The current friction in Wisconsin between the unions and the governer has a similar precedent. In 1980 the TA’s went on strike over collective bargaining among other issues, during the last three months of my senior year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
It was an educational experience – in many unpleasant ways: it strained friendships, created animosity between some professors and students; personally, it jeopardized my graduation and left me trying to navigate the complexities of a situation I was marginally equiped to handle as an immature 21 year old.
My tuition was paid up. As a senior I had no TA’s as instructors but they were friends and peers. Woe to those in Professor X’s philosophy lecture. He announced that any absence during the strike would result in an automatic Fail for the course. I never returned to the Women’s Studies class because the professor supported the strike and cancelled the rest of the semester awarding all of us automatic “B’s. I spent that time period in Memorial Union watching “All My Children.” What a waste.
The rest of my professors advised students to let their conscience guide their actions. Sadly, my solution was to race across campus head down – hoping I wouldn’t pass any TA friends – (or that they wouldn’t recognize me), and then cut as quickly as possible through the picket lines, and the rows of trucks and teamsters that blocked the entrance to Vilas Hall. It was a miserable end to a wonderful three years.
I didn’t have the stomach to attend graduation – told my parents not to waste their time. My college career…just….ended…. after my final exam. I packed up and left campus without saying goodbye to anyone. The diploma came in the mail when I returned home to Chicago.
My first night in my childhood bed, I felt disoriented, disappointed, confused and adrift. I remembered how four years earlier, in that same bed, the night before leaving home, I couldn’t sleep — so filled with anticipation and hope about the possibilities.
And the result of the strike? The TA union was busted by the university. It took me quite a while to recover from the experience, too – more so than I realized at the time.