Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dr. Antonio Calvo's Tragedy: Could It Have Been Avoided?

What happened to Dr. Calvo who killed himself after being fired in a really nasty way by Princeton University is truly tragic. The question that, of necessity, is on everybody's mind is what can be done to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future. At-will firing that is the norm in the US is a horrible, inhumane practice. People can be told to clear their work spaces and leave without any warning whatsoever. Often, they are escorted from the premises by security guards and prevented even from saying good-bye to their colleagues of many years. In academia, getting fired between the months of April and September also means that you will not be able to go on the job market until it reopens on September 15. Furthermore, you will not be able to start working until September of the year after that. People who are not US citizens face almost immediate deportation after their work visas are revoked. Obviously, this system implies a lot of pain and suffering for the employees. Workers have to live in a constant fear of dismissal which takes a huge emotional toll.

Unions seem to offer a solution to this issue. They will protect employees from getting kicked out with no warning. However, unions have their problems, too. As important as it is to protect the rights of the employees, it is equally crucial that employers are protected as well. Unions make it extremely hard to dismiss bad employees and reward the good ones. To give an example, the union prevented my department from offering a monetary reward to a stellar instructor on the grounds that every member of the union should be compensated equally. And all my whining about how hard it is to get students to speak Spanish in class? This issue would be easy to solve if it weren't for the union.

It seems like the only productive solution to balancing the needs of both workers and employees is to have a disinterested third party that will impose a system of regulations to protect everybody. That third party has to be the government. Take Canada, for example. I'm not a complete and utter apologist of Canada, in any way or manner. However, it is evident to me that the way Canadians deal with the issue is quite productive. There is a system of regulations in place that outlines how, when and for what reasons an employee can be fired. People are also provided with a financial cushion that transforms the loss of a job from a tragedy into nothing more than an annoying temporary setback.

Contrary to Libertarian beliefs, this did not hamper Canadian job market in any way. Compared to what we see in the US today, the situation with employment in Canada is quite good.

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