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Priorities in Tough Times

04 Aug Posted by in Academics, Business | 3 comments

I’m venting a bit, as I get back into blogging. My intention is not to write about budget concerns all the time, but I confess that my two items today are budget-linked. Also, I usually emphasize issues involving George Mason University directly, but this is only loosely the case today. Again, I’m just getting back into whatever swing I’d achieved earlier.

First: inequalities. As we watch federal and state educational priorities unfold, partly in response to economic crisis, I think it’s really important to make as sure as possible that higher education’s role as a historic (though imperfect) source of social mobility is not unduly confined. I worry about some of the cheapie proposals floating around, about barebones curricula with no choice, focused primarily on first employment alone, both because they don’t really do the job higher education should do, and because they’re likely to concentrate students from lower-income families. At a time when a global economy demands more, not less, education, and education of a sort that schools habits of mind relevant to a professional lifetime, we need to make sure qualified students continue to have access to college and university opportunities that will really move them forward.

Second: sports. I’ve been interested in the several signs that sports seem partially exempt from the pressures that beset us otherwise. Quite apart from the amazing salaries of professional athletes, the recent renewal rewards for a Florida coach (in a state not exactly blessed with higher ed resources right now), or the separation of California’s coaches from cuts applied to academic salaries (save on a voluntary basis), or the continuation of an expensive facility renovation at UCLA even amid the massive reductions applied to other areas — these are more than straws in the wind. The response, of course, is that sports tap support that’s unavailable for other academic pursuits, so we’d be cutting off noses to spite faces if  we didn’t keep the athletic momentum up. And this is quite possibly correct, in the short run. But at a time when higher ed is asked to reexamine itself, goaded by the economic crisis, surely college sports can participate as well. At many schools, including my own, sports are under the same budget gun as the rest of us, but it’s an uneasy relationship right now and deserves some sober attention.