Monday, January 23, 2017

Teaching Labor in Saigon


I've mentioned on Facebook that I've spent the last couple of weeks teaching at a Saigon labor college. I'm writing now to give an update -- and a heads-up to anyone who might be interested in either a short-term gig or a longer-term Fulbright here. Both, I think, would be terrific options.

TDTU is a public university located in an affluent (mostly Korean ex-pat) suburb of Siagon. Students come from middle- and working-class families. They are dedicated and work hard. The school aspires to be a top-100 university worldwide, and a big part of its definition of success is ensuring that all students know English (which is still a work-in-progress).
The campus is beautiful. It is indistinguishable from a suburban American campus and is very well-maintained. Security is tight and everyone feels safe walking around campus at all hours of the day or night. Students are incredibly deferential to faculty - a head-bow is the norm even in casual passing with students you've never seen before -- and students often approach to speak informally and practice their English skills.
Though facilities and groundskeeping are generously funded, domestic faculty workloads are heavy. The Uni supplements its faculty by hiring copious adjuncts in the law school and by inviting foreign visitors to teach for anywhere from 2 weeks (my gig) to a year (my successor who is coming on a Fulbright). The Uni has robust business schools and a labor relations school. It also has a new law school, which despite being only 3 years old already enrolls nearly 1000 (mostly undergraduate) students.
Visitng faculty are treated well. I was housed in a University apartment, which was a spacious accommodation immediately underneath the soccer bleachers. Staff are incredibly attentive to your every need, including laundry. Food is plentiful and dirt-cheap at the student canteens, faculty dining hall, and street-food stalls across the street, (There's also plenty of higher-end, sit-down service nearby, but I only went there when the Uni folks took me out -- the other options were cheaper (hard to spend more than $2/meal) and at least as good.
There's a group of about 10-ish Americans, mostly labor-activist types, who teach at TDTU regularly on a purely volunteer basis. These tend to be Vietnam-war-activist-types who see this as a way of giving back. I get the impression that their virulent pro-labor quasi-socialist ideology is taken with a grain of salt by the more pragmatic University folks and students. Official government policy is still socialist, but Saigon is as wildly capitalistic as you can imagine. Workers rights are important but so is overall economic prosperity. Most folks here recognize that the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Indeed, the ILO and he Better Works Program have accomplished huge strides in convincing foreign brands and local manufacturers that reasonable workplace standards make good business sense.
I suspect that many of you would be most interested in either a short-time visit like I did or a Fulbright. A short-time visit can be for as little as two weeks (that's what I did - I tag-teamed a course with an American instructor who will finish the course I started. I paid my travel; TDTU provided my accommodation, but did not provide a stipend (not did I ask for one). They treated me like royalty. An ideal visit might be on a Fulbright,which would pay you nicely for your time and travel. The Uni is  also looking for retired American faculty who are looking to do something different for a year. Under that arrangement, room/board would be provided generously, but the stipend, which I believe is still under negotiation, would be reasonable but hardly generous by Western standards.
The huge academic plus from my perspective is that this is where all the action is in labor law/markets. Major labor law reform happens here every couple of years. In 5 years Vietnam has gone from an undeveloped country to a middle-income country. Five years ago garment manufacturing was king and was ruled by foreign capital and management. In 5 short years Vietnam (especially the south, in the Saigon area) has invested heavily in ports/highways/education/general infrastructure, so the big manufacturing facilities increasingly are being managed (and staffed with back-office professionals) locally. As in China, wages are rising proportionally, leading to some migration of low-cost work to Bangladesh Cambodia and Myanmar. Labor markets and labor law are in tremendous flux, and though I would not pretend to be any expert on it, it is fascinating to observe from both an snails-eye and an bird's eye view.
Feel free to email me if I can answer any further questions.


International & Comparative L.E.L., Teaching | Permalink


This may be appealing for my research leave. Would be interested in more information. Best, Amir

Posted by: Amir Paz-Fuchs | Jan 24, 2017 2:26:29 PM

I have a sabbatical coming up in a couple of years and this would be of interest to me. Because it is a sabbatical I would not need a stipend. "rb" could you email me?

Posted by: Nancy White | Jan 27, 2017 5:47:25 AM

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