Monday, March 14, 2011

 

Reno 911

With Wisconsin and Ohio getting most of the national attention lately, I’ve been struck at the amazing goings-on in other states that seem to be flying below the radar.

On March 3, IHE reported that the University of Nevada at Reno was considering eliminating programs (and firing faculty, including those with tenure) in German Studies, French, Italian, interior design, and the entire College of Agriculture. Eight days later, IHE reported that Nevada was looking at closing four of its eight public colleges -- Nevada State College, the Desert Research Institute, Western Nevada College, and Great Basin College -- entirely.

Both reports were in the “quick takes” section, and neither elicited much response. I couldn’t help but notice the contrast with the national outrage at smaller cuts at SUNY-Albany.

Late last week, it came to light that the newly elected governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, has proposed dealing with budget shortfalls by unilaterally appointing “emergency managers” for cities or towns in financial trouble. These “emergency managers” would have the legal ability to fire elected officials (!), nullify labor contracts, and even dissolve the governments of entire cities without so much as a public meeting. (In case that’s still too subtle, the state Senate rejected an amendment that would have capped compensation for emergency managers.) As I read it -- and I invite readers from Michigan to shed light here -- the emergency managers target municipalities, as opposed to public colleges, but it doesn’t take much imagination to see a precedent developing. To the extent that Gov. Snyder has offered anything resembling an argument, it has been that desperate times call for desperate measures. Though one would imagine that if they were that desperate, they wouldn’t leave the salaries uncapped.

Higher ed in Michigan has already taken some lumps, but I can’t imagine that a governor who is willing to have elected officials fired -- seriously, is that even legal? And aren’t conservatives supposed to be fans of making decisions at the lowest levels of government? -- would stop short at the prospect of a ticked-off Board of Trustees. If Ann Arbor gets hit, Washtenaw Community College is unlikely to remain unscathed.

Meanwhile, Texas has discussed closing four community colleges, and Gov. Brewer of Arizona proposed cutting public higher ed by fifty percent in a single year.

Even the relatively “blue” Northeast isn’t immune to the fetish of privatization. SUNY’s issues are well-known, but aren’t the worst in the region. Chris Christie, in New Jersey, has taken to hunting the NJEA for sport. Like Gov. Walker in Wisconsin, he’s after more than just cost-sharing on health benefits; he’s gunning for absolute control, using cost-cutting as an excuse. (In New Jersey’s case, we know it’s a pretext because he actually eliminated an existing tax on millionaires. If one is truly desperate for money, one does not voluntarily forego revenues.)

It’s tempting to write any one of these off as the quirks of a given state. Michigan has been circling the economic drain for so long that a certain vertigo is to be expected. Nevada has never been known for higher ed, outside of the UNLV basketball team. Arizona is so distracted by chasing down brown people to check their papers that it can’t devote time to much else.

But when one comes after the other so quickly that the national press actually loses track, it’s hard to plead ‘fluke.’

Part of me still hopes that much of this is the result of a pendulum swing, and that it will swing back quickly when the economy starts breathing again. But I don’t recall the pendulum ever swinging this hard before. There have been recessions before, and there have been Republican governors before, but the level and seriousness of the assault on all things public is new. A party that was once known for ‘conservatism’ -- that is, the thoughtful preservation of the best traditions, combined with a skepticism towards utopian reformists -- has become far more ideologically absolutist than its opponents. To apply the label ‘conservative’ to someone who wants to upend laws and institutions all at once, just because, is to do violence to language. Conservatives conserve; it’s what they do. These people destroy, in the expectation that the new thing that emerges will somehow justify the destruction. They would almost have an argument, if they ever bothered to specify what the new thing would be.

Yes, we -- defined here as “people who care about public higher education” -- need to fight this trend politically like we never have before. But ultimately, you don’t win on defense. My guess is that the best outcome we can hope for, outside of an economic miracle, is to buy enough time for a new, more sustainable model to emerge. The Tea Party’s fortunes may wax and wane, but the underlying tensions that allowed it to thrive will remain. If we allow the evisceration of the current model before building a new one, an entire generation of students will be lost. It’s time to envision and build new models from the ground up. That, or we can keep responding to 911 calls until there’s just nothing left.

Comments:
I'm from Michigan. The basic problem is that there are a lot of municipalities that structured their costs when times were good. There are contracts in place locking these costs in.

Now that the auto industry has shrunk to a shadow of it's former self these places are going bankrupt. This bill is designed to answer the question; "What do you do when a city goes bankrupt?" The current answer seems to involve raising taxes and cutting services until everyone who can move to the next city over does so and you're left with the an urban wasteland. e.g. Highland Part and Saginaw.
 
We're facing similar cuts in PA--a 50% cut to public higher ed, a system that's one of the best in the country. Most of the kids who live here in my working-class neighborhood go to local state schools and tend to stay in the area. That's good economics. If they hike tuitions and close the smaller schools, including community colleges, that's not going to help matters.
 
Years ago, my colleagues at Wayne State suggested that a time of tight budgets was a time to retrench by raising admission standards and match a downsized faculty with a downsized student body.

Thirty years later, perhaps that will be the outcome, for lack of a better option.
 
Again, this is not a change. This is what conservatives have wanted since day one. Who voted against all this stuff in the first place?
 
It isn't a fluke, although some of the things I have seen could be attributed to businessmen who are used to running privately (or even publicly) held firms with a dictatorial hand and want similar dictatorial powers as Governor.

The evidence that it isn't a fluke is the recent appearance of ads (whether national or local is hard to tell) specifically attacking education unions as tools of that black guy who is President, ads run by one of those nameless front organizations that is probably funded by the Koch brothers' inherited wealth. Looks well planned to me.
 
"Chris Christie, in New Jersey, has taken to hunting the NJEA for sport."

Yep, and it is us tea-partiers that are blamed for using "violent" rhetoric!?

Dean Dad, I started reading your blog several months ago as I thought you had some interesting and useful things to say about higher education. A subject that I am interested in.

But your blog has degenerated into a "let's bash conservatives, Republicans, anyone-whose politics-I-don't-agree-with, etc." rant.

(Go ahead "Gluteus" Maximus - call me a racist, whiney, white guy for saying such. Most rational minded folks know what real racism is; and it isn't just because some small-minded person says so)

Sorry, Dean Dad, but your blog is not longer of interest. It is a real shame because you had so much of interest and great insight to tell us. But, I guess, all good things must come to an end.

And it is precisely because liberal professors have used their classrooms as a bully pulpit for pontificating their leftist ideology that the common folks have had enough and do NOT have your back in these latest events.

Treat us with contempt and wonder why we don't support you? Who is the "ignorant" one now?
 
Treat us with contempt and wonder why we don't support you? Who is the "ignorant" one now?


I'm just going to point out Charles that you didn't refute any of DD's points. If he's wrong, prove it. Otherwise, don't be surprised if the guy who has to make the cuts and take the heat is more than a little bit bitter that the party that says it supports individual freedom would leave most of the general public in the chains of ignorance so that an increasingly small group of wealthy people can manipulate our legal and political system for their own gain.
 
Who is the "ignorant" one now?

Hint, Charles: it's not Dean Dad.
 
Uhm Charles, mind filling us in on what was derogatory about Republicans or conservatives in this post?
DD has his biases, and if you don't feel the same, well it's a big internet.
But I think it ought to be a little understandable to you, how any human of any political stripe, might feel resentful toward a group that is trying to dismantle an institution that they work for and believe in.
I'm pretty sure the contempt is reserved for those destroying public higher ed. If that isn't you, then why are you siding with those people?
 
I'm not sure what your point is, Charles. Is it your position that conservatives supported or could support a vibrant, well-funded public system of higher education?

I think you've got your causality switched. Conservatives don't hate the Academy because it is liberal. Conservatives hate the Academy because it is the Academy. And the response to that has been a liberalization of the Academy.

Fundamentally, if a person tells you your job shouldn't exist, then you're likely not to vote for them.

Unless, of course, you're so racist (or sexist or homophobic) that you'd prefer to eat dirt as long as your disliked groups eat shit. There is no history of that sort of identity politics resentment in the US, however.
 
The Republican party is becoming the American Taliban. "We must cut things so true Americans never have to pay for things that offend them, like NPR and liberal college professors." Well, I'm offended by budgets that prioritize prisons over education, un-win-able war in Afghanistan over health care, and the stripping away of nearly a century's worth of hard won workers rights while the corrupt financial sector of this nation dances in victory.

Perhaps after the great states of Wisconsin and Michigan bust their unions, they can go after minimum wage and child labor laws. Drop wages back down to 70 cents an hour and the jobs will come flooding back in from SE Asia.

I used to be moderate, but this crap is pushing me further and further to the left. And you'll get my union card when you pry it out of my cold dead fingers.
 
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