Wednesday, March 21, 2018

How my training in logic/philosophy prepared me for the USS strike

Yesterday I gave a talk at Durham University’s Open Day, to potential Combined Honors in Liberal Arts students. I am currently participating in action short of a strike, which includes "no voluntary activity". It was enough unclear to me whether participating in the Open Day was voluntary or whether it was part of the usual expectations for outreach and recruitment, and since I had agreed to do this before the strike action started, I decided to honor my commitment, but instead of giving my usual talk on logic puzzles and paradoxes, talk about the strike instead. This is the talk I gave (well, it’s the talk I wrote up, but I am incapable of giving pre-rehearsed speeches and went off-piste quite often. Still, this is the gist):

Welcome to Durham Uni! I hope you’ve been enjoying your visit so far.

I’m Dr. Sara Uckelman, from the Department of Philosophy, and I’ve been asked to tell you a bit about what we offer here at Durham.

Have any of you studied philosophy at A-level? What sort of subjects? Get examples

What are other sorts of topics that you know come under the heading of philosophy? Get examples

I’m not strictly-speaking a philosopher myself – I’m a logician. Have any of you studied logic? What’s the subject about? Get examples

Ordinarily, in giving a little mini tutorial, I’d give you some logic puzzles to work through in groups and then together as a whole. But instead, today I want to speak about the way in which a strong philosophical/logical education and training can benefit you in ways that you might not guess.

How many of you know about the recent UCU strike, that ended here at Durham only last Friday? 14 days over 4 weeks staff withdrew their labor completely – no teaching, no emails, no research, no marking, no going to conferences or giving talks.

Why? At the beginning, all I really knew was that it was a dispute about pensions, that the university employers were trying to change our current pension benefits from one type – defined benefit – to another type – defined contribution – and this would adversely affect many. But once the strike started there was a deluge of information, opinion pieces, statements, calls to action, comparative modelings, statistics, policies, laws, etc., etc., etc.

And this is where training in philosophy and logic becomes relevant. What is a good argument? When does one argument successfully rebut another? How do we reconcile two arguments that result in contradictory claims? How do we analyse and evaluate evidence? How do you spot ‘spin’? Fallacies? Irrelevant bits? How do you know when you’re in an echo chamber? How do you know when you’re falling prey to confirmation bias, where you’re more likely to believe what confirms what you already believe?

It’s not just about arguments and facts, though, there’s also ethics and epistemology. How do you determine the value of comparative options? How do you make decisions about uncertain futures? When do you know whether you should make a sacrifice now to prevent a bigger sacrifice in the future? When is it okay to directly and adversely affect the education of current students in order to prevent even worse things happening to the education of future students? Do the lives of those who are alive now matter more than the lives of those who will live in the future? Do we have obligations to future generations? It’s basically a trolley problem – you’ve got a runaway trolley headed down a track that has five people tied to it; if you do nothing, they will all die. But you can throw a lever and send the trolley down another track, saving those five. But on that track, there is another person tied to the track, and if you throw the level you kill them. Is it worse to act to kill one person than it is to not act and let five people die? What about if the trolley is on fire and going to explode and kill all six anyway, regardless of whether you flip the switch? What if the trolley is on fire and about to explode, but if you send it down the other path, it will be doused just before it hits the person?

Logic and philosophy gives the training to be able to answer – or at least start towards answering – questions like this. You’ll note that almost none of them are about philosophical topics. The philosophical education you’ll have access to at Durham provides you with not only the topics but also the tools and techniques. In the first year, our modules reflect the distinctive research structure our department has, with five clusters:

  • History of Philosophy
  • Science, Medicine, and Society
  • Mind, Language, and Metaphysics
  • Applied Phenomenology
  • Aesthetics, Ethics, and Politics

These core courses introduce students to the techniques and skills they need to investigate a wide range of philosophical topics. Second year modules cover a number of core topics in philosophy, and in the third year, specialist modules reflect the research interests of our staff, and there is also an opportunity to write a 12,000-word dissertation on a philosophical topic under the supervision of one of our members of staff. In the past, topics have ranged from fair allocation of school places in Amsterdam secondary schools to the ethical implications of reading fairy tales to women philosophers in the late 18th century to new foundations for theories of human rights to the nature of numbers and how we know things about them and beyond. There really is no limit to what you can apply philosophical techniques and training to.

