Monday, April 02, 2018

A Quiet Win at the U.S. Department of Education

It’s been a tough stretch for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. DeVos looked overmatched in a big 60 Minutes interview just when memories of her abysmal confirmation hearing were fading. She was rebuffed by a Republican Congress in the new federal budget, and she has struggled to make her case in heated debates over student discipline and school safety. The ensuing cascade of negative coverage has been unfortunate, not least because it obscures some of the quieter things that have gone right on DeVos’s watch.

In a noteworthy development, DeVos’s team this month radically revamped the collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) that governs the 3,900 employees at the U.S. Department of Education. The new CBA, between the department and Council 252 of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), includes big changes from the 2013 agreement negotiated under the Obama administration.

The new agreement doesn’t address compensation or benefits, of course, since those are governed by federal law, but it does include a raft of sensible, taxpayer-friendly changes.

The new CBA eliminates the set-aside of “official time” for union business. Under the old agreement, designated union representatives were free to work on union business during normal, government hours — all on the taxpayers’ dime. The old CBA stipulated that “no fewer than 75” (!) union stewards across the country could work up to 40 hours a year on “official time,” while another three union officers would devote 100 percent of their time to union business. Henceforth, union business will be done on union time, rather than on the taxpayers’.

Under the old agreement, department employees were given only a solitary 48-hour window each year in which they could opt out of union membership; miss that, and they were automatically enrolled. Henceforth, employees who wish to be in the union each year will be free to do so, and they will have an extended period in which to enroll — but they will have to actively choose to join.

The revamped accord also removes the requirements for “pre-decisional consultation.” Under the previous CBA, the department was required to consult the union before every agency-wide decision that could be construed as affecting the work of employees (such as transferring employees from one office to another, or even shifting employees from one project to another within the same office). Now, the department needs only notify the union of such decisions.

Under the new CBA, the union will be charged “fair-market rent” for the use of government office space and federally furnished equipment to conduct union business. Under the Obama-era accord, taxpayers were required to provide space and equipment to the union free of charge.

More generally, the new agreement removes a number of provisions that added burdensome procedural directives above and beyond statutory requirements when it came to things such as telework and grievance procedures.

Now, the story isn’t yet finished. AFGE Council 252 has filed a complaint with the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), alleging that the department improperly moved to unilaterally impose the new CBA. However, a senior Department of Education official familiar with the negotiations dismisses the claim as unfounded.

The senior official explains that the Education Department was able to adopt the new agreement because the union has consistently refused to sit down at the negotiating table, forfeiting its standing under federal law. In October 2016, while President Obama was still in office, the department’s labor-relations team gave formal notice that it wished to negotiate a new CBA. From that time to December 2017 — when the previous CBA technically expired — the process went nowhere as the union was unable or unwilling to agree on ground rules for the negotiation.

In February 2018, the department offered to negotiate its proposed new CBA; the union refused, insisting it preferred to continue haggling over ground rules. Consequently, on March 9, 2018, the department informed AFGE Council 252 that — in accord with federal law — since the old agreement had expired, they’d be implementing the new CBA starting March 12.

For all the union caterwauling — the AFGE has denounced the new CBA “an illegal management edict” — the department appears to be on solid ground. According to the Federal Employment Law Training Group (FELTG), which trains both agency and union practitioners, this scenario represents “the Civil Service Reform Act playing out just the way it was written back in 1978.” As FELT puts it:

Management notifies the Union of an intended change to employee working conditions.

Upon demand by the Union, Management enters into bargaining regarding those parts of the change that are negotiable.

If Management and the Union cannot reach agreement (i.e., reach an impasse), Management notifies the Union of its final offer.
If the Union does not respond by initiating the impasse resolution procedures provided for by law, Management has the right to implement the change without further bargaining.

Indeed, the FLRA has ruled previously that, when a union refuses to negotiate in a timely fashion following an agency notice, the agency is free to implement policy changes.

Time will tell how things play out before the FLRA. But, with talk of teacher strikes cropping up across the land, it’s a propitious moment to distinguish between better pay for professionals and contractual perks that serve neither practitioners nor taxpayers. On this count, DeVos’s team has taken a meaningful step in the service of responsible management — one deserving of an extended look from the nation’s educational leaders.


