Napster back in news, TAs ready to strike

    Napster is back in the news again. As one of the first universities that banned the original Napster from its dorm network, the news seems at least a bit UCSD related. Although it has been a couple years since this writer has run around the dorms as a freshman, no doubt piracy is still quite rampant. The computer variety, not the rum and booty kind, although the latter probably happens quite a bit as well.

    This time, however, Napster is legal (because you actually have to pay for songs), and at least one university appears to be happy to work with it. Penn State University has signed an agreement with Napster to provide free music from Napster’s collection of thousands of songs for students in the dorms, so long as they’re streaming the music instead of downloading it. If they want a copy for their MP3 player or laptop, they will need to pay 99 cents to download it permanently, albeit with copyright restrictions.

    One wonders whether UCSD would benefit from such an arrangement. Some would undoubtedly object to the use of student fees towards the cause of free music for all, but it would surely be a much more palatable use of student funds then say, funding A.S salaries, the College Republicans, or any number of S.O.L.O. organizations. While funding free music for students in the residential halls (and by proxy server for students off campus) might not do much to stimulate students to leave their dorm rooms. It might actually take some upload stress off the campus networks since all the freshmen will not be uploading songs for hours a day while the file-sharing clients lie open on their computers, making the connections faster for everyone. If we can justify spending student fees on Œentertainment’ that consists of concerts and athletic events, why not spend it on a resource just about everyone can appreciate?

    he teaching assistants are going to strike in order to secure the right to strike ­ for other people. Is this writer the only one who finds this proposition at least a bit ludicrous? Now, while this writer is all for labor agitation in the name of fundamental human rights, the right to strike for other people does not really strike as any sort of necessity on par with a living wage, affordable health care, or decent working conditions.

    The timing is no doubt quite a piece of strategy. But all things considered, calling a strike during finals week over other people’s strikes is akin to North Korea dropping their one atom bomb on Arizona. Sure, it stings, but it does not accomplish much of anything for having used the trump card.

    This writer has almost always found going to discussion section to be more of a nuisance than a guidance of any sort. As far as pedagogy is concerned, it always seems that people learn more when they are forced to muddle through the homework themselves without guidance, although it may take several hours more.

    The entire educational establishment would disagree with me, but most every section this writer has been to (at least in the sciences and engineering) has been a glorified answer section that leaves little to hard work or imagination. This may not be as true in literature or history lower division classes, where the purpose of sections is to instigate discussion and critical thought about the subject at hand, but in my experience, little of this happens either. Perhaps we would be more worried about the impending prospect of a strike if there were actually a line at any professor’s door during office hours. As it stands, the whole of the student population appears to either be competent enough or apathetic enough about their education that any learning beyond the answers to homework questions is hardly sought after.

    In any case, the entire question of a strike might very well be moot for those in the sciences and engineering, since those grad students are (relatively) well-off with prospects of research assistantships in a lab a year or two in the future. Last time there was a major strike in the late 1990’s, the science and engineering TAs seem inclined to participate in the strike only out of sympathy (and fittingly enough, that’s what the entire current strike is about), since their material well-being is somewhat secure. Those unhappy souls (literature grad students, for example, or theoretical physicists) for whom working for the university (and god forbid, serving students) is their sentence in exchange for indulging in an academic field that our commerce-centered society refuses to subsidize may very well strike. Save for unfortunate math TAs (who are engaged in something just as numerically difficult and much less rewarded), the TAs who give answers to homework may probably be around for finals. The question does remain as to who will grade all those finals, although professors have been known to pick up a pen from time to time.

    As the quality of this column might attest, education in writing is already understaffed and overworked at just about any university. Perhaps those TAs who try to impress upon the masses of biology and engineering majors that good writing abilities are worth something should be compensated better than they are. But that is not the point in question.

    The point in question is whether university unions should have monopoly power, by controlling all realms of university industry by the power of the strike. This writer is not for a monopoly in any arena ‹ be it software or fossil fuels or labor, because the consequences are the same ‹ reduced efficiency and higher prices for the consumers, namely students. For all their talk of public service, striking in order to make public service in the future worse while appealing to their position as public servants does little to garner sympathy from this corner.

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