Any questions?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Publication announcement: Makin & van Schurman on the nature of women

While I was on strike, my contributor's copy of a book edited by my friend and colleague, Emily Thomas, arrived. It's a collection of papers on Early Modern Women on Metaphysics:

"But wait, Doctor Logic," I hear you cry, "You don't do metaphysics! You don't do early modern philosophy! What are you doing in this book?"

It's a good question. But Emily had been working on this collection for awhile when a few people pulled out, and last spring she offered me the possibility of writing a chapter knowing full well that I don't do metaphysics and I don't do early modern philosophy. My chapter is on Anna Maria van Schurman and Bathsua Makin's views on the "nature" (or essence) of women:

And as it turned out, I've had Makin's and van Schurman's treatises in my "women in logic" folder simply because they are educational treatises and have something to say about whether women should be educated in logic. I'd wanted to look at the two treatises in depth -- van Schurman's especially because she uses explicitly syllogistic argument forms, showing that she had at least some training in logic -- for some years at the point Emily asked me. So this provided me with the perfect opportunity to read the two treatises to see if there was anything that I could say about them that connected with metaphysics rather than with logic or education, and it turned out the answer was "yes, quite a bit".

I really enjoyed writing this chapter, and it was satisfying to tick off something from my endlessly growing possible project list, especially one that I'd never thought would get much higher than the middle of the queue. I actually learned some metaphysics, and some early modern philosophy, while writing it, and because it had a quick turn around deadline, I had the satisfaction of going from 0 to finished in about 4 weeks. It's been interesting seeing the number of people who've responded to the book "I've never even heard of Makin before", and now my only worry is that I'll get pegged as someone who does early modern women philosophers, or, worse, as a Makin expert! :)

Friday, March 16, 2018

Today I am on strike, day 14

We did it.

This afternoon, I came home, and unpacked my strike bag. For the last four weeks, it's been the home of my wallet, my keys, a couple of pens, extra fliers, an umbrella, spare gloves, tissues (used and new), spare feminine products, and random biscuits. It hung beside the door so I could grab it quickly in the morning, already packed. It's now empty, and put away.

I stripped off all the layers, and finally put the warm tights and the extra pair of thick socks into the laundry basket. They're a now; but the thing about living in Durham in spring without a clothes dryer is that you can't guarantee things washed in the evening will be dry by morning, and I'd learned my lesson on the picket line the first day -- layers are important.

I've lost a lot over the last few weeks. I've lost contact hours with my students, I've lost time I can't really afford to lose on my own research. I've lost sleep. I've lost weight (even with all the picket cookies, donuts, flapjacks, biscotti, brownies). I've lost whatever desire (already rather low) I had to engage in nonsense bureaucracy and admin, or to prioritise my work over my family. I've lost a lot of faith in the idea that the people in power have my best interests at heart.

But I've gained a lot as well. New friendships, new connections. I've spoken to people I've wanted to speak to for years, ever since I moved to Durham, but I didn't know who they were, so I was never able to meet them. (More precisely, I've managed to talk to the relevant people in both mathematics and computer science to let them know that, hey, there's someone over in the philosophy department teaching logic, and logic might be of interest to your students!). I've gained more knowledge about pensions, pensions regulation, labour law, and immigration law than I ever thought I would've needed. I've gained some important memories with G, both as she joined me on the picket line and as being on strike today meant that I was able to go to the special Mother's Day tea and crafts at school, which otherwise would have fallen during my two-hour seminar. I've gained a sense that the people that matter have my back.

I can't say yet whether the gains are worth the losses. I'm not sure any amount of gain could ever make it be the case that it was a good thing we had to go on strike -- which is different from saying that it was a good thing we went on strike -- that I think is manifestly true. But I still think the world would've been better if we'd never been forced into this position in the first place.

