As you may know, my wife writes for television. Her show is The Handmaid’s Tale, which means no joking at home, ever. (Welcome to my alternative outlet…) As she figures the fault lines of America’s dystopian future (some would say present), she’s also navigating a major divide in her own industry. In April, her union – the Writers’ Guild of America – instructed working TV writers to fire their agents because the major agencies had refused to agree to a new code of conduct.
Tinseltown arrived at this dustup because, over the years, agents managed to finagle a direct financial interest in nearly all TV shows – an interest that incentivizes them to minimize production expenses such as writers’ salaries, and therefore presents a clear conflict of interest to agent-fiduciaries. (The Writers’ Guild’s code of conduct simply asks agents to act always in the interest of their writer clients.)
Since the mass firing, agencies have engaged in dirty tricks like hiring non-union writers to pose as WGA writers and sow dissent on social media. They’ve also offered a special program for young writers, and a token contribution to a fund for diverse writers. But agents’ divide-and-conquer strategy hasn’t worked so far. As one writer commented recently on Facebook: “I doubt many of us will be fooled. After all, our job is to imagine what villains will say.”
Earlier this month, Richard Vedder asked himself what villains say and found that the answer is increasingly what he hears from America’s colleges and universities. In his Forbes article, Are Universities Increasingly Liars And Con Artists, Vedder – the cantankerous emeritus professor of economics at Ohio University, and Director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity – takes on what he sees as a growing culture of deception in American higher education. Vedder’s prosecution of our sector’s moral compass doesn’t rely on Varsity Blues, but rather on these exhibits: