Hard work finding labor studies at Ohio University

By Damon Krane
Monday, September 23, 2002
The Post (Athens, Ohio)

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In case you haven’t noticed, some people work for a living. Wages and salaries make up the main source of income for between 70 and 80 percent of Americans. Lots of Americans own stock in large corporations – but how much? According to the Economic Policy Institute, 64 percent of US households own stock worth less than $5,000 (including those who own no stock at all), while in 1998 the richest 1 percent of Americans held nearly 50 percent of all stock.

In fact, many Americans own little more than their ability to work –- and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7.4 million of them still live below the poverty line despite being employed full time. That’s largely because, despite substantial increases in worker productivity, the buying price of labor power continues to fall. Average real wages in the United States are below their levels in 1973, while the wealthiest Americans have doubled their share of the national wealth in the past 25 years. According to Business Week, the average US laborer would now have to work nearly five centuries to take home the average CEO’s annual salary. And a college diploma doesn’t negate the fact that the rich are getting richer as the poor get poorer. According to the authors of State of Working America, average hourly wages for entry-level college graduates have declined by nearly 10 percent over the last decade.

Universities never exist in a vacuum. From the cost of tuition and the courses and activities offered, to how the institution is governed and the kinds of relationships that exist between students and professors – every aspect of the university’s operation exists in relation to a larger social context and brings with it human consequences. That said, where does Ohio University stand in the battle that workers, managers and owners wage over the wealth created by human labor?

Excluding general courses in economics, finance and marketing, I counted 60 courses offered at OU’s Athens campus this quarter alone that deal with issues specifically geared toward the success of managers and employers. Courses like “Business Law,” “Managerial Economics” and “Human Resource Management.” On the other hand, search the entire OU catalogue and you’ll find only one course offered at OU that deals with labor issues from something other than an exclusively business management perspective. Actually, you’d probably miss it, given it’s title. Yet as a student in “Human Resources Management 425: Labor Relations,” I can report that the class addresses labor relations from the perspectives of both management and organized labor. So there you have it. 60 to 1.

Not all of us came to college simply to invest in the purchase of a marketable degree that will improve our future earning potential. Due to a mixture of ethical commitments and perhaps more than a little naivete, we’ve decided to spend our time trying to learn something besides how to fit neatly into the existing social order, furthering a very narrowly conceived sense of self-interest. Consequently, unless we plan to stay in academia after graduation, we’ll most likely find ourselves employed and managed by others, occupying the lower rungs of the corporate ladder. But while our employers and managers will have spent their college years learning how to screw us out of as much of the product of our labor as possible, our college education will have provided us with no knowledge of labor law, no knowledge of labor organizing, no knowledge of unions, no knowledge of the history of working class struggles –- indeed, no practical tools in the struggle for higher pay and better working conditions, just the incentive to put up with whatever crap we have to at work in order to pay off those hefty student loans.

The lack of neutrality at OU is as easy to see as whose side it’s on — by a factor of 60 to 1. Professors and students who find themselves on the other side of that struggle should do what we can to make labor studies from a pro-labor perspective a prominent part of the curriculum at OU.

Today’s ethnic and women’s studies programs, which did not exist 40 years ago, represent victories in the unfinished struggles of people of color and women to make universities better geared toward meeting their needs within the patriarchal and white supremacist society in which we find ourselves. The movement for university reform since last year’s walkout against campus sexual assault and anti-gay hate crimes is another example of students fighting for a university that works in their best interests. Those of us who’ll likely find ourselves on the bad end of the capitalist deal after graduation –- and all of us who want a better deal –- should look to examples like these. We should do everything we can to make this university work for us before we end up spending most of our time working for someone else.

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2 Responses to Hard work finding labor studies at Ohio University

  1. Pingback: On political bias in the classroom: liberals, conservatives and student empowerment | Damon Krane

  2. Pingback: World can’t wait… for decent journalism | Damon Krane

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