What will the future bring? 14 more days of striking next term? Who knows? And this is not a rhetorical question: I really don't think anyone has any rational way of modeling the probabilities of future paths at this point. We'll just have to wait and see.

But in the short-term, at least, I'll be back to work. It's going to be awkward and strange, and I'm giving myself permission to not be 100% effective on Monday, because that would be a recipe for success. I'm going to prioritise student-facing work, then my own research, and then admin. And I'm not going to expect myself to get it all done in one day. That isn't how this life works.

It's strange being a part of such a significant historic event and recognising its historical significance while it is happening. I'm curious to see how history will judge the events of the last few weeks in decades to come. But, for now: This is Dr. Logic, signing off of her strike day diary. I hope it'll be a long time before I write another instalment in it.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Today I am on strike, day 13

Today should have been my final Introduction to Logic lecture of the term. I should have been answering questions about the summative assignment I set them last week, I should have been going over the finer details of Fitch-style natural deduction proofs for predicate logic. I should have been holding office hours and reviewing MA applications and catching up on email and making travel plans for upcoming conferences. I should have been working on three upcoming journal deadlines.

But, I didn't. Because I'm still on strike.

I am so tired.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Today I am on strike, day 12

I am beginning to lose track of the day of the week, lose track of what strike day it is. I have to count back to a weekend, I have to add up all the strike days.

Day 12. Two more days this week, this action. But unless things change (I no longer know if I should be optimistic or not), a further 14 days of strike action have been called for April-June. And if that happens, then I will need to keep careful count.

In today's strike diary, I want to talk about something that was a non-issue when the strike started, but which more and more people are beginning to worry about. It's a topic I actually did a twitter thread on, a week ago. Here's what I had to say there:

Something that hasn't been discussed much in my twitter corner re: #ucustrikes #ussstrikes is those of us immigrants who are striking.

I'm here on a Tier 2 visa. I'm counting down the days until I can apply for ILR (< 2 years, if they don't change the goalposts). After that, I'll be counting down the days until I can apply for citizenship. We (J and I) are intending to become citizens as soon as we possibly can -- for ourselves because we have no intention of leaving, and for G because this will be her quickest route to citizenship. The worry of shifting goal-posts is ever present; at any given time, I know what the requirements for ILR and citizenship are, but I have no idea if they'll have changed by the time I reach the point where I would've been eligible by today's standards.

As a Tier 2 visa holder, I am allowed to participate in lawful strike activity like #ucustrike #ussstrike. If I am absent without leave from my job for more than 10 consecutive days, my employer must report this. (Thank you, @ucu for scheduling this round of strike activity so that there is no 10-consecutive-day period in it.) But in any calendar year, I cannot be absent from work without pay for more than four weeks (cf. Sponsor a Tier 2 or 5 Worker: Guidance for Employers from, that is, 20 days total.

By striking, I am essentially betting against myself that I will not have any other reason to need unpaid leave in this calendar year. I'm lucky. My parents in the US are young and healthy. My spouse is young and healthy, as is my child. My in-laws, in the US, on the other hand, are not so young. For awhile it looked like my husband might be spending a good chunk of his spring/summer back in the US with them. My striking means that I couldn't go with him, unless I use up vacation days. (Thankfully, MIL is much better now.)

If we do go the full distance, and have to strike another 14 days in Easter term, I will only be able to join my colleagues for 6 of those days. I CANNOT jeopardize my and my family's right to remain in this country. And I hate that. If it comes to that, I will be donating 1/365th of my pay to the fighting fund for every day that I cannot join the strike.

My situation is not unique. There are MANY Tier 2 visa holders participating in #ussstrike #ucustrike. Don't hate us if we have to go back to work when our 20 days are used up.

For more info, read this. A sobering quote:

"Whilst there are no reported cases of strike action being used to refuse an ILR application...there are never any guarantees that the Home Office could not change its policy in the future."

This is the spectre that hangs over us.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Today I am on strike, day 11

Last night was actually rather scary.