How the Trump Administration Is Protecting Free Speech on College Campuses

Sarah Flores spoke at the White House’s Generation Next forum for millennials Thursday. As director of the Justice Department’s Office of Public Affairs, she spoke about free speech on colleges campuses and the opioid crisis. The Daily Signal’s Kelsey Harkness and The Federalist’s Bre Payton also asked her about being a “problematic woman.” An edited transcript of the interview is below.

Kelsey Harkness: We’re coming to you from the White House. There’s an event happening that’s focusing on millennials, so I wanted to start out this interview by asking about a recent action the Justice Department took on behalf of millennials on college campuses relating to free speech. Take it away.

Sarah Flores: We have this crisis across the country that’s just not getting the coverage that it should, frankly, and I’m so glad that you are talking about it, and obviously incredibly grateful to the president for hosting this event today, because I think it is so important.

I think if we were in college right now, we would be having a very different experience, or at least I know I would, because I spoke my mind in college. Right now, you can get expelled for that; you can get shut down for that.

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What the Justice Department has done is tried to find those most egregious cases and filed what we call a statement of interest. But think of it as an amicus brief or a friend of the plaintiff, or defendant in some cases, to show that the federal government has an interest in protecting free speech on these college campuses.

The most recent one that’s certainly been a famous school for doing this is Berkeley. In that case, if you want to bring a speaker to campus, you’re the head of College Republicans, and you want to bring a speaker that they deem might be controversial on campus, well, you can’t have it at certain hours, you can’t have it at certain places.

What that means is, if the school thinks that you have a different viewpoint, they can really shut down your speech based on a hecklers’ veto idea. Which is really terrifying, because what’s the point of college if you can’t explore new ideas and challenge your viewpoint that you came to college with?

So, we feel pretty strongly about it. We filed in at least three of these cases. In another one, a student was handing out the U.S. Constitution and the school said he didn’t have a permit to do that, so he can’t hand out the Constitution.

Harkness: Now, are these all public schools that you’re engaging in? Are you engaging with private schools on this issue?

Flores: We have filed in public school cases, but obviously private schools accept a lot of federal dollars as well. I don’t think you’ve seen the end of this issue for public or private schools.

Bre Payton: Yeah, certainly. And with the ongoing opioid crisis that is overtaking the country now, more people are dying of opioids than of breast cancer. What are some of the additional steps that the Department of Justice has been taking under Attorney General Jeff Sessions to combat what’s going on?

Flores: Well, part of the reason I’m here today and you don’t get Jeff Sessions is because he’s actually in Tallahassee right now talking about opioids. Tomorrow, he’s visiting a neonatal unit in Birmingham, Alabama, to visit babies who were born addicted to opioids. The statistics on this are incredibly heartbreaking and they’re growing. The president has told us to take a lead on this as an administration and to end this crisis.

One thing that I think your viewers in particular would be interested in is we have a team called the J-CODE team, which I like the name, because it sounds cool. It sounds like we could have a sitcom on it. The J-CODE team, though, specifically targets online darknet elicit fentanyl-type websites that are selling these.

We had a 13-year-old boy die in Utah recently because the drugs that were ordered online, I know, shockingly, weren’t what they said they were. They had fentanyl in them; he overdosed and died. I think it’s really hard to imagine what those parents must have gone through. Did you even know you could order fentanyl on the internet?

Harkness: I didn’t know you could order drugs online. News to me.

Flores: We had two … actually, a prosecution today. One in San Diego, another in Ohio. The Ohio one I think will just blow your mind.

They arrested someone with three pounds of fentanyl and charged them with this. Three pounds of fentanyl is enough to kill everyone in the city of Toledo several times over. That is how powerful this stuff is, so what the president’s message has been is, “Don’t start.”

There’s rehab, and there’s treatment, and there’s all these things that are so important, but the best way to not get addicted and to not end up as one of these statistics: Don’t start.

Payton: I guess he’s taking that example, too, right? Doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t do anything. Just not going to risk it. Speaking of the dark web, you and I were talking a little bit earlier about just human trafficking issues. What are some steps that the Department of Justice is doing or what’s a message that the DOJ would like to send to Americans about this issue?

