Dear President Shalala,

I write to suggest that the policy of putting the Ashe building into a state of lockdown in response to the appearance of union supporters, and keeping it that way for hours after their departure, is not accomplishing anything and is in fact counterproductive. It has now been three times in one week (on April 12, 14, and 18) that office staff and faculty have been prevented from entering our workplace. Most distressingly, students have been unable to attend classes in Ashe or meet with their instructors.

You have said that you are concerned that there be no disruptions of classes, yet your administration’s policy of locking Ashe-not the strikers’ actions-is causing such disruptions. Who does this policy protect and from whom? The janitorial workers and the union have not attempted to disrupt meetings of classes or the operations of the university. It seems that you and your administration view those of us among students and faculty who support the workers’ right to join a union by a legal method as the enemies of the university. We are not your enemies or the university’s, but we do believe that the university can reach a higher standard of excellence in its ethics and treatment of workers just as it can in teaching, research, and medical care. You have called those who support the workers outsiders, but these outsiders are members of what you like to refer to as the university community.

We do not need to have a security guard with a gun posted outside the entrances to the coffee shop and the library. What kind of message does that send?

It appears that you and your administration are overreacting to a challenge to the university’s long-standing unfair treatment of workers who are part of our community. Shows of force and impositions of lockdowns betray the administration’s awareness of the weakness of its own position. The model for a university that the administration seems to be following is that set by the government of the well-manicured nation of Singapore, an autocratic regime that reacts with well-known harshness to dissenters and trespassers.

Please rethink the way the university is defining itself under your leadership by engaging in serious negotiations with the workers to allow them the right to unionize by the legal method they prefer, and do not allow security to continue to harass students, teachers, and staff who are trying to carry out the university’s educational mission in Ashe.


Frank Palmeri

Professor of English