I've written in an earlier strike day diary about the emotional toll that being on strike takes, but even factoring that in, I've been doing pretty well, all things considered. The support on the pickets has been quite integral to this, as has the support -- especially student support -- on twitter.

But to see a proposal put forward -- that made all of our sacrifice, all of our fighting over the last three weeks feel meaningless, like it was worth nothing. And seeing that -- it has been a long, long, long time since I've had an emotion crash like happened last night. (In fact, the only other time I remember when I could feel hormones kicking in and wrestling my emotions from out of control was the three months I was on the wrong hormonal birth control, nearly 20 years ago. I remember crystal clear one day where I was walking around the house, kicking the all and crying and I had no idea why. That was when I realised not the birth control for me.) And that was pretty scary.

It was around that point that I wrote yesterday's strike diary and posted it to twitter. Not long after, I received this reply. At that point, I started ugly crying all over my laptop. I'm saving that tweet in my "read this when you feel like a crap teacher" folder, because that reply mattered so much.

The last 24 hours have been a bit of a roller coaster. The shock, the depression, the anger, the growing sense of something -- I couldn't quite call it hope, but perhaps I could call it strength -- as people started signing an open letter rejecting the proposal, as people started sharing contact info of the people to write, as the protest in London started being planned (at one point I thought "I could get to London tomorrow morning...", but then realised it was not a clever idea to get up so early or spend so much money on a same-day train ticket). I read cogent replies to the proposal on twitter, I saw local branches posting their unequivocal rejection of the proposal, I read people's letters they were sending to their reps, and began to compose my own. Eventually, I sent this, first to my local rep, and then to everyone else relevant I could think of -- my regional rep, the head of the UCU HEC, my Vice-Chancellor:

I am writing to urge you to vote to reject the proposal put forth by UCU/UUK tomorrow. This proposal is a spit in our faces and I am horrified, aghast, and saddened that it's even been put forward. Here are some reasons why this proposal should be rejected:

  • The most significant issue with this proposal is that it does not address the flaws in the original valuation. If we accept the proposal, we legitimise the valuation on which the offer has been made, and that is unacceptable.
  • Further, we haven't been given any explanation why it isn't possible to shift to a less problematic/conservative valuation. Thus the proposal does not fundamentally address what this strike action has been about.
  • The proposal does not solve the problem, only defers it. Given that there is strong reason to think that THERE IS NO PROBLEM, this cannot be admitted as an acceptable resolution.
  • The proposal does not represent UCU as defending a Defined Benefit pension scheme, but rather as supporting a variant of a Defined Contribtuion scheme. The rejection of a DC scheme was one of the principles that we were striking under.
  • It is unacceptable to ask staff to reschedule lectures. Not only is it practically infeasible, it goes against what it means to go on strike. It tells us that all of our sacrifices, all of our heartache, all of our guilt, all of it is worthless and meaningless. It tells us that WE are worthless. It is even more unacceptable to ask staff to reschedule lectures without paying them for their work.

As our branch rep, you represent all members at Durham Uni. Please, please, please be our champion, be our support, be our defense, and fight against this proposal. You will not stand alone. Exeter, Liverpool, and other UCUs have already publicly stated that their membership has unanimously rejected the proposals. Please let Durham join them.

And then I was smart; I split three beers with my husband, got out my crocheting, put MasterChef on full-screen so I couldn't also follow twitter/FB, and distracted myself for an hour before going to bed.

In the morning, G and I got up early and she made me a new sign to bring to the picket.

This is the Outraged Octopus. He says "No no no no no no no." He unequivocally rejects the proposal to slash our pensions. In the morning, I also faced having to tell G that a deal had been offered and if it was accepted, I would be going back to work tomorrow. On the one hand, this is a happy thing, and she knows it, because she knows how sad I've been not being able to go to work and how important my work is to me. On the other hand, this was a sad thing, because it would mean that I would be teaching Friday from 2-4 and thus I wouldn't be able to attend the special Mother's Day Tea and Crafts being held at school at that very same time. I knelt on the sidewalk where the picketers would soon be gathering and held her tightly while she cried at the disappointment. But she understood. She's been amazing through all of this.

