More and more people are taking online courses today and doing well with them. For subjects that lend themselves to the format, the courses allow students to take courses more conveniently and they allow universities to save money. It’s a win for everybody.
Unfortunately, not everybody sees them that way. Even though they’re good for colleges and students, the union representing nearly half of the lecturers in the University of California system has won veto power over the university offering any more online courses. You see, universities obviously exist for the purpose of providing jobs to union members, not to educate students in a convenient and efficient way.
The new contract between the American Federation of Teachers and the UC system has a clause that prohibits any of the UC campuses from adding online courses that would result in “a change to a term or condition of employment” of any lecturer without union approval, according to the union’s president. He’s quite happy about it, of course.
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.
If you read what the university has to say on the subject, you’ll find an entirely different point of view. The university seems to think the provision just means the two sides would sit down and talk. The administrators quoted in the story come across as very naive.
I hate unions, and I’m not going to claim it’s just when their demands are “excessive.” If you don’t like the terms under which a company wants to hire you, don’t take the job. If you don’t like the conditions under which you’re working, leave. But don’t use your own implied threats of violence and other coercion to try to get what you want. Why would you even want to work in an environment like that? How do you expect to get anything except bad blood when the lunatics are allowed to run the asylum?
There are lots of lousy companies to work for, but I have a solution for that. I don’t work for them. If you choose to work for them, you’re just giving them permission to treat you that way. Have the courage to walk away from a company that doesn’t appreciate you. Of course, sometimes you might need to accept the grim reality that maybe you aren’t providing enough value to be worth appreciating. Maybe you need to be someone who an employer will want to hire. And maybe you’ll need to do what I’ve done for most of my adult life. I work for myself. I don’t take orders well, so I know better than to try.
When unions are involved, the purpose of a company or organization gets muddied. Employees feel that the company’s purpose is to provide jobs for them. That’s not the case. A company’s job is to make as much money as it reasonably can for its shareholders. Smart companies know that employing the best people and treating them with respect while also upholding high standards is going to achieve the best profit. The lousy ones just agree to whatever the unions want — and destroy whole industries, just as unionized madness has destroyed much of the U.S. auto industry.
In this case, both sides seem to forget that it’s the students — the customers — whose interests have to be protected. Of course, this is what happens whenever you give the state a monopoly over an industry. (Even though higher education isn’t technically a state monopoly, it is to the extent that state funding makes it far less expensive to attend, meaning the government-operated schools don’t have to compete on even footing with private non-profit and for-profit schools.)
There aren’t any good guys in this story. The union is confused about the purpose of a university, and the university administration is confused about who should be making decisions about which course to offer and how. Unions are bad enough in private industry, but they’re even worse with government-run agencies, simply because the administrators have no real incentive to compete and be the best they can be.
This new deal in California is a bad deal for students and for taxpayers.