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Home » Clarion » 2011 » August 2011 » Viewpoint: Defunding of Public Higher Education Tells Students, Educators They Don't Matter

Viewpoint: Defunding of Public Higher Education Tells Students, Educators They Don't Matter

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The Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (futureofhighered.org) is a new grassroots national campaign to defend quality higher education. It was initiated this year by leaders of faculty organizations from 21 states, including the PSC.

Several CFHE leaders, including PSC President Barbara Bowen, spoke on May 17 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The remarks of one, Heike Schotten, appear below. Although Schotten teaches at the University of Massachusetts, her remarks will resonate with those who work at CUNY.

I have only been teaching at the University of Massachusetts, Boston for 6 years. But I have taught there long enough to understand the impact that the lack of state funding has on the quality of education. First, I know that state disinvestment from higher education means increasing student fees. Increasing student fees means that students work even longer hours in order to compensate for the increased cost. This profoundly affects the quality of education at UMass Boston. I know this because I see those overworked students in my classrooms every week. I know that by the time mid-semester rolls around, a third of my students will already have gotten sick enough, exhausted enough or overworked enough to miss at least a week of class, if not more. I know that by the time the tenth week rolls around, a fifth of my students will have stopped coming to class altogether. And I know that by the time of final exams, a number of those students will never have come back. So when the state divests from public higher ed, our students pay the price–in wages, failed classes, burnout, exhaustion, and overwork.

CAUSE & EFFECT

I also know that when the state disinvests from public higher education, we have larger class sizes. And larger class sizes mean a dilution of the quality of education. This is true logistically: some of my classrooms don’t have enough desks to seat all of the students. Some of my classrooms have enough desks, but the rooms aren’t big enough for that many bodies. None of my classrooms regularly have chalk to write on the chalkboard, much less working technology or internet access. So there are practical problems with bigger classes. But there are also pedagogical problems. If I teach three classes of 35 to 40 students, that means I am single-handedly responsible for the academic progress of over 100 students in a single semester, as I was last fall. And I know that when my 100 and 200-level classes go from 25 students to 35 students, as they have during my brief six years at UMass Boston, I assign less reading, I am able to grade less writing, I offer less individualized help, and I let more struggling students fall through the cracks.

Students understand this, too. When they are warehoused into lower-level classes that are taught at increasingly rudimentary levels of instruction because their professor is unable to grade the kind and amount of work necessary to give them a quality education, you can bet that they are less likely to come to class and less likely to get the instruction they deserve when they do come to class. So when the state divests from public higher ed, the quality of education suffers.

But I also know something else about this state disinvestment from public higher ed. Beneath the explicit claims about budget cuts and financial crises, something more subtle is being communicated to us. What state disinvestment from public higher ed says to us is: you don’t matter. The education of the students who go to UMass Boston doesn’t matter to the state of Massachusetts. The work of the educators employed there doesn’t matter to the state of Massachusetts.

SPEAKING UP

And yet it does matter very much – to the success of not only the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but to our entire country. It’s time for Massachusetts and the nation to recognize that among its greatest assets are the students and educators who study and work in our nation’s public colleges and universities. We are engaged in important work at UMass Boston, and it is time the state lived up to its responsibility to support it.

That is why I am here to speak for this campaign. I am here on behalf of my struggling, overworked students and on behalf of my tireless and devoted colleagues. We stand in proud support of this campaign, and we will help to build it.


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