The picket line was worn down and rather defeated today. Some people were optimistic that this was a negotiating ploy. Many people were more realistic. We spent a lot more time checking our phones than we have other days, collectively.

I have plenty of non-academic projects I've been catching up on during my time at home. I didn't even try to do any of them today. I watched a movie and crocheted instead, and watched the news trickle in. Sally Hunt's disappointing speech to the protestors. 22 out of 64 branches planning to vote no. 43 out of 64. The reps were on the train to London, last chance to email them. The reps meeting and the unequivocal rejection. The HEC meeting. The news that the proposal was blocked. That came in while I was en route to get G from school (via some errands downtown where I got accosted by Unicef volunteers about six different times, and rather rudely brushed them off because I knew if I tried to respond politely to their "how are you"/"do you have a moment" questions I would end up vomiting strike talk all over them, because there was no space left in my brain for anything else. And I figured that that wasn't really fair on them), which means one person was unequivocally happy about how things turned out today -- she shouted and cheered when she found out I'm most likely still available to come to the Mother's Day thing at school on Friday. :)

We'll keep on. We'll keep on doing what we're doing, as long as we need to/as long as we can. I'm doing better than I was doing last night. But last night was really quite scary.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Today I am on strike, day 10

I don't even know what to say. I read the news half an hour ago, and the sharp downturn my mood has taken scares me.

I feel like our work and our effort and our actions are worth even less than nothing. This is not a resolution, this is a postponement.

It feels like a betrayal.

I just don't know what to say. I'm not even sure I know what to feel.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Today I am on strike, day 9

I've spent a lot of time yesterday and today thinking about what counts as strike-breaking.

I take being on strike quite seriously, and to do so I need to have a clear conception of what counts as "work" for me.

Some things are obvious and easy: I am not teaching, I am not holding office hours, I'm not grading papers, I'm not writing journal articles, I'm not doing admissions for our MA program, I'm not writing recommendation letters, I'm not attending meetings, I'm not advising dissertation students.

The temptation to do research is hard to resist, in part because my "to read" stack is so high, and it's so full of things that I want to read for my own intellectual curiosity. Most of the time, I don't have time for that, so I only read things directly related to my current writing and teaching. there is an insidious voice that whispers in my ear "You've got all this time, why don't you read some of those papers? You'd be reading them 'for fun', not for work. Really, it's okay."

What this voice is bringing up is the wider issue of that elusive thing called "work-life balance".

For many years, I was happy to bring work home with me. Grad school in the US took up pretty much all of my waking hours. My husband and I courted each other by having burgers in a pub and working through computational complexity and calculus textbooks together. One semester after we were married, we ate more meals together in the break room at the library where we both worked any time we weren't taking classes or teaching than we did at home. Work, research, and our relationship were intertwined.

When we moved to the Netherlands and embarked on a PhD programme with much more sensible work expectations, I found that the process of research was something I found soothing. I'd spend my nine hours in the office doing logic, and then come home and wind down with a few hours of onomastics in the evenings. I valued that relaxation-research so much, I made a conscious effort to keep my onomastic work from becoming "real". For years, I wouldn't admit to it in academic contexts. Even when I finally did, I explicitly called it my hobby research.

But the best thing I ever did for work-life balance was have a kid. She started nursery 20 hours a week at 4 months, and moved to 40 hours a week at 13 months. But 40 hours my max -- I was not going to live a life where she was way from me longer than that. The result was that I was in the office 9-5 M-F. As she got older, I found that I was dreading weekends -- two whole days that I'd be home with her, unable to get any work done. Eventually, I realised that I needed to give up on getting any work done on the weekends -- and my life improved immensely. Since moving to Durham, I've adhered pretty strongly to my 40 hour work week (including not reading or answering emails after 5pm during the week or on weekends). There are always exceptions -- I might work an evening or two if a paper deadline is coming up, or when I have a stack of exams to mark, or a pile of dissertations to read, and I'm still putting in more than a full day's work any time I'm at a conference. But these are exceptions, and happen only a handful of times a year. (This makes ASOS and the concept of "working to contract" frustrating to me, because I feel like I already am!)

