Trump’s cuts would affect all research universities, but not equally. The problem is more pronounced at public universities than private ones, and especially at public institutions in the Midwest, which have historically conducted some of the nation’s most important research. These schools are desperately needed to diversify economies that rely disproportionately on manufacturing and agriculture and lack the wealthy private institutions that fuel the knowledge industries found in Silicon Valley or along Boston’s 128/I-95 corridor. Yet many flagship Midwestern research universities are being weakened by deep state budget cuts. Threats to pensions (in Illinois) and tenure (in Wisconsin) portend an exodus of faculty and their all-important research funding, and have already resulted in a frenzy of poaching by better-funded and higher-paying private institutions, industry, and international competitors.
This story focuses on the economic benefits of research at public universities, but I’d like us to think about the custodians at Your State U. The receptionists. The food service workers. The hundreds of thousands of people who have to work in order for hundreds of thousands to learn. Those are JOBS. Steady jobs, in some cases even still union jobs, that pay if not well then at least consistently, and let people earn money to spend in grocery stores and gas stations and bars.
You can’t tell me they’re not important to the life of a place. All we focus on anymore is the cost of public things, and we never talk about the benefits. Oooh, that pension is expensive! Yes, but it’s keeping a person in his home so he can take care of that home and mow the lawn and buy soap and cereal and go to church and subscribe to the local paper and do all the stuff we say we want people to do, that people did back in the Good Old Days When America Was Great.
So maybe some of the cities currently competing to suck Jeff Bezos off could consider putting those billions into public education. Maybe instead of building a stadium for a billionaire or throwing money at a big-box retail store that doesn’t need it, these communities could show a little financial appreciation for the places that actually do give back to someone other than the Walton family. After all, these places create jobs, no? And isn’t that what we’re all about at the moment?