Guest: Dr. Matthew Boedy of the Univ. of North Georgia; Also: Shatner in space; Workers have had enough; Biden's big new off-shore wind plan...
By Brad Friedman on 10/13/2021, 6:56pm PT  

On today's BradCast: We're nearly two years into this seemingly endless pandemic. If you happen to teach at a college or university in a "blue" state and have been vaccinated, you can probably go to work each day feeling relatively safe. If you work at a "red" state university, however, the story is very different. That, of course, is thanks to the twisted politics of our former President and those who either fear his wrath or have been brain-poisoned enough to put their own families and communities at risk because of it. [Audio link to full show follows this summary.]

But, first up --- mostly for Desi and other Trekkers like her --- we spend a few minutes on William "Captain Kirk" Shatner after he oldly went were a few have gone before. But while Shatner got a free ride to the edge of space for three minutes on Wednesday, courtesy of Jeff Bezos, it only serves as a reminder of the many essential, working class grunts who actually paid for his trip. On the other hand, some of Shatner's remarks upon return to Earth also remind us of our fragile climate and thin blue atmosphere that keeps us alive, even as we treat it like a garbage dump.

Speaking of essential workers, new data from the Labor Department this week reveals many are quitting their jobs in droves, particularly those forced to come face-to-face with an angry, frequently privileged, sometimes violent, often mask-free public right now in low-wage service jobs at bars, restaurants, hotels and retail outlets. The record number of workers quitting to look for better working conditions in August comes as businesses are struggling to find workers, with some employers --- gasp! --- forced to offer higher wages and benefits to stay in business.

But while it may be easy enough to leave one bartender job for a better one at an establishment that takes better care of its workers, it's not quite as easy for those who teach at colleges and universities. We've all seen endless videos of furious parents at local school board meetings, threatening school officials if they dare institute mask mandates to help keep teachers and children --- and their furious parents --- safe. But we've heard less about higher education faculty whose institutions, often in Republican-leaning states, find themselves at the mercy of GOP Governors mandating anti-masking rules or state-run boards (often controlled by the same rightwing politicos) who refuse to hear the pleas of college and university students and faculty alike.

Late last month, for example, more than 50 faculty members at the University of Georgia, many with expertise in the study of infectious diseases, signed a faculty statement declaring: "In order to protect our students, staff and faculty colleagues, we will wear masks and will require all of our students and staff to wear masks in our classes and laboratories until local community transmission rates improve, despite the ban on mask mandates and the USG [University System of Georgia] policy to punish, and potentially fire, any faculty taking this action."

We're joined today by DR. MATTHEW BOEDY, Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Composition at the University of North Georgia in Gainesville. He also serves as the Georgia chapter President of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), where eight national chapters recently urged the federal government to step in to help keep faculty and students safe at public universities were Governors and school boards will not.

The USG is governed in the Peach State by the Board of Regents, many of whom are appointed by the sitting Republican Governor. "They generally follow the Governor's wishes in terms of policies," Boedy explains. But last year, "they pushed him aside and gave us a mask mandate when Gov. Brian Kemp said he didn't want any mask mandates." The rule was repealed in June, however, as the pandemic momentarily ebbed. "Then Delta came, and we desperately needed [another mask mandate], and they refused to have one because they weren't going to push aside the Governor a second time, especially in terms of how heated it has gotten. The Governor, of course, has banned mask mandates around the state."

As an expert in rhetoric, I asked about the irony of Republicans opposing mandates by instituting mandates against mandates. "The groups on the right and politicians on the right will use words in opposite of their intended meaning or their usual meaning to get what they want. They don't like mandates, but they'll push mandates in another way. It is truly cognitive dissonance," Boedy asserts. "And it just shows that this is not driven by science, it's not driven by common sense. It's not even driven by any type of logic that I can follow, because if you speak to these people, they just change in any direction that is against what you're saying. "

"As a rhetoric teacher," he continues, "I'm teaching a class on misinformation, and I'm doing it for this reason. It's just really difficult to get beyond the cognitive dissonance, and I'm trying to teach people not just to recognize it but to find rhetorical ways to persuade people who seem to not want to be persuaded." We wish him luck.

In the meantime, Boedy also details the actions that the AAUP has taken to try and get help for "red" state universities from government officials and the responses they've received from elected officials both at the state and federal level. He notes that in a state where "collective bargaining is barred by state law," they don't have unionized power behind them, but they had considered walkouts anyway, before deciding against it. At least for now. "We didn't want to punish our students for the deplorable actions of our university administration.  We didn't want to walk out. We didn't want to stop class. We didn't want to add to the punishment their getting with the lack of masks," he says. "What we're trying to do is keep up public pressure --- I call it a public shaming of our university leaders --- and hopefully, they respond. So far, sadly, they have not."

Boedy says, however, that they may get some help from the Biden Administration's Department of Education. In the meantime, we happened to catch him on "a dark day" for higher education in Georgia. On Wednesday, the Board of Regents made conditions arguably worse for professors in the University of Georgia System, as they voted on Wednesday to approve a new tenure policy allowing tenured professors to be fired without faculty input. "What we have now is tenure in name only," Boedy explains. "They erased the due process protections for a particular group of professors, ending tenure protections for them. So, the dominoes can certainly fall after that to the rest of us. But it is, yes, the death of tenure and due process in Georgia."

Finally, after a week or two of reporting on the recent oil spill off the coast of Southern California in Orange County on this show, some much brighter, somewhat related news. "The Biden administration announced on Wednesday a plan to develop large-scale wind farms along nearly the entire coastline of the United States, the first long-term strategy from the government to produce electricity from offshore turbines," according to the New York Times late today. We happily discuss...

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