Monday, October 23, 2006

A Striking Dichotomy

Two incidents of relatively minimal importance happened at our house this past weekend. Taken separately, each occurrence would be a shrug-off, "one of those things" that makes you just shake your head, roll your eyes, and move on. Together, though, their message becomes multiplicative...and therefore bloggable.

First, I discovered a pro-DeVos bundle of literature dangling from our doorknob. (For those not in the know, Dick DeVos is the former president of Amway and current Republican candidate for Governor here in Michigan.) Anyone who knows us well understands that such a "gift" is positively laughable. While Michigan is definitely and stubbornly embroiled in economic woes, the problem is NOT our current Governor Jennifer Granholm. She is trying desperately to undo 12 years of unholy mismanagement by her predecessor; she is also trying to help the state adjust to a post-auto industry economy where job cuts are a dime a dozen. DeVos is simply another silver spoon-fed rich boy, a political wannabe who is trying to buy political clout with daddy's money. He's another in a long line of slimy Republican scumbags and their supporters, those people who would poison the air, prey upon teenagers, and plunder the earnings of honest & hardworking citizens. All the while claiming to do exactly the opposite, of course. A great example: DeVos claims that "our state has lost over 104,300 jobs." As past president of Amway, he certainly had the wherewithal to keep and/or create jobs in Michigan. However, when I stumbled across a Woodsy Owl ("Give a hoot! Don't pollute!") stuffed toy at a flea market this weekend, I saw two things on the tag: "Amway Corp." and "Made in Taiwan." No, DeVos has already had his chance to keep jobs in Michigan...instead, he sent 'em overseas. He's a bald-faced liar, and I can honestly say I wouldn't lower myself to wiping my oozing, diarrhetic ass with DeVos literature.

The second incident, the one that only serves to highlight an utter absurdity of difference in opinion, was that our "Peace" yard sign was stolen. This is the second time an unhappy fate has befallen such a sign in our yard. The first sign was - get this! - SLASHED WITH A KNIFE! If that doesn't say something ironic about the ultimate success or failure of peace initiatives, I don't know what does. Anyway...our sign this time was just gone. I'd like to think someone was so moved by our declaration of worldly good-heartedness that he simply took it for display in his OWN yard...but I doubt it. (A bold, broad-daylight theft by some scummy DeVos literature-slinger strikes me as more likely.) The thing public, I try to be fairly politically neutral in my opinion-posting. I don't drive around with an "Impeach Bush!" bumper-sticker (although I don't doubt for a moment that, legally, he could be); mine simply reads "Coexist" in letters that are altered to really drive the point home. Likewise, "Peace." Who can argue with EITHER of these points?!? I mean, to NOT coexist with someone means you're always at odds with that person...a crummy way to live. Likewise, if you don't like my peace sign,'re against peace. be AGAINST peace, you're...what? FOR WAR?!? What dumbass WANTS war?!! In my mind, the alternatives to what I'm offering - coexistence and peace - are indefensible. So anyway...hope you enjoyed the sign, you moron. 'Cause we ordered up a 5-pack, and I bet we can outlast you!

*Sigh!* In a totally unrelated move: how about a shout-out to good friends MICHAEL PASSMORE and LISA STANLEY (see blog links at right) for succesfully completing the Chicago Marathon this weekend.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Dream, or Nightmare?

Time to get back to political wrangling again...bear with me...

Last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings made a speech in which she called for a collegiate database which would track students' academic progress and university accountability. She, like many politicians, is alarmed by rising costs of higher education, claiming "we have sold the dream of college, and more and more it's unattainable." To combat this perceived unattainability, she proposes a plan similar to the HIGHLY controversial No Child Left Behind (of which she was a chief architect) that would "provide the same information to consumers that parents receive for their children's elementary and secondary schools." She said: "The purpose here is to figure out how to have better information, better understanding about higher education in America as a consumer good."

Well now. Let me roll up my sleeves and, as a duly-appointed member of the higher education faculty, prepare to kick the shit out of Ms. Spellings and her whacko, Big Brother ideas.

The idea of college affordability is a noble one. Societally we claim to put a high priority on education, especially as the labor-intensive jobs of our parents & grandparents either disappear or move out of the country. Financially, though, that priority is not reflected in terms of real dollars. Say what you will about "waste" in the university (and lots of people do), the fact is that there's only so much belt-tightening that can be done. Tax cuts have been VERY popular in the last 25 years or so, but when taxes are cut there is simply less money coming in to government coffers. Less money means SOMETHING has to give, and after all of the fat gets cut away from a budget, eventually whole items start to disappear. Put it terms of your own income: if you "cut" 25% from your $1,000 paycheck, you can probably whittle away at some of the extravagances you've been enjoying. You can shop at TJ Maxx instead of LL Bean, or buy Yellow Tail instead of Robert Mondavi. Take that $750 and cut it some MORE, though, and KEEP cutting it (the way our taxes have been cut) and eventually you don't buy new clothes at ALL anymore. Eventually you need to say that drinking wine is itself a luxury that can no longer be afforded. When your personal income is cut, it's a bad thing and you fight it tooth & nail. When your taxes are cut (which is, after all, the government's income), you cheer & applaud without realizing that, hey, if you still WANT the stuff those tax dollars used to buy, you now have to pay for it yourself. In that light, tax cuts simply shift the burden of purchase onto individuals...some of whom can afford it and some cannot.

Affordable college, then: Ms. Spellings tries hard to make that financial accountability sound good for parents who are cringing at skyrocketing tuition costs, but it's the very tax cuts of her conservative administration that are robbing state coffers of money that might go to colleges. It's a political soundbite that has no substance, much the same as "selling the dream of college" in the first place. Folks, college costs money. We don't sell the dream of a Hummer in every garage, because we understand that Hummers are for people who can afford them. it is with college. It's for people who can afford it. If that sounds classist or elitist, consider what tax cuts are doing: they're making it so that colleges can only continue to operate by raising tuition costs by double-digit percentages every year. Eventually, the only people who'll go to college will be those whose parents drive Hummers. Hmmm...THAT sounds classist to me!

It's the collective power of money that really has muscle. Individually, two parents shoulder a heavy burden to send one child to college. Collectively, though...well, consider these (VERY) basic numbers. If I work from the premise that there are 5 million taxpayers in Michigan, and that the average tuition & board cost at a mid-sized public university here is $15,000 per year, I can tack on $100 to the tax bill of all 5 million of those people and come up with $500 million. Divide that by that average tuition cost, and I see that I can send 33,300 students to college. In a single year. That's nearly double the total enrollment at my university. Hell, at a reasonable 4.5%, I'm generating an additional $22,500,000 a year in interest alone! That's not to say that ALL that money would go to student tuition costs, or that it would go to pay the entire bill of those students. Cut it in half, and you'll STILL save parents a gigantic financial headache, and now you've sent 66 THOUSAND kids to college. Of course, when you send that many new people you have to build new dorms, and classrooms, and hire new faculty...and gee, all of that stuff creates new jobs! Such a small investment from ALL of us, paying for something we seem to all agree is pretty important anyway, and a lot of the depressed Michigan economy evaporates like so much April snow.

When it comes to a plan similar to No Child Left Behind being implemented at the university level, the only children I see getting left behind are the ones who most need our help. But Ms. Spellings doesn't really understand that, because she's not a teacher. That's right. When I think of someone being the U.S. Secretary of Education, I dream of someone who's not only brilliant, but someone who's BEEN IN A CLASSROOM. Someone who knows how to improve accountability on all levels, and not just in terms of the bottom line. Instead, who do we have? We have Margaret Spellings, who holds a Bachelors political science. Yes, the person who is charged with directing the education policy of the United States of America is...a politician, whose only qualification seems to be that she's ALWAYS held a job like this. In Texas. Under Governor Bush. The U.S. Secretary of Education ought to be someone with a doctorate, who has taught (and possibly administrated) for 20 years, who knows what teachers and students need, and how to move policy in that direction. Instead we have a woman who helped craft Texas into a state that ranks 49th in verbal SAT scores and 46th in math. (

College is not a business, and education is not a consumer commodity to be bought and sold. University faculty are the last people many of our not-so-childish young adults will encounter in a classroom setting before they break through into true adulthood. We take that encounter very seriously, and we try to make sure that our students are not only well-educated, but also are solid thinkers who will know how to solve problems and direct the future of this country. Right now the problem is the affordability of that education...and Margaret Spellings sure ain't the solution.