Monday, February 16, 2015

University Lecturers Fighting for Common Good

A Native American parable maintains that life is a fight between two hungry wolves; one of them represents a worldview of fear and domination, the other trust and cooperation. Which one wins depends on which one we all feed.

A version of this fight is playing out in how state funding is allocated. Governor Ducey is opting to cut funding to universities, community colleges, and K-12 education. He also proposes to increase funding for prisons. Short-term priorities that shift funding from schools to other areas, such as prisons, have long term deleterious effects, according to studies by groups such as the NAACP.

Ducey's worldview holds that prison is more important than education and that schools can do with less while corporations get help in the form of tax breaks.

Cutting funding for education has ripple effects for the economy, politics, culture, and quality of Arizona life.

A recent study by Timothy Bartik of the Upjohn Institute estimated that every dollar spent on pre-school education, for example, resulted in a three dollar increase in per capita income for the entire state by the time students got out of high school. Kids doing better in school has a snowball effect on the entire economy. These kinds of benefits result from funding education at all levels. Students who start school well, tend to achieve more, stay in school, go to college, get jobs, and tend to stay away from crime.

Other studies have shown that state dollars invested in universities resulted in increases in grant and scholarship money to those universities; the state dollars multiplied. And businesses looking to relocate go elsewhere when they see that levels of training and education of potential workers is lower than what they need to be successful.

In short, investing in education has real benefits, many of which are economic.

Cuts to education in Arizona are nothing new. Arizona families have seen tuitions skyrocket as universities have tried to make up gaps in funding. The rise in tuition is well documented and has been a response to legislative cuts. Universities are scrambling to increase enrollments, but not to handle those enrollments with support for teachers.

University lecturers, the ones who do the bulk of teaching in survey courses such as first-year writing, have also been paying for the cuts in lack of pay increases, increased work-loads, decreased health care, and increased class sizes. These teachers have helped keep the quality of education at the UA high, in spite of these challenges. They are dedicated, creative, and often inspired teachers who teach because they know education can change a life, make the difference between a productive livelihood and a low wage, desperate scramble to survive. These teachers are also the ones who work with students most in need of a good teacher -- first generation students, students returning after military service, students whose second language is English, students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and students less prepared for college.

They are speaking out and asking for community support to invest in the long term, to feed the wolf of potential, possibility, and prosperity. They are holding a rally on February 25, in front of the Administration Building at eleven thirty. They are speaking up for Arizona families, UA students, and for education at all levels.

They are asking Arizona to choose a path and a worldview that values teaching, students, and quality of life, that we feed hungry wolf of the common good.