Month: October 2015

Unpaid Internships*

*This post originally appeared on my old blog on October 15, 2013 under the title “Unpaid Internships and Evaluating Ethical Communication.”

I teach a course called Organizational Communication where students are required to (among other things) learn how   to evaluate sources of information, and to write about them in the context of the discipline. Students are required to find articles that address organizational issues and to bring them to class for discussion. At the beginning of each class meeting I ask several students to share what they’ve found. Needless to say, it’s always interesting.

Because one of the things that we do in the course is to address values and ethics in organizational communication, students are asked to be prepared to discuss their articles using Rubin and Yoder’s model to assess communication skills in an educational setting. Rubin and Yoder offer the following guidelines for assessing ethical communication:

The habit of search. Ethical communication willingly explores the complexity of any issue or problem. This exploration requires generating valid information and evaluating new and often controversial findings.

The habit of justice. Ethical communication presents information as openly and fairly as possible and with concern for message distortion. Not only is information accurate, but information is also presented for maximum understanding. When we receive and evaluate information, the habit of justice requires that we examine our own evaluation criteria and potential biases that contribute to distortion of meaning.

The habit of public versus private motivations. Ethical communication is based on sharing sources of information, special opinions, motivations, or biases that may influence our position. Hidden agendas are discouraged for both message senders and receivers.

The habit of respect for dissent. Ethical communication not only allows but also encourages opposing viewpoints and arguments. This habit of respect for dissent in an open environment supports generation of the best ideas through thoughtful examination, disagreement, and new idea presentation.

We use this model to evaluate organizational messages. What happens as a result of this activity is that students become increasingly adept at evaluating sources of information, but they also begin to think about how misleading communication impacts them, both as organizational members, and as individual consumers of information. This is particularly the case when it comes to discussing unpaid internships. When asked where I stand on this issue, I’ve been clear that I don’t see any benefit for students in doing unpaid work. Inevitably, I get push back because the conventional wisdom on unpaid internships has been that they help students.

Unfortunately, the evidence contradicts the conventional wisdom, but rather than force the issue, I simply use this as an opportunity to build on the requirements of the course. I go back to Rubin and Yoder’s model and ask students to think about we can better understand the issue using this framework.

First, the habit of search, requires exploring an issue and dealing with controversial findings. This means that even if students don’t like what they find, they need to evaluate it based on the evidence. According to Rubin and Yoder’s model, ignoring evidence is both unethical and intellectually dishonest.

Second, the habit of justice. Students are asked to consider message distortion and how potential biases influence what they know about an issue, but also how organizations can present information in ways that advantage or disadvantage different groups.

Third, the habit of public versus private motivations. Students formulate questions regarding information sharing, and we discuss how withholding information contributes to message distortion.

Fourth, the habit of respect for dissent. Students are asked to consider what it means for individuals when organizations don’t respect dissent. Some questions that come up include, what does dissent look like? What are the benefits of “going along” even if you hold an opinion that’s different from others in an organization? What happens to those that speak out? How can students, learning about ethical communication, use this framework in their own organizations?

Students learn many things during the few weeks that we discuss ethical communication. Students tell me that they learn to think critically about the information they consume. I see evidence of that this is so, through the improved quality of their analyses when we examine other organizational problems. In addition, students learn how to counter the imbalance in information sharing by searching for evidence. They also learn how to evaluate things they’ve taken for granted, by considering who benefits and who might be disadvantaged from the asymmetry of communication. More importantly, students get to think about what they can do with this information once they have it. Finally, students learn that dissent is an important organizational communication ethos that should be encouraged, not silenced.

The articles below represent just some of the many articles that I’ve read over the last couple of years on unpaid internships. Knowing this information makes it difficult (more like impossible) for me to pretend that unpaid internships are a good idea that benefit students, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Read for yourself!

  1. Unpaid Interns – Silent No More –
  2. Unpaid and sexually harassed: The latest intern injustice –
  3. Unpaid Internships Must Be Destroyed — The Nib — Medium
  4. Judge Rules for Interns Who Sued Fox Searchlight –
  5. Study Says Unpaid Internships Do Not Lead To Jobs For College Students « MadameNoire | Black Women’s Lifestyle Guide | Black Hair | Black Love MadameNoire | Black Women’s Lifestyle Guide | Black Hair | Black Love
  6. Are unpaid internships illegal?
  7. Welcome to the Unpaid Interns Lawsuits Website
  8. Officials skeptical that unpaid intern lawsuits will affect higher education | Inside Higher Ed
  9. Vivienne Westwood under fire for hiring unpaid interns – Telegraph
  10. Unpaid Intern Sues Bad Boy Entertainment MadameNoire | Black Women’s Lifestyle Guide | Black Hair | Black Love
  11. Diddy’s Bad Boy Entertainment Sued By Former Unpaid Intern Rashida Salaam | Get The Latest Hip Hop News, Rap News & Hip Hop Album Sales | HipHop DX
  12. Can Interns Who Agreed To Work For Free Sue For Wages? – Forbes
  13. Are unpaid internships about to become history? – Opinion – Crain’s Chicago Business
  14. ‘Black Swan’ Event: The Beginning of the End of Unpaid Internships |
  15. Unpaid Interns Win Major Ruling in ‘Black Swan’ Case — Now What? – ProPublica
  16. The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not –
  17. Unpaid Internships: Bad for Students, Bad for Workers, Bad for Society – Derek Thompson – The Atlantic
  18. Interns Resist Working Free –
  19. Unpaid Internships for Graduates Now the New Norm? | Mehroz Baig
  20. Will Work for Free: How Unpaid Internships Cheapen Workers of All Ages | The Business Desk with Paul Solman | PBS NewsHour | PBS
  21. Unpaid interns strike back
  22. Editorial: Unpaid interns deserve better legal protection | The Baylor Lariat
  23. Unpaid interns: Toronto college students clean tubs for nothing | Toronto Star
  24. Unpaid Intern Lawsuits May Reduce Job Opportunities – Forbes
  25. Class Action or Not, the Unpaid Intern Lawsuit at Hearst Will Go On – Rebecca Greenfield – The Atlantic Wire
  26. Unpaid Intern Hits Modeling Agency With $50M Wage Suit – Law360
  27. Why Unpaid Internships Are Discriminatory | Elite Daily
  28. IPS – Legal Pressure Increases on Unpaid Internships in U.S. | Inter Press Service
  29. The Impact Unpaid Internships Have On The Labor Market
  30. The uneven playing field of unpaid internships | Need to Know | PBS
  31. Unpaid Senate Intern Uses Crowdfunding To Subsidize Internship | ThinkProgress
  32. Unpaid internships and a culture of privilege are ruining journalism | David Dennis | Comment is free |
  33. Do Unpaid Internships Lead to Jobs? Not for College Students – Jordan Weissmann – The Atlantic
  34. Unpaid Internships Don’t Help People Get Jobs by Daniel Luzer | College Guide | The Washington Monthly
  35. The Uselessness of Unpaid Internships – Rebecca Greenfield – The Atlantic Wire
  36. The University Times | ‘Unpaid internships are de facto only open to the wealthy’: By supporting this practice we could be introducing a class filter to certain professions
  37. Firms investigated by HMRC for unpaid internships.
  38. Unpaid Internship: Is It Worth It? | Biola’s Center for Career Development
  39. Show me the money | The Stream – Al Jazeera English


Shockley-Zalabak, P. S. (2012). Fundamentals of Organizational Communication: Knowledge,

Sensitivity, Skills, Values. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.