An interesting thing happened this past week on the campus of Western Washington University, where I’m very fortunate, despite the Great Recession, to still be employed after ten years of service.
Via the student newspaper, The Western Front:
Students mourn ‘death’ of higher ed
Small Dixie cups glowed with the lit tea candles inside them as a crowd gathered to protest cuts to higher education Monday night.
About 50 people attended the event beneath the flags outside of the Wade King Student Recreation Center. The rally was in the form of a candlelight vigil, with eulogies included. The rally, organized by Western Votes!, included students, professors and community activists.
“We are here today to mourn the loss of a friend,” said Iris Maute-Gibson, Associated Students legislative liaison, while speaking at the vigil. “We are all going to miss state-funded higher education.”
The event was in response to budget cuts proposed by the state legislature that will further reduce the amount the state contributes to public colleges and universities. As of 2010, for the first time in state history, state funding only accounted for 46% of Western’s operating budget, and it’s likely that the budget due soon for the 2011-2013 biennium will reduce the state’s contributions even further.
Meanwhile, colleges and universities are forced to make up for the loss in state funding by cutting staff and faculty, cutting programs, increasing class sizes, decreasing the number of students they admit, and raising tuition.
So, the question that begs asking: Can we still call it public education if students, via tuition, are paying over 50% of the university’s operating budget?
And yet, on the same day that they published the report on the vigil, the Front Editorial Board published this on the Opinion page:
Frontline: Vigil for higher education was in bad taste
So soon after the tragic death of Dwight Clark, the Western freshman who drowned in Bellingham Bay just seven months ago, it must have taken some audacity, or else an unfortunate slip of a lot of people’s memories, to hold a candlelight vigil in memoriam of higher education Monday…
Protest, rally, write letters to legislators — and, yes, be vigilant in fighting to give Western students a fairer chunk of our state’s budget.
But we shouldn’t give anybody a chance to point a finger and say we are being overdramatic.
You know, I’d have to side with the vigil organizers here. I’d also like to suggest that the Front Editorial Board needs to read up on political street theater, and I definitely disagree that the vigil was in anyway hyperbole, as they put it.
While public education may not literally be dead, if you’ve been paying attention to the trends over the past 20 years, it really is dying. It’s being killed off by a government that values funding wars over educating children, that enables the hoarding of wealth by the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.
The problem with the vigil wasn’t that it was overdramatic. Sadly, the problem was that only 50 people showed up at a school with a student population of 13,000.