Reality Distortion Field, GOP-style

Our political climate is horrible. You might say, “Duh, I know this.” Knowing something doesn’t necessary mean you are aware of the insidious and nuanced misinformation propagated by politicians at every turn. Even the worst politicians are usually able to weave a fantasy narrative about how they are “right,” and their opponent is “wrong,” in spite of facts that clearly argue against them.

I pick on the GOP merely because they are the current target, with their regular so-called “debates,” providing ample fodder for tearing down their positions and platforms.

In full disclosure, I work in Higher Education. I have moved among a few environments within Higher Education. In the faculty world, I teach classes, work on assessments and learning objectives, and accreditation compliance. As professional staff, I manage a computer center, overseeing undergraduate and graduate student research, deal with hardware, software, and networking issues, and support faculty and staff teaching and research projects. Finally, I have been part of Staff Congress, and as part of Staff Congress, have had ample opportunity to see how Higher Education operates. I chaired the Benefits Committee, was a member of the University Insurance and Benefits committee, and also the Athletic Council, which oversaw campus athletics, including the athletic director.

I layout credentials so I don’t sound like a rambling lunatic who has no foot in reality when I say the GOP’s behavior last night especially in regards to Higher Education resembled that of a child who would rather point fingers at everyone else who is presumably responsible for finger-painting all over the walls while their own hands are covered in paint.

The GOP is deceiving themselves, and hoping to deceive us.

With great sadness I watch these debates, hoping that someone will speak accurately, to educate the audience about any facet of the concerns the United States faces, and with each debate I turn away in sadness that our politicians are simply dimensionless personalities who are reflections of a greater American societal ignorance.

Mind you, individuals are very knowledgeable; but when taken in aggregate, we get more ignorant. Our society should not be measured by the Einsteins, the Jobs, the Gates, or the Zuckerbergs among us, but by the traits of the unnamed masses who drive our economy.

The GOP attacked Higher Education last night on many fronts. Cain, Gingrich, Paul, in particular, struck out at colleges and universities who they described as being “inefficient,” “wasteful,” “full of administrators,” “teachers who don’t teach.” Nearly the group attacked student loan programs. Most, including Paul, declared they would end student loan programs. Paul went so far as to declare that student loans should operate by “free market principles.”

The GOP needs to be reminded of some details.

Higher Education has gone through six years of budget cuts. Federal education budgets have been cut, meaning that states get less money. National Science Foundation (NSF) funding has been cut, a popular source for higher education funding. Many other federal departments, which support higher education with research funds, have had their budgets cut. These cuts mean less or no funding for agricultural research, wildlife or environmental research, and science research, in general. State revenues have been in free-fall over the same time frame, meaning even less money for Higher Education is available. Higher Education has been a victim of two significant economic downturns, not to mention failed education reform policies like NCLB.

To deal with the management costs of running a college or university, and reduced support from state and federal sources, Higher Education has raised tuition and/or fees. In order to maintain college and university facilities, many colleges and universities have frozen salary spending. I, for example, received my first cost-of-living increase this year (2011) after having my salary frozen in 2007. Not only frozen wages, but Higher Education has also frozen hiring of faculty. Faculty are usually handled different than Professional Staff (Administration) in terms of budgeting.

One of the comments claimed last night by most, but in particular Newt Gingrich – and he should know better, and the fact that he appears not to tells me that despite being a college educator, he has no idea of the administrative issues at his institution – is that universities are full of administrators. At first, that made no sense to me, knowing about hiring freezes at my university and at those around me. But then I remembered, this was a freeze on hiring faculty, not necessarily Professional Staff. Then, I realized he might be right, but then I realize he has only himself to blame – and here is why.

Universities have to hire counselors now, to meet the needs of many of the troubled and abused teens who enroll. Athletics are required to meet NCAA rules, meaning that NCAA institutions must have a compliance officer. Universities must have an ADA compliance officer (and staff). Universities are forced to increase enrollment, as that is pretty much the only way to get more funding, by having more FTE (full-time enrollment). Hiring recruiters, putting people on the road for dog-and-pony shows, can help draw students. Universities reach out to alumni for funds, creating the need for a Fundraising & Endowment Office. Universities are charged with providing Outreach Services, pushing into the local region, and looking for business partners. Again, an office is needed for that.

Colleges and Universities are very much like a town, and in some cases, like Ohio State, Texas A&M, and Michigan State, are cities. They have road, sidewalk, and communication infrastructure, plus civil services like fire and police departments. Being a University President is like being a city manager or mayor.

I’m sure I’ve left out a bunch of other information, but I simply want to provide food for thought.

But, not only food for thought, but to illustrate the great disservice politicians are doing, with misinformation, lying, their opinions based in ignorance, or bias.

How can we expect our government to be managed effectively and efficiently if the people we elect are unable or unwilling to fully appreciate concerns and problems?

Problems at national levels have many degrees of complexity for which no easy or simple solutions may be available. Certainly partisanship does not help, and in fact, is a hindrance, bringing unwarranted conflict.

Strip away politics, strip away religious affectation, and look at problems completely, in total, with an eye on downstream ramifications, and find real, workable, pragmatic solutions.

Politicians try to make everyone happy, and as we all know, that is impossible.

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