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Akio Kondo

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Studying by Correspondence in Summer

Akio Kondo
Professor of Labor Law, Faculty of Law, Chuo University

The Beginning of a Hot Summer

It is going to be another hot and sweltering summer this year.

As first semester classes and examinations wrap up for our regular students, distance-learning students from across Japan come to Western Tokyo, also known as the Tama area.

Learning in the correspondence division primarily takes place by reading assigned textbooks at home and writing reports on designated topics. This is the basic style for distance-learning students to deepen the knowledge, but in order to graduate the students must also earn a certain number of credit hours by taking schooling classes and by passing tests after finishing their classes. Since the Chuo University's buildings are usually used for holding other classes, the Correspondence Division must inevitably give lessens during the summer vacation, when regular classes are not in session. Therefore, many distance-learning students who typically study at home come to Tama Campus from across the country.

It is as if the regular students take a vacation to escape the heat while our distance-learning students congregate in this hot spot to carry on their studies. And they of course work in a variety of jobs back in their hometowns in order to make a living, so the cost of temporarily putting their work and private lives on hold to pay for accommodations and other daily expenses in Tama - in addition to the course fees - is all for the sake of their studies.

Employment practice in Japan are typically based on one's academic record when you join a company, so even if you build on your education after getting hired it will not lead to immediate changes or promotion. Naturally there are the students who are now working part-time and want to use their qualifications to find new work after graduation, as well as those who hope to advance their careers in another line of work. However, the majority study by correspondence and attend the schooling without any prospect of resultant career advancement. The reason they do so is that they have a passion to study in the Faculty of Law at Chuo University and contribute to their self-improvement by engaging in authentic scholarly pursuits.

Only the Faculty of Law is part of the Correspondence Division at Chuo University. Accordingly, while teachers in other faculties take their summer vacation to refresh themselves after working hard during the first semester or to devote themselves to further research, we instructors in the Faculty of Law must inescapably give lectures during the schooling. To be honest, this burden is beyond rigorous and has a tremendous negative effect on our research. However, what motivates the instructors in the Faculty of Law to continue helping our distance-learning students anyway is that compared to the university's regular students, they have a much greater drive and burning desire to study hard and with a single-minded focus in the Faculty of Law, Chuo University. This is because we feel that the basis of university education is the desire of students to learn and of instructors to teach.

Changes: Distance-learning students and their Interests

Naturally, when we take a closer look, we find that distance-learning students' situations are changing. I was first put in charge of summer schooling classes in the early 1970s, immediately after I left the Doctoral Program of the Graduate School (with credit hours earned). At the time, with the exception of civil servants, it was not allowed for workers to take time off from work to attend the schooling. Others would quit their jobs to take the schooling, find new work afterward and then quit again for the next year's screenings. Some would take on extra work at their company to make up for their time away while taking schooling. Whether the students were civil servants or not, they still had to make tremendous efforts before and after the schooling in order to attend them.

Their desire to study and attend the schooling under such circumstances was extraordinary. For example, if an instructor would arrive a few minutes after the chime signaling the beginning of class or, when at first we had two instructors taking turns teaching a course and the materials they covered overlapped just a little and wasted time, the student objected. Although class start times are still a very sensitive subject for students, their attitude towards learning has become more relaxed in some way. It was not just that I was a young and inexperienced instructor; there was a tangible tension in the classroom in which the students paid considerable attention to the content and quality of my lectures. If taking classes has become more affordable and the class environment has been improved, then it would be ironic if that has led to a looser attitude towards studying.

Major changes in recent years have raised the number of female students while we have seen different topics covered by graduation theses due to other changes in the world today.

Students studying by correspondence write a thesis which must receive a passing grade for them to graduate. Since most students are employed, the majority of thesis topics they select are related to labor law. The makeup of our students and the things that are happening in the world at the time they make their choices heavily influence their topic selections.

Many distance-learning students are civil servants. Until the 1970s, the large majority of topics dealt with the issue of basic labor rights for civil servants (restrictions and deprivation), which was a hot topic at the time. Starting in the late-1970s it was karoshi, which is when an employee dies of overwork (and is a problem that is still not rare but has decreased since). Since the late-1980s, with the enactment and enforcement of equality laws (1986) and the rise in female university students mentioned above, more students have been choosing equal employment issues. Women had rarely written theses on labor law until then, but now they make up the majority of students.

Expectations towards Distance-learning students - Cllective Labor Relation Law Perspective

I am in charge of writing textbooks and conducting screening lectures for the correspondence education program in the field of organized labor relations, which falls within my specialty in labor law, but I don't see theses written in this field anymore. Furthermore, I have to deal with the fact that when I have distance-learning students in lectures with experience in labor, they are unfamiliar with matters that I once used to assume they would know about.

This is because true labor union activity has vanished from Japan and labor unions have degenerated into nothing more than ladies-in-waiting at Japanese companies. Meanwhile, the labor environment continues to worsen with problems such as those surrounding temporary workers. However, if each individual worker is not angry about the labor environment and does not have the will to utilize one's own power to tear it down, then the labor environment, and thus Japanese society, will not improve at all. Hence, I believe that if laborers are oppressed, then we cannot revitalize society into an energetic one. This is why I believe that legal work protections for laborers are a basic labor right.

Because of my beliefs, I hope and firmly expect distance-learning students to use the passion they exhibit in the schooling to take what they learn in their studies of organized labor relations law and use it to revitalize their surrounds in various aspects of their lives.

As I fret about the oppressive heat in the classrooms due to the reduced use of air conditioning to conserve power, which is in short supply, I remember the lecture hall in the Surugadai Campus, before the campus was transferred to Tama, where we studied with no air conditioning and icicles in the hallway in winter. Because of global warming we cannot make an easy comparison between then and now, but I think the task before us is to convert our passion for learning into power that will allow us to overcome today's obstacles so that we can acquire knowledge.

Lastly, I sincerely hope that all distance-learning students who attend the schooling stay healthy and safe, achieve the goals you are hoping for, and return to your homes so that you can work to revitalize them.

Akio Kondo
Professor of Labor Law, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Born in Tokyo in 1942. Graduated from the Law Department, Faculty of Law, Chuo University in 1965. Completed the Master's Program of the Political Science at the Graduate School of Law at Chuo University in 1967. Left the Doctoral Program of the Private Law at the Graduate School of Law at Chuo University in 1970 (with credits earned). Has served as an instructor and assistant professor at the Faculty of Law, Chuo University, before he got his present post in 1990. He is currently interested in the subjects of the establishment of legal principles to ensure "laborer independence" with regards to the guarantee of basic labor rights as well as the reconstruction of work injury compensation principles premised on society's guarantee of workers' accident compensation insurance. His main published work is Rodou-hou I [Labor Law I] (Chuo University Publishing).