Tag Archives: labor

National Dream University—a Scam that Fell Through

The University of California (UC) has put the kibosh on plans to set up National Dream University, a low-cost, low-admissions-standards college where illegal immigrants were to be trained in activism on behalf of…illegal immigrants. National Dream U. was supposed to be a collaboration between UCLA’s Center for Labor Research and Education and the union-subsidized National Labor College in Maryland. A combination of embarrassing publicity and scrutiny by Republican state assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a member of the state appropriations committee that approves funding for the UC system, preceded UC President Mark Yudof’s announcement on Sept. 13 that National Dream U. would be shutting its doors even before they opened.

Yudof’s statement declared that the agreement between its labor research center and the National Labor College "was negotiated without the necessary approvals from UCLA’s academic and administrative leadership." Yudof  did not rule out future attempts by the center to collaborate with the National Labor College, but its statement did say that "any agreements would require a comprehensive academic and financial plan that has approval from appropriate parties.

National Dream U. had plans to offer an 18-credit-hour certificate program, mostly online, in immigrant rights and advocacy, with most of the courses to be taught by UCLA professors. Tuition would total nearly $5,000 less than the $7,218 that California residents pay for 18 credit hours, and the 2.5 grade-point-average for admissions would be well below the 3.7-plus average that 70 percent of entering freshman at the highly competitive UCLA possess. Furthermore, National Dream U., unlike UCLA, had an ideological litmus test for admission: "a commitment to immigrant/labor rights and social justice."

The Huffington Post reported (incorrectly, it turned out) that credits earned at National Dream U. could be automatically transferred to UCLA proper—although UCLA would still have been free to accept the credits if it wished. Then Donnelly leapt into the controversy, pointing out that "this is not the way to expend the precious limited resources, which should be available to California citizens rather than illegal aliens, no matter how deserving they may seem," as he told Fox News. Still, National Dream U. may not be dead yet. According to Fox News, Kent Wong, director of UCLA’s labor research center, recently told an audience of young activists, "[Y]ou will go onto become lawyers and teachers and doctors and members of the U.S. Senate to replace those old white men."

Should We Unionize the Grad Students?

On September 12, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing that focused on the subject of unionization of graduate students. Inside Higher ed covered the story.

Here is the issue. Private colleges and universities are subject to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which permits employees to seek to unionize through an election process overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. Employees can petition for the NLRB to hold an election and when at least 30 percent indicate their desire for an election, it will be scheduled. If more than half of the workers vote in favor of a union, it then becomes the exclusive representative of all the workers and the employer is legally compelled to bargain with union officials “in good faith.”

Labor unions have been steadily eroding except in the public sector for decades. Their political allies would like to see that decline reversed and are happy to help unions open up new “markets.” That is why the prospect of unionizing grad students appeals to Democrats, who receive almost all of the political support dished out by Big Labor.

Under the NLRA, which is vague as to just who is an “employee” and who is not, grad students are currently regarded as outside the definition. The NLRB, controlled by pro-union Democratic appointees, has held hearings meant to pave the way for change. As expected, the House committee hearing divided neatly along party lines.

I haven’t read the transcript of the hearing, but from the IHE piece and my experience with such hearings, I’m pretty sure that no one brought up the strongest objections to expanding unionization “rights” to grad students.

For one thing, unionization under the NLRA is nothing like a voluntary cooperative effort aimed at improving conditions. Once a union is voted in and certified, it has exclusive bargaining authority over all the workers. No individual is allowed to handle his own affairs any longer. Some grad students would probably like this collectivization, but others would find it abhorrent. Why should their freedom be trampled upon?

Moreover, a union vote is not like a political election. A union voted in today remains in place indefinitely. Grad students who enter school after a union has been certified won’t have any say about it unless they go through the rather difficult process of petitioning to decertify.

Nothing prevents grad students from getting together and arguing their case for better compensation or conditions without relying on federal coercion. That’s how we should leave it.

How Academics Concocted a New ‘Middle Class’

middle_class.jpgTo hear politicians tell it, the college diploma is the guaranteed gateway to middle-class life, so everybody should probably go to college. The argument seems self-evident–over a lifetime, college graduates far out-earn those without a degree ($2.1 million, supposedly), so go to college, live the American Dream. Unfortunately, as many recent college graduates have discovered, diplomas no longer guarantee success. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study, for example, reported that in 1992 some 119,000 waiters and waitresses had college degrees. But by 2008 this figure had soared to 318,000. The study also found similar increases of under-employment in other low-level occupations. In 2010 the unemployment rate for college graduates was the highest since 1970.

