The impending strike by Yale’s unions and graduate students has led to much talk of holding classes off campus. Students and faculty members have argued that they will not cross picket lines in order to attend class, and thus courses should instead take place at the homes of teaching assistants and faculty members. The decision to move classes is curiously ironic. For while it denies students access to the campus buildings, it does little to harm the administration.
No one denies that the Yale campus plays an important role in learning. Our Gothic structures evoke a sense of the medieval tradition of education. They add solemnity to our studies and a sense of isolation from the world at large. However, once we get beyond the empty statuaries and vaulted ceilings, seminar rooms merely consist of a table and a few chairs.
Yale provides a central location where classes may take place. But more importantly, the University provides faculty members to teach. And thankfully, most faculty members are eager to teach their courses — even as negotiations stall.
It would seem, then, that there is little that moving classes of campus will do, other than inconvenience both students and faculty. After all, Yale’s primary educative purpose will be continued.
This contradiction speaks to a problem with unions at Yale. An academic institution is not merely composed of administrators and workers. Faculty and students play an equally important role as well. And thus, while administrative tasks will come to a standstill throughout the campus, learning will continue. The struggle over negotiations exists separately from the realm of student affairs.
Universities are doomed to face this internal problem, particularly as they grow larger. Factions on campus, with different goals, will always come into conflict. However, it is possible to manage these conflicts without fomenting a campuswide civil war.
Students who urge their peers to join the picket line, or who demand that classes be moved, exacerbate the problem.
Expecting students to inconvenience their studies will do little to fix the state of negotiations or gain the support of undergraduates. Indeed, while no one denies the important work that union workers offer students, it is outlandish to expect undergraduates to join a battle that is not theirs.
Many will read this statement and see it as a sign that undergraduates are oblivious to the problems around them. However, I merely wish to bring an often overlooked point to the attention of the campus. This is not our fight. Our goal, as students, is to study. The goal of faculty members is to teach. Getting between the ancient struggle between the unions and the administration will be detrimental both to the University and to ourselves.
I have no solution to the problem of coming to an amicable settlement between the unions and the administration. I wish the best of luck to the administration in solving this problem with as little disruption as possible. I urge students to remember that while we are affected by the events of the coming weeks, this battle is not ours.
Justin Zaremby is a senior in Calhoun College. His column appears regularly on alternate Tuesdays.