Category Archives: students

Corporatist America?

We’re not sure what can be done about it, but we regret the decision of the National Labor Relations Board that unionization of graduate students among private sector universities is now legal and a possibility.
The board — mostly Democrats — in a 3-1 decision ruled that there is no clear language in the National Labor Relations Act that would forbid teaching assistants from being classified as employees. The Board ruled that “they perform work at the direction of the university, for which they are compensated,” and therefore have the right to organize unions, the board’s majority said in its decision.
The NLRB has overall jurisdiction over union-organizing elections and referees in private sector workplace disputes. It doesn’t have jurisdiction over the public sector where a small portion of the roughly one million graduate students at public universities have been unionized for decades, generally covered by state law, not federal law. The new ruling came in response to a petition by the United Auto Workers Union’s free-swinging District 50 which has gone far beyond the bounds of its motorcar industry origins to expand unionization.
The petition asking for the new ruling – it reversed an earlier 2004 decision in regards to Brown University — from Columbia graduate students had drawn opposition from schools including Harvard University and Stanford University. The ruling could also cost schools millions of dollars in increased compensation.
But the universities’ administration opposition to the ruling in a joint legal brief, said collective bargaining in graduate programs could disrupt their ability to choose who would teach specific classes. The ruling rejects previous board decisions which argued whether teaching assistants should be seen primarily as students or employees; the majority decision now argued that they can be both.
Students deserve such protection when “they perform work, at the direction of the university, for which they are compensated,” the board ruled. The decision will pose a challenge for some of the nation’s most prestigious universities, who opposed it, warning that a decision in favor of the students could disrupt colleges across the country by injecting collective bargaining into graduate programs and adding an additional expense burden.
Philip A. Miscimarra, the Board’s single dissenter, argued that his colleagues disregarded the enormous expense faced these days by many students to finance higher education. “Congress never intended that the [National Labor Relations Act] and collective bargaining would be the means by which students and their families might attempt to exercise control over such an extraordinary expense.”
It remains to be seen whether the universities will challenge successively the NLRB ruling in the courts for a reversal. Prolonged fights over NLRB nominees slowed down the process by which the board could rule. Other universities are expected to challenge the NLRB decision in court.
Our own objection to the decision goes much further toward what we feel is a far move important insidious current in American life. We see this action as another move toward “corporatism”, toward the representation of conflicting economic and political interests through a corporate entity. We do not call this fascism, of course, although it was the original ideological underpinning of 1930s Fascism in Italy which sought in a world of increasingly complicated industrial and societal relationships to substitute the power of an organized entity [a corporation], whether it be on the left [trade unions] or the right [industrial associations] for negotiating the more intricate personal relations than of an earlier time.
Nowhere in the whole scheme of life is the relationship between the individuals – the teacher and the pupil – more important than between teacher and student. To substitute for that relationship, a collective [corporation] is to our mind the worst sort of deterioration of that very complicated and somewhat mysterious process of teaching, learning and education. Would it not be possible to somehow increase what we acknowledge is the current undercompensation of the graduate student-tutor rather replace his personal relationship with his individual learner?

Libertarians unite!

A frightening wave of suppression of freedom of expression has swept the U.S., and most concerning of all, it is occurring in our universities and schools. If the university has meaning at all in democratic societies, it is as a stage on which ideas – all ideas – are permitted to compete for the considerzation of both student and teacher alike. Alas! in the current infringement of free speech, it is too often the faculty, products of the hectic 60s now arrived at the lectern, who are participants and even sponsors.

  • A Palestinian human rights activist opposed to the anti-Israel BDS movement was threatened, and eventually forced to cancel a talk during a tour of Chicago-area universities.
  • Students at California State University, Los Angeles, barricaded entrances to a theater where conservative commentator Ben Shapiro was to deliver a speech, ironically, about censorship and diversity on college campuses.
  • A Florin High School Sacramento, CA, sophomore was suspended for recording a video showing her principal getting body slammed with the rationale she had put it on Facebook, and then, that it was a security concern.
  • South Carolina’s Trumbull High School Principal Marc Guarino tried to cancel a student production of RENT, calling it too controversial, until more than 1,500 signatures and growing national media coverage forced an acknowledgement of freedom of school drama and musical theater companies.
  • New Hampshire parents have limited what their kids learn in school under state law even if the material is deemed educationally valuable by the faculty and sometimes has led to the removal of material for other people’s kids as well whose parents want them to be taught that material.
  • One in six colleges impose “free speech zones” that restrict liberty and violate First Amendment rights, as for example, Colorado Mesa University, where the administration provides only a thumbnail freespeech patio for a student body of nearly 10,000.
  • Despite teachers’ efforts to highlight the value of thw award-winning book, Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, it has been banned from the Sweet Home School Districtin Oregon in 8th grade classrooms.
  • Pennsylvania’s  Muhlenberg School District Middle School English teachers were told that books from a National Council of Teachers of English conference could not be added to their classroom libraries before they were “checked”.
  • The Kansas Board of Regents’ failed to revise a policythat says a university chief executive officer can discipline employees, up to termination, for “improper use of social media,” and to restore an art exhibition at the Dykes Library titled “Tom Gregg: Unsold – Grenades, Cute Animals and Bad Apples.”
  • Georgia’s Kennesaw State reinstated an article about lynching from an opening exhibition at the new Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art, after recognizing that the potentially offensive content could provide an opportunity to discuss the complexity of historical figures.

