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Michael Winship: Dr. Gregorian's 3 R's: Reading, Writing, and Recession

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

Dr. Gregorian's 3 R's: Reading, Writing, and Recession
By Michael Winship

That was quite a crowd at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, last week. Thousands of students took to the streets in protest. But it wasn’t an antiwar march – the campus has a reputation for a lack of activism. It wasn’t even a pep rally for UNLV’s beloved, championship basketball team, the Runnin’ Rebels.

No, they came out to raise hell as they never have before because Jim Gibbons, the governor of Nevada, just proposed state budget cuts to higher education of a whopping 36 percent. At UNLV, that could mean a budget slash of as much as 52 percent and possible tuition increases of 225 percent.

UNLV student and employee Helen Gerth told the LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, “By the time they get through cutting the budget, this will be a ghost town.”

Meanwhile, in Tucson, Arizona, a record thousand people crowded into a meeting of the Arizona Board of Regents to voice their outrage at a proposed cut of more than $600 million from the state’s university system. School presidents there say such draconian budget rollbacks could force the elimination of academic departments, even entire colleges.

Lest you think this is a phenomenon limited to the Great American Southwest, things are bad all over. With state governments looking down the barrel of more than $300 billion worth of deficits this year and next, the long knives are out and money for higher public education is a serial victim. Twenty-six states already have either cut their budgets for higher education, raised tuition fees or enacted a combination of both. When it come to college affordability, a report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, “Measuring Up: 2008,” gives a failing grade of “F” to 49 of the 50. Tuition at public four-year colleges is up an average of more than $6500; at two year schools, almost $2500.

Less and less of that money is going to actual teaching and more of it to administrative and support services. Despite that, THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION reports that many college buildings are “outdated, inefficient, even crumbling.”

The states are paring away at their future noses to save their current financial faces, say leading academics, denying dollars to higher education when it’s more of an absolute necessity than ever, providing jobs, retraining those who’ve been laid off, generating the basic and applied research that in the past has driven a country once world-renown for invention and productivity. As one of those who spoke at the Arizona Board of Regents meeting said, “You cannot cut yourself out of a recession. You must grow your way out.”

Last October, a meeting was convened in New York City, a gathering of leaders of higher public education who came here to try figure out a way to cope with the current economic crisis and its devastating impact on America’s public colleges and universities. The conference was organized by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the philanthropic foundation that fosters and promotes educational opportunity and increased civic participation, and its president, a human dynamo whose career is testament to the value of a lifetime of learning.

Vartan Gregorian, the former president of the New York Public Library and Brown University, is a man of erudition and charm with a passion for philanthropy and wider education. The conference of educators he and the Carnegie Corporation sponsored last fall resulted in a two-page page ad published in major newspapers, an open letter to then President-elect Obama asking that whatever economic stimulus package comes out of Washington in the next few weeks, five percent of it – around 40 to 45 billion dollars – go to higher education that will, quote, “propel the nation forward in resolving its current economic crisis and lay the groundwork for international economic competitiveness and the well-being of American families into the future.”

Gregorian spoke with my colleague Bill Moyers on the most recent edition of BILL MOYERS JOURNAL on PBS and noted that it was during another national crisis -- the Civil War -- that Abraham Lincoln had the foresight to sign the Morrill Act establishing public land-grant colleges and universities. Its purpose, the legislation stated, was, not only to create public institutions of higher learning that would teach the traditional curriculum of science and “classical studies” but “to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts… in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”

Lincoln supported the law because he realized the value of education for people who could use the land grant schools not only to advance knowledge but also to learn a trade. Unfortunately, Gregorian said, the public “has the impression that the land grant universities are providing free education to the public. That’s not the case.”

Public colleges and universities can’t compete with private schools, he said, because the salary differentials are so great, yet, “Eighty percent of our nation’s talent, in every domain, from lawyers to engineers to doctors, come from public higher education.”

Gregorian includes two-year community colleges as well as four-year schools. “We’re talking about how to build the next generation of our youth to be able to compete globally, and re-engineer our nation’s reemergence in the next phase of global competition,” he explained. “We need all the infrastructure. We need all the engineers, all the doctors, all the computer specialists… We can no longer allow 50 percent of our students not to graduate from high school, or 30, 40 percent to drop out from our universities, especially minorities and others…

“We need… to participate as citizens in the fate and future of our country… We cannot have a democracy without its foundation being knowledge, in order to provide progress.”

