Union Protests UC Online Classes Due to Potential Job Cuts

According to a new provision, the university has to notify the union in case of a change to a term or condition of employment in the Memorandum of Understanding between the university and the union. UC – AFT President Bob Samuels said that the new provision made to stop the UCs from creating online classes gives the union veto power over any online program that it believes will negatively affect teaching jobs.

“We feel we could stop almost any online program through this contract,” Samuels said in the Oct. 11 Inside Higher Ed article, “The Lecturers’ Filibuster.”

The university stated that the union does not have the power to shut down the program.

“They do not have the power to block the university from implementing new online programs,” Spokeswoman for the Office of the President Dianne Klein said in an Oct. 11 Inside Higher Ed article “The Lecturers’ Filibuster.”

Klein says the union cannot do anything more than provide a written notice that they do not like and agree with the program, which would hold the university to a discussion about the program with them no later than January 2013.

Klein also said that although online classes could affect lecturers, they are not a valid reason to fire faculty.

“We couldn’t say, ‘Oh, we’ve got a computer program that can do your work — we’re getting rid of you,” Klein said.

The Online Instruction Pilot Project was created to test the effectiveness of online classes. If the program is successful, it will be integrated into the UC’s undergraduate curriculum by Jan. 2013.

Members of the UC – AFT are worried that the online classes will cut teachers’ pay or replace UC faculty through outsourcing.

In 2009, California State University at Bakersfield administrators laid off four math instructors and created two math classes in its place based on mandatory lab time and an e-tutoring program. The program proved to be successful when it added the supervision of teaching assistants.

UC- AFT has many concerns regarding the online pilot program. Union members are worried that there are not enough funds to support the program. They question the idea that the classes will be less expensive.

“We also do not believe that online courses as a platform will be able to maintain the quality of instruction expected by UC students,” UC-AFT said on their website.
UC-AFT has posted a list of guidelines they would like the UC system to follow with the integration of online classes on the website. They have not yet taken any formal action.

“Make sure that no one loses a course or a job because classes are moved online: regulate workload; protect intellectual property; ensure academic freedom,” UC-AFT said.
Professor of Electrical Engineering at UCLA and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution John Villasenor wrote an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times regarding the issue. Villasenor thinks that the option of online classes is incredible because it can reach people across the world.  But he does not think it is a good alternative to teaching.

“Something is lost when the classroom experience becomes virtual,” Villasenor said in “Online teaching’s disconnect,” a Sept. 28 Los Angeles Times article, “Instructors owe it to their students to be in the classroom, and students owe it to themselves – and the rest of us – to do their best to be there as well.”