Warped Priorities

The headline and precis on the e-mail I received just now punches me in the face:


Budget cuts scale Poly and West campuses down to one college each;
Four dozen academic programs to be closed

Additional state budget cuts in FY10 could result in closing two entire campuses

I’m in Arizona for a few weeks, teaching a short course in “Women, Power, and Politics” at Arizona State University. Though this is not a regular gig for me and I have joked that I’m earning almost enough after taxes to pay for our car rental while we are here, I feel intimately involved–actually sick at my stomach–over the short-sighted budget priorities of the right-wing dominated state legislature and the new Republican Governor Jan Brewer, who took over after the state’s popular Democratic Governor and chief resister of such retrograde policies, Janet Napolitano, flew the coop to Washington to become Secretary of Homeland Security.

These cuts come on top of the university announcing last week that they would furlough all staff, top to bottom, for two weeks. I have to show I’m working nine fewer hours than my original commitment, and my princessly salary will be cut accordingly. This is not going to change my lifestyle much. But I think of what it means to people dependent on the university for their fulltime compensation–those who still have jobs that is. More than 550 positions, including 200 faculty, have been eliminated. Further, the state’s whacking back of educational funding extends to K-12 public schools also–and Arizona was already near the bottom of the 50-state heap in education funding.

Some cuts were inevitable in almost every state service and institution in this tough economy. It’s happening everywhere and Arizona has been particularly hard-hit by the mortgage crisis. But this is worse than slash and burn. It’s eating the seed corn that could feed future economic growth.

Just over a week ago, David Leonhardt had written this in the New York Times Magazine, citing a research by labor economists, Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz in their book, The Race Between Education and Technology:

Goldin’s and Katz’s thesis is that the 20th century was the American century in large part because this country led the world in education. The last 30 years, when educational gains slowed markedly, have been years of slower growth and rising inequality.

Their argument happens to be supported by a rich body of economic literature that didn’t even make it into the book. More-educated people are healthier, live longer and, of course, make more money. Countries that educate more of their citizens tend to grow faster than similar countries that do not. The same is true of states and regions within this country. Crucially, the income gains tend to come after the education gains. What distinguishes thriving Boston from the other struggling cities of New England? Part of the answer is the relative share of children who graduate from college. The two most affluent immigrant groups in modern America — Asian-Americans and Jews — are also the most educated. In recent decades, as the educational attainment of men has stagnated, so have their wages. The median male worker is roughly as educated as he was 30 years ago and makes roughly the same in hourly pay. The median female worker is far more educated than she was 30 years ago and makes 30 percent more than she did then.

There really is no mystery about why education would be the lifeblood of economic growth. On the most basic level, education helps people figure out how to make objects and accomplish tasks more efficiently. It allows companies to make complex products that the rest of the world wants to buy and thus creates high-wage jobs. Education may not be as tangible as green jobs. But it helps a society leverage every other investment it makes, be it in medicine, transportation or alternative energy. Education — educating more people and educating them better — appears to be the best single bet that a society can make.

ASU’s original campus and hub is located in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, but currently boasts four campuses collectively serving over 64,000 students in the metro area, and a vision of creating the “New American University”. Apparently not just yet.

Let’s hope that some combination of incentives from Obama’s stimulus package and citizen outrage at the polls in 2010 will reverse these warped decisions and bring common sense to funding priorities.


  1. Michael Druckman on February 12, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Where was the outrage when the press and the Democrats were attacking Sarah Palin. The silence was deafening. The new brouhah about Bill O’Reilly’s comment about Helen Thomas is just another attack of the double standard liberals disguised in feminist clothing

    • Jill on February 12, 2009 at 12:43 pm

      Michael – the McCain campaign’s treatment of Sarah Palin were some of the worst displays of sexism in history. I wrote at great length about it and Campbell Brown made an urgent plea for them to release her. Even Palin now talks about how they restrained her and didn’t consult her or listen to her. You want to catch the sexist culprits? I suggest checking in first with the man who would never have signed the Lilly Ledbetter act – because he thinks women just need more education. I can think of a few others who need more education.

    • Tristin Aaron on February 12, 2009 at 12:44 pm

      I disagree. Palin had plenty of defenders, and O’Reilly used her as a tactic to change the subject from his appalling attack on one of our most storied veteran journalists. The issue at hand is why a woman of Thomas’s stunning professional achievements should be subjected to being called “an old lady” and “the wicked witch.” If O’Reilly had commented only on the content of her work, there would be no objection, but instead he invoked sexist cliches which affect all women, and are a primary reason that women are underrepresented in the media. The Women’s Media Center demands an apology, and through our campaign, over 9400 emails have already been sent to Fox demanding the same.

