Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Daily Email Edition

Get MN Daily NEWS delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday!


The University: a boss like any other

If the University could get away with running itself like Wal-Mart, it would.

Euphemisms are necessarily dishonest, so it’s always prudent to be wary of those who use them. Still, some euphemisms are fairly benign. The phrase, “passed away” (as in “Aunt Tammy passed away”), for example, is annoying, but probably not harmful.

There are, however, some truly sinister euphemisms – the ones that become so popular, they overpower the original meaning they were attempting to conceal. Thus, companies like Lockheed Martin assume the respectable-sounding label “defense contractors” over the less reputable “arms dealers.” More recently, we have witnessed the truly horrific rise of “collateral damage” to signify the death and maiming of innocent civilians during combat operations.

An interesting trend on the sinister-euphemisms front is employers sugarcoating lousy jobs in the coziest, most condescending language available. How many fast-food job applications ask applicants if they’d like to be part of “the team”? And Wal-Mart doesn’t have employees, they have “associates.”

Calling workforces “teams” or employees “associates,” is just one part of a grander strategy. Employers are trying to conceal the fundamental conflict of interest that pervades the employer-employee relationship: Workers want to work less for more, while employers want workers to work more for less.

It doesn’t matter how great your boss is, or how great the organization you work for seems. The bottom line is employers aren’t “team players” – they give employees benefits because they have to (for reasons dictated by the market, the law or their employees’ union); not because they actually want to.

University administrators are just as eager as any other U.S. employer to obscure this conflict. We don’t have a University employee “team” and staffers aren’t called “associates,” nevertheless, administrators constantly yammer on about the “University community.”

Anyone who doubts that the University is just like any other boss ought to look at the current conflict between it and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Locals 3800 and 3801, the union locals that represent University clerical and health-care workers, respectively.

Last year, the University claimed the costs of providing health care to its employees in 2005 would rise significantly, and AFSCME Locals 3800 and 3801 agreed to pay increased health-care premiums next year. So, whereas the University was paying 100 percent of low-cost health-care coverage for single employees and 90 percent of coverage for employees with families, in 2005 the University will only pay 90 percent of coverage for single employees and 85 percent of coverage for families.

What this means is that a University clerical worker, who might be a single mother, will have to pay approximately $543.40 more annually to take their children to the doctor.

But guess what. The University was wrong – by about $6 million. The cost of health care isn’t going to increase nearly as much as administrators thought it would. The right thing for the University to do is reopen negotiations with AFSCME Locals 3800 and 3801 and fix the innaccurately-increased health-care numbers.

That would be the right thing to do – but the University is a boss, and bosses aren’t in the business of doing what’s right; so the University isn’t going to do a damn thing. Patti Dion, the University’s director of employee relations and staff compensation, told the Daily last week, “We went to the table in 2003 and bargained a two-year contract Ö We came to this table, discussed the items at issue and the session is over.” In administrator speak, that means “tough luck!”

So much for the “University community.” University students and employees (and these are not mutually exclusive categories) shouldn’t forget that, despite all its feel-good, euphemistic rhetoric, the administration is just like any other boss: If University President Bob Bruininks and company could get away with running the University like a Wal-Mart, they would. Someday, they just might – unless students, faculty and staff assert their fundamental interests and stop them.

Nick Woomer welcomes comments at [email protected].

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Accessibility Toolbar

Comments (0)

All The Minnesota Daily Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *