The engagement by Christian students with the recent industrial action by the staff of the University of Sydney has been quite underwhelming. Most of the students I have spoken with (or have seen conversing about the strikes on social media) have responded in one of three ways:
- “Oh yay, a day off!”
- “This is so unfair! I’ve paid for these classes!”
- “I wish the staff cared more about my learning than about money, but clearly they don’t.”
This is a depressingly poor level of engagement with the issues raised by the University’s teaching staff.
Full disclosure: I work on Sydney Uni’s main campus ministering alongside Christian students. I’m not a student or an employee of the University of Sydney. If I were, I’d be joining in the protest. But the reasoning behind that isn’t the point of this post.
The point of this post is that none of the responses above are good enough from a thinking Christian university student (or, for that matter, from any university student). These responses lack any engagement at all on the issues the staff have raised. Instead, the first two represent an uncritical “Me! Me! Me!” attitude. The strikes are wrong because they are an inconvenience.
But, especially for Christians, there are things that are more important than personal inconvenience. You’ve missed a few classes, sure, but maybe there’s something more than that going on. Jesus’ command to love our neighbour demands that we engage those who are angry and alarmed enough to strike in love. We have no right to dismiss their concerns on the basis that it’s inconvenient for us.
The third of the above responses reflects an uncritical, ignorant and unloving assumption. How do you know this is all about money? Have you heard a lecturer say that? Furthermore, is that even a logical connection to make? Only one of the concerns raised by the staff relates to salary. Most students don’t seem to have any idea what the other concerns are. In fact, academics are arguing that the agreement the University is pursuing would decrease the quality of your learning. Maybe they care more than you think. Maybe they think missing a few classes is worth it to try to secure your education in the long term. They might be right; they might not. But to assume they don’t care about your education is ignorant and unkind.
I would encourage any Christian students at Sydney University to put their intellect to use in a Christian fashion and really think about what this industrial action means. A good place to start would be this open letter by a senior academic to the Vice Chancellor.
You may decide the strike is inappropriate, you may decide you agree with the staff who have taken this action. Whichever way you come down on the issue, make sure you’ve engaged with it, instead of making an uncritical and unloving judgement.
UPDATE: I’ve realised it is worth clarifying that I do think some of those on strike have behaved appallingly. Whether or not the industrial action itself or the form it has taken is justified (questions which were not the purview of this post), physically and verbally agressive behaviour towards those trying to get on campus isn’t appropriate.