“The role of a university is to promote the clash of ideas, to test the results of research with other scholars, and to impart new knowledge to students,” as the last British governor of Hong Kong and former European Union commissioner for external affairs has written. “Freedom of speech is thus fundamental to what universities are, enabling them to sustain a sense of common humanity and uphold the mutual tolerance and understanding that underpin any free society. … [T]he irony today is that some of the most worrying attacks on these values have been coming from inside universities.”

In the end, society must take a certain risk if the fundamental right of freedom of expression in a democracy is to be maintained. That so many of the recent flagrant violations of free speech have taken place in an academic environment is the most worrying of what is, of course, a continuing battle between concerns for public safety and the state of mental health.






Tolerance and toleration


“No offense intended. None taken.”

That old tried and true cliched axiom of American social relations seems to have been lost in the latest outbreak of campus madness; we have lived through several you know!

In a free society where the fundamental issue of freedom of speech is sacrosanct, it is obvious that there will be virtually constant friction.

You are allowed to say anything which is not actionable to the detriment of others. There is the dictum of Oliver Wendel Holmes, perhaps the most distinguished American jurist of all time, in his famous “clear and present danger” opinion for a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court in the 1919 case of Schenck vs. United States. One of Holmes great attributes was that he could lay out the law in language anyone could understand. In this case, he said that free speech did not cover crying “fire” in a crowded theater when there was otherwise no real danger of an incendiary. That obviously could produce a stampede which would indeed be a menace to life and limb.

Free speech is therefore likely to go off the rails, in the U.S. as in other democracies, when it wobbles in either direction: that is, when it goes over the line out rightly advocating violence in what would be construed as an inevitable manner. On the other hand, there is current wave of violating the very essence of free speech among a growing little band of university students. They see all criticism of totems of their particularly prejudices as prohibitive. Or they take it upon themselves to determine what is allowed or what is not permitted, what is in accordance with morality and what is immoral. .

Young people will be young people, and that includes their “knowing” that they can replace ancient verities with their new found knowledge and insight.

What is disturbing about the current wave of intellectual warfare in what are supposed to be the seats of higher learning in this country is that the raging students either are able to immediately intimidate the recognized authorities, or worse still, get faculty acquiescence to their fantasies.

Neither of these phenomena are unknown. Courage in the face of a screaming rabble is a rare commodity. That is true even if it is a crowd composed of what could be well dressed young people whose parents have the wherewithal to pay enormous tuition and other costs for a vaunted education. That kind of intellectual courage has never been nor will it ever be abundant.

And that the students’ worst violations of logic are endorsed by the generation of academics who still cling to their idiocies of the 1960s – their half-understood accumulations of socialist thought that had been debated over several centuries and always found wanting. That was, too, to be expected. Having not accomplished their revolution, these parlor guerrillas have followed some of their leading lights of those days and pledged to make their transformation of society through “the long march through the institutions”. Supporting loud and misguided young student revolutionaries is better than putting their own highly paid careers in jeopardy through a forthright advocacy of their own pseudo-revolutionary agenda.

This too will pass.

But the concern is with a group of young people, soon emerging into adult life and its responsibilities, presumably as our elite, who do not seem to grasp the fundamental premise of democracy. That is, the old saw that I oppose your ideas with all my being, but I would fight to the death to defend your right to express them.

There is an essential difference, therefore, between tolerance and toleration. To tolerate is to permit others to express their opinions and be heard. Tolerance is a well honed ability to listen to opposing opinions with receptive understanding to better appreciate the views of others and to examine, studiously, whether they may indeed be better than our own. That is what is being lost at the moment, and puts us in great jeopardy.