Petty tyrants are everywhere.

26 02 2011

My interest in the Wisconsin struggle is not just a result of being an ex-cheesehead or of my being interested in labor issues. It’s academic. My original subdiscipline was American labor history, and I was always interested in employee voice in an historical setting. <

Now employee voice has hit the big time. This article, which offers up Indiana (where collective bargaining by state workers ended in 2005) as an example of what Wisconsin might look like if Governor Walker gets his way, touches directly upon the willingness of employees to tell it like it is:

Jim Mills, a longtime welfare worker and union activist in New Castle, Ind., said a big problem with ending collective bargaining was that workers who had ideas to improve government agencies or services became scared to stick their neck out and make suggestions to their bosses.

“If we saw there was a bottleneck and something didn’t work and told them, it was ‘Get lost, you’ve got to do it the way we told you or you can leave,’ ” Mr. Mills said….

Mike Huggins, the city manager of Eau Claire, Wis., said Mr. Walker’s push to curb bargaining could make management more difficult at the city level because it would hurt municipal employees’ morale and end the labor-management cooperation that he said had yielded excellent ideas to improve services to the public.

Insert “shared governance” where it says “labor-management cooperation” and you’ll get an idea why this principle translates smoothly to a university situation. In the same way that teachers unions keep class sizes down because they look out for the interests of education besides the interests of their members, professors can look out for the interests of education in the university setting if they are empowered to do so.

Not that many of us professors are actually union members, but a lot of us are tenured. Tenure, while hardly the bulletproof vest that its critics think it is, does presumably offer enough protection so that reasonable people can feel free to speak their minds. No wonder our new Tea Party overlords (at least in Utah) are going after it too.

It’s not a conspiracy to destroy education at all levels, but sometimes it sure does feel like one.


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