Sojourner's Blog

June 17, 2010

Keep the “Public” in Public Higher-Education

Filed under: Education — brucehartford @ 11:46 pm
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Cuts & Hikes. Education leaders tell us that devastating budget cuts are “necessary” because of the current economic crisis. But they’ve been cutting budgets and raising tuition for decades — in good times as well as bad.

  • For example, during the economic boom years 1998-2008, “State spending per student enrolled at the University of California has declined by about one-third.” [1]
  • In 1960, the “Master Plan for Education mandated, that all qualified students be able to attend a public collegetuition free. But for decades they’ve been circumventing that requirement by calling student payments “fees” rather than “tuition.” For example, between 2000 and 2008 tuition (fees) at UC and CSU more than doubled. [2]
  • In 1960, student fees at UC and CSU were roughly $150. This school year (2010) at UC they’re $11,000 (a 7000% increase), and at CSU they’re $4,900 (a 3200% increase).
  • “Economic crisis” is a political smoke-screen. To restore higher-education funding and lower student tuition back to 2001 levels would cost taxpayers $4.643 billion. That would require an annual income-tax increase of just $32 for the median California taxpayer. Simply revoking some of the many recent tax-cuts for corporations and the wealthy would solve the higher-education budget problem. [3]

It’s not fiscal crises driving these tuition hikes and budget cuts, it’s political policies. Behind the rhetoric are policies that reject the Master Plan’s goal of providing tuition-free educations to all of the state’s qualified students and policies aimed at making public universities equivalent to costly private institutions.

Spending Priorities. At the 2009 meeting where they jacked up tuition, the UC Regents also gave hefty pay raises to executives and senior bureaucrats. Apparently, $500,000 a year isn’t enough, so the wages of janitors had to be cut and librarians laid off so that the Lord-High Poobahs were not inconvenienced. And why are there so many managers? Fifteen years ago, tenure-track UC professors outnumbered administrators and functionaries two to one, today the bureaucrats outnumber the professors. Spending priorities favoring administration over instruction are driven by policy, not economic crisis. [4] [5]

Public Education and Empowered Citizens. Increasingly,
politicians and education officials are telling us that public colleges should be run like private businesses. More and more, their focus is on profit & loss, revenue enhancement, outsourcing, and cutting labor costs. Their mindset seems to assume that the primary (or possibly the sole) purposes of higher-education are corporate-research and training students for hired labor. Yes, preparing people for the occupations of tomorrow’s economy is an important function of higher-education, but a more important role is developing empowered citizens to participate in, and control, a democratic society. In the final analysis, public institutions of higher learning should be in the democracy-building business, not the financial profit-and-loss business.

Public Institutions are NOT Commercial Businesses. Applying metaphors of private business to higher education means recasting universities as factories, with education and research patents as their products, professors as easily replaceable assembly-line workers, and students and corporations as customers. But public institutions such as schools, roads, sewer-systems, and health departments, serve the community as a whole, not just certain “customers.” Public higher-education is an engine of economic growth that benefits everyone at-large. Better educated citizens are more productive and pay higher taxes, they create a stronger economy and more jobs for all. “The truth is that the knowledge and innovation coming from graduates of state-supported universities create far more wealth in the state than the education’s cost.” [6]

1. Higher Education: Frequently Asked Questions, California Legislative Analyst’s Office, Issue #18, 12/09 [PDF]

2. Resident Student Fees Table, California Postsecondary Education Commission

3. How much will it cost us to restore public higher education? Keep California’s Promise

4. Execs Still Get Raises as UC Cuts Staffing, Pay, S.F. Chronicle August 7, 2009

5. Statistical Summary and Data…, UC Office of President

6. Privatization Is The Issue, Prof. George Lakoff


May 6, 2010

SNCC & Today’s Education Struggle

Filed under: Education — brucehartford @ 12:07 am
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At the 50th Anniversary conference/reunion of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Raleigh, NC, we gray-headed Freedom Movement veterans met with more than 50 college activists from a number of HBCUs, and young activists from organizations such as the Young Peoples Project, The Gathering For Justice, and other groups. The topic was today’s education fight. A number of the plenary speakers including Jim Lawson, Harry Belafonte, Bob Moses, and others raised education-related issues, and there were well-organized small-group discussions on the topic.

