SWA sit-in. Just as I support the troops but not the war, I supported the hunger strikers but not the hunger strike, which I felt was an unwise escalation and detrimental to the health of students. I offered to take the place of a hunger striker for a day (although the sit-in ended just before my number came up). I know I have the respect of the SWA members, and they have mine. They took great personal risks for a cause, and I am proud to have shared in that risk, alongside other teaching faculty.
Now that the SWA has been granted a place on University labor relations committees, I appeal to the SWA as a worker, on my own behalf and on behalf of other lecturers. I hope that we can all turn our attention this year to hiring and employment issues in the college, and education and administrative reform in general. I believe we need a union, or some such independent institution, for our protection, but I would not want to be part of a union that would not let me work as hard as I wish for my students’ sake. I doubt if any other teaching faculty would want this either. Let’s all discuss these issues in the months ahead. University administrators, please ask yourselves if your jobs are really necessary. Wouldn’t you rather be teaching, instead of interfering with teachers? Isn’t that why you went into academia? It is never too late to change, as individuals and as an institution, and get back on the right track. We can make better use of our human resources.
The SWA has no official faculty advisor, but here is some gratuitous faculty advice: keep your promises, even if the same University officials do not always keep theirs. A promise is sacred. Gandhi teaches us this, if we don’t already know it instinctively. Please remember the University’s own motto, adopted as the SWA motto: “per veritatem vis,” Latin meaning strength through truth. I understand that the SWA promised not to occupy any more buildings uninvited. Let’s keep this promise.
That having been said, I know for a fact that many students who toured our beautiful campus during the sit-in were very surprised to learn that our students are not all apathetic careerists who only care about themselves. This influenced their decision to come here. Perhaps Washington University should have a sit-in every year, for the sake of its public image.
Jerome Bauer is a lecturer in the department of Religious Studies. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]
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