Puette (1992) found that high school students were greatly misinformed about labor unions. We suspected the same was true of college business students. If so, that fact could have significant implications for management educators. We surveyed 282 college students to examine their knowledge of labor unions, their perceptions regarding the advantages and disadvantages of belonging to a union and the role the media plays in shaping student views. Results of the survey indicate college students are also poorly informed about labor unions and depend on the media to provide them information on unions. We discuss the implications of these findings for what we teach about labor unions and identify nine specific topics that should be included.
One of the primary effects of higher education is to produce well-informed citizens. Students in business schools arrive with a host of knowledge and an abundance of conceptions, many of which are erroneous. The logical extension of the first statement above is that one of the primary purposes of a business school education is to correct misconceptions by informing students. However, to accomplish that result the faculty must have some knowledge of how students are misinformed, or what misconceptions they have. The purpose of this paper is to examine how well informed business students are about organized labor and present suggestions for action.
To completely understand why students come to business schools with inaccurate information about business topics, it is useful to explore how they are informed prior to arriving at college. Schmidt (1993) suggests that the public assesses groups based upon second hand information and further points out that the primary source of that second hand information is the mass media. She goes on to argue that the type and amount &media coverage forms the basis for public opinion about unions and the greatest impact is on those with weak opinions. Key (1961) is more specific when he notes that media particularly influence public opinion on issues with which people have no personal experience, or particular feelings. These arguments appear to insinuate that the public relies on the media as a significant source of information or "knowledge" about those things with which they have little or no personal experience, or first hand knowledge. Puette (1992) argues that to the average person in the United States unions are a "distant phenomenon" (p. 155). Therefore, one can reach the logical conclusion that much of what students know about organized labor comes from mass media sources. The effects of this lack of first-hand knowledge can be significant. This sentiment is echoed by Schmidt (1993). She makes the point that a large majority of the public's information about interest groups comes from media coverage. Thus, the media can be an important influence on attitudes by controlling what people know. This view is shared by Bok and Dunlop (1970), Kochan (1979) and Craft and Abboushi (1983), who note that the public's opinion of unions is related to what people know about unions' activities. Or as Puette (1992) puts it, stereotypes result from ignorance and labor stereotypes are no different. Furthermore, some argue that all unions, in the public's mind, are the same (Puette, 1992).
The previous discussion raises an interesting question. To what extent does media coverage of organized labor present accurate information? If the information presented by the media is accurate then the public should be well informed and knowledgeable. This argument would suggest that business students should come into business schools with accurate perceptions, and some knowledge of organized labor issues. Studies of media coverage of labor unions are limited (Schmidt, 1993). We know from a Gallup Poll (1981) that public opinions of unions are less favorable than they once were. Bok and Dunlop (1970), and Zack (1977) conclude that there is fragmented and anecdotal evidence for the view that there is a bias against unions in the media. …