The call for a 48-hour work stoppage in higher education has been initiated by two university faculty members as a response to recent police shootings of African American citizens. Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and Kevin Gannon, professor of history at Grand View University, wrote on Twitter that “it’s of crucial importance for those of us in higher education to take a stand with our students and the communities we serve.”
Using the hashtag #ScholarStrike on Twitter and other social media outlets, these two professors are proposing a general strike for 48 hours — immediately following Labor Day on both Tuesday September 8th and Wednesday September 9th — or “working to the clock” in the case of unionized university employees. “It is time for the academic community to do more than teach classes and offer reading lists on racism, policing, violence, and racial injustice,” the two professors wrote on the Academe Magazine blog. “It is time for us to pause the endless meetings on diversity and inclusion, disrupt our institutions’ routines, look outward to the American public, and share our dismay, disgust, and resolve.”
In the earliest days of the planning process, it was reported by Inside Higher Ed that there were over 600 faculty members already committed to the strike. The expectation is that these professors will not teach nor carry out any administrative duties during those two days. They also have been encouraged to participate in public teach-ins and become involved in events taking place on various social media channels.
Of course, with so many university courses currently being hosted online, the idea of a walkout takes on a different meaning amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, Professor Butler noted that the majority of activities will occur within an online environment. “For the main piece of #ScholarStrike, I’m building out a website,” she said. “We’ll have a YouTube channel where we’re going to post 10 minute lessons about injustice in America and talk about policing and organizing.”
There are parallels between the #ScholarStrike movement and other recent strike-related activities that have been taking place as part of a call for social justice. Perhaps most dramatically, players from the National Basketball Association halted their playoff season in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rumblings of employer-employee conflict have been heard from Major League Baseball players and the Women’s NBA on race-related issues as well.
While not quite as high profile as professional athletes, nonetheless any form of labor turmoil expressed by university faculty members will capture the nation’s attention. Questions inevitably will be raised about the enduing nature of this sort of activity among faculty members. Is this simply a one-off exercise that will go nowhere in the larger world of academia, or instead is it a harbinger of even more turbulence yet to come?
The rapidly increasing numbers of people who have signed on as participants in #ScholarStrike provides some clues on this matter. Professor Gannon reported that over 4,900 people were signed up just ahead of the Labor Day holiday weekend, an eight-fold increase in less than a week’s worth of time. When asked about the potential for this two-day event to spark further action within higher education, Gannon stated: “I think what heartens me the most is not only the number of folks who’ve eagerly signed on and expressed solidarity, but the range of academic places, positions, and career locations we have. In our current moment, so much is precarious in academe. A commitment to racial justice is not.”
Endorsements of the work stoppage by professional organizations within the higher education community also seem to be gaining some traction. For example, the American Academy of Religion has made an explicit call for its 8,000 religious scholars to support the strike. A similar statement of solidarity has been made by the American Sociological Association, which boasts over 13,000 academic members.
Importantly, many of the people who work inside of universities are the very ones who are generating key research evidence that helps us understand racially related problems. Anne Farrell, director of research at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, stated that “university researchers are in an ideal position to not only generate empirical evidence about the problems, but also to craft and test solutions. From a social policy standpoint, what we also need is more and better evidence to shape those policies that can create lasting change. Furthermore, faculty members may be able to use the #ScholarStrike events in ways where they help guide our students’ critical thinking about the deep problems facing our nation, especially as those college students prepare themselves to enter the workforce and start families of their own. ”
So, it would seem to be the case that the #ScholarStrike movement is not only picking up steam, but also may be a surefire sign that the social unrest being witnessed on America’s streets will both influence and be influenced by what goes on within the walls of our nation’s universities. This certainly bears close watching in the weeks and months ahead.