Post Classifieds

Shouldn't education come first

By Bob Patton
On March 18, 2011


This week's sit-in proves that many students will take action when things are at stake that they care about. But why now? Why this issue? The college administration, in what seems a misguided attempt to cut costs, offered a ridiculously small incentive to a few professors to retire early. Behind the purely voluntary retirement offer was a veiled threat to cut elsewhere if a measly half-year salary bonus was not sufficient to drive out the targeted teachers.


But hold on. Isn't education the mission of any college? Shouldn't cuts that reduce the quality of education be the last places to economize rather than the first? And why is it that, of all the schools in the Vermont State College system, it is this one that faces the greatest crisis?


Low enrollment is cited as part of the problem. Does anyone think that reducing quality of instruction will attract more students? There are some highly paid administrators who have not been able to market the college effectively enough. Not that they haven't tried, but results, not effort, not experience, and not qualifications are what really matters. Why don't we hear about what is being done in this area?


Then, even as a financial crisis descends on our school, we see large sums spent on new construction and renovation. The explanation is that the money for these things comes from a different source; that new buildings are paid for through bond issues. Suppose someone owed you money, didn't pay, and pleaded poverty but you saw large sums being spent on upgrading their home, what would you think? If they told you that the money for renovation came from a mortgage loan, would that make you feel good about the money owed you that was not getting paid?


The problem is that we live in a 21st century version of Alice in Wonderland. We spend money foolishly because it won't have to be repaid for many years. Washington sends us stimulus money so we spend it quickly because it may be taken back. Instead of paying professors for their abilities and success at teaching, we pay them for years of service. And then facing the consequences of that contract-enforced policy we try to get rid of senior faculty and replace them with junior faculty and adjuncts who can be paid less.


And then there's tenure. Ask why tenure is desirable and you will hear a pat explanation that it protects academic freedom; it guarantees that a professor with unpopular views cannot be summarily discharged because of those views. A nice idea in principle, but does it really work that way? To get tenure, junior faculty must first have a "tenure-track" position. Then, after six years, they may or may not "qualify" for tenure. In practice this means that new professors must walk on glass for six years, knowing that a misstep might derail their career. So after toeing the line for all those years and gaining tenure, does the professor dust off those unpopular ideas that have been well hidden and finally expose them to the light of day?


Not only that, but how does the rationale for tenure apply to those who teach hard sciences, engineering, business, mathematics, music, athletics, recreation, or the arts. Are there politically unpopular views in those areas that need "academic freedom?"  Where, outside of academia, are there jobs that provide this kind of cradle-to-grave job security?


Returning to the problems here at LSC. Are there answers? Unfortunately everyone involved thinks it's none of our business. The administration moves forward without fully disclosing the facts behind the situation. SGA seems to support the administration based on information that only they are privy to. And who bears the brunt of it all? Who else? We do?


To see more student reaction to the situation, grab an issue of The Critic. 

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