Should volunteers help flood victims with the means to move?

Each year it occurs, the fight against flooding in the Fargo Moorhead area becomes more of a class war.

Earlier this week, radio gadfly Ed Schultz said Fargo was using “slave labor,” because kids are let out of class to help sandbag. Most people dismissed the comments as the kind of things radio and TV talk show types say when they need people to call their shows.

But Andrew Lindner, of Fargo, says he’s got a point, though the term “slave labor” was ignorant. He’s a sociology professor at Concordia, one of the schools encouraged to cancel class so the students can help keep the Red River from overwhelming neighborhoods.

However, as a matter of policy, expecting college students to help is a bad idea. What Fargo and Moorhead ought to do is play hard ball with these stubborn homeowners. They should say “accept a buy-out or we will assess the costs of the flood fight to you in property taxes.” They could then pay work crews to protect the homes of the people who insist on staying (creating jobs along the way). Instead, the Cities have chosen to levy a one cent sales tax (shifting the burden disproportionately to the poor) and rely on volunteers to protect the homes. Think for a second how outrageous it is that the City of Moorhead’s policy for dealing with floods is to ask Concordia to cancel classes and give them free labor. The students of Concordia spend a lot of money to be educated. We have a responsibility to provide an education – no matter how much less fun than all pitching in class is.

Now, perhaps, you would point out the pedagogical value of contributing to the community in a practical way. I agree! I think regular community service ought to be an essential part of a Concordia education. However, we don’t do that on a consistent basis, do we? And you don’t see us cancelling class to help out the poor. We cancel class to help middle class homeowners! If what we want to do is provide a community service experience to every student, then there are better ways to go about doing it.

Lindner writes that when he moved to the region a few years ago, he felt differently. Then he found himself sandbagging around “McMansions.”

(h/t: Nate Minor)