A School that Reveals Its Biases

One of my complaints about many American colleges and universities is that their professors proclaim objectivity and commitment to the pursuit of truth while subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) leading students to accept their beliefs. Administrators either deny that this happens or dismiss it on the grounds that professors have academic freedom.

That complaint cannot be made against the National Labor College. The NLC, founded in 1969 by the AFL-CIO, is located in Silver Spring, Maryland (very close to Washington, D.C.). It has been a degree-granting institution since 1997 and accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education since 2004.

Just as state colleges and universities have a low tuition rate for the state’s residents and charge much more to non-residents, the NLC has low rates for union members and much higher rates for non-members. For union members, tuition is $174 per credit hour; for non-members, the price is $1,137 per credit hour.

NLC offers a variety of degree programs. Its bachelor of arts degree permits students to choose among six areas of study: labor studies, labor education, labor history, political economy of labor, union leadership and administration, and labor safety and health. Most students arrive at the school with a two-year associate’s degree, so the courses are primarily for juniors and seniors.

Like most colleges, the curriculum seems to encompass some courses that are easy (e.g., History of Labor Music) and some that are more demanding (e.g., Transportation of Hazardous Materials).

The school doesn’t try to hide the fact that it wants to turn out zealous union advocates. One course is entitled Healthcare Reform that Works. The purpose of the course is to train people to promote the long-standing union goal of enacting a universal government health care system in the United States.

Will students be asked to objectively analyze arguments against that? Of course not, since the purpose of the college is to foster union goals.

You might think that there is something untoward about giving college credit for courses that don’t purport to teach a body of knowledge but, rather, promulgate a specific viewpoint, but NLC is far from alone in that. The Pope Center wrote about a geography course at UNC-Chapel Hill, for example, where the material was taught from just one point of view, Marxism.

In the course on labor history, will students learn that unions have often incited violence against people who ignore union picket lines—the murder of nonunion miner Eddie York, for instance? Will students get a “warts and all” portrait of Big Labor, or a prettified one that either ignores or excuses union violence? Remember, the goal is to produce union advocates, not scholars.

Another interesting course is Labor and the Economy. According to TARGET=”_blank”>InsideHigherEd, which wrote about the school this week, Labor and the Economy is a relatively new course designed to acquaint students with “the global forces that influence the lives of workers.” Among the topics covered are globalization and Keynesian economics.

I doubt that students in that course will ever hear a kind word about free trade or the slightest criticism of Keynesian theories on the supposed need for constant governmental intervention in the economy. But on the last point, at least, many college economics courses are the same.

Just what can students do with their National Labor College degrees? For one thing, they can work for the federal government! This NLC press release discusses a talk given at the school by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. She told the students, “If you are interested in continuing to work in a field that is in line with the values you hold dear…I encourage you to contact the Department of Labor for job opportunities.” The Labor Department is adding more than 600 positions for inspectors, investigators and other jobs. NLC graduates would be ideal for work that often involves harassing businesses that would rather remain nonunion.

I don’t think much of the education NLC offers, but it is perfectly entitled to offer any sort of courses it wants to students who wish to take them. Freedom is an umbrella that necessarily covers education that is deplorable just as much as education that is excellent.