Flores: Well, we have a lot of resources dedicated to human trafficking. It’s one of those issues that really lives below the surface; it’s not something that I think a lot of people see every day as they drive around, but it is every day.

The Super Bowl is probably the No. 1 day for human trafficking in the country. We have this huge sports event and everyone’s watching the Super Bowl and what you’re not seeing is what’s happening behind the scenes. I think it can be a silent crisis. The thing that I would say to you guys and to your viewers when it comes to human trafficking: It is a see something, say something problem. If you think something doesn’t look right—people who are being trafficked don’t wear T-shirts that say, “I am a human trafficking victim”—it’s up to us to all ask questions.

These girls can be young. MS-13, a gang that the president has talked a lot about, they traffic girls as young as 12-years-old. They’re in your junior high school, they’re in your high school. It’s up to all of us to ask questions and raise alarm bells, because while law enforcement does an incredibly impressive job with this, they can’t be everywhere the way that we all can.

Harkness: It seems like, so often, people are looking to the government for the solutions. But on this case, you’re saying the most important thing that members of your local communities is to really be aware that human trafficking is happening and then keep our eyes out for it. We appreciate that message and we will do our part to spread it.

I want to ask, in spirit of our podcast, “Problematic Women,” first off: Is that something you would perhaps identify with? Do you view yourself as, at times, problematic? What was it like coming in to the Justice Department? What’s your experience been like?

Flores: I think other people will have described me as a problematic woman throughout my career. I hope they have, actually. I think that means you’re probably doing something right along the way. So, love being with you; I think that’s really fun.

I came from a campaign background. Political background. Campaigns are startups; it’s why I always tell young people, particularly college-age folks, “Try a campaign.” Just go do it for a summer for a couple months. If you find it addictive and love it, great. If you don’t, you had a cool time in random state whatever.

So, you go from this really startup mentality to … the Department of Justice. It has 115,000 employees, and it does important work. Every day you feel like you’re making a difference in people’s lives, whether it’s reducing crime, or fighting the opioid epidemic, or protecting the border, national security. There’s so much cool, important stuff we do every day.

But, yes, 115,000 people is a large number of people to move into categories, but the most fun part of my job every day is working with Jeff Sessions, who is so much fun. He is really funny behind the scenes. I think he’s pretty funny on camera, too. Last week we watched one of the SNL skits about him and he died laughing.

There’s little moments that you’re going to remember when you’re in these jobs and take with you. Those are the really good days and days you’re really excited to be in this job, even if it’s not quite the startup mentality that you’re used to.

Payton: Something we always like to ask guests, too, is we talk about feminism and what feminism means to you. Do you consider yourself a feminist? Or is that label a little bit troublesome? What do you think about all that?

Flores: That’s tough, because I feel like, as conservative women, of course. I feel like it goes without saying; of course we believe that women should have the same opportunities as men.

Payton: Exactly, right.

Flores: Then it’s just a question of, “Do you wanna take back the term feminist so that that is what it’s supposed to mean?” In that sense, yeah, I’m a feminist.

But that’s not what we use it as in our society anymore. It has been so hijacked. So, I don’t know if I’m on team take back the word or team define your own word. I know what I am and I think I know what we are, and I know what conservative women are. I don’t think we’ve ever been particularly bothered by labels or we probably wouldn’t be here in the first place.


Radical gender propaganda fed to Australian trainee teachers

IF you’re wondering how we’ve reached the alarming point where children are coming home from school confused about whether they are girls or boys, look no further than what one university is teaching its trainee teachers.

At the University of Technology, Sydney, first year students studying primary and secondary school teaching are obliged in their first semester this year to take a compulsory course called “Beyond Culture: Diversity in Context”.

Taught by two baby boomer academics with PhDs, Dr Wendy Holland and Dr Myra Dunn, the course thus far this year has delivered lectures on the topics of gender fluidity, race and identity.

In Week 3, in a lecture titled “Exploring Gender,” students were provided with Powerpoint notes which are mind-boggling, unscientific propaganda straight from the academic fringes of gender theory.

These UTS trainee teachers were taught that there are two views of gender.

