Monday, October 26, 2015

Higher Than Education

What's college all about, anyway? Is it job training for high paying jobs? Or a place where you learn how the world works, which is something we need to know if we live in a democracy? What about a place where learning about the arts can help you understand and appreciate the world in ways the first two can't?

We can have discussions about things like this because, in relative historical terms, we're a highly educated society. But we could be gong backward. Discussions like this might not take place in the future.

The ongoing entrenchment of Neoliberal, i.e. Reaganomics, economic policies, with lower taxes on the rich and corporations, is putting college further out of reach for more working class students. But it's also changing the very nature of how we think about things, like college, as outlined in a rather long and dense (87 footnotes) article by Nancy Welch in the International Socialist Review. Current realities, our ways of thinking about things, are being replaced by new ones. Some things are just not part of the discussion any more. Some things will never come up because we won't even be imagining the same things we did before.

The article addresses something pointed to by many critics of the direction we're heading, which is that most college faculty is now non tenure and part time. Tenure -- which is job protection similar to what unions afford -- is meant to give scholars academic freedom, to look into whatever they want to. When faculty is on contingent, semester to semester contract, as more and more are now, they aren't as likely to rock the boat. In the early 70s there was a 75-25 balance (75 percent tenured, 25 percent non tenure and part time). It's now 25-75, and as the article lays out, many college teachers don't even make a living wage.

But money still flows to college administrations, and not just to the highly paid college president. Administrators now outnumber teachers, according to the ISR article.

I looked up the University of New Mexico budget and found this on page 29. It lumps student employment in with administrative employment into a category called "staff/student/other salaries, so it doesn't let you compare apples to apples, but I'd add that if by student employment it means the kind of "work study" jobs I had in college, that was part time at minimum wage.

But at UNM, the staff/student/other" category is more than double the "faculty salaries" category.  Look under the heading 'Expenses." (These figures are in thousands of dollars. 204,357 means $204,357,000.)

The ISR article also points out that colleges are sitting on big piles of cash reserves. The UNM budget is very complex and things are broken up into different campuses and departments. I coul'd find a budget item for cash reserves in the time I have today, but note that in this snippet from the UNM budget there's a 53.6 million surplus in this area for 2016.

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