About 1/3 of our secretaries, technical workers, and some others have gone on-strike at the University of Minnesota – seeking higher, more reasonable wages. The administration continues to resist…
I’m a (tenured) Professor of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature. Given that the secretaries are my co-workers, friends, supports, I (and a number of others – professors and graduate instructors – this all began on the first day of classes this year) have decided to teach our classes nearby, but off-campus. My location is a couple of blocks from the original University classroom site: University Baptist Church in Minneapolis.
This course is “Issues in Cultural Pluralism” and has over 40 students, mostly juniors and seniors; almost all of whom seem pleased to be off-campus (a few dropped the course, for whatever reasons). The church room is quite informal, and helps us to engage in the kind of active dialogues which enrich my teaching style.
With a few comments about the strike – especially noting that the strikers are mostly women – an aspect of the primary questions of Cultural Pluralism: who are we, who “makes” it in America, who doesn’t do so well; history, why, when did women become “citizens?” – answer 1920, with the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, we have been actively discussing the course subjects.
The course is “framed” by an argument between Aristotle in his “Politics” and Thomas Jefferson in the “Declaration of Independence.” Aristotle claimed that “some men are destined by nature to be kings, and others to be slaves.” – the historical justification for monarchy. Jefferson stated that “all men are created equal” – democracy, not monarchy, for the first time in history. I remind the students that America is framed in slavery – the 13 to 15th Amendments “ended” it the first time; then “Separate-but-Equal” in 1896 until 1954 and Brown vs. the Board of Education, and now the huge numbers of African-American (mostly young males) incarcerated by drug “possession” – What and why? – we ask.
So: ideas from history, who gets/deserves what and why, monarchy vs. democracy…to the Constitution: “We the people…” and its evolution to include most everyone until the complications of today. But Amerindian people, African-Americans, Latinos…some others still are excluded, profiled, etc. We are in a “money-bubble,” a new “Gilded Age.” How to see the present, to locate ourselves, to work toward continuing democracy in a most changing world. Immigration and its history; eugenics, Hitler, many of the ideas were developed right here!
The movement of classes off-campus has been resisted – scolded, even – with the claim that we are not doing our proper jobs. I respond that the U. of Minnesota has been a “Land-Grant” University, and ask if we are abandoning that idea and moving toward whatever buys prestige and big bucks, credentials more than critical thought and ideas. I hope that students in this course learn much, especially toward critical thought of how and where we are…and where they will take us in their futures.
I quote the lovely phase embossed high up on the central meeting ground of campus: Northrup Auditorium – and wonder why it is not included in our current “strategic plan” for the University:
University of Minnesota
Founded in the Faith that We are Ennobled by Understanding
Dedicated to the Advancement of Learning and the Search for Truth
Devoted to the Instruction of Youth and the Welfare of the State