Longtime readers know that I am a gigantic fan of the ex-historian, current Harper’s columnist Thomas Frank. Knowing my proclivities, one of my grad students tipped me off to a recent appearance he made talking about the Obama budget proposals on Democracy Now!. Here’s the part I liked best:
[T]he reason we’re having this budget crisis is because we were deliberately driven into budget crisis by the last administration. You remember, these are people that started two wars and cut taxes at the same time, set up, you know, a brand new prescription drug benefit and didn’t come up with any way of paying for it. They were just heaping up expenses, meanwhile outsourcing the entire government in this very expensive manner, you know, and cutting taxes on the wealthy, deliberately defunding the liberal state, deliberately bringing on the train wreck. These guys have spent—the conservative movement, that is, have spent—you know, basically have spent decades trying to run the government into the wall. And they have succeeded. And now they come out and tell us that we have to—you know, we have to cut the programs that they’ve been against all this time. He should expose this sort of card game to the public for what it is.
’tis a good political argument, of course, but let us not forget that universities operate the same way these days. I’ll take one prominent example: The University of California Berkeley is borrowing seven million dollars in order to fund its own online education system despite the fact that the faculty is getting furloughed a few days a year and they can’t afford phones in professors’ offices.
Who’s going to pay when this arrangement inevitably fails? The faculty and the students, of course. How come in academia, heads almost never roll? Nobody retires in order to spend more time with their family. We can’t even kick them out after four years.
This is not to suggest that faculty members are powerless to affect the course such matters. I think the lesson here is simply to point out loudly, wherever possible that there are many other factors that affect a university’s finances besides faculty salaries.