The educational budget: What would Samuel Gompers do?
April 18, 2011
OPINION by Roger Freberg
I have been reading some stuff put out by the California Faculty Association (CFA) on “teach-ins” and “protests” planned as a response to the CSU budget. Administrators are puffing themselves up and trying to act like heroic ‘noble captains of industry’ in a classic labor vs. management struggle.
This little drama would be entertaining, except the public has little or no tolerance for folks who want a larger piece of a shrinking pie that all of us have to share!
Let me put it another way.
What would you do if a stranger came up to you and said, “give me more money or I will hold my breath until I die!” Would your reaction be the same if this was a stranger or a friend? What would you think if this was a bunch of spoiled kids? You would probably say, “go ahead—knock yourself out.” This is the reaction that the public expressed when teachers bullied and threatened their way around the Capital Building in Wisconsin. It didn’t help the “cause” when a protest sign or two had some misspellings by Wisconsin’s finest teachers and professors. It didn’t inspire confidence.
Let’s take a look at what is happening on college campuses today in California. But first, allow me to explain why the California Faculty Association’s strategy has little chance of working.
Samuel Gompers was one of my childhood heroes and more than anyone, he made a good life for working people. He argued that a working man who had a livable wage and time to spend with his family helped to create a better society for everyone. The owners of industry at the time did not agree—they were entitled to a life and family, but their workers were not. Gompers realized that by disrupting production, he had leverage on the owners of industry.
Gompers’ strategies work in the private sector. Private managers must be responsive to their shareholders or they themselves suffer. If they’re shut down, a more responsive set of managers will take their business away. This just isn’t the case in the public sector, where managers are not held accountable for their productivity and there is no competition for the services they provide.
In the public sector, if a bunch of teachers picket or even strike, how does this really affect their administration (administrators like to call themselves “management”)? The fact is that strategies and tactics that have been successful in the private sector will never get public sector administrators to move.
Why? The answer is really annoyingly simple; administrators get paid whether or not they “produce” anything. Where is their incentive to negotiate with faculty? It is telling that faculty furloughed, losing approximately 8 percent of their income, while all administrators were fat and smug.
Another issue that works against teachers and professors is that for the first time, the budget for “teaching” has slipped below 50 percent of the total CSU budget, while administrations have grown five fold over the past 20 years. It wasn’t all that long ago, under another administration, that Cal Poly took dozens of highly-paid administrators to a “YURT” retreat ( search ‘yurt’ for a laugh) featuring gourmet food and a pony tailed guru who preached self discovery. It is rumored that this weekend “soiree” (something spoiled people do) cost the taxpayers around $100,000. Your educational tax dollars at work!
Yes, there are problems in our education system, but the fact that the public’s resources are not reaching where we want them to go is much more troubling. Why is it that Cal Poly is apparently more involved in the ‘business’ of funneling all of their campus generated funds (such diverse activities as dorm fees, store revenue, agriculture, and parking permits) into the private mysterious Cal Poly Foundation than into the real business of education.
Faculty do virtually all of the tasks that used to be done by administration support, including typing, filing, ordering books and materials and taking out the trash (my wife paid for her college education by doing secretarial work so she didn’t have to be a secretary anymore, and now here she is emptying the trash in her office), and all the while the administration continues to grow and go to “yurt’ retreats. When budgets are cut, why are we even discussing reducing the number of teachers and professors until all of the administrators are cut first? What in the world is a Vice Provost anyway, and do students care? Who actually delivers the product?
Bill Gates made an on-line presentation on TED.com speaking about how state budgets were destroying education. I highly recommend watching it. He points out the simple truth that the money is there for education, just put in all the wrong places. This is not computer science.
So what should the teachers and faculty do? They need a change in direction. They need to change the process, reduce administration and improve what happens in the classroom. They need to offer more alternatives in education.
For example, my wife proposed offering an on-line version of one of her classes and was turned down. Such modern ideas must be suppressed after all! My daughter Karen teaches on-line classes in public relations and one of her students was a soldier serving in Afghanistan! How cool is that? K-12 must change the school boards with the goal of reducing administrations and the Cal Poly faculty must work to do the same or nothing good will happen.
Now, folks, what are you going to do to really help the next generation?