The Arizona Desert Lamp

Political Control of Higher Ed = DEATH

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 20 January 2009

The Lamp hasn’t said much on the recent cuts from the state Legislature, mostly because there isn’t anything to say outside of, “This sucks.” It is one thing to question, in a theoretical setting, whether the state ought to be in the business of funding higher education. (Short answer: the federal government probably should not, but the state governments certainly should. It’s called federalism.) It is quite another to dramatically short funding for an institution that is older than the state government itself. Fiscal responsibility is part of conservatism, but so is insuring prudential action, and insuring the basic stability of well-established institutions.

The drama of the cut, however, gives this away for what it is — a stunt. I would be very, very, very surprised to actual see the state legislature follow through on this threat. Reading the quotes from the State House members, they basically boil down to: “Look, we don’t like it. Janet gave us no choice.” Which is fair — and it is fair to criticize Napolitano for running off willy-nilly to beat in the heads of immigrants run the Department of Homeland Security while her state, operating ultimately under a budget that she signed, is going bankrupt. To be fair, GOP and Democratic members of the House and the Senate have also contributed in their way to the current state of affairs. Of course, they’re still here, and will forced to face re-election after some very painful cuts this year.

When thinking about these issues, it is also important to put ourselves in the mindset of a state legislator. From Old Main, the budget battle is a political version of tug-of-war. More funding in the budget is good, less funding is bad. Yet the university is not the only function of the state government — in fact, it’s far from the most important (although it is probably in the top ten). You have agricultural interests, law-and-order interests, construction interests, commerce interests. You have to fund health programs, road construction, public defenders, unemployment offices, and the Bureaucracy. For this legislator, it is a three-dimensional game of chessboxing — without very obvious outcomes. Hence, the entire political process of horse trading.

Yet even the idea of a 40% cut is frightening, and should remind us how imperative it is that the UA gets as far away from legislative give-and-take as possible. This does not mean that we will become entirely independent, nor does it mean that we will become a private institution. But we should never find ourselves in a situation where the politician who proposed a bill to institute public indoctrination into the public school system would be able to sentence the UA into educational irrelevancy.

Thankfully, we don’t have to do this without any guide — the path is already there, as this paper from the Goldwater Institute explains. The Michigan example is not an exception, a fluke of history. It was a very intentional process, initiated by the university in the wake of a situation very much like our own. Because of these efforts, the U. Michigan is among the elite universities in the country. Yet if we insist on being mostly dependent on the state to survive, let us remember that he who lives by the state, dies by the state as well.

UPDATE: Over at Goldwater State, Bennett Kalafut agrees.

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3 Responses

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  1. […] presentation on the state of the budget, none of which really led me to shift from my earlier take on the matter. I would, however, point out that the obvious agitation in Bruce’s presentation […]

  2. Ben Kalafut said, on 23 January 2009 at 2:04 am

    Thanks for the link!

    One thing I’ve been pondering is whether or not the proposed Pearce-Kavnaugh cut (and I think you’re right in calling it a stunt) is in part the Pearce’s way of giving the bird to commie pinko liberal hoplophobe academics, a sort of “here’s what I think of you!” If it were coming from someone else I’d also suspect it an attempt to break the university communities of a sense of “we do what we want, you pay for it” entitlement, but I don’t think my favorite nine-fingered bigoted cop turned bigoted politician is that subtle.

  3. Evan Lisull said, on 23 January 2009 at 7:52 am

    Oh, definitely. In my eyes, Pearce is the legislative version of Joe Arpaio — who happens to be a member of Pearce’s campaign committee.


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