We Own You Now Punk

These days everyone is up in arms about the Nashville teacher’s union* declining free money. The reactions range from cynically amused Liz Garrigan, to righteously indignant Kay Brooks. Apparently a private donor wanted to give the schools some money for a pilot program which rewards teachers whose students improve.

I think it’s sad that we now are resorting to rewarding people for doing their job right. I thought that was what a paycheck was for. But I’m not going to go into the difficulties of a program like that. No one has really addressed what I consider to be the only legitimate reason for turning down the money.

The consensus seems to be “why turn away free money?”. Well my answer… there’s no such thing as free money. Ask Vanderbilt or Belmont about what happens when you take someone’s money. Money is power, and more money is more power. Both Vandy and Belmont took large donations from private entities. Now those entities want some control. And there’s no statute of limitations.

The Daughters of the Confederacy raised $50,000 for a building on the George Peabody College for Teachers campus which eventually became part of Vanderbilt. I’m unclear on the exact year it was done, but sources say it was during the great depression. For convenience sake, we’ll assume 1936. So 70 years later Vanderbilt is stuck with a building having a name that offends a lot of people. Because the grand-daughters of the original donors won’t let them change it unless they pay back the original donation, adjusted for inflation.

Belmont has been taking donations from the Tennessee Baptist Convention since 1951. The price? The Baptists get to pick the board of trustees. Honestly, I’m not sure what the board of trustees does at a college, but they’re going to have some serious influence. Recently Belmont decided they want trustees that reflect the mix of religions of their students, so they proposed changing to a board of 40% non-Baptists. The Baptist reaction? Lawsuit. They want their money back for all those years. It’s not enough to just quit giving Belmont money. They still want all their money back for the last 50 years, even though Belmont did exactly what they wanted for all those years. The message here? Well just see the title of today’s post (edited from the language I wanted to use). It seems more like punishing an upstart than anything else.

So really, this seems like a pretty good reason to turn down ‘free’ money. It ain’t free. It comes with strings. What’s the big idea putting conditions on your donation anyhow? If you want to help, help. Let the person you’re helping decide how to spend it. And why is a raise for clerical and janitorial staff in Metro schools contingent on a vote by the teachers anyhow?

Now I don’t want to be accused of supporting the teachers union. From all I’ve heard and read, they’re very cutthroat in protecting all their members, even the incompetent ones. And the plan they turned down would certainly help expose some incompetent teachers. But I think there is at least one valid reason for them to turn it down.

*Technically, it’s not a teacher’s union. It’s an association. The key difference being, teachers aren’t allowed to strike. It’s the same for most government employees.


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