I haven’t been blogging much lately. My book has been going well, but I have been stuck when it comes time to write here or elsewhere. Part of it is that it’s just too hard to find the words to say what I want to say, to express my profound sadness, disappointment, and disillusionment with what’s going on in higher education. None of these things are new, but they are hitting particularly close to home right now, being that they directly impact people I care about, in systems that I know well.
First, Quebec students are threatening to go on strike again. The strike last spring was so effective that it brought down the provincial government in Quebec. Unsurprisingly, the new government that the students helped get elected turned around and enacted a tuition increase anyway. I’m not tremendously surprised; the Quebec government is (like most governments) starving the post-secondary education sector. The only place where universities can get more money for increased costs (such as pensions, salaries, and differed maintenance) is through tuition.
Now, most people here in the states would barely shed a tear for the low amount of tuition Quebec students already pay, nor the seemingly marginal amount that the government is going to increase tuition. But, also keep in mind that the people of Quebec pay the highest taxes in the country, both directly through income tax and indirectly through a provincial sales tax. If the students (and their parents) feel like they have already paid their fair share through their tax dollars, one can hardly blame them.
This brings me to California and their decision to force universities to accept credit from MOOCs for students who have been put on the waiting lists for classes. This, of course, is because of the government’s cutting of funding for the Cal State and Community College system. Others have done a much better job of breaking down the implications if this particular proposal becomes law. What I comes down to is that it will continue to justify the defunding of higher education in the state and the increased reliance on low-paid labor, although we won’t be in front on the classroom, we’ll be adjudicating and grading for even less money once a semester.
And then, the Alberta government (back in Canada) has announced that they are cutting funding to the post-secondary institutions by almost 10%, while also threatening sweeping mandate changes and draconian centralized oversight. Research would need to be focused on making money while the schools themselves would have to follow a centralized plan set up by the government. Oh, and they can’t raise tuition. This in the province that boasts one of the strongest economies in the entire country. Students (and faculty) in Alberta have never been as likely to say, strike or even stage a one-day walkout as their Quebec compatriots. But, this seems to have finally woken up those who are in the system right now.
If I write about these three specific examples it is because I have direct experience with all of them. I know that every state is hurting (and Florida, the other state I have worked in, isn’t doing so well either for public funding, especially if you happen to teach, say, anthropology), but these three recent examples, in rapid succession, have me reeling. I am watching, in real time, the reactions of my friends to these announcement, to these cuts. There is a palpable feeling of dread, of despair, of disappointment. Of betrayal.
I am a product of these systems. I was educated in Quebec from birth to my MA. I was fortunate enough to attend the University of Alberta for my PhD and experience another system, but one that was still public and devoted to the voice of the students. I cut my teeth teaching in the Cal State system, and I will never, ever forget those twenty weeks I spent with my developmental writers there. I currently teach at a public institution. I have never existed outside of the public system in two different countries.
I believe in public education. But I’m not sure for how much longer. For the first time in my career, I can understand the impulse to just simply put my head down and do my research and teaching, blocking out the crumbling institution around me. And that makes me really, really, really sad.