CollegeProf, Unmasked

When I started this blog last November, I did it to fill a need – to provide a comprehensible explanation of the issues surrounding the contract negotiations that was devoid of obfuscation or bombast.

I don’t know whether I succeeded in that exactly, but I do note that the blog just received its 25,000th hit on Tuesday, which was probably more than I had any reason to expect, given the length and density of my posts.

At the time, I opted for anonymity – not out of any fear of reprisals, but because I didn’t want to receive pressure from either side to become a mouthpiece for their talking points. Anonymity at the time gave me more freedom to express my own ideas without fear of reprisal, which I felt ultimately best served the colleagues who composed my intended audience.

And at times people e-mailed to question my choice, my motives, and/or my identity. I admit that I was always a bit confused by those e-mails, since I felt that the arguments were there in black and white to be agreed or disagreed with – my personal role didn’t seem particularly relevant to their validity or the issues at large.

However, anonymity was a choice that I was never entirely comfortable with, and – now that the current contract negotiations are now out of the hands of the faculty – I’m happy to be able to choose otherwise.

My name is Jonathan Singer. I’m a professor. I teach English at Seneca College, and have done so for some five years, after teaching partial-load at Centennial College. I have been a steward with Seneca’s local for less than two of those years, and was acclaimed to the position of Chief Steward in January. Ted Montgomery (the head of the CAAT-A bargaining team) is/was my local’s president, but he never knew that I was writing the blog – I made that choice for his sake as well as my own, since I didn’t want him to be accountable for a rogue Chief Steward going off-message.

Long story short, nobody has ever vetted or edited a word that I’ve published here. And if my ideas often coincide with union positions, well, let’s just say that my beliefs have dictated my union involvement; my involvement never dictated my beliefs, nor my blog.

It’s going to stay that way. Maybe I’ll be able to keep the blog going and say what I feel like saying, uncensored. Maybe my superiors will ask me to change my message or my tone, in which case I’ll promptly shut down the blog, with neither regret nor rancour. And yes, a time may come in the future (perhaps in the near future) when a conflict of roles will oblige me to shut down the blog, and I regard that possibility without apprehension.

But I do not yet welcome it. I’m willing to try – at least for a while – to do the tricky work of balancing my personal convictions with my professional responsibilities to those whom I serve and represent.

And I’m willing to do that because I believe – just as I believed when I started it – that there were important tasks that only individual profs (as opposed to unions or colleges) can perform. When I started the blog, the need was for an explanation of issues, which cut through the umbrage and the legalese and was willing to risk overgeneralization for the sake of simplicity. Now, I think the need is for a common space for Ontario’s profs to share their opinions and concerns regarding their own profession — To understand what about our experiences is shared, and what is unique.

The need is for a serious, respectful conversation about our needs and those of our students and our places of work – a conversation, not a sermon or a megaphone, let alone a torch and pitchfork.

Maybe I’ll be able to further that conversation, or maybe interest will simply continue to dwindle until the next contract needs to be negotiated. Time will tell.

In the meantime, though, please feel welcome as ever to make the space your own. E-mail me at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com to tell hundreds of your colleagues about your own priorities or concerns, the factors that currently impact your effectiveness as a professor and the education of your students, changes in your current working conditions, or your understanding of how we can best serve our students and province.

Yours,

CollegeProf

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