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Classes are Over - Let's Have a Meeting!

In the traditional "breather" between end of exams and the beginning of the Spring term professional development period, many of my college colleagues will be relaxing at home. Not I. I find myself almost as busy this week as I am when I'm teaching, if not more so in terms of hours without a break. Yesterday I spent most of the time between 9:00am and 9:00pm doing union things. This morning, more union things, then I have a specialist appointment in the afternoon. Tomorrow is free. Thursday is Open House at the college, and I'm manning our display room from 9:00 to 11:00, then subbing for the Chair at a meet-and-greet at 11:30, then I have another specialist appointment in the afternoon.* Friday, there's the Ed-Tech Conference that I helped organize last year and will go to partly because I'm interested anyway but partly to support my Ed-Tech colleagues, then in the afternoon the union AGM to which I will go again to support my union colleagues and because there's an election of executive members and they may need all the help they can get simply to get quorum (our members are not notably interested in union functions except when there's something in it for them).

The union stuff is interesting and thought provoking. I had dinner last night with three of the most intelligent, thoughtful people I know and someone I only met yesterday for the first time but who also impressed me with his particular brand of practical idealism. We had a very interesting conversation (or really, they did and I listened), about how we (those of us in this committee) seem willing to keep trying to slay dragons that may actually be invincible and what good was it in the end, to which I don't think we came up with an answer but the shining idealism at the table would have lit candles.

The sessions yesterday and today are intended to teach us how to be better union reps. I need a lot of help in this regard, and although I love the work of the committee I'm on I don't think anyone takes me particularly seriously as a "union" person. I don't take myself seriously as a union person. I consider myself an idealist, too, but tend to shy away from anything that hints at fundamentalism or absolutism. I admire the goals and ideals of the union, but not always its rhetoric (for example, I refuse to refer to my union "brothers and sisters" except ironically). I am interested in the concept that people will sometimes be willing to break laws to defend the Collective Agreement - but are not laws another form of Collective Agreement, at least in a democracy? At least in theory? And I am as aware as anyone else that Democracies can get things badly wrong, can go "collectively" mad (as Mr. Lawrence said memorably of the Japanese), and also that a union is only as strong as its members, who individually don't care much about anything or anyone but themselves. Also, rampaging idealists can do a lot of harm.

Not that any of my committee fellows are anything close to "rampaging" - they are all serious, thoughtful, well-meaning and honourable, and I'm glad to be working with them and try hard - not always very successfully - to live up to them.

An unexpected bonus yesterday was some discussion of how to interpret a collective agreement that wouldn't have been out-of-place in a theory classroom. I'm paraphrasing here, having left my notebook at the office, but the substance of some of it was that a clause in a collective agreement shall be determined to mean exactly what it says, and normally the intentions of its author should not be taken into consideration unless there is some ambiguity in the wording and even then an interpretation must be based as closely as possible on the meaning of the actual words, even placement of punctuation (there was a memorable example of the misuse of a vergule or forward slash).

Today it's human rights.

*Lest anyone be alarmed at the mention of two doctors appointments - they are routine checkups by eye-specialist and orthopedic surgeon respectively


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 29th, 2009 04:00 am (UTC)
I agree about rampant idealism and fundamentalism. Then again, that may be targeted at me, so I might have it wrong (but I was joking about breaking the law, like I do about most things). I like your observation about "brothers and sisters." The most hilarious thing about that to me is that I think that makes you a union person, at least at our place of employment, because I don't know a single person who says "brother" or "sister" so and so without a great deal of eye rolling or smirking. Maybe there are people somewhere who can use the faux-siblingesque without irony, but not where we're at. I love our irony most of all.
Apr. 29th, 2009 04:24 am (UTC)
I think I definitely need an "irony alert" button, or something. Because almost every time I've heard "brothers and sisters" I've actually taken it seriously. Maybe I just don't know our fellows well enough to detect it. Or maybe I'm just insecure... And no, the rampant idealism wasn't aimed at you (I was probably thinking of TB) Although I think I've felt it from each one of you - except perhaps from Mark - at one time or another. And maybe even from myself :) It's all a new experience for me, and I'm feeling my way around.
Apr. 29th, 2009 04:48 am (UTC)
There are a few people I've heard speak at meetings that way, but the rest of us are always WTF are you serious?

I like calling people "comrades" because I think that's funnier.

You're right about idealism, by the way. That's why I love that Muriel Spark has Jean Brodie cite the bible--"Where there is no vision, the people perish"--in a novel designed to show us that where there is vision, the people perish too. From Pol Pot to Jim Jones, vision too has been a killer.
Apr. 29th, 2009 05:01 am (UTC)
Oh gosh, yes - Jean Brodie is the perfect example. I think that's what I find so fascinating about her, because she demonstrates both the attraction and the pitfalls of that way of thinking. It's like the dark side of Romanticism...
Apr. 29th, 2009 05:20 am (UTC)
Exactly. And then there's Sandy. Sandy's vision is narrow, obscured, fanatical in its own way. The references to her small eyes, her piggy eyes, abound--Spark rarely describes her without mentioning this characteristic--and she ends up with her vision further obscured not just by the church but by the bars she clutches when she is visited at the convent. And to construct a novel entirely of flashbacks--it's --haha--all hindsight.

Love that book and will teach it as my novel when I next teach first-year lit, whenever that may be.
Apr. 29th, 2009 04:01 am (UTC)
P.S. I was a little alarmed at the doctor's appointments, so thanks for answering worries. :)
May. 3rd, 2009 07:39 pm (UTC)
My favorite bit about interpreting contract language is that it shall be understood as meaning . . . what it says.

Yeah, that's always SO helpful.

Another favorite is that every word must have meaning, a principle I find more useful, since it is habit that many people skip over words like "only" and "if" when interpreting things.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


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