Professors gotta eat too.

23 03 2011

Kudos to Stanley Fish for having the courage to change his mind:

In over 35 years of friendship and conversation, Walter Michaels and I have disagreed on only two things, and one of them was faculty and graduate student unionization. He has always been for and I had always been against. I say “had” because I recently flipped and what flipped me, pure and simple, was Wisconsin.

When I think about the reasons (too honorific a word) for my previous posture I become embarrassed. They are by and large the reasons rehearsed and apparently approved by Naomi Schaefer Riley in her recent op-ed piece “Why unions hurt higher education” (USA Today). The big reason was the feeling — hardly thought through sufficiently to be called a conviction — that someone with an advanced degree and scholarly publications should not be in the same category as factory workers with lunch boxes and hard hats.

That article mentioned in Fish’s piece is a real piece of work:

But the unions could in turn make the environment more left-leaning. As historian KC Johnson wrote in an article on the perils of academic unions, “Since few academics enter the profession to become labor activists, those who gravitate toward union service are more likely to fall on the fringes of a professoriate that already is ideologically one-sided.”

What kills me about that line of thinking is that it’s based upon results rather than actions. Professors might turn out radical if you deny them adequate compensation and a voice. The same thing would presumably happen to the Sarah Palin Fan Club if you put them in a similar position. If you expect smart people to act contrary to their own self interest, you are bound to be disappointed.

The same is true with this argument:

The rise of adjunct labor is also an important reason that faculty have been increasingly open to organizing. With the job market in academia so competitive and positions so unstable, many professors have decided that if they can’t have tenure, they’ll take the security of a union instead. Of course, plenty of faculty members have both. And with that sort of belt-and-suspenders security you can expect that even the laziest, most incompetent or radical professor won’t get fired.

So tenure is a reason why we shouldn’t have unions and unions are a reason why we shouldn’t have tenure. What if we just want to do whatever it takes to help ourselves? I certainly hope they have a better argument available than “associating with factory workers isn’t becoming.”

By the way, “Think of the children!” probably isn’t going to work either.




2 responses

23 03 2011
Jack Rip

First came hate for union, labor and any organizing against the godly bosses, then came the ideology that ignores fact and builds a house of cards.

“And with that sort of belt-and-suspenders security you can expect that even the laziest, most incompetent or radical professor won’t get fired.” Clearly, this is total misunderstanding of unions goals and operation. I can understands Naomi Schaefer Riley and her worries, we do have plenty members of upper management that are incompetent and may be even lazy. For some reason she projects her worries onto union goals.

24 03 2011
Diane Chambers was ill-served by graduate school too. « More or Less Bunk

[…] Bousquet read the same Stanley Fish piece that I did this morning, and while he is much less complimentary to Fish than I was, what I’m interested in is an […]

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