One view, dismissed with just 13 words in the 15-page PowerPoint document, is described as “Essentialist”, and holds that ‘gender’ is “fixed and biologically determined … set at birth”. In other words, it describes reality as experienced by at least 99.7 per cent of people (not to mention animals).

The other view, which is the subject of the rest of the lecture, is described as “Constructivist”. It sees gender as “socially constructed, fluid and dynamic … a construct of language and discourse.”

The lecture goes on to claim that biological sex “Exists on a
spectrum, with genitalia, chromosomes, gonads and hormones” merely “playing a role”.

It says about one in 100 people are born neither male nor female.

This is just not correct. According to the British Medical Journal, citing a 1975 chromosomal study of 14,069 newborn infants, “The incidence of genital ambiguity that results in the child’s sex being uncertain is 1 per 4500”, that is 0.02 per cent. So the UTS gender lecture is only wrong by a factor of 50.

As for “gender identity”, the most generous statistics across the world show up to 0.3 per cent of people identify as transgender.

In Australia, in the 2016 Census, just 3,700 people identified themselves as a gender other than male or female, which is a rate of 16 per 100,000 people or just 0.016 per cent. Even then, only one third of those were “validated as intentional” answers.

Back to the UTS lecture notes which:

— Included a glossary of 21 terms such as genderqueer, genderfluid and cisgender and refers to the Safe Schools website, even though the controversial program has been banned in NSW.

— Said referrals to gender clinics have “skyrocketed (e.g. Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne: 1 in 2003 — 100 in 2014”.

- Advised “policing gender roles” in preschool

— Claimed that allowing children “free play” can “reinforce gender stereotypes”.

Trainee teachers who questioned any of the material were told the subject was “more a thinking subject, not a content subject”.

“The table I was sitting at in my tutorial was in a bit of shock,” said one student who asked not to be named. “I thought, ‘I’m not being taught how to be a good teacher.’”

The trainee teachers were also taught to keep an eye out for “sport and male hegemony [and] who dominates various playground areas?”

And they were encouraged to teach children about gender using “a wide range of resources that reflect diversity — e.g. The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch, William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow; units about families reflecting diversity of possibilities — two mums, single dads, etc.”

In other words, UTS is training the next generation of students in pure gender theory, a doctrine that holds that there is no such thing as biological sex, as in male or female, but a fluid continuum which changes at whim.

Gender theory holds that gender identity, gender expression and sexual preference exist independently of biological sex. If you don’t believe that you are “heteronormative” which is a bad thing, like being a bigot.

Gender theory is part of a variant of Marxist philosophy called “post modernism” which looks like a utopian substitute for religion, according to historian Keith Windschuttle, who says the ideas arose in the sexual revolution of the 1960s but only took off “after the fall of that other religion substitute, communism, in 1989-90”.

Canadian psychologist Dr Jordan Peterson has said that postmodernists view the world as made up of fragmented identity groups, divided into victims (according to race, gender and sexual preference) and oppressors (straight white males).

“Postmodernists have replaced Marxist claims of economic oppression with claims of identity oppression.

“Part of the postmodern attempt is to undermine the … classical social structures in the same way a Marxist wants to produce a revolution in a capitalist society to undermine the central power structures by whatever means are necessary.”

This radical ideology which turns science, logic and reason on its head is not about being compassionate to a tiny minority of transgender people. Quite the opposite.

It uses them as tools to coerce the rest of us to go along with the lie that biological sex does not exist.

Schoolchildren are at the frontline of this war on truth, as we saw with the Safe Schools program which posed as an anti-bullying program but was really about brainwashing children in gender theory.

“Gender identity policies can quickly generate politically correct speech codes in schools and workplaces,” writes Ryan Anderson, in his new book When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment.”

“Antibullying” programs can turn into antidisagreement programs. Dissent is equated with bigotry and hate, so no dissent will be tolerated. All students must accept gender ideology, and their parents will have no say in the matter.”

Most of the UTS trainee teachers are school leavers, aged 18 or 19. Some could be heard complaining as they walked out of the lecture theatre. “This is absolute bullshit” said one young man. “This is ridiculous. It’s so stupid.”

Yes, the ideology is all that, but it’s also creeping into every school, successfully warping the minds of children when they are at their most vulnerable, and is rapidly being mandated in new speech codes and law


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