Friday, May 19, 2006

Principal-Agent Problem, II

by Tom Bozzo

Ken reminds me of my second-favorite moment from the Madison council session on the mandatory sick leave ordinance, whose narrow defeat earlier in the week was a triumph of FUD over some combination of the popular will and good policy. For non-locals, background posts are here, here, here, here, and here.

The UW-Madison administration is not exactly keen on the institution's top party school reputation, but they were happy to put a good spin on it:
University officials said they weren't thrilled about topping another list for party schools after the Princeton Review named the school its top party school last year. But they said the Playboy ranking at least considered factors other than just the amount of alcohol consumed.

"It's good to be known as a place where there's a lot going on for students," said UW-Madison spokesman John Lucas. "It's good they do take into account the academics."

The Cap Times actually had no trouble finding an example of Madison exceptionalism:

Student body president Eric Varney said most students know their limits when it comes to drinking but "our limits are just higher than every other school."

Meanwhile, from the council session:
A representative of State Street Brats is up next, stating his opposition to the [sick leave] ordinance. "There is great potential for abuse from this," he says, particularly from his establishment's college-aged employees who engage in binge drinking.

Note, the problem is not the binge drinking per se. There's money to be made off that. Rather, the offense is the possibility of paying someone to sleep one off instead of coming to work sufficiently hung-over as to need to sleep one off. (We note that job performance issues could arise in such circumstances.)

As a practical matter, the UW's ambivalence at the problem is manifested in its pushing the problems to the campus exurbs — most of the egregious violations of alcohol laws (the pre-football game and campus-vicinity bar scenes; the Mifflin St. Block Party, etc.) are technically off-campus. But they're more off-campus than they might otherwise be in part because the university declines to battle the student housing landlords, who give the Chamber of Commerce a playing-the-smallest-fiddle lesson when the new dorm construction threatens the rental income stream from their dumps. Letting the private sector house the bulk of the student body makes facilities Vice Chancellor Alan Fish's job easier, but let's face it: (affluent) students love the new apartment towers in part because there isn't even the minimal supervision provided by university housing. (Having lived for an undergrad year in what can be called without exaggeration an animal house dorm, I have no illusions as to the minimalism. It's still something versus nothing.)


(*) My favorite moment of all was the anti alderoid Zach Brandon's effort to wrap his mind around the concept of paid time off:
Zach Branon discusses his "internal conflict" as "a small business owner versus growing up in a single parent home" in deciding upon the proposal. Ultimately deciding against it, "the issue for me isn't mandates," he says. Rather, it is a question of whether an employee should be paid even if they don't show up for work.
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