“You See (UC) Democracy?”aims for systemwide change and a fully enfranchised faculty

Chris Hables Gray is widely known in academic circles for his research on the U.S. military post-World War II. The UC Santa Cruz lecturer has also written extensively about how technology is transforming humans.

His 1991 dissertation “Computers as Weapons and Metaphors” earned him a doctorate in philosophy. In the 1970s, his interdepartmental major at Stanford was “Human Values and Social Change.” Recently, he has studied broad-based online social movements from Occupy to the Egyptian uprising.

Now Gray has locked onto a new target with laser-like intensity. As Vice President of Organizing for the University Council-AFT, he is focused on the union’s “You See (UC) Democracy?” program, a strategic campaign that aims to improve democracy within the union, within UC departments, divisions and libraries, and even within the UC Board of Regents.

UC lecturers deliver over 35 percent of all undergraduate instruction at the university. They teach many of the lower division courses, including almost all writing and language courses, and some upper division courses. They also teach graduate courses in the professional schools and many departments.

In any given year, more than 4,000 lecturers teach throughout the UC system. Nearly 25 percent of lecturers are full-time, and half teach 50 percent time or more. Many lecturers are also active in their fields with research and publications. Yet lecturers must fight for respect on campus.

To get feedback from the lecturers, UC-AFT is assessing which issues members want the union to address at the bargaining table as part of its preparations for upcoming contract negotiations. Gray said his local and others may also distribute the bargaining survey to fair share payers for their input and to raise their comfort level with union issues, with the ultimate goal of a fully enfranchised teaching faculty at UC.

“We need to be more democratic if we want a more democratic university,” Gray said, adding a quote from Egyptian activist Alaa Al Aswany: “Democracy is the answer to many of our problems.”

There is national discussion about broad issues, such as adding a democracy rating to the process of evaluating academic institutions. And campus demands are drawing people in for local actions, even if those issues won’t be solved systemwide.

One issue that does resonate across all campuses is the environment. UC-AFT members and staff recently formed a Green Caucus to further the union’s already strong effort to protect our environment and prevent catastrophic climate change.

UC-AFT endorsed the September 21 People’s Climate Marches in New York, Oakland, and San Diego and members attended the California events. President Bob Samuels has raised the issue of divestment from fossil fuels, a proposal the UC Regents’ Investment Advisory Group is now studying.

Gray called the Green Caucus “another example of the new energy running through the union. Some union leaders discourage taking political stances out of concern they will unnecessarily divide members, but I was very proud that our union had no problem taking these overtly political actions on the environment.”

— By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter