Monday, September 6, 2010

Cutting the Proverbial Purse Strings?

Normally I ignore state politics in favor of spending my time focused on the national political scene. But the national scene is ignoring a grave injustice, and as a member of the academy, I can no longer ignore the current state of higher education, whether in Louisiana or in any other state. The parallels between higher education and the national economy are striking.

One of the most alarming trends in higher education is the application of the business model to the university. Students are treated as consumers, while the faculty is expected to provide excellent customer service. Lower entrance standards are a priority in this model, because the university needs students (i.e. paying customers) to keep the lights on. No mention of how lowering the standard also lowers student quality. Not to bust any bubbles of you parents out there, but not every child is cut out to be in the college classroom. Trust me, I know. This is indicative of our society caters to the mediocre to make a buck and make everyone feel equal, which is quite the load of politically correct bull hockey. All men (and women) are created equal, but the Constitution does not guarantee all men (and women) equal brain power. So universities now have this surplus of consumers, both bright and dim, but in this economy, no surplus funding. Sound familiar? It seems state legislatures are taking the cue from the national government. And much like the national government ignoring its constituency, universities are not heeding the voices of the consumers, even if they are not ready mentally to take the administration to task.

The second problem with higher education is somehow the power is in the hands of few, while the problems on campuses are shouldered by many. Also sound familiar? An elite group of decision makers and gate keepers tell everyone else what is the best course of action, regardless of the outcomes or effect on the masses or even the individual. In my case, my job was sacrificed because I wasn't a good fit (read: the nice, polite academy way of saying we don't all get along). It was no matter I am an excellent teacher, receiving top marks from my students, or my research record surpassed others in the department. The elites don't care about my individual plight of no health insurance or income to support my family in three short months. But my individual case is not unusual, nor am I alone. University decision makers across the United States make similar decisions every day. The faculty members are expendable, and in some cases, so are the students. This is in direct correlation to the current economic situation of many Americans. Individual businesses are expendable in order to protect unions and big business. Our government bails out auto makers and Wall Street, but small businesses are suffering. This article today is case in point:

These issues are only the tip of the iceberg. And universities across the nation are feeling the purse strings tightened with virtually no input from students. Remember, the students, or the consumers who pay for it all in the first place? Before I continue, however, let me dispel a few myths spewed in the national media about the university economy. I was particularly alarmed by the musings of David Horowitz recently on Fox News, discussing the free and easy life of university professors on the student's dime. Horowitz also claimed all university professors make six figure salaries; a statement I can assure you by my own experience in liberal arts is a complete and utter falsehood. However, if you want to read further about Horowitz' radical claims about the university setting being a virtual hotbed of liberals and leftist thinking, to which I am inclined to agree to a certain extent, feel free to check his site:

At a time when the national economic woes are reaching a boiling point, state legislatures are facing tough decisions regarding a number of state institutions. Unfortunately in Louisiana, the economic crunch is being felt the hardest by two areas: higher education and health care. Now the consumers, er students, in Louisiana are finally weighing on the debate. It is about time. Instead of being forced to suffer in silence on campus, students are beginning to take action against the elite corporate forces running the campus system. Again, this should sound familiar. The Tea Party movement is gaining momentum by speaking out against the traditional party elites on both sides of the government. Perhaps the students in Louisiana took notes. Here is an example: Students at the University of New Orleans staged a protest. According to my higher education sources in Louisiana, more protests are being organized, including a march on Baton Rouge.

I will not be so bold as to say these staged events will work. While I admire the gumption, the power elites have too much control, and Governor Bobby Jindal is too set on destroying higher education in Louisiana to change his mind about budget cuts because a few students said their piece on the capitol steps. But I will say I am impressed. These students are standing up for their consumer rights, and therefore standing up for the quality of their education. As Americans, we should follow their example. Stand up for our rights as taxpayers. Stand up for changing this economy. March on Washington DC to say our piece. Perhaps, just perhaps, someone will listen. We will know November 2.