By Caitlin Hall
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 18, 2002
When exactly did education become a matter of the bottom line? Tell me, really, because if I glean nothing else from this university, I would like to at least learn when it fell victim to the pseudo-capitalist plague that has enveloped the rest of our country. I would like to know when the state Legislature decided it was appropriate to wring dry higher education in order to fund its other forays into brazen fiscal negligence. And lastly, I would like to know when everyone else threw up their arms and accepted our education system's decay as a natural consequence of the business cycle.
Last week, President Likins announced at a Faculty Senate meeting that the UA might be "changing its focus" over the next decade. That's bureaucratic-speak for "euthanizing our wretchedly under-funded humanities programs." In short, Likins and company are attempting to salvage our failing reputation as a research institution by channeling more funding its way and raising enrollment standards to create a more elite, manageably-sized student population.
The problem, of course, is that something has to go, and with the liberal arts-heavy NAU just a road trip away, things aren't looking good for departments in the humanities. Of course, it's not to say that the UA plans to do away with them entirely, but does it really matter? Take a department that's already scraping along on the most meager of funding, then cut 10 percent of its budget. How many quality professors are going to stick around? How many majors will it attract?
As a student majoring in both the sciences and humanities, I resent being forced to choose between an elite education ÷ the UA of the future ÷ and a diverse one ÷ the Arizona State University of the future. The two should not be mutually exclusive. But the sad fact is, there may be no alternative.
"As nearly free as possible" has become our mindless mantra. That most-unfortunate clause of the Arizona Constitution has come to serve as justification for any and every financial disaster our education system has encountered.
Legislators love it. Parents love it. Even students love it. But they don't understand it. "Cheap" isn't just a term that describes what we are paying; it indicates the value we assign to a higher education. The Arizona Board of Regents is thrilled that we pay nearly nothing to attend college ÷ being a "great deal" brings in a great deal of students, and that's what the boys in charge are all about.
The problem is that we are paying, and the price is infinitely steeper than anyone suspects. Budget cuts threaten to render our education utterly worthless, but we turn a blind eye and keep clutching our wallets. Maybe people believe that their obstinacy will outlast that of the Legislature, and that by refusing to fork over more money they will eventually move politicians to dole out more funding. I hope there aren't too many that are that na•ve.
The time has come for us to take responsibility for our own education. In fact, the time came so long ago that the window of opportunity has nearly passed. The next round of budget cuts ÷ and there will be another round soon ÷ will prove fatal to many more departments if the blow is not softened by an influx of funding from another source. And there simply is no source left but a tuition hike.
All the fat has been cut. All the books have been checked. If we want an education, we're going to have to start paying for it.
So that brings me back to my original question as to when education became a matter of the bottom line. I suppose the most important thing now isn't what it has become, but what it has the potential to be. We still have the opportunity to banish the greed and ignorance that have led our university to its decrepit state. I'm barely clinging to faith that we have the common sense and decency to do so.
We have a choice: Give up a little extra money now, or spend the rest of our lives paying for it. We owe it to ourselves to take that choice seriously.