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Speaking Out

Bone-Headed Behavior?

How unfortunately two-faced. The university's top administrator encourages us on Almanac's title page [January 14] to be ‘a drum major for justice' but, alas, the verso of that same page (condemning a graduate student union) urges we ‘strip away the legal arguments'.

Doesn't this president head a world-class facility with a law school attached? Isn't legal argument a more civilized alternative to mob-action?

What would Martin Luther King say to stripping away legal arguments?

What's next, denying any moral obligation to better a hired-hand's lot (never mind agonizing over how many angels can Morris dance on the head of a pin: an employee is anyone whose paycheck sports your corporate logo)? A union is a revolution. This particular revolution is responsible for the five-day week, the eight-hour day and child labor laws preventing tots from cracking coal in mines or working more than four hours on a film-set.

A union, like a revolution, is not imposed. A union is voted in. Tom Paine, John Adams, Jefferson, Dr. Franklin and Reverend King readily supported that concept.

Dr. Rutman's ‘conditions generally imposed by trade union wage contracts are not compatible with... ‘scholarly standards so necessary for free inquiry and creativity' (Almanac, January 14) are hardly threatened by a democratic election; not unless his fury over the AFT finds him turned into a character out of Charles Dickens.

A union protects its membership against capricious, hectoring drillmasters. Careers in academe are especially vulnerable to the whims of hierarchy. Advancement in a chosen field can be terminated if some scholarly patrician is displeased by a grad student who wants credit for authoring her advisor's most recent book, perhaps by how little time another spends walking his mentor's dog.

I recall a summer witch-hunt that ended with a college junior and a pre-freshman getting expelled because a professor at the Vet School didn't approve of the card game they were playing in a dorm.

Just look at what mayhem corporations have wrought in countries banning unions. You're wearing overvalued clothes produced by kids who ought to be in school so they can one day get into Penn and shop in stores that sell overvalued clothes produced by kids. The business community brought plantation-slavery to this hemisphere. Wharton would term it maximizing profits.

Revolutions, like labor unions, happen when the governed go ignored. Once rebelled, the disenchanted form a body with sufficient kick both King and Crown must negotiate with 'em rather than continue to rule by Royal Command.

Had the university's response to my own union's campus organizing efforts not been so dismissive and high-handed, our Jolly Roger would have lost wind and fluttered lax on the horizon. Instead, the decision to treat us like serfs who came with the turf goaded even the most timid among us into roaring buccaneers.

So hang in there GET-UP. The same university which shamefully battled the Mayoral Scholarships over a preposition, ‘mission to the community' and ‘needs of society' be damned--and lost not only the suit's legal argument but the dignity of its reputation will play right into your hands. Count on Penn to pull some jaw-dropping stunt so bewilderingly ill-advised it will tactically define bone-headed behavior before the NLRB; precisely because this ain't ‘a vital, vibrant forum' but a collection of self-promoting martinets bent on lootin' ‘n' leavin'.

Equally unfortunate, the geniuses who thought up such capers as sacking hospital employees after convincing them not to join a union--then having to empty the Philadelphia Mint each week paying out overtime and new-hire bonuses; who crafted a Medicaid fraud scheme that earned HUP a $30 million Federal fine, and who tried to swindle the city over the Civic Center property by inserting a ‘cleared site' clause in the purchase price agreement are still here.

If, as GET-UP co-chair Elizabeth Williamson suggests, it really is all about money, let's save a packet by drum-majoring for honesty. We can start our own local integrity crusade. I know where we can get our hands on a cool quarter million just by calling in a loan to a well-off borrower who hasn't even paid the note's low annual interest.

--Jerry Briggs, Van Pelt Library

Speaking Out welcomes reader contributions. Short, timely letters on University issues will be accepted by Thursday at noon for the following Tuesday's issue, subject to right-of-reply guidelines. Advance notice of intention to submit is appreciated. --Eds.


  Almanac, Vol. 49, No. 19, January 28, 2003