BAD MOON RISING: The Situation in Washington State

Guest blogger Prof. Bill Lyne is President of the United Faculty of Washington State, which represents all faculty at Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Western Washington University, and The Evergreen State College.  Lyne  is a professor of English at Western Washington University, where he has worked since 1995.  He is the former president of the United Faculty of Western Washington.

BAD MOON RISING: The Situation in Washington State

Here in Washington, we’re not yet Wisconsin or New Jersey, but we’re not far behind.  With a Democratic governor and both houses of the state legislature controlled by Democrats, you’d think we might be doing a little better.  But with the most regressive tax system in the country (if you’re a Microsoft millionaire in Washington, you pay about 3% of your income in state taxes, if you’re struggling to get to the poverty line, you pay about 16%), a block of senate Democrats who vote consistently with Republicans, and an initiative process that allows billionaire developers to demagogue a frightened and angry electorate into thinking that tax reform would be the end of the world as we know it, we’ve seen the same sort of war on the public sphere, social services, and the middle class that’s been taking place in other parts of the country.

In the wake of a series of all-cuts budgets, thousands of people have been thrown off the health care rolls, social services for the homeless and the indigent have been cut dramatically, and you now have to pay if you want to visit a state park.  Thousands of public employees, schoolteachers, and community college and university employees have been laid off.  Those public employees who still have jobs will be taking three percent pay cuts, paying more for their health care, and getting less in contributions to their retirement plans.

Higher education has been cut by a cool billion dollars in the last three years and by 2013, tuition will have gone up by about 60% over four years.  Last year in California, UC President Mark Yudof lamented the possibility that state support for the University of California might fall below the 50% mark.  Here in Washington, we crossed that line two years ago, and by 2013, student tuition will account for about 70% of our state university budgets.

It is almost an accident that Washington has six excellent public universities.  Even before bankers destroyed the economy, Washington consistently ranked in the bottom five in the nation in both total public university funding and in public university participation rates.  This seems counterintuitive in a state that has one of the highest percentages of citizens with Bachelors degrees or better, until we remember that Washington is such a desirable place to live.   The de facto public policy in Washington has been to outsource the education of the people who take Washington’s best jobs and have taxpayers in other states pay for it.

This year, that policy was further reinforced by a special Higher Education Task Force appointed by Governor Gregoire.  This task force, chaired by Microsoft’s General Counsel and composed almost exclusively of Seattle business elites, was charge with finding “a realistic and viable long-range funding strategy that provides Washington’s students with affordable higher education opportunities.”  Showing a breathtaking lack of imagination, the best these rich folks could come up was to recommend unlimited tuition-setting authority for the universities so that they might try to keep up with cuts in state funding.  And just to help push the privatization plan further along, two of the major players on the Governor’s task force, Microsoft and Boeing, pledged a whopping 5 million dollars a year (from companies that earned $3.3 billion and $18.7 billion in profits in 2010) for five years to a private scholarship fund and then took a victory lap as education saviors.  This from the people who were among the major donors to a campaign to defeat a higher-earner income tax that would have provided three billion dollars for education.

Along with cutting half the funding to our state universities, the legislature also recently made the very cynical move of declaring Western Governor’s University, a completely online “university” with virtually no faculty or faculty-student interaction (read about it here: http://www.ufws.org/content/i’m-going-western-governors-university), as the seventh official Washington State university.  This costs the state nothing but allows it to claim it has increased degree production by ripping people off with faux populism.

For all of their lip service, it’s pretty clear that the business and political elites in our state are not genuinely committed to a robust public university system.  If we continue down the road that we’re on, real university education will be more and more available only to the privileged and everyone else will have to limit their horizons to inferior vocational training.  If we’re going to turn it around, it will take a genuine populist rebellion.

For more information about the situation in Washington, check out these websites:

The United Faculty of Washington State Blog:

http://www.ufww.org/ufws/blog

The College Promise Coalition:

http://www.collegepromisewa.com/

Four Year Institution Political Action Committee:

http://www.fyipac.org/

 

 

SEND YOUR BLOG COMMENTARY ON THE SITUATION OF PUBLIC HIGHER EDUCATION IN YOUR STATE TO teri.yamada@gmail.com



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