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Recapturing the University: The Hybrid Alternative

In the contemporary battle within the social sciences between free market think tanks and liberal- dominated universities, the former labor under a huge disadvantage: they lack students. Think-tank based scholars may daily issue erudite policy analyses, write incisive op-ed columns galore, dominate talk radio, publish in widely admired magazines like City Journal but the half-life of these missives seldom exceeds a few days. By contrast, a professor typically has fifteen weeks, two to three times per week, for usually 50 minutes, to expound his or her views to a captive audience, two to four courses per semester, and over a thirty-five plus year career. Of the utmost importance, professors can compel students to read stuff and insist on minimal familiarity, a power unimaginable to even the most professional think tank PR department. That these students are of an impressionable age—the pedagogical equivalent of droit de seigneur— and are hardly in a position to argue, only adds to this built in indoctrination advantage.
In graduate education the propagating-the-faith advantage multiplies, since most Ph.D. students will become tomorrow’s teachers. Ideological domination can persist for decades, regardless of events. So, to use a depressing example, the Marxist analyses that first filtered into America’s college classrooms in the 1960s are still going strong a half century later and can only continue on as the torch is passed from professor to Ph.D. advisees. Perhaps only centuries from now will Marxism go inert and like spent weapons-grade Plutonium, the last lead-brained but still radioactive Marxist professor will be entombed in a deep Nevada salt mine. And it may require additional centuries for him to be joined by ideologically exhausted feminists, deconstructionists, ethnic studies experts and all the rest.
This monopoly of early access cannot be overcome by think tanks churning out more reports, better public relations, or ensuring that every “important opinion leaders” receives a free copy of their sponsored research (which may not even be read). And keep in mind that professors get to students first (the droit de seigneur), so the glories of free markets, low taxes, and limited government etc. etc. must overcome years of prior exposure. It is no wonder that many free-market think tank scholars must feel like they are trying to push boulder up a mountain. They are—the professors got there first and designed the obstacle course terrain.

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Betraying Your Students 101

One of the more heroic acts in the recent annals of American higher education came from NYU president John Sexton, who stood up to the faculty radicals within his midst and (thus far successfully) fought creation of a graduate student “union” on his campus. There are lots of reasons why academic unionization is problematic, but the concept of graduate student unionization is ridiculous. That the movement is often promoted as a fight against the “corporate agenda” in higher education is even stranger, since the idea that graduate students are “laborers” who need to “unionize” reflects a vision of the academy that should repel anyone opposed to the “corporatization” of higher education.

The dangers of graduate student “unionization” are currently on full display at the University of Illinois. Betraying the undergraduates that they teach, Illinois graduate students went out on strike Monday, demanding that the university guarantee tuition waivers for out-of-state students. In a statement that offers a sense of how much the “union” activists value the students they teach, Kerry Pimblott, lead negotiator for the graduate student “union,” proclaimed, “We control this campus; we decide if they have instruction on this campus.”

Why should Illinois taxpayers accommodate the strikers’ demands? Amber Cooper, a leader of the University of Michigan’s graduate student union who joined the strikers, offered an articulate rationale: the university’s position was “freaking ridiculous.”

Any good Ph.D. program will offer tuition waivers—they’re the only way to recruit talented graduate students. But the Illinois administration, for perfectly understandable reasons, has proved reluctant to place what amounts to an academic decision into a contract. Moreover, if the current economic downturn continues, Illinois, like all public universities, will come under increasing pressure to cut costs and raise additional revenue. There’s no particular reason why automatic tuition waivers should be exempt from consideration in such a budget crisis.

Meanwhile, the strikers don’t appear to be experiencing any particular hardship. The Illinois provost sent out a mass e-mail indicating that no current graduate student would see his or her tuition waiver adjusted. And though they walked out on their students, it appears as if the graduate students will not see their stipends reduced for the time they spend on the picket line instead of the classroom.

Undergraduates—as so often is the case on campus political matters—offered the most sensible response. Senior Alisha Janssen, astutely noted, “It’s not really fair that we have to pay for an education, and they are complaining about getting paid for getting an education.” And James Liu told the Chicago Tribune, “It’s not that hard to cross a picket line. I don’t feel guilty about it. I don’t feel like I should sacrifice my credit because this is between the grad students and the university.”

Liu and Janssen, of course, are correct. While the Illinois administration appears ready to cave to the “union” extremists, the university should do more to look after the undergraduates it teaches, and do less to accommodate the demands of graduate student activists.