After making headlines earlier this week by taking on consumers of trough-sized sodas, on Tuesday New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg switched to a more formidable opponent: the United Federation of Teachers, the union representing teachers in NYC public schools. (I’d imagine the former group will calm down once their sugar rush subsides.) Under a newly proposed law, superintendents in the state would have the power to override decisions made by arbitrators in cases of teachers accused of sexual abuse. The right to a decision by a third-party arbitrator in those cases is unique to teachers among public employees in the city. According to Bloomberg, that is a problem:
“There is simply no reason that teachers accused of sexual misconduct should have greater job security than other city employees,” said Mr. Bloomberg, who was joined by several state superintendents’ groups at a news conference at Gracie Mansion. “The fact that they currently do is wrong; it is dangerous; it is indefensible.”
This type of law is anathema to teachers’ unions because teachers can be easy targets of spurious accusations from students, administrators, and other teachers. A third-party arbitrator with the final say, they claim, ensures that innocent teachers are not penalized.
I completely understand the union concern about teachers being easy targets. Indeed, on more than one occasion I have received an angry phone call from a parent claiming that I said something unprofessional to their child when I had not. I am fortunate to have a supportive, trusting administration to help me through those tough conversations, but a sense of helplessness lingers; ultimately, it could come down to my word against 25 others. For that reason, teachers ought to be treated as professionals and given the benefit of the doubt.
But superintendents deserve that same trust and respect. Shouldn’t we assume that they would not be capricious or arbitrary in a situation as serious as a sexual abuse case? Removing a teacher in the middle of the year is devastating for students, teachers, and the entire school community; any competent superintendent understands this. We should trust their professional judgment as much as we want principals to trust our own.
In short, the UFT’s opposition to Bloomberg’s law is hypocrisy. If we teachers want to be treated as professionals, we should give our superiors the same courtesy; discretion to make decisions in the district’s best interests is part of that. It is unreasonable to demand autonomy and trust of the administration in our classrooms while superintendents have very little of their own. We can either be micromanaged, interchangeable “widgets” with nearly guaranteed job security, or autonomous professionals that face the risk of termination with cause. Even my students understand that reasonable people have to take the good with the bad.