January 21, 2008

ILR Profs Clash Over Daily Show

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On Jan. 7, Prof. Ron Seeber, industrial and labor relations, made the first appearance on The Daily Show with John Stewart since the Writers Guild of America strike began on Nov. 5.
Before Seeber, who is the associate dean of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, appeared on the show, many people in the ILR community urged him to cancel his appearance.
Ellen Stutzman ’04, a senior research analyst to the WGA, West, sent out e-mails to current ILR students, alumni and faculty. She wrote, “We prefer that guests not go on these shows” out of respect for the writers’ rights.
Despite Seeber’s support of the writers on air, Stutzman said, “I’m really disappointed that the Associate Dean crossed the picket line after many people asked him not to … It reflects really poorly on the school.”
Gene Carroll, director of ILR’s Union Leadership Program, said in statement to the ILR community: “I fear that Ron’s actions will harm our relationship with labor unions with whom this school has worked closely or over 60 years.”
To show his support, Carroll joined members of the WGA striking on the street outside The Daily Show studios.
Seeber said, “I value picket lines and don’t cross them ever,” noting that he entered the studio through a side entrance.
After discussing the controversy with Jon Stewart, Seeber said, “I felt obligated to promote the discussion of these important issues.”[img_assist|nid=26673|title=Walking the line|desc=Director of ILR’s Union Leadership Program Gene Carroll (center) joins strikers outside of The Daily Show on Jan. 7. Courtesy of Gene Caroll|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
A current ILR sophomore echoed his viewpoints: “I disagree with the notion that Prof. Seeber’s appearance on the show represented Cornell and ILR as siding with the producers; I saw it as simply drawing attention to the ongoing issue of the writer’s strike. And for those young people who watch [The Daily Show] and were not previously aware of the issues surrounding the writers’ strike, it’s beneficial to learn about them from the perspective of a knowledgeable professor.”
Some people also felt that Seeber’s appearance, despite supporting the writers, would ultimately hurt the writers’ cause.
In a statement to the WGA, members of the Cornell ILR Extension Labor Faculty wrote: “We clearly understand the negative impact of crossing a picket line and providing content for the show when the withholding of that content is what gives the union its leverage. It was extremely disappointing that we were not able to convince Professor Seeber not to appear.”
Similarly, in an e-mail to Seeber, ILR Dean Harry Katz and President David Skorton, Jordan Wells ’07 wrote, “By appearing on a struck show, Professor Seeber helps The Daily Show to severely weaken the writers’ chances of gaining a fair contract, by undermining the strike. This is true despite any on-air rationalizations to the contrary. On the other hand, Professor Seeber, on behalf of himself, ILR, and/or the University, has a tremendous opportunity to support striking writers by canceling his appearance on the show.”
Seeber, however, disagreed: “If their strike depended on me, they’d be in trouble. [But] their strike depends on more than live TV shows.”
He added that the strike is an economic matter that could mean “the end of all fiction TV.”
Despite disagreeing with Seeber’s appearance, the members of the Cornell ILR Extension Labor Faculty acknowledged Seeber’s freedom to appear on the show to the WGA: “Cornell is an institution that values academic freedom, and Professor Seeber was exercising his when he chose to appear on The Daily Show.”
Seeber echoed this sentiment: “[My appearance] shouldn’t reflect poorly on the University … Free speech can never reflect badly on the University.”
Several current ILR students were supportive of Seeber’s decision to appear on the show.
A former student of Seeber’s noted that Seeber’s appearance was consistent with what ILR teaches its students: “Seeber’s information was very much like what we learn in class.”
Stephanie Wahba ’09 said, “I felt proud to see an ILR professor on The Daily Show, appearing as an expert on conflict resolution because it solidifies the prestige associated with Cornell University.”