On the Ground 8

On the Ground 8

August 24, Joe’s birthday. Lots of good wishes.

His second class went fine. He spent a lot of time explaining our research project, which I will do in my class on Wednesday. I hope we can use the Frank Bardacke article on organizing in strawberries from the Stansbury Forum for this somehow (see previous post).

Then he turned to the book he is supposed to be teaching, Gass and Seiter. He proposed a discussion question that attempted to link a concept in the book (‘gamification’) to issues that the class is supposed to be about (Community Mobilizing) and the students, as if they understood what was really important, jumped right over the Gass and Seiter connection, took the microphone and talked explicitly about how to use social media and games, in the sense of friendly competition, to reach union members.

Many of the students have bought photocopied versions of the book. Good luck to them trying to read it! In a discussion with Dean Hoa about where they found the topic of “persuasion”, he said it was on the Cornell website and sure enough, there it was, a whole class on Social Persuasion in the Organizational Behavior department. Then today I was reading an email from the discussion about the fight for City College of San Francisco and they quoted the Chancellor as saying, “We lead by persuasion.” Maybe that’s who uses these concepts!

I attended Joe’s first class but went back to the office during his second class. While I was there, a young woman whose name is Helen came in and asked me if I would teach another class, this one on Cross Cultural Leadership. It’s part of the Business School curriculum but they don’t have a teacher for it. It’s going to be taught in English, all the students supposedly speak English, the readings are in English, etc. They got the curriculum for it from the University of Massachusetts (I don’t know which one). They have only one of the books for it, a German book in English. Helen was persuasive to the point of being insistent. It would be taught as a 6 week class, five “sessions” – 45 minute blocks – per day.

I said I’d do it if Dean Hoa gave permission, and apparently he has done so. She wants to start this Thursday. I said no way – give me at least a week to work on it!

It goes without saying that this is not the way I’d normally prepare to teach a class. I’ll start with reading Stephanie Luce’s 2014 book, Labor Movements, Global Perspectives, from Policy Press. Joe just finished it. There is also one chapter I can use in Northouse about comparative leadership cultures, with lists of characteristics. I think that the main thing I have to offer in this instance is teaching experience and the English language.

In Joe’s second class the students wrote “Happy Birthday” on the board and sang happy birthday to him when he came in. He was pleased and surprised.

After class, Dean Hoa organized seven of us going out to dinner together. It was raining and rush hour as we walked out of the campus onto the main street and down the sidewalk. We went a few hundred yards past open shops, some little more than sheds, selling everything from mattresses to granite counter tops to motorbike repair to food. Rush hour means motorbikes driving on the sidewalk, too. We turned in at a restaurant that revealed itself to have many criss-crossing staircases and inner rooms, all old dark wood. We wound up in a private dining room on the second floor, decorated with wall paper like someone’s 19th century home. Vast amounts of food began to arrive.

While we were sitting and eating I checked with Dean Hoa about this Business management class. He said it was fine; he wanted the President to know that international visitors to his faculty can benefit the whole University.

A young man whose name I must learn, who is a workplace environmental health and safety lecturer, who studied in Moscow and has taught in Europe, joined us. He is also a magician. He is tall, thin and has a wildly roguish unpredictable smile. Another lecturer whom I’ve met, who is a photographer, came with us, as did Vinh. Miss La appeared soon, coming from her class, and food by now was covering the table. Heinekin beer came in a tall glass urn and our glasses were refilled constantly by a young woman wearing a tight red short-skirted uniform, one degree more provocative than an airline stewardess’s outfit. Great eating, drinking and jollity ensued, followed by exchanges of personal history, performances of magic, presents for Joe (a beautiful blue shirt!) and a chocolate cake. I was asked if I had any “skills,” anything I could contribute to the fun. This is not something I’ve ever honed up on, but I can see that I’d better develop a skill. I sang a verse of Solidarity Forever and everyone joined in. Apparently Leanna and Hollis got the whole faculty to sing it together. I can tell stories; maybe I need to learn some jokes. Or at least some more songs.

Back to the university in pounding rain. They have “free pianos” scattered around the buildings. We stopped at one, I played a few phrases, then Vinh sat and played a real song, something I recognized but can’t name.

Joe got the following from the Higher Education International blog. Harvard, which has had a presence through the Kennedy School of Government since 1994, will aid in transitioning “a University-run public policy program into the first independent, non-profit US-affiliated university in Ho Chi Minh City.”


It will be called Fullbright University. Harvard will not be managing it, but will be involved.

Published by helenaworthen

Labor educator, retired from University of Illinois, taught at TDT University in Ho Chi Minh City in the Faculty of Trade Unions and Labor Relations. Co-author with Joe Berry of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the contingent faculty movement in higher education, forthcoming (August 2021) from Pluto Press.

One thought on “On the Ground 8

  1. I like your new course on comparative leadership cultures! Tks for the reference!


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