Local: Education

Funding cuts for universities spur faculty movement

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Local,Education,Erica Jacobs
We have watched as state after state cuts funding for higher education, and public universities counter with tuition increases. Is the end of this cycle a system that is losing its international competitive edge? Seventy faculty leaders from 21 states think there's a crisis ahead and plan to do something about it.

The movement is called the "Campaign for the Future of Higher Education," and it is supported by the American Association of University Professors and other university-affiliated organizations. Its purpose is to start a grass-roots movement to "construct a positive counter-narrative in the national debate over the future of American higher education at a time when public higher education is at great risk."

What Kids Are Reading
This weekly column will look at lists of books kids are reading in various categories. Information on the books below came from Amazon.com's list of bestsellers for children. They are listed in order of popularity.
Books on Spring
1. It's Spring by Linda Glaser (Ages 4-8)
2. Everything Spring by Jill Esbaum (Ages 4-8)
3. Splish, Splash, Spring by Jan Carr and Dorothy Donohue (Baby-preschool)
4. Spring by Nuria Roca (Ages 4-8)
5. How Do You Know It's Spring? by Allan Fowler (Ages 4-8)
6. Mouse's First Spring by Lauren Thompson and Buket Erdogan (Baby-preschool)
7. Spring Things by Bob Raczka and Judy Stead (Ages 4-8)
8. Hurray for Spring by Patricia Hubbell (Ages 4-8)

So far the movement has published a platform of seven guiding principles, plans a day of "action" on April 13, and will hold a press conference at the National Press Club in D.C. on May 17 to formally launch its efforts. So how revolutionary is this grass-roots campaign?

Not very, as far as I can see -- although the plan is still in its early stages. Most of the seven principles are unassailable -- but that makes them largely useless as points of debate. The first five posit that our institutions of higher learning should be inclusive, diverse, should invest in excellent faculty, incorporate technology, and should be efficient and avoid false economies. Who could argue with any of those principles?

The last two seem to be the ones most open to dissent: increased public investment over current levels, and the contention that higher education should not be "measured by a standardized, simplistic set of metrics." With state funding on the decline as coffers reach bottom, and an increased interest in "accountability," how will those last principles be achieved?

There are no specifics yet on enacting the seven principles, and the plan seems to be mobilized in reverse: first an "action" in April, and then the "launch" in May. Additionally, the action is nebulous in form: It can be "as big as a campus demonstration or teach-in, or as small as handing fliers with information ..." Faculty members are told to let the AAUP know the nature of our demonstrations so they can be publicized.

My reaction is ambivalent: I approve the principles but think they're not specific enough to be useful as guides. I think the April 13 action is premature. Professors need to be convinced of the value of this initiative before they will demonstrate or hand out fliers. A press conference first would help clarify the trajectory of this campaign and might galvanize public support.

But it's clear that if our public institutions of higher education are to continue to deliver degrees that compare favorably in the world market, we need to change the narrative from "slash and burn" to "build and invest." Cutting state education budgets by 10 percent, which seems the norm for many states, is a false economy. Adopting intelligent measures -- like the College Learning Assessment tests -- is also critical. I agree with those principles and wholeheartedly support AAUP's efforts to get the word out -- even if the campaign begins with an action that likely will fizzle. I await the press conference as the real call for action.

Erica Jacobs, whose column appears Wednesday, teaches at George Mason University. Email her at ejacob1@gmu.edu.

Erica Jacobs, whose column appears Wednesday, teaches at George Mason University. Email her at ejacob1@gmu.edu.

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