University teach-ins threatened

Since the mid-'60s, America’s university campuses have been known as bastions of free speech, at least for students. Now California State University professors and instructors are about to test whether they enjoy the same rights.

The CSU faculty has scheduled “teach-ins” for campuses across the state on Oct. 16. Susan Meisenhelder, president of the California Faculty Association, says the events will study “trends in the CSU and provides opportunities for faculty, staff, students and community members to articulate their hopes and dreams for the future of the CSU.”

However, CSU Assistant Vice Chancellor Samuel A. Strafaci sees the teach-ins as nothing more than a means for the faculty to solicit “the involvement of students in support of the CFA in our bargaining dispute.”

Strafaci sent a letter in August to all CSU presidents telling them how the Chancellor’s Office plans to deal with the looming threat of the October teach-ins.

“We will be sending a letter to the CFA leadership informing them that we believe that the Union is violating the contract’s prohibition against concerted activities in general,” he writes, “and that the involvement of students is very inappropriate.”

He adds that each school administration should resist faculty efforts to join the teach-in and suggests possible disciplinary action if they do.

At Chico State’s teach-in, the scheduled speaker is renowned progressive lecturer and author Michael Parenti, who will discuss the corporatizing of the university system in America.

Paul Persons, chair of the Academic Senate, reports that so far the local administration has indicated it will not interfere with the teach-in.

“This should be interesting, especially if [President Manuel] Esteban tried to block the teach-in or discipline the faculty who participate,” suggested Brad Glanville, faculty association chair at Chico State.

“We are scheduled to hold our teach-in in the university’s designated Free Speech Area,” Glanville noted, ironically.

In a letter to Meisenhelder, Strafaci charges that the teach-ins would be “in violation of the American Association of University Professors Statement of Professional Ethics,” which say that “teachers should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.”

Meisenhelder’s response to Strafaci suggests the CFA will not cooperate with the Chancellor’s Office. While some issues will indeed be discussed at the both the bargaining table and during the teach-ins, she says, those events remain “separate and unrelated activities.”

“[T]here are many other subjects we expect will be discussed at the Teach CSU/Teach-Ins,” she says, “such as managerial bloat, that are not related to any bargaining proposal or contract provision.”

Meisenhelder states that she will not ask anyone to “cease and desist” and furthermore finds that Strafaci’s letter “reveals little or no understanding of important university traditions such as academic freedom.”

“To suggest that talking with students about trends in CSU is to inappropriately involve them cannot hide the fact that they are already involved,” she argues. “Whether we look at the shrinking instructional budget, administrative bloat, the impact of remediation policies, or the contracting out of student services, students are the group ultimately most negatively affected by the trends that are fueling a decline in the quality of education in the CSU.”

Oliver Seely, a professor of chemistry at CSU, Dominguez Hills addressed a response to both Strafaci and Chancellor Charles Reed.

It is as though people at the [Chancellor’s Office] have suddenly discovered," he writes, "that more than 20,000 faculty of the CSU meet daily with their students, to teach, to discuss, to challenge and to encourage controversy."