The Follies

The Follies

- in Fitzsimon File

The dangers for UNC

An Iowa State political science professor has put his finger on the disturbing evolution, or de-evolution of public universities in a recent column in the school paper and quotes UNC President Erskine Bowles to make his case.

The author, Steffen Schmidt, cites Bowles recent statement about budget cuts. "It takes generations to build a university system like we have here, Bowles said. And you can destroy it in a second if you don't nourish it and sustain it."

Iowa public universities, like the ones in North Carolina, are coping with budget cuts by hiking tuition and relying more on big private donors.  

Schmidt quotes the head of American Association of State Colleges and Universities saying that budget cuts and tuition hikes are prompting a "gradual shift in state-supported higher education "from a public good to a privately purchased good."

Of course, that's the way the Right likes it, turning public higher education into private higher education, letting their holy market run it all.  Or as Schmidt puts it "American and Iowa leaders are afraid to raise revenue because they fear the anti-tax movement. "…state universities are painted as big government by the anti-tax Tea Party folks."

Smith is right. UNC and other public universities are now at risk in this era with the combination of sputtering state budgets, tea-party anti-government mania and the longstanding anti-intellectualism of many on the right.

UNC officials have their work cut out for them. And let's hope they have learned that giving governors' wives 88 percent pay increases and creating golden parachutes for administrators doesn't help their case very much.

Cronyism rolls on

One of the biggest problems in state government is that a small group of people have inordinate influence over major decisions. Key lobbyists, donors and fundraisers, and powerful legislators are all in the privileged circle whose favorite gathering places include the padded half court seats at UNC-CH basketball games and Board of Transportation meetings.

One confirmation of the closeness of the circle is that every time there's a whiff of scandal about one member, you can bet that others among the privileged view are connected, or at least appear in the stories about the alleged impropriety.

The recent allegation that Senator Tony Rand participated in insider trading in connection with a company on whose board he serves is just such a case. The N&O reports that Rand was reelected to the board Thursday, along with four others, including Rand's close political associate and former Secretary of Transportation Lyndo Tippett from Fayetteville.

Tippett ran DOT under former Governor Mike Easley and the department was embroiled in a number of scandals during his reign. Just before he left office, Tippett speeded up funding for Fayetteville's outer loop while similar projects in other urban areas were left unaddressed.

It doesn't stop there of course. Tippett was appointed this summer to the Board of Trustees of the North Carolina State Health Plan by Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight.

From the fringe

This week's from the fringe report includes a couple of throwaway sentences by folks in Popeville that speak volumes about their point of view.

The Pope Center to Dismantle Public Higher Education released a report this week on the North Carolina School of the Arts by former Civitaser Max Borders that predictably recommends that the school should be privatized or tuition jacked way up to make students pay the total cost of their education.

But it's not just the School of the Arts that Borders doesn't like. Early in his report, he says "most North Carolinians, right or wrong, support the idea of taxpayer money going to educating North Carolina's young people-including college. Think about that statement for a while.

Borders thinks it might be wrong for public funding of any education for North Carolina kids. Say goodbye to public schools, though Max would find that the pesky North Carolina Constitution might make his fantasy difficult to realize.

The same constitution that guarantees a sound, basic education to every child also says that a university education shall be provided "as free as practicable." That's pretty clear and so is the widespread public support for quality, affordable public universities. It must drive Mad Max mad.

In a recent blog post abut the ongoing investigations into former Governor Mike Easley, the Locker Leslee Kulba can't resist this aside, "as far as I'm concerned, most of what government does is criminal, anyway."

That pretty much sums up the philosophy of the anti-everything market fundamentalists.  Most of what the government does, from protecting our safety and our air and water to educating our kids, is a criminal enterprise.  Hard to be clearer and more extreme than that.

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.