More scary news from the Great Desert University: Our beloved president sends an announcement that our ever-astonishing legislators yesterday recommended cutting the university systems’ funding by $243 million in what remains of FY 2009 and then by another $388 million in 2010. That is huge: the largest cuts in higher education in the state’s entire history. And this is not a state known for its support of education.
Arizona has only three public universities, and you can count the private institutions of higher education on the fingers of one hand. None of these are exactly world-class institutions. A few departments are excellent: the University of Arizona, for example, has one of the world’s leading astrophysics programs, and Arizona State University has cultivated a good business school and a research emphasis in bioengineering. But by and large the universities reflect the general quality of education in this state, which as we have seen before, is not high. In an Arizona university classroom, it’s possible to guess with some accuracy which students grew up in the Midwestern states where citizens invest in education, simply by observing the students’ basic writing and logical thinking skills. Nine times out of ten, I can identify a kid who came from Ohio, Minnesota, or Iowa just by reading a paper or two.
This is the direct result of Arizona’s chronic underfunding and neglect of education.
“Budget reductions of this magnitude,” says Arizona State University President Michael Crow, “would have a serious and immediate impact on university operations.” The $39 million that had already been cut in the 18 months leading up to FY 2009 have so far resulted in the elimination of almost 500 staff positions and more 200 faculty associates, the dismantling of two schools, and a reduction in the number of nursing students.
Arizona State University serves 67,000 students. It graduates 14,000 a year, and its president claims it pumps $3.2 billion a year into the state’s economy. The planned cuts, Crow reports, will require additional layoffs, furloughs, and reduction of programs that already have enrolled students for 2009.”The fact that the legislature has known about the state budget problems for months and failed to take appropriate and effective action to minimize harm to Arizona’s families and economy is unconscionable,” he adds.
Unconscionable, yes. But surprising or anything new? No. This kind of thing is standard operating practice, historically, for the state’s legislative leadership.
With Governor Janet Napolitano leaving to head up Homeland Security, the state loses its strongest advocate for intelligence and commonsense, one whom our legislators have resisted and fought every step of the way. Her replacement will, according to the state’s constitution, be the present secretary of state, a dim light whose politics and retrograde thinking echo those of the blessedly exiting presidential administration.
Our new governor, heaven help us, is the woman who is responsible for state employees losing all choice in health-care plans: her husband, an executive of a large insurance company, was involved in submitting a bid for the contract to insure state employees that was below the break-even point, so that Blue Cross/Blue Shield, at the time the only decent insurer we had, pulled out in protest of the blatant conflict of interest. For a time, we had just one insurer, the one for which our new governor’s husband worked. This company was so roundly hated by the medical profession that many doctors (including most of mine) would not accept it. If you wanted to go to your doctor, you had to pay in cash and then try to extract the money yourself from the insurer, a process that at best required three to six months. My dermatologist would not let me set foot in his office, even after I said I would pay in cash! To get care from the doctors I knew were reasonably competent,I had to buy my own insurance on the open market. Today the state has to self-insure its employees, thanks to that fiasco.
And she’s pretty typical, this new governor. Remember, this is the state that once elected Evan Mecham, the stupidest holder of elected office in the nation’s history. After Mecham made a laughingstock of Arizona, his predecessor, an affably muddle-headed fellow, looked smart: he was the one who announced that he had never read a book from cover to cover except the Bible and had finished school with a junior college diploma—and he didn’t see why anyone else needed to do anything any different. After all, look how far he’d gone!
That one’s favorite byword was (I kid you not!) “It’s a beautiful day in Arizona. Leave us all enjoy it.”
You can see where all this is going: straight back to the Dark Ages.
So, to personalize, it appears that the danger of a layoff where I’m concerned is still very real and very immediate. The university’s administrators are already firing library staff, and I’m sure they soon will move beyond that.