Exactly a week ago, university students around the country walked out on strike at midday, to protest a possible war against Saddam. When students strike, it denies no one a service. The point is self-denial: they’re prepared to sacrifice class time, for which they’ve paid good money, in order to demonstrate a point.
When faculty strike, that’s something else altogether. It really is denial of a service, to students who’ve paid good money for it. On a few campuses, some professors announced they were cancelling classes in solidarity with the student walkout. Universities have different policies on this sort of conduct, and one presumes they’ll uphold them.
The most ironic instance of class cancellation involved the UCLA historian Gabriel Piterberg. For a couple of years now, Piterberg has been striking the pose of an angry avant-garde radical. He harangues campus demonstrations, signs petitions, and teaches a course in post- and anti-Zionism. He even fabricated his own listing at Campus Watch, as though he were being persecuted for his ideas—a bald play for sympathy.
Now what is a poseur to do when an anti-war student strike looms? The Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student newspaper, popped the question to Piterberg the day before the walkout. And the question was pertinent: Piterberg teaches a midday seminar from 11 to 1 on Wednesdays. Piterberg gave this answer: “There is no way I can actively endorse it [the walkout], or not teach if there are students who choose to stay in class. That would be abuse of my position.” Ah, you say, professional ethics trump political commitment—as they should.
But that’s not the end of the story. Thursday’s Daily Bruin carried the news that Piterberg had “cancelled class and attended the rally.”
Piterberg, who teaches a 17-student history seminar at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays, said the vast majority of his class left to be a part of the demonstration.
“Only two students stayed,” Piterberg said.
After almost the entire class left, Piterberg decided to reconvene at 1 p.m. so students who wished to be a part of the walkout would not be punished.
“Politics are part of our lives, missing one class for an hour or two is not going to determine education. An important issue like war is going to affect education,” Piterberg said.
Need I say more? Piterberg said it himself—just a day earlier. He ended up abusing his position. And his student demonstrators got the best of both worlds: they got to pretend they had denied themselves a class session, when in fact Piterberg made it all up to them. A poseur gives a lesson in the art.