Five Reasons I Give Thanks for My Union

After sessions in Flint and Dearborn, we'll be negotiating with the administration again on Friday, December 1. Talks begin at 9AM in Palmer Commons (GL North Room) with a rally at noon. I'm going. Are you? I'm not just going because I want to emerge from these negotiations with a strong contract (though obviously that too). I'm also going because I like being part of LEO, and because I'm grateful to be part of a union. I'm going to list some reasons why. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

  1. I learn new things about teaching when I hang out with other teachers. Teaching, research, administration, art, and all the other amazing things we do as lecturers can be isolating. I get so busy I develop a kind of tunnel vision: I'm so focused on (and exhausted from) executing my vision of teaching that I never stop to hear what my colleagues are doing. We trick ourselves into thinking that these kinds of interchanges are nice, but inessential; something to do when summer rolls around, perhaps. But every time I come home from a union event, no matter what, I'm rethinking my teaching, turning over new ideas, tinkering with a lesson plan. Being around other teachers is refreshing and energizing, even when we don't explicitly talk about teaching. 
     
  2. The union feeds us. I don't mean psychologically; I mean literally. December 1 is a Friday. Normally, on a Friday, I'd write all morning, lose track of time, go for a jog, suddenly realize I'm weak from hunger, and eat a sleeve of Oreos at 3PM. Does this sound like a productive way to live? When I go to LEO events, there's generally at least sandwiches. Thanks, LEO!
     
  3. It helps me understand my university. I got into this kind of work because I like knowing things. In particular, I'm fascinated by the interplay between personalities, ideas, and institutions. Well, here I am working at a vast and complex institution, that supposedly exists to promote ideas, and is full of quirky people, and I have no idea how the thing actually runs. That's like being a biologist and never looking at the bugs in your backyard. But getting involved with LEO this year has given me a starting point in understanding this bizarre world we all work in.
     
  4. Union types are cool to hang out with. I like them. They are funny and interesting people. They're such a nice combination of a) really smart, b) strategically insightful, and c) gallows-humored. A+, do recommend.
     
  5. It staves off political despair and generates real hope. I can't know how every single LEO lecturer voted last November, and we certainly aren't all on the same page politically. But most people I know who work in education in any capacity are looking at the future apprehensively at best. The society at large doesn't value what we do and it disrespects our students. It questions the value of educating our poor and non-traditional students at all and it caricatures our younger and more privileged students as wimpy millennials (never acknowledging the impossible situation they've inherited). It pretends that climate change is something we can kick down the road. It treats women and sexual minorities like garbage. It immiserates whole regions and racial groups. When I think about it all, I can start to feel like stupidity and meanness are just baked-in to the human project and that our trajectory toward exterminism is already set. And then I get depressed. (Hello, sleeve of Oreos.) And then I don't want to go anywhere, including to union events. But then I force myself up off my fainting couch, I walk over to the LEO offices, I put myself in the thick of the fight, and it always happens: I remember that there are people all over the place fighting for a better world. I remember that every day, I remember what my favorite political thinker of the twentieth century, Jacques Ellul, once said: "Fate operates when people give up." Well, here are a bunch of people not giving up.