Facing picket lines, some profs venture off campus



Political Science professor Douglas Rae had just finished explaining the role of labor in New Haven’s history to a packed SSS 114 Thursday morning when the chants and airhorn rings from the picket line overwhelmed his lecture.

“Let’s stop and talk about it,” he said to the class, stepping to the side of his lectern. “Any of you got the answer to this?”

Whether they planned it or not, many professors and students found their shopping periods affected because of the strike by Yale’s two largest unions, locals 34 and 35. In order to honor the unions’ picket lines, 157 professors –many in the Law School –held classes off campus. For students, that meant finding classes in new locations –Naples Pizza, York Square Cinema, City Hall. Meanwhile, in classes like Rae’s “New Haven and the American City,” held on campus, the noise from striking workers marching and chanting outside punctuated the introductory lectures, and talk of the current strike added to the day’s planned curriculum.

Stephen Pitti, director of undergraduate studies in American Studies, said he had not heard of any students having trouble finding their classes, adding that he thought most professors were not moving their classes until the second week of school.

Pitti moved his office hours to Koffee Too?, saying he is trying to honor the picket lines while still upholding his academic duties. He said the only problem in Koffee Too? was keeping track of which student was next in line.

“No one complained,” Pitti said. “I don’t think it changed the conversations I had with students.”

In addition, Pitti moved his “History of Latinos in the United States” course to La Casa cultural house, which he said is a good location because students know where it is and he had held classes there even when there was not a strike. But he said moving class would be more difficult if he were teaching a lecture course.

Pitti said finding off-campus spaces for classes has not been difficult for professors because of the help unions have offered. However, finding sites equipped with technology like some Yale classrooms has been harder, he said.

“I think the challenge is accommodating audio visual needs,” Pitti said.

History professor John Merriman held the first installment of his class, “France, 1789-1871,” at the Whitney Humanities Center, as planned. But Merriman said he will not cross picket lines and plans to continue holding his class at York Square Cinema until the strike is over.

“That allows everybody to go, not just the people who don’t care about the strike or who are against it,” Merriman said. “I’ve never had anyone complain.”

Blake Marks Landro ’05, who shopped Merriman’s class, said he is happy with the change for practical reasons.

“While we were there, there was a lot of protesting going on, so we had to open the windows and close them back up again,” Marks Landro said. “I’m happy that we’re moving to York Square because it’s a lot closer than the Whitney Humanities Center.”

The 230 students shopping philosophy professor Shelly Kagan’s “Introduction to Ethics” gathered in Battel Chapel, which is considered a neutral space because it is managed by the University Chaplain’s office. Kagan started the class late to allow students who went to SSS 114 to arrive.

Kagan said he knew the space was not ideal because it has no desks for students to take notes on and the echo makes it difficult to hear. But he said he was prepared to keep the class in Battel for the duration of the strike.

“I’m loathe to cross picket lines,” Kagan said. “I trust labor over management.”

Michael Dunham ’06, who shopped Kagan’s course, said he was surprised by the number of students in the class, despite the location change. But he added that the changes do present some difficulties for students.

“I’m kind of annoyed that classes are moved off campus,” Dunham said.

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