    • Anna on February 12, 2009 at 12:44 pm

      Michael: Actually, a great many feminists spoke up against the sexist treatment of Sarah Palin. Even if we disagreed with her politics, we fought for her right to be judged on her policies and ideas–not on her gender.

      Consider jsut this handful from feminist and liberal sources:

      Sarah Palin Sexism Watch (from an Obama supporter)

      Sarah Palin Sexism Watch: Skirt-wearing SexyMom edition (Feministing)

      Clinton aides: Palin Treatment Sexist (Politico)

      Sarah Palin Sexism Watch #6 (Shakesville’s Sister)

      Sarah Palin Sexism Watch (California National Organization of Women)

      This is the “deafening silence” you’re upset about?

  2. Evan Derkacz on February 12, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Michael, this post is on education. If you have a problem with feminist responses to different public figures why not find a post somewhere that addresses the issue?

    As for your argument, are you suggesting that feminists only criticize criticisms of liberals? I wanted to take your argument seriously so I fact checked you. You are incorrect, but it’s understandable. It’s a seductive argument that feminism is a sham doing the work of liberal ideologues.

    When I googled misogynist and palin, roughly 75% or more of the responses on the first few pages were liberal bloggers like Shakespeare’s Sister, Tennessee guerilla woman, and others, holding “palin misogyny watch” lists.

    Try it, you’ll see.

    What you won’t see is much in the way of intellectual consistency or integrity in those who simply, apolitically hate women.

  3. Ariel Dougherty on February 12, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    The ill conceived budget cuts and lack of vision about the need of EDUCATION to advance skills and jobs is so sad all around. Even among the more moderate Republican Senators, and women to boot, Collins and Snow, they don’t seem to comprehend education as a base need in our society.
    Mr. Druckman completely side-steps the issues you have raised to rant about his pet, and single, issue–Palin. We feminists have been complaining about women’s treeatment in the media for decades. Druckman, nor Palin for that matter, want to support women in general, just “their” ideological view.

  4. Patricia DeGennaro on February 12, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    The outrage about Helen Thomas is warranted. No person deserves to be disparaged in such a way. Further, this is not about Sarah Palin. It is about Bill O’Reilly using insults to skirt issues. O’Reilly is ‘supposed’ to be a journalist, but because he is too preoccupied with dividing people, right vs. left, he chooses to work minimally and make fun of accomplished people. If he were to do his job, he would be pointing out that the real issue here is ‘who does have nuclear weapons.’ In the race for policy makers to force the Administration to play hard ball with Iran, maybe we should ensure they do in fact have them lest we end up in another Iraq. More importantly, as we continue a war in Afghanistan and define regional policy, it may behoove us to remind people how important US engagement is in that country especially when it sits next to Pakistan – a country that has more than 50. Leave it to O’Reilly though to miss what’s important and just write off anyone who may be working to make the world one without mass destruction.

  5. Linda Lowen on February 12, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Michael, I’m a registered Democrat and I wrote extensively about the media sexism Palin experienced. One of the most outrageous examples was the Donny Deutsch statement about Palin as the new face of feminism – and he was supportive of her.

    What many women take issue with is the schoolyard bullying tone of O’Reilly’s comments. Of course this is his bread and butter, but for him to verbally abuse an accomplished woman with a 50+ year career in print journalism speaks volumes about his own level of integrity. Go after her politics, but don’t mock her for her age, her voice, her gender.

    The same ‘witchy’ voice remarks about Hillary Clinton were made by others during her campaign. It’s sad that in this day and age, strong women are either bitches or witches. We just can’t deal with them, can we?

  6. Echinde on February 12, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    I’m a card-carrying feminist (heh) and have written a whole bunch of posts about the treatment of Sarah Palin in the press and by all sorts of political groups. Examples of some:


  7. Gloria Feldt on February 13, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    As Evan says, Michael’s comment did get us off topic here, but it surely did stir up great conversation. Blogging is like that.

    Thank you for those factoids, Evan, and Echidne, Linda, and Anna for an amazing array of links to back up the facts in their comments, and to Jill, Patricia, Tristin, and Ariel for making the case better than I could. The 10,000 e-mails protesting O’Relly’s treatment of Helen Thomas that the Women’s Media Center alone has documented says a lot for women’s unwillingness to tolerate such sexism and ageism any more.

    I’ve been on O’Reilly a lot myself. I have found that like schoolyard bullies, he gives a lot more respect to those who stand up to him. But it’s not easy. So a shout out to Courtney Martin, a young woman who went on his show and represented us so well.

    Now, back to grumbling about cuts in the education budget…

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