Watching government agencies like the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) attempt to maneuver around their labor unions can leave a private-sector observer scratching his or her head.
The college was all set to introduce a short, three-week semester in winter for interested students. It was offering faculty an “overload” rate (which is like overtime) of $87.50 per hour, without affecting the pay and overload arrangements of their regular work, and some employees had agreed to the deal. Then their labor union stepped in, and the plan is on hold.
In the private sector, management decides to try something, and if it can pull together the clients and the employees, even if it means hiring more on a contract basis, it gives an innovation a whirl. What’s the union’s game, here?
The Providence Journal’s G. Wayne Miller reports the union’s excuse thus:
But CCRI Faculty Association president Steven D. Murray, in a YouTube video posted a week ago, objected.
“The college has unilaterally decided to offer courses in developmental math, developmental English, a course in human anatomy, all very difficult courses to accomplish in 15 weeks, let alone three weeks,” he said.
“The faculty who teach these courses tell me that to try to compress them into three weeks is academically unsound. They have similar J terms at other colleges, but our student population is very different than those other colleges. And we want to do what’s best for our students.”
That explanation has an air of plausibility until one realizes that this is college we’re talking about. Nobody has to take the courses, and advisors should be able to dissuade those who aren’t ready. Moreover, the program could attract new students, whether from other institutions or just from the private sector.
Perhaps Murray’s reference to “faculty who teach these courses” provides a clue. Maybe the regular teacher of one of the courses won’t be the one teaching the “compressed” version and wants to protect his or her territory. The union may also fear that the market will conclude that regular courses are unnecessarily extended.
Whatever the unspoken rationale for the objection, the bigger puzzle remains why our society uses government for anything that doesn’t absolutely have to be handled by it.