Friday, May 4, 2012

Failing Bargaining 101

Looking at the "demands" now made by CLASSE, the most radical of groups presenting themselves as representatives of Quebec's students, I wonder if they are really clever or just really ignorant.  Taking an extreme stance can be seen as good bargaining if they think it can push the other side, the Quebec government, into moderating its claims.  But this set of demands is less likely to do that than to help the Quebec government define CLASSE as insincere, crazy, and/or insane.  Why?   Let's go to the demands:
  • Cut research funding.  Wait, cut research funding?  Ah, these folks believe that research funding and teaching are unconnected.  And they also believe that "much research conducted profits private corporations as opposed to students or taxpayers."  As the tweeter abbreviation goes, FFS!  
    • Obviously, the first thing is that research and teaching are NOT independent activities. We actually do include new research in the classroom.  So, unless they only want to learn stuff that may be outdated, they might just want research to be funded.
    • Second, where does a lot of the research money go?  To employing students.  I guess these folks have never been nor have ever met research assistants.  I am employing four undergrads in addition to a grad student this summer.  But these folks apparently do not want tainted employment since they might be working for THE MAN.  
    • Third, since most of these boycotting students are not in engineering, the sciences, medicine, it is more likely that the research that is funded in their areas have nothing to do with capitalisme.  Oh, please save us all from idealistic socialists.
  • Quebec would have to offer free tuition in five years.  That's right--they want more than a freeze--they want a rollback to a mythic fantasyland where tuition is free.  Such places do exist actually, but they tend to have stricter admission criteria since such magic lands admit far fewer students.  Geez, these folks suck at math.
    • How is this paid for?  Capital taxes on financial institutions.  Because such businesses would not adjust by either leaving Quebec or by passing the costs on to those who use their services.  These folks suck at Econ 101 as well.
  • Cut advertising where universities compete with each other.  So, prospective students should not be informed of the differences among the institutions?
  • Freeze wages and hiring of university administrators.  Well, hmmm.  What counts as an administrator?  Is this a freeze on numbers or would it lead to a decline in administrators through attrition?  While I rail against the explosion of administrators and administrative expenses, I do recognize that some of these folks might be doing something related to, well, teaching.  So, I am opposed to generic solutions.
  • Moratorium on construction/expansion of satellite campuses.  This, I think, I would not mind, but then again, are any of these aimed to reaching students and serving communities that are under-served?  Not all growth is, well, bad.
The other two student groups have made less extreme demands:
  • maintain the freeze on tuition since university educations should not be subject to things like ... inflation, 
  • better management of university spending through more involvement of students (um, no contradiction there, right?).
  • a freeze on investments in universities, because, well, investing is bad.
Even if one thinks that tuition could not go up as fast as Quebec is planning (and the government did extend the time frame and increase the amount of aid going to the less well off), the rest of these demands are not just unrealistic but harmful to those making the demands.

While some universities (UQAM) wasted heaps of money on new construction, that is not really the source of funding problems.  That tuition was frozen for more than a decade, thanks to previous protests, has helped to create the difficulties now.  More importantly, these demands reflect ignorance of what universities and those working there do on a daily basis.  Research is not harmful to teaching, most research is really not going to private evil corporations, more ignorance is not more bliss, and not all administration is wasteful.

What the more radical demands do is taint the rest of them.  Perhaps freezing the growth of administration might make sense.   But if you demand to cut research at the same time because of the deluded belief that research is part of the MAN's grand plan, you just look silly and, even worse, dumb. 

Yes, I am aware that I have interests in play (or would if I were not leaving Quebec), but, unlike the students, I think I can figure out how my ideals and my interests might be finessed, rather than pushing for things that fit my ideology but undermine my interests.  A university education is pretty handy that way.

1 comment:

R. William Ayres said...

I am often shocked at the extent to which various groups - students especially, but also far too many faculty/staff/administrators - don't really understand the business model of universities. I think it comes in part from many universities having "black hole" budget models - all revenue goes to the center, where it is doled out by a super-secret process that nobody outside the inner circle understands. This gives rise to the pervasive myth that money in universities grows on trees, as opposed to where it comes from in real businesses - through revenue streams from the outside. That so many people believe this causes all sorts of problems - as the students in Quebec are demonstrating in spades