Last night was a first for me in my time at my current university: I got an email from a parent.
In all of my previous stops, parental “engagement” ranged from the somewhat common to the fairly frequent. I had received calls from parents who wanted to protest a grade, argue about the amount of work I was assigning their precious snowflake or make sure that I knew the child was REALLY sick and needed to be excused from class. In some cases, the calls were polite and helpful while others smacked of entitlement. (In one case, I was told, “The family lawyer will be in touch” regarding a grade. And people wonder where the kids get the attitude from…)
This time, however, it was a mom who wanted to set up a meeting with me and her son. I knew the kid and I hadn’t had him in class in quite some time, so I knew it wasn’t a grade issue. Even more, I’m not in the kid’s area of study, so it wasn’t about something I could do for the kid.
However, the kid adopted me as a “de facto adviser” and apparently that was the concern:
I would like to schedule an appointment with you to make sure (KID) is on the right path to graduate this May. I know he is registered for the fall semester; however, (ONE OF OUR COURSES) apparently got cancelled…
The class was one of five that we had listed and had to axe due to a series of last-minute budget cuts. By the time we got notice of the need for cuts, the class was full and had a waiting list. However, since it wasn’t required for any of our majors, it had to go.
This wasn’t the only kid to email me this summer and ask about the possibility of graduating on time. A student athlete was concerned about finishing up this year and was looking to load up on discipline-specific courses. She mentioned a couple classes she wanted, both of which had been cut.
I had to break the news to her about the cuts and also nudge her toward an unpleasant truth:
You’re going to be stuck here a while. And it’s not getting any better any time soon.
This is the dark side of populism, especially when it comes to funding higher education.
Walker also noted in his declaration that the schools should not expect any state money to offset the freeze or to cope with previous cuts that have begun to damage the system in an irreparable fashion. During the previous budget debate, System President Ray Cross sought a $95 million increase in funds and was rewarded with a $250 million cut. That swing of more than one-third of a billion dollars led to faculty leaving for other states, losses in program options, increases in class sizes and diminished course offerings. This was also after a budget that froze tuition and provided nothing but cuts.
The idea of “live with what you have” isn’t going to get any easier at the UW schools either, if Walker goes through with his plan to prevent the System from borrowing money to repair its buildings and infrastructure.
Things like tuition freezes, belt tightening and tax cuts all sound good in theory until you start to feel the pain associated with those decisions.
I hate to be the one to break it to Governor Deadeyes and the “decent, hard-working people of this state,” but a) stuff tends to cost money and b) when you make bad decisions you have to live with the ramifications. This is like those credit cards where you get zero-percent-interest offers, low monthly payments and a host of other things that Montel Williams promises you in a 2 a.m. infomercial. You get stuff that sounds great at the time, but it leads to serious consequences down the road, including compound interest, burgeoning debt and a long, painful process to get out of trouble.
The system could survive one round of cuts or one round of freezes, but once you go beyond that, you start to see real problems emerge. Departments across our campuses are told to “churn” positions instead of hiring replacement faculty. Classes that aren’t mandatory for graduation are cut. More kids get shoved into rooms, giving them access to the class, but not the quality of experience they deserve.
Graduations get delayed, student loans continue to build and the entire process becomes self-defeating.
This whole concept of “standing up for working people” sounds great in campaign ads and stump speeches, but that’s because people don’t think about it in practical terms. Like it or not, there are things we spend money on because they have to be done.
The mechanic doesn’t say he stood up against the demands of the automobile when the oil change light went on. “I pushed the reset button and told the car, ‘You have to learn to live within your means.’”
The farmer doesn’t skip the fertilizer and demand that the soil provide more and increase its yield. “In these hard times, the earth can’t expect that I will keep plowing resources into it and receiving the same output.”
The homeowner doesn’t yell at the leaking roof, “Instead of patching you up with some new shingles, I’ll be removing several sections of shingles and expect that you’ll leak less.”
Education is no less of a resource than those and other items that we knowingly invest in because we understand we can’t live without them. When we fail to invest in support and repair, we create a weaker system that will continue to crumble and cost more in the long run.
The mechanic knows without proper maintenance, that engine is going to seize up and cease to function.
The farmer knows that failing to augment and replenish the fields will lead to lower yields and damaged land.
The homeowner knows that a leaky roof will eventually destroy the remainder of the structure.
And yet, our governor and legislature seems bent on proving the opposite to be true in order to appeal to the basest part of our society.
Willful ignorance presented under the guise of austerity serves no one in this state.
We need to learn that before it’s too late.