Monday, June 4, 2007

Letter from Anonymous D.O.C. TA Regarding New Filibustering and Suppression of Dissent by UCSD Administration

Through the ever-thickening haze surrounding the critique of DOC, none of us should not forget the actual TAs and students who are at the heart of the issue. This letter, then, is not about the curriculum. It is about the gross mishandling of a constructive critique. Instead of supporting an idea from two good-standing colleagues, or even considering the idea, TMC administration, from the start, has singlemindedly set out to sink the idea, and to sink two colleagues.

This depersonalization of the matter was epitomized even in the way the administration handled the recent walk-out. The night before, Provost Havis pleaded with the entire DOC community, via email, to refrain from coming to class at all, rather than disrupt lecture. This not-walk-in strategy, though perhaps a good one in disbanding the student protest (though at a university I don't think we should be dealing in tactics), was a missed opportunity to address a burning issue. The "matter at hand" was not mentioned even once in the email. Likewise, the Provost also issued a threat of a "commensurate reduction in pay" to any TA that wouldn't be present in the following lecture. The fine, considering most TA's lead two sections, would have amounted to around 1/80th of a monthly paycheck, or 17 dollars. And yet the most patronizing aspect of the threat was not the fine, but the fact, again, that the Provost decided not to talk about the issue, or even to mention it.

If the administration accuses LZC and its supporters of ad hominem attacks, then let them stand accused of abuse of authority, a calculated politics of indifference, and dehumanizing the entire situation.

For exactly what the two TAs were fired for we still don't know. Repeatedly the administration has told us that they can't legally talk to students, TAs, or even concerned faculty about the issue because a formal grievance has been filed. First of all, that is simply not true, as the TA union has explicitly testified. They can talk about it. They have an ethical responsibility to talk about it, a responsibility to talk about the unmistakable unease that has been brewing and a responsibility to justify their actions to the deeply concerned community. And yet they refuse. Supposed "legal decorum" should never stand for skirting an issue. It seems that the repeated "we can't talk about it" is becoming nothing but a passive-aggressive ploy at filibustering. The administration has shown us their true face and it seems to be but an officious smile. True, spurred on by the LZC and the overall critique of DOC, a review committee has been formed, and now that committee may even stand to recognize student representation. But let's remember that this committee was initially pushed by and fought for by the two TAs who have now been pushed and fought out of their jobs.

And so this is what we are left with… the administration has recognized the importance of the policy and forgotten the bodies behind it. That's approaching dangerously close to academic piracy, or maybe we could call it live-action plagiarism. The ends, the unjustified and undefended dismissal of two good-standing TA's, do not justify these means. Let me briefly address the parsimonious rationalization that the administration has presented for the "unhirings".

One- they were dismissed because they were presenting the students with an alternative curriculum. Now, as multiple students of the TAs in question have corroborated, the claim is simply not true. If, however, the claim is that the TAs gave the students the option to do outside reading for their presentations, then they have clearly trespassed no policy, as the Head TA has very openly shared a sanctioned outline to do exactly the same, that is, ask students to find and read material not included in the curriculum. There is even a binder in the DOC office with suggested outside material for the TAs to share with their students.

Two- they were fired because they were making demands that the curriculum be changed. Yet there is no evidence that any "demand" was ever made. The TAs in question, as well as a number of other TAs, had had several civil, professional meetings with the administration to discuss their concerns. The administration's deflecting of the issue is not only disrespectful of the two TAs in question, it is disrespectful of all the TAs who may have concerns in the future and now be reluctant to voice them, it is disrespectful to the students who deserve a well-refined curriculum that can only come with repeated and vigorous critique, it is disrespectful to the history of Thurgood Marshall College, and the people who fought to make it stand for a diverse, alternative, student-oriented place of learning, and it is disrespectful to academic freedom in general.

And so how long can we stand by and watch the administration use their positional clout to fire our colleagues for unsubstantiated and undefended reasons? There's an answer. It wasn't a rhetorical question. We can stand by and watch for about another week. And then we can all go home for the summer, and forget about it. But I don't think the two TAs are going to forget about it. They don't have jobs. They are an integral part of the community. They are outstanding TAs. Their students, fellow TA's, and even Dr. Shragge and Dr. Wright have attested to that. They are exemplars of DOC. Their efforts should be celebrated and encouraged and stand as examples of positive thinking and positive change, not reprimanded and then used to replace creative and constructive criticism with fear and silent complacency… The issue needs to be addressed. It is our responsibility to break this unprofessional silence.

Let my anonymous signature be a sign for the legitimate fear and intimidation stirred up by the administration. The TA's have heard a clear message: don't critique the program or you will be fired. Until the decision is reversed (or at the very least, explained), and Scott Boehm and Benjamin Balthaser are rehired, there is no other message to be heard.

Very Sincerely,

A Concerned TA