Posts tagged ‘Inside Higher Ed’

The Union Problem

I have always defended private unions on the ground that workers have a freedom of association just as much as anyone else.  I think the government has tilted the playing field in the union's favor too much, but I will leave that aside for today.  I will also leave aside the problem of public unions, where there is no one really representing the taxpayer on the other side of the table in negotiations (many politicians in union states owe their jobs to union support).

Leave all of that aside.  The economic problem with unions tends to be that they are such a conservative (little c) force in an economy that needs dynamism to grow and expand wealth.  Here is a great example:

The University of California last week tentatively agreed to a deal with UC-AFT that included a new provision barring the system and its campuses from creating online courses or programs that would result in “a change to a term or condition of employment” of any lecturer without first dealing with the union.

Bob Samuels, the president of the union, says this effectively gives the union veto power over any online initiative that might endangers the jobs or work lives of its members. “We feel that we could stop almost any online program through this contract,” Samuels told Inside Higher Ed.

I have said for a long time that negotiations for pay and benefits (in private unions) tend to be the least problematic union activity (different story in public unions, where the relationship to management is not adversarial).  Longer term, union imposed work rules and restrictions tend to be much more costly.  The reason I think is that corporate executives can easily value the difference between various pay and benefits packages, but have a hard time valuing flexibility and dynamism.  If union rules cut off potential future as-yet-unknown growth and cost reduction efforts, the cost of these rules can be huge but equally they can be almost impossible to value (more like options pricing than straight cost-benefit).

The Right Not to be Offended

One of the main salients in the war against free speech is the notion that people somehow have the right not to be offended;  in other words, that authorities may legitimately limit speech that gives offense to anyone.

I could site a zillion examples, particularly on campuses, but this one is at the top of my inbox (emphasis added):

Sparks flew during question period at a Nov. 21 Carleton University
Students' Association (CUSA) council meeting after a motion that would
prevent pro-life groups from assembling on CUSA space was tabled.

The motion -"” moved by Katy McIntyre, CUSA vice-president (student
services), on behalf of the Womyn's Centre -"” would amend the campus
discrimination policy to state that "no CUSA resources, space,
recognition or funding be allocated for anti-choice purposes." ...

According to McIntyre, anti-choice groups are gender-discriminatory and violate CUSA's safe space practices.

The motion focuses on anti-choice groups because they aim to abolish
freedom of choice by criminalizing abortion. McIntyre said this
discriminates against women, and that it violates the Canadian
Constitution by removing a woman's right to "life, liberty and
security" of person....

McIntyre said she received complaints after Lifeline organized an
academic debate on whether or not elective abortion should be made

"[These women] were upset the debate was happening on campus in a
space that they thought they were safe and protected, and that
respected their rights and freedoms," said McIntyre....

Julien de Bellefeuille, Student Federation of the University of
Ottawa vice-president (university affairs), said that although his
student association does not currently have any policies regulating
anti-choice groups, he said the motion is a good idea and something
that his school should adopt as well.

Note that the debate is not over whether abortion should be illegal, but whether advocates of abortion bans can even discuss their position publicly.  Ms. McIntyre is arguing straight out, with no possibility of confusion of motives, that she thinks that women who believe as she does should be protected from being anywhere in the vicinity of an opponent of her position (presumably she could protect herself without this motion simply by not listening to such speech, so the purpose most be to eliminate opposing speech altogether.

I have a couple of thoughts.  First, there is no right not to be offended.  Trying to define any such right will be the end of free speech.  Second, its funny how the offense is only treated as one-way.  While I am OK with abortion, I have many friends who vociferously oppose it.  I am positive they are in turn offended by supporters of abortion, but I don't see any motion here to protect them from offense or provide them a "safe zone" free of opposing views.  Third, it strikes me that a better word for the "safe zone" she wants is "echo chamber,"  where like-minded people as her can be free from having to hear any opposing opinion.

Update:  The next item in my inbox happened to be on the same topic, and is from FIRE:

A professor at the University of Idaho has asked students to sign a
"statement of understanding" acknowledging that some of the films he
shows may have content that is offensive to some students. Inside Higher Ed brings us the story.

In a university culture where the avoidance of offense is considered a
sacred principle on many campuses, it's not surprising that Professor
Dennis West would hit on a method already commonly used when engaging
in nearly any activity that comes with even a minimal amount of risk.
It's sad that showing films to students can now be considered a risky
activity, but it's not surprising. Episodes like the University of New
Hampshire's reaction to a joking flyer, or Gonzaga's classification of
a flyer as hate speech simply because the flyer contained the word
"hate," make it clear that film professors"”who sometimes show graphic,
violent, or even merely political films"”do indeed have something to
worry about. This is a sad commentary on today's academic culture.