Friday, May 2, 2014

Unions Are Complicit In Harm To Adjuncts and Higher Education

Unionization is not an effective response to the crisis in higher education. In fact it is a mistake that harms higher education and academic labour.  This is so for at least five reasons that are obvious from my perspective:

1) Unionization participates in and so perpetuates the use of the expensive, unnecessary institutional model and its nexus of unsustainable higher education institutions (HEIs).  Unions only make sense where there are employers - in this case HEIs.  As I argue on this blog, universities and colleges are not higher education - they merely facilitate the education service relationship between academics and students – and they are not the only or best means of facilitating that service.  Among other drawbacks, HEIs necessarily limit the access that academics and students have to one another because they are subject to real limitations on the available staff, faculty and space they can employ in their capacity as facilitators, while at the same time they are highly susceptible to the changing tides of political policy and global economics.

2) Unionization
increases the cost to provide higher education under the already expensive current institutional model.  If as union-represented institutional employees adjuncts manage to secure increases in pay, benefits, job security and the like, then necessarily institutional labour expenses will increase and so in turn will the total cost to provide higher education - an increase that will have to be covered by appropriations and tuition.  This increase would siphon public tax dollars and private disposable income from other areas of social responsibility (e.g., health care) and the economy (e.g., home or auto purchases).

3) Unionization is only a partial solution to the labour crisis in higher education.  Labour unions by definition represent those academics that manage to get hired/employed by the limited number and capacity of universities and colleges.  This is a fraction of the available qualified academics that want to earn a living providing higher education service. This necessarily means that unionization only partially addresses the labour and material conditions of academics, by excluding those who do not secure institutional employment.

4) Unionization is
a short-term ultimately impotent solution to the labour crisis in higher education.  Technology in the hands of HEIs will continue to displace the need for academics.  From MOOCs to computer grading to artificial intelligence the number of academics required under the institutional model will decline as universities and colleges seek to control their labour costs through the use of technology.  Higher education is not the first sector to go through this transition and like the auto or mail carrier labour forces union representation is impotent to stop the replacement of human with technological capital.

5) Unionization is myopic and obscures the existence of other alternatives to the (labour) crisis in higher education.  Because the current institutional model is assumed and entails unionization, other options for labour organization can gain no traction.  There are in fact two other options that should be part of the national dialogue on higher education reform: professional and co-operative association.  Both of these have their advantages over the current push for union representation.  If unionization were properly seen as only one option, academics might learn they favour the details of private professional practice or co-operative association over institutional employ.

The solution(s) I develop and present on this blog can avoid these union shortcomings.

In the current atmosphere of frenzied support for unionization and universal assumption of the institutional model it is vitally important that I make myself clear.  I am not a union buster or a shill for oppressive capitalist elites, or otherwise against academic labour and the public value of higher education merely because I claim unionization is not the correct response to the troubles that now plague higher education.

Instead, the claim is an implication of the larger claim I make that the whole institutional model is unnecessary and detrimental to academics, students and society.  Clearly, if the institutional model and its principal service providers (HEIs) were replaced as I advocate, then the question of unionization would become moot.  In this sense pursuit of unionization is a mistake insofar as the institutional model is a mistake.

This is the perspective from which I must be understood.  It is the perspective of a paradigm shift that ultimately favours individuals over institutions.

As always, I invite collaboration and criticism.

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