Starting from the premise that a quality education is a fundamental human right, we looked at two questions:

  1. What defines a quality education?
  2. Should we have a constitutional amendment ensuring the right to a quality education?

The main points that I took away from the discussion:

  1. The fight for a quality education from pre-K to PhD is a key civil rights struggle of the 21st Century.
  2. Framing the issue around “quality education” raises the problem of defining “quality.” The power-structure defines a “quality education” as one that trains young people to be docile and productive hired laborers in an economy that serves the interests of the elite. But for us, a “quality education” is one that prepares young people to be sovereign citizens of a democratic society. So perhaps a better way of stating our goal is “democratic education” or “empowering education,” rather than “quality education.”
  3. The phrase “sovereign citizens of a democratic society” uses the word “citizen” in the broadest sense — making no distinction between “legal” and”illegal,” or social security card vs green card vs no card. “Citizen” is used in the “We the people” sense that all who contribute, work, and live in a community are citizens of that community regardless of arbitrary divisions imposed by the power structure.
  4. At root then, a “quality education” is a question of political power. A very few special schools for the elite (Andover, Punahou, Harvard, Yale, etc) inculcate in their students the assumption that they will be the rulers of tomorrow and prepare them for the acquisition and application of political and economic power. But the schools of the many do the opposite — they instill a sense of political powerlessness. At best the schools for the many prepare young people for a life of hired labor, at worst they don’t even do that. But even the “good” schools that train well-paid hired labor cannot guarantee that those “good” jobs won’t disappear as soon as the power elite can find someone somewhere to do that work at lower wages and greater profit.
  5. The Freedom Movement of the 1960s won victories by exposing the contradictions between the best aspirations of American traditions and the racist/exploitative realities, and by organizing and mobilizing masses of people to demand that America live up to its promises. Can we do the same around education? Can we make the Constitution a tool for reaching/educating/organizing large numbers of people who are not (yet) radicalized, by demanding that a “quality education” be made a constitutional right like free speech, freedom of religion, trial by jury and the right to own a gun?
  6. The very first words of the Constitution are: “We the people … do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
    It does not say: “We the President”
    It does not say: “We the Congress”
    It does not say: “We the Supreme Court”
    It does not say: “We the states”
    It does not say: “We the citizens”
    It says “We the people … do ordain and establish…”

February 7, 2010

California Education Issues & Information Resources

Filed under: Education — brucehartford @ 11:11 pm
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Conf Reg Test

January 30, 2010

Letter to Parents of California College Students

Filed under: Education — brucehartford @ 11:49 pm
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Why We’re Protesting ~ A Letter to Parents

As you know, students, faculty, staff, and community supporters are protesting at colleges and
universities across the state. We are writing this letter to explain why.

Our protests were triggered by the enormous cuts in education spending and the huge tuition increases that politicians claim were forced by last year’s economic crisis. But that’s not true. For years, officials have been shifting money from education to prisons. Governor Schwarzenegger acknowleges that, “30 years ago 10 percent of the general fund went to higher education and three percent went to prisons. Today, almost 11 percent goes to prisons and only 7.5 percent goes to higher education.”

Back in 1960, the politicians in Sacramento enacted a promise to the citizens of California. It was called the “Master Plan for Education,” and it required, by law, that all qualified students be able to attend a public college—tuition free. For years that promise was kept, but then they started getting around the law by calling it “fees” rather than “tuition.” Between 2000 and 2008 (way before the economic crisis) tuition at UC and CSU more than doubled. In 1960, student fees at UC and CSU were roughly $150. This year at UC they’re $11,000 (a 7000% increase), and at CSU they’re $4,900 (a 3200% increase).

For many students and their families, especially those hard hit by layoffs and foreclosures, the dream of a college education has been priced out of reach. And for Blacks, Latinos, and others who have historically faced discrimination, the hope of higher education is being denied as economic barriers are re-segregating opportunity in California.

But the issues are deeper than the just the cost of education. So many professors have been let go that this Spring no new students will be admitted to the CSU system, and total enrollment will be slashed by at least 40,000. At the Community Colleges 250,000 students will be “turned away.” Those who do manage to get into a school are discovering that required classes are no longer available so they have to attend an extra year to graduate (and pay yet more tuition). And class sizes are doubling which means less individual attention, less chance to ask questions, and less contact with the remaining teachers.