When I finally took the plunge and launched the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources, I was worried that I was taking something that was a get-away, an escape, and turning it into something that would be "work". (So far, that hasn't happened yet!) I've now attended conferences and published onomastic papers that are completely removed from any formal education I've had or anything that I've been contracted to pursue in my capacity as a lecturer in logic in the department of philosophy. But I do so under the affiliation "Durham University" (though for onomastic stuff, because it is not philosophical at all, I tend to give my departmental affiliation as "Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies" instead of "Department of Philosophy". So that means that, indirectly, and probably with very minimal effect, Durham benefits from my onomastic research, and accrues some prestige (albeit infinitesimal!) from being associated with me and this work of mine.

Yesterday, I wrote a blog post for the DMNES blog which could be construed as containing original research produced while on strike. I struggled over whether it was okay for me to write the post. Is this violating my commitment to withdraw my labor? Am I giving benefit to my university for free?

I've ultimately come down on the side of "No", and it has to do with the fact that having a work/life balance means that the university does not own all of me. My affiliation does not mean that I cannot write fiction while on strike, because one day my university can bask in my light of being a famous published author (hey, a woman can dream). My affiliation does not mean that every research adjacent thing I do is somehow "claimable" by the university.

To say that I can only do research within the context of my academic affiliation is to refuse to allow me the right to balance my work and my life. My life involves research. It always will, no matter what my work is. And this isn't a matter of saying "my work is my life" -- because it isn't. This part of my life is the part of my life that won't get me a job, won't get me promoted, won't do anything other than satisfy me, and my desire to write, to research, to learn, to explore.

So I'll forgive myself and allow myself that blog post. I'll allow myself to write stories. This is not part of my labor, and I am under no requirement to withdraw it.

All that being said, I'm so glad tomorrow I can go back to work.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Today I am on strike, day 8

I'm rather tired of all this now.

I'm tired of the disrupted schedule -- getting up at different times each morning, picking my child up from school different times each morning, never sure if I'm going to have a pleasant evening in bed reading or if I'm going to have the fires of my anger stoked until I can't fall asleep until after midnight. I'm tired of not getting to do my research, I'm tired of having to decide what counts as "work" and what doesn't so that I don't inadvertently strike break. I'm tired of wearing basically the same outfit each day, because even though the snows have let up I still have to dress for 2 hours in the cold every day.

What I'm not tired of is standing on the picket. Today's main picket was in the afternoon, in a part of campus south of me and thus inconvenient in both time and place. When I found out that there was going to be an alternative picket arranged for the morning, at a department I walk by after dropping G. off at school, I happily opted to join that instead. So I spent two hours this morning with people from the history department, most of whom I didn't know, and one of whom happens to specialise in 19th C labor law! I put on my medievalist hat and we had some excellent conversations. (We all agreed that while 'medieval' is often used as a pejorative, in the current context we really wish we could make universities medieval again -- every undergraduate has to take logic, and universities are governed by officials elected from the academic pool. Wouldn't that be amazing?) We all commented on how unexpectedly lovely these opportunities have been -- going so far as to joke that we should perhaps go on strike once a term, every term, or, since that joke is perhaps a bit in bad taste, we should require vast numbers of academics to stand outside in the streets for two hours a day every day for a week. The cross-collaboration that this would lead too would be amazing!

At the start of this strike, "solidarity" was a rather empty buzz word for me. But now, I feel like I am anchored in a community that is larger than the sum of its parts, and it's actually pretty amazing.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Today I am on strike, day 7

Last night around 10pm, I entered a parallel dimension.

Or at least, that's what it felt like. The rest of the world actually entered it two hours earlier, but I had taken a twitter hiatus to watch BBC quiz shows and MasterChef. I came back to twitter to find @UniversitiesUK had gone into some sort of bizarre meltdown (rogue? playing games? drunk? Trump? incompetent? No one seemed to know).