That need is all the more critical in times of economic crisis and if the states are unable or unwilling to come up with the cash, at least the House version of President Obama’s economic stimulus package that passed this week include billions for higher education, so apparently someone in the administration is listening to the entreaties of Dr. Gregorian and his colleagues. Nonetheless, the legislation still has a long way to go.

There is an upside to the gloom, Gregorian noted. “Merit always counts, especially when the economy tanks. You find the true value of individuals. I can’t tell you how many people are calling me about going into non-profit business… People have suddenly stopped in their tracks and they’re looking to see what they could do otherwise… People confront themselves, their values. It’s like when you leave a hospital with catastrophic news. You see the world differently.”

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.


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I think that we should pull back are troops from the war in Afganistan.

At the same time the University of Nevada students were protesting cuts that would affect the educational product they were purchasing,students at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte rallied with posters and costumes to celebrate the purchase of seat licenses ($1,000 to $2,500) for the new football program to start in 2013. A stadium is yet to be purchased (est. $45 million)and most of the demonstrators will be graduated and gone by then. Already though, a surcharged student fee of $25, moving gradually to $100 per semester, is being collected. It will never end because these fees are used to "run" the program.

I don't know how well the Nevada event was covered but the news outlets were all over the football promotion event here. As enthusiastic and prepped as the Charlotte "students" appeared (some perhaps too old to be) one wonders if they were being paid.

Anyway, that's the way consensus is mobilized in Charlotte. I doubt the mostly commuter student body knew what had happened unless they saw it on the TV news. They had certainly never been polled or consulted. Football had become a matter of "patriotism", and all opposed were by definition "traitors and terrorists." In America those who stand to materially benefit already possess the power to make the rules.

Know what Michael, I would not be surprised if some PR flak behind UNCC football promotion googles this post and joins the discussion to denounce me as a wussy, or a sourpuss, a spoiled sport or an "outside agitator." Ok then, I'll play it your way,"Fock F***ball, it's mis-education at its worst!"

Dear Mr. Winship,

It is not money that is ultimately lacking in our education system; it is mirely the absence of the lessons of truth.
Equality 101.
Only = will set the universe free!


Krista Nordlander: I know it is very costly to become or remain a dentist. Dental care is at least as important as the rest of medicine combined because of plaque issues in health complications, and the fact that a great proportion of anguished deaths in this world have always been caused by blood poisoning from decayed and impacted teeth.
You are a brave woman to admit your situation in what can be a sadistic and predatory society. I have known a number of dentists as friends. To be a dentist requires an assemblage of talents, judgmental abilities and medical understanding beyond what is required of a virtuoso in music or the fine arts. To be a great dentist requires a special and rare admirable temperament. And beyond that one must find value, reward and motivation in the practice of dentistry. Dentistry is advancing technologically, but the unique practitioner described above remains in high demand. Reading about the injustices done to you in our money obsessed world makes me want to change the rules and return you specifically to a satisfying and valuable dental practice. This sad story tells me that dentistry must be included as a large integral part of any new universal health care plan. And the best of luck to you in finding justice, Dr. Nordlander.

Your programs are excellent and thought-provoking. There's no doubt that education is crucial to a healthy, prosperous society. It's certainly much better to spend money up front to educate children properly so they'll be able to handle themselves better in adulthood, have better perspective on their own lives and about the world as well as be able to move into interesting careers. I know many other countries subsidize education at the university level much more than in the U.S. I believe it's free in Ireland, for example. But I'm sure there must be some restrictions on who can get in, etc. Also, my sister lives in Germany and it's true that they do a much better job with vocational training for those not going on to university. Another area the U.S. is weaker is with credentialing and licensing of professionals. It makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to move to another state. I'm a dentist and lost my practice in Maine because of corruption on the licensing board, which blamed me with patient abandonment, although it was one of the seven board members who actually caused me to be temporarily left without a facility. Because they revoked my license, I lost my business, home, community and reputation, etc. It's caused major hardship for me, and there are many other dentists from that state alone who have also been trashed unfairly. We need to warn people of the hazards of these professions before they waste a lot of time, effort and money on training. My brother is a historian with a PhD who also has had serious career issues because of the lack of appropriate job openings. The fact is that education can be a great advantage, but is certainly no guarantee that one will have a more successful life.

I did not hear the first part of the Dr. Gregorian interview. However I believe that the most important things I heard from Dr. Gregorian were ignored in Michael Winship's article. Dr. Gegorian called for more emphasis on teaching the trades and lamented the fact that Universities are asked to deal with the failures of k-12 education. I found his comments on how the Germans give more respect to the trades to be especially interesting. A professor I know very well at a large "second level" pubic university tells of a Economics masters student who could not do simple addition. I have personally interviewed a Finance graduate of Western Michigan University who could not explain the difference between accrual and cash accounting. Doing more of the same will hardly provide what our nation and economy needs. If we are going to throw some money away in hopes that it will jump start the economy, university buildings are as good of a cause as any. If we believe that this will improve the education of American youth, we are delusional. We in the United States need to learn what much of the world has never forgotten. It is the role of education to take each student to the highest level they both desire and are capable of. When that point is reach, leave them behind. We need to quit dumbing down the whole system to the least common denominator. This issue is central to why disciplines like math and economics, at the graduate level, are dominated by foreign students at nearly all U.S. universities. To a large degree, the failure of U.S. public education lies not in areas where learning has not happened, but in its areas of success. American children seem to taught that manual work is beneath them and that all ideas and abilities are equal.

We do not need more money for any level of education. What I believe we need is a complete overhaul of the entire system K12 and higher ed. We have to get the families involved and held accountable for their children. We have to get education out of social work, doctor, baby sitter, etc and back solely to educating. Do this and there is plenty of money. Stop social promotion. The freshmen in high school in Nashville's public schools have horrible statistics -- 43% of them have failed at least one class!!! This should be a huge embarrassment to the educators in this community but I doubt they understand they are the problem. Middle and elementary school needs to be reformed. We need better quality teachers (not the ones with the lowest SAT and ACT scores). We need to pay for quality educators who help our kids achieve at their highest potential in every single grade. The progems do not just start in high school.

Colleges and universities wake up. Do not offer remedial education. Or if you continue to offer it charge the cost of delivering back to the school/school system from which the student requiring remedial education came. Otherwise higher ed is part of the problem and has bought into education as nothing more than a money racket. Education is too expensive. It is much cheaper and there can be/is higher quality classes available on line!!!

Stop spending additional funds for education and definitely stop building construction and expansion until all schools get their act in gear. It is time for a paradigm shift in how education is done in this country. High quality education graduating students ready for whatever is after high school is what we need to get our country back.

Right now "the deliberate dumbing down of america" has been an absolute success. Please read the book by this same name written by Charlotte Iserbyt. It is most enlightening. Yep, public education has succeeded in dumbing down our populace.

Private schools -- those are for my children!

Rumor has it that a major FL state U. accepts only the top 2 (not %) students from a high school which means the avg. GPA is above 4.0 on a 4.0 scale, and a majority of entering freshman are required to take a remedial course.

Current resourses were not available for the original astronauts or Lincoln, so more money has not been the answer.

Ask Bill Cosby if he has ideas that may help regain some of the "EDUCATION-results" ya'll seem so worried about.

There are answers other than more money, but it is necessary to look at results as well as methods.

Now that we have an "African president" ( quoting Donna)maybe reality can be discussed. Why are asians so sucessful at learning compared to natural born Americans? Motivation? Eye on the prize? Family values? It might be good to check out the answers.

When the foxes have emptied the hen house & the Wolves of wall street & the Piriahs of politics are turned to for answers you can expect more building of their wealth--can you afford it?

Michael Winship:
Sumatra Persimmon dropped me a little note to let me know how diligently you are working. Thank you.

As we are surpassed by other nations in education it is not only because of inadequate funding, but due to content and applicability. There are motives of social control and indoctrination that preclude the idle curiousity required to motivate expedient learning. Credentialing is another unjust barrier. Self educated people still have no way to get accredited. It seems diplomas are a consumer's fetish now, the dial spins as the head fills and the thousands click off.

Michael Winship is still learning but is not in school. He's learning on the job, and teaching too.

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