A fundamental issue that has nothing to do with economic crises is how education funds are spent and how the decisions are made. At the same meeting where they jacked up tuition, the UC Regents also gave hefty pay raises to the executives and senior bureaucrats. Apparently $500,000 a year isn’t enough, so the wages of janitors have to be cut and librarians laid off so that the top managers are not inconvenienced. And why are there so many of them? Fifteen years ago UC professors outnumbered senior managers by two and a half to one, but today there are actually more high-paid administrators than professors.

The real issue is not the current economic crises. The real issue is that politicians in Sacramento have quietly abandoned the principle of publicly-funded higher education for all. Over many years they have steadily moved our system of public colleges away from education-for-all towards the model of expensive private schools—with tightly restricted and highly competitive admissions. The word for this is “privatization.” It is a word that means converting public colleges to the model of private universities. It is a word that means higher education will only be available to the affluent.

We are writing you this letter to ask you to stand up for your sons and daughters, and the public education that they must have to survive and thrive in the 21st Century. It’s time for parents and taxpayers to demand that public education be restored and expanded for all. It’s time for parents to become involved.

For more information:
In Defense of Quality Public Education – California
California Faculty Assoc.
Council of UC Faculty Associations

Letter to Parents of Children in California Public Schools

Filed under: Education — brucehartford @ 11:43 pm
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January, 2010

California Public Schools in Crises ~ A Letter to Parents

We are writing you this letter to ask you to stand up for your sons and daughters, and the public education they must have to survive and thrive in the 21st Century.

Last year, the politicians cut public school funding by more than $5,300,000,000. This year they tell us they’re going to cut even more. They justify themselves by citing all sorts of statistics, but education is not about statistics, it’s about children. And most parents know that their kids in public school are not receiving the education they need. We don’t need to be mathematicians to know that:

  • Class sizes are too large because there’s not enough money to hire teachers, and too much is being spent on managers and bureaucrats.
  • Many schools are in such poor repair as to be unsafe, with not enough money for maintenance.
  • There are constant and worsening shortages of materials, supplies, and equipment.
  • Enrichment programs in languages, sports, art, music, and other areas being slashed or eliminated.
  • Pre-Kindergarten and Adult Education programs areas being slashed or eliminated.
  • Critical positions such as nurses, librarians, counselors, and janitors are being eliminated.

They tell us that these cutbacks are because of the current economic crisis, but that’s not true. They’ve been cutting public education for years, long before this latest crises. Proposition 13 was supposed to relieve citizens burdened by excessive property taxes, but most of the benefit went to big business and commercial landlords. Corporations used to pay the majority of education-related taxes, but their share has steadily been reduced so that now individual taxpayers have to carry most of the load, and there is no longer enough money to adequately fund public education even in the good times, let alone the bad.

They tell us that public education provides equal opportunity for all, but every parent in California knows that there are rich districts and poor districts, “good” schools and “bad” schools. And despite all the rhetoric and promises, everyone knows that public schools serving Black and Latino communities get the short end of the stick, that non-white students receive unequal punishment and discipline, and that educational inequality is part of a pattern that cannot be separated from job discrimination, inadequate housing, lack of health care, and unsafe streets. In the words of Dr. King, the promise of equality in America is “… a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.

They tell us that the only way to hold schools and teachers accountable is by imposing one-size-fits-all regulations decreed by distant bureaucrats. But children are not standardized assembly-line parts, and neither are individual schools or school districts. Who can best determine what each child needs, the parents and teachers who see them every day, or officials in Sacramento and Washington? Yes, kids have to be educated to meet the requirements of the 21st Century. And they also need an education that helps them grow into thoughtful and caring individuals capable of living productive, meaningful lives and function as empowered citizens in a democratic society. But teachers and parents must have a voice in how each school and classroom achieves those goals. Instead of centralizing total control in the capitol, local communities—parents and teachers together—need the power to hold the system accountable and to support those schools and programs that are succeeding, and to change those that fail to educate the children.

They tell us that charter schools are the answer to all our problems, but both charter and public schools get their funds from the same inadequate source. Pitting public and charter schools against each other in a losing battle for dwindling resources diverts us from the real issue—Sacramento’s refusal to provide a quality public education to all.

Now is the time to take action.
For more info:
In Defense of Quality Public Education – California

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