For those of you that missed it, here's a recap. The upshot of it was that after day 1 of mediated talks (Monday/yesterday), UCU was saying "we'll stay here day and night until we sort something out", while UUK was saying "Eh, sorry, we're busy. How about Wednesday?" Or, another version, "Um, we haven't actually done our homework yet, can we get an extension?" But around 8pm yesterday evening, all of a sudden the tables were turned. UUK was saying they'd meet "any time, any place!" The following "found poem" is taken directly from their tweets:

Whether through incompetence or malice, this meant we were being dicked around:

I was -- and still am -- so angry. (I was so livid, I was rage-eating ice cream. Finished the tub and then still needed a dram of bourbon before bed.)

By the time I went to bed, no one had any idea what UUK's tweets meant. I didn't have time to check social media when I got up in the morning, but looked forward to everyone's speculation on the picket line. It wasn't until our two hours were up and a few of us had repaired to a cafe to warm up that we found out that UUK actually meant it -- talks resumed today. (Of course, they still hadn't done their homework, so none of us were sure what they'd be talking about. My guess was the weather. It's a very British topic of conversation, and we've had plenty of it lately.)

I hadn't expected to picket every day. I have other, non-work/academic, projects that I'd happily spend my strike days working on (and I'm sure my husband would like it if I spent at least some of my time at home tidying the house. Maybe next week). But I have found that it is such a haven of collegiality and friendship and -- yes -- joy, that I keep going back. I have found, the last three weeks, that I am forging connections and making friends that transcend my department, and when we are back to work, I'm pretty sure we will all be going back to our universities with a transformed outlook. I hate that these bonds have to be forged this way, but when things are over, I will be glad that these bonds have been forged. I truly feel like I am part of a universitas, something universal, and not just the lone logician not really fitting in to a department of philosophers or pretending to be a medievalist amongst a bunch of real medievalists.

I'm lucky that if I have to be on strike, I get to do it with some pretty amazing people.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Today I am on strike, day 6

It's amazing how quickly it all becomes routine, how quickly we adapt to the new norm.

In the morning now, I get up, I gather all my clothes and layer them on, I check to make sure I have everything I need in my canvas strike bag -- extra gloves, umbrella, a new package of tissues -- and I put on the warm coat instead of the stylish coat. I leave the books behind. My daughter collects her school things, and grabs her picket sign. This is what is normal now.

Today talks between UCU and UUK, mediated by ACAS, began. At one point today I read a news article that indicated that the president of UUK wasn't even there -- she clearly had something else more important to do. It eventually became clear that most of UUK has something better to do, because despite having had UCU's documents for a week, they hadn't yet had time to review them sufficiently, and also wouldn't have time to meet again until Wednesday this week.

One wonders what else it is they are doing that could be more important than this.

One also wonders how on earth they can think that stalling will give us any incentive to do anything other than continue to strike, continue to gather at the pickets, continue to stand strong. Do they really think that by showing us so little regard is going to make us go, "Huh, I guess maybe I should go back to work, clearly I'm a valued and important part of the UK university system." I sometimes feel like those we are negotiating with seem to have forgotten who it is they are dealing with: We are smart, educated people, trained in history, in economics, in modeling, in critical thinking, in argumentation. You're not going to pull the wool over our collective eyes.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

February writing wrap-up

Last month I averaged 899 words a day, for a total of 25194 words. About the same amount of admin as last month, slightly more nonfiction, a depressingly small amount of fiction, and you can clearly see when I joined my university's strike action. I can't do admin or nonfiction, I'm struggling to write fiction due to the mental and physical exhaustion of being on strike, so all that leaves to eke out my 400 words/day every 5 out of 7 days is blog posts. I have found it useful to write up my experiences of being on strike, but I miss writing. I miss working on my academic papers, I miss writing fiction. Today is not a strike day, but due to having been off five days and still being quite ill, I've been struggling to get any rhythm going. I'm prioritizing writing homework assignments and answer keys, and adding examples to my textbook, and am giving myself permission to be satisfied with that, even though they don't generate much in terms of word count. They are what matter, what will make the biggest difference to my students, and that matters more than meeting some arbitrarily set goal.

And at least this blog post's words count.