Friday, June 11, 2004

Absolute and comparative faculty unions 

A colleague and I have wanted to do a paper here at SCSU on the correlation between faculty union activism and scholarship. Since faculty always complain about lack of time -- and it's certainly true that the binding constraint for faculty is time -- those who spend more time in union committees probably do less research. If people work towards their comparative advantage, it also follows that union activists probably have comparative disadvantages in scholarship. (For union officials who just got pissed at me, let me remind you that comparative and absolute advantage are two different things.)

KC Johnson at CUNY has similar thoughts.
Events of the last few days offered a couple of different approaches for professors eager to maximize their political influence. At CUNY, our faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress, has attempted to transform itself into what one PSC leader, 2002 Green Party gubernatorial nominee Stanley Aronowitz, terms �the first academic union to be led by activist intellectuals,� through initiatives such as donating to the defense fund of Lori Berenson, imprisoned in Peru for aiding the Shining Path.

Led by President Barbara Bowen and Vice President Steve London, two longtime associate professors short on scholarship but long on activism (Bowen, whose first job after graduate school was as a union organizer at western Massachusetts orchards, used to be fond of urging CUNY professors to think of themselves as apple pickers so as to increase their solidarity with adjuncts), the PSC has aggressively spoken out on a variety of political issues. Its May Delegate Assembly meeting passed a resolution of support for Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president best known for his authoritarian tendencies and anti-American diatribes. This month, the union expressed concern about the American Federation of Teachers� unconditional endorsement of John Kerry, noting that Kerry has refused to �reject educational policies that involve �merit pay.�� (It�s not for nothing that the 1999 Schmidt Report worried about a �culture of mediocrity� at CUNY.)
And amazingly they can do all this using only 12% of union dues, so they can continue to charge the other 88% to faculty who do not wish to be part of the union.