An email is making the rounds of UW faculty warning of a 20-percent cut in state funding, and an “unsympathetic” and “hard-edged tone” coming from state legislators. The email points to Austin Jenkins’ TVW interview with Rep. Deb Wallace (D-Vancouver), Chair of the House Higher Education Committee, and Rep. Glenn Anderson (R-Fall City), the committee’s ranking Republican… and it’s the kinda interview that explains why so many people just hate politicians.
Wallace and Anderson are in fact unsympathetic and hard-edged (and at times, clueless), and for all their repetitive talk about reform and efficiency, they offer few if any specifics. Both Wallace and Anderson affirm that our state colleges and universities should be bracing themselves for cuts in “the neighborhood of 20-percent,” yet both are equally adamant in their opposition to lifting the current 7-percent tuition increase cap. And in the face of steep funding cuts, both legislators insist that school administrators minimize the impact to student enrollment while maintaining quality, or else, in the words of Anderson, the legislature will “come in with fixes that complicate their lives.”
I guess threats like that are what Anderson means when he talks about the need for everybody to “work together.”
So where’s the fat? Wallace repeatedly points to a five-year BA/MA program as a model of efficiency (as if five-year BA/MA programs are anything new) while touting the thousands of community college students who now take classes online… even going so far as bizarrely mentioning the in-class nervous breakdown of one of her college professors as an example of the downsides of the traditional classroom environment. But perhaps the stupidest and most revealing moment of the interview comes from Anderson, who favorably points to the newspaper industry for chrissakes as a positive model for using new technologies to transform our colleges and universities!
Yeah, that’s the ticket… model reforms on the brilliant newspaper industry business model. If only we could break the unions, fire the professors, and shut down all the campuses, we could finally get skyrocketing higher education costs under control. What a maroon.
And Wallace doesn’t come across much better when she argues for maintaining the 7-percent tuition increase cap by pointing to our current low rate of consumer price inflation:
“What do we say to families? Well, we’re going to raise your tuition beyond 7-percent even though inflation is 1.6? The question is, well, why are we going to do that?”
Um… maybe… because you’ve cut higher education funding by 20-percent?
Wallace insists on making a rhetorical argument in response to a policy question, and that doesn’t bode well for those hoping to have a responsible debate on education funding. Likewise both her and Anderson’s knee-jerk rejection of a high-tuition/high-aid model—she, supposedly because “the math doesn’t work,” he because “well, we’re not a class society”—belies their stated goal of exploring real reform.
If I were a college administrator/instructor/student I’d come away from this interview disappointed, offended and awfully damn wary about the ability of this committee to lead our higher education system through these tough economic times. In fact, I don’t see Wallace or Anderson offering much leadership at all, apart from warning administrators to do more with less… or else.
Perhaps that makes for good politics in their home districts. I dunno. But it also pretty much guarantees a second-rate college and university system that ultimately balances its budget by exporting our best and our brightest.