An open letter to Alexander Coward

Dear Dr. Coward:

I found your letter to your students about why you would not be participating in the one-day strike by workers at the University of California intriguing.  Like them, I am a product of top-tier educational systems.  Like you, I believe that the world is an increasingly complicated place, and that we need increasingly sophisticated thinkers to find solutions to the myriad of problems that will arise in the future.  I agree that students need to take their educations seriously. A good education is a treasure.

Unlike you, I seem to recognize that the start of that education has to be with an understanding of the interconnectedness of people and systems.  Your students are privileged.  You are privileged.  You refusing to strike because “having class is too important” is a slap in the face to every underpaid healthcare and campus worker in the system.

This was not an unlimited strike.  It was a one-day walkout. Would it really have damaged your students’ college educations to miss one day of class?  Would it have hurt you to have found another way to impart the material? In your letter you stated that you were well on time to finishing the syllabus with “a few lectures in hand for review.” Not missing a review session was more important than showing solidarity with people not so fortunate as you and your students?

You are a prime exhibit in why labor has been struggling so much in this country.  You demonstrate the “it’s not my problem” mentality that abounds in American society.

Whatever the alleged injustices are that are being protested about tomorrow, it is clear that you are not responsible for those things, whatever they are, and I do not think you should be denied an education because of someone else’s fight that you are not responsible for.

Ah, so it is morally acceptable to ignore the plight of others because “you are not responsible.” Care of people less fortunate is not a value you wish to impart to your students, it seems. Nor is the ability to understand holistic systems, like universities, and see the way that the injustices affecting some should not be simply overlooked by others because “it’s not my problem.”

This is a shame because, given the economy, some of those students may have jobs just like the campus workers who are striking.  In fact, I suppose that it is possible that some of the striking workers were students of yours. I guess at that once they graduate it’s not important to take a stand on their wellbeing.

You had a chance to teach a valuable lesson to your students.  You could have written that same letter, compellingly extolling the importance of education and why you believe so deeply in it, and at the same time say, “in spite of this, workers are being exploited, and it is our responsibilities as fellow members of this campus community to stand up in support of the hidden people who make your education possible.”  You could have encouraged them to find out what the strike was about, to talk about it among themselves.  You could have taught them to care.  You chose not to do so.

You failed.

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