"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Today's word of the day is "disingenuous," which means "failing to reveal the full story or whole truth," and is "often used in the context of politics, sometimes insinuating cynical or calculating behavior." I don't necessarily want to insinuate cynical or calculating behavior, but let's use "disingenuous" in the context of politics:

It is "disingenuous" to say that one is creating jobs in one's own private business or industry, particularly if that business or industry is political in nature, when one's political party aggressively promotes policies that are actively destroying jobs in the same geographic region in other businesses, industries, or professions -- notably, important public ones, like education.

*     *     *     *     *

Let's look at an example: Grad U., a large public university, exists in a state with both a Democratic governor and Democratic-controlled general assembly. But progressive critics lately have accused Grad U. state's leaders of leaning too far to the Right to appease their Republican colleagues in an emphasis, as they work to balance the state's budget, on cutting spending rather than increasing revenue. What does this mean for the state's system of public colleges and universities? 

In FY 2011, balancing the budget meant cutting $1 billion in total state expenditures but only insignificant measures, such as a higher tax on alcohol, to raise more revenue (and Republicans opposed even those). Also in 2011, Grad U. state ended what was called the "millionaire tax," a state income tax increase from 5.5% to 6.25% in 2008, 2009, and 2010 on state residents earning over $1 million a year. The net revenue from that tax over those 3 years was $170 million, which may not seem like much in a state with an annual budget of around $13 billion, but the net effect of such decreased revenues from this and other measures cannot be considered unrelated to the significant budget shortfalls at the state's colleges and universities which have resulted in furloughs, salary freezes, hiring freezes, and job cuts. While such shortfalls -- and their results -- have been ongoing since the recession began to affect state and campus budgets in 2008, the continuing push to "cut, cut, cut" has led to underfunded campuses, even as the state starts to recover from the recession.

Looking back to 2010, it's hard to underestimate how hard recession-driven budget shortfalls have already hurt the state university system. Two years after the recession's initial hit, the system state-wide still had to cut $37.8 million from its 2010 budget. That ended up including $12 million in job cuts (both layoffs and the elimination of open positions), as well as "$2 million in maintenance expenses and $3 million in travel expenses, library budgets, and computer support." The cuts also included $1 million in financial aid, but, not surprisingly, "The cuts include a fair number of adjunct and part-time faculty, and that's where the students will see a real impact."

In other words, decreased revenues aren't creating jobs here on campus, they're eliminating them -- essential ones, jobs that have "a real impact" on the quality of education students (whose tuition, meanwhile, is rising) are able to receive. Instead of considering ways to increase revenue that would create stable, permanent positions, these recent cuts have led to job losses among those with the most tenuous appointments and a freeze on hiring for already open tenure-track positions, as well as the creation of new ones. (And this isn't a problem in just Grad U. state. Several tenure-track jobs I applied for elsewhere in both of my searches were "cancelled due to funding cuts.")

Fast forward to FY 2011. For the entire state system of public colleges and universities, the governor approved a state-supported operating budget in 2011 of $834 million, comprised of both tuition and state appropriations, but that budget still left Grad U. campus $7.8 million short of its projected need for "mandatory" expenses. Whatever those "mandatory" expenses might be, let's be clear: You could rehire a whole lot of recently laid-off adjuncts for $7.8 million and create more tenure-track jobs, too.

Which brings me back around to the "millionaire tax," the $170 million in revenues it brought in between 2008 and 2010, and its elimination in 2011. While $170 million may not seem like a lot within the state's overall budget, it puts into perspective supposedly "necessary" cuts to the university system's budget. Opponents of the tax, mainly Republicans, have alleged
that it was responsible for an apparent drop in the number of [Grad U. State] households reporting over $1 million in income since the rate was imposed. But state tax data shows that the number of millionaires declined not because they left the state but because their income fell below the million-dollar mark due to the recession.

Most households in that bracket get a considerable amount of their income from investments; the fall of the stock market reduced their earnings. In 2008 and 2009, a cumulative 5,364 taxpayers with over $1 million in income in 2007 dropped from the ranks of the millionaires simply because their incomes were lower than the previous year. They didn’t move out, they moved down.
It made no sense to eliminate this tax in 2011, especially with stock market returns up and, presumably, more people back in the millionaire class. Moreover, whatever the "millionaire tax" was used to pay for before, it could have been used, in 2011, to forestall further university layoffs and hiring freezes that are harming the quality of public education in the state.

Looking ahead to FY 2012, while this latest yearly budget will "restore $60 million to schools," it will also "have a more substantial impact in subsequent years when it bites 40 percent off the structural deficit in a series of moves, such as reducing formula-driven funding increases to state and private colleges." Restoring $60 million to "schools" isn't all that much, given the deep cuts of the past several years and the fact that "schools" include not only colleges and universities but K-12. The 2012 budget raises more revenue (budget is up to $14.3 billion over the previous year's $13 billion) through higher fees of various kinds, but "closes a yawning deficit without raising  taxes." Why this refusal to raise taxes that could fund jobs that support vital public programs? Why are we dealing with the structural deficit long-term by increasingly defunding colleges and universities?

Republicans are responsible for controlling the rhetoric surrounding these budget debates, but Democrats have been gutlessly acquiescing to both the rhetoric and the policies it supports. It is disingenuous to say that either party has contributed significantly to job creation.

*     *     *     *     *

It is also disingenuous to say that Grad U.'s administration shouldn't be taking greater responsibility for mismanaging the budget they do have. Retaining a significant number of non-teaching staff positions that are grossly overpaid is at least as much to blame. A public university shouldn't be cutting teaching positions while a large number of nonessential administrative positions still pay six-figure salaries.

But this subject deserves its own post, a Part 3 to go with "Let the Numbers Speak for Themselves" Parts 1 and 2.

*     *     *     *     *

I left my adjunct position at Grad U. when the number of courses I was offered for Spring 2011 brought my salary below a sustainable level, thanks to cuts in the number of courses and sections offered to students, thanks to budget cuts, thanks to salary and hiring freezes, thanks to the state's refusal to raise taxes. The job I now have was "created" to support a growing organization but an organization that, in the name of "reform," supports, in general, the kinds of spending cuts and rejection of tax raises described above. While there is no direct correlation between the destruction of one job and the creation of the other, it would be disingenuous of me not to point out the indirect correlation -- at the large-scale level of policy.

But are we just talking about six of one, a half dozen of another? A job is a job is a job, right?

Not quite. As a mercenary for the time being, I don't waste too much time concerning myself with such matters. I'm glad I have a job (six of one, a half dozen of another -- it'd be disingenuous of me to say otherwise), but, as Sisyphus points out, cutting taxes in her state has led, on the one hand, to the defunding of the state university system -- once considered by some the greatest public university system in the world -- and a dearth of academic jobs there but, on the other hand, has NOT led to the creation of new nonacademic jobs, either. Unemployment, in June 2011, was at 11.8%, well above the national average.

*     *     *     *     *

So. I'm sure I've said something here to raise someone's ire in one way or another. One of the things I liked best about teaching was  provoking students to rethink beliefs and values they took for granted, sometimes by playing devil's advocate, sometimes just by introducing different perspectives. The point wasn't to get them to give up their beliefs and values or substitute other ones but to take the time to understand better why they believed what they believed and whether their beliefs and values would hold up over time to the challenges and scrutiny they would inevitably face.  

Phew, at least my poor students don't have to be subjected to such radical brainwashing anymore. Now, I've got a blog!

Feel free to comment.

Ingeniously Disingenuous Trollcat (damn, I wish I'd come up with that!)

No comments:

Post a Comment