Summit on Inequality and the Crisis of Public Higher Education

On February 10, 2016 the CSU-AAUP and the CCSU-SGA held a Summit on "Inequality and the Crisis of Public Higher Education" at Central Connecticut State University.

The Summit included a diverse group of speakers, from across the state and region, all of whom agreed that there was a crisis of public higher education caused by government defunding, privatization, and corporatization. This threatened the quality and cost of the type of higher education available to the majority of citizens and promised to exacerbate the already appalling inequality in the state.

There was broad agreement from speakers representing many different communities and professions.  

Some speakers were academics, from the CSU system, other public universities in Connecticut (UConn) and nearby states (UMass Amherst/Dartmouth, University of Maine), and from private schools, large and small (Yale, the College of St. Rose).  These academics shared research and experiences revealing not only the causes of inequality and the problems facing higher education, and but also the short-sightedness of the government that does not understand its value and importance.  

There also was a consensus and broad show of solidarity from people outside the universities, including community leaders, union leaders, activists, and politicians.  Students participated as well.  All those at the Summit had experiences, knowledge, expertise, and personal stories that complimented and supplemented the work of faculty members.  There was anger, frustration, and a commitment to work for real change expressed by everyone involved.   

All had the same message – public higher education must be supported, its opportunities expanded, and it role in ending inequality encouraged to ensure a better future for the state, region, and country. 

It was encouraging that there were so many like-minded people working so hard on these issues.   If such a wide range of people could continue to work together in the future, we could form a united front that might affect real change.

What If Galileo Had Tenure

“Tenure is at the heart of every college and university,” says Dr. William Lugo, Chair of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work at ECSU. “Tenure must be protected to allow faculty to push the boundaries of their fields. Even Galileo, a university professor, was arrested and imprisoned for saying the Earth went around the sun. He died under house arrest for making such statements.”

We all know that ideas are controversial. In our highly politicized society, it is especially difficult to discuss some subjects. The university classroom is one of the places where the exchange of ideas needs to be protected, even if we don’t necessarily agree with some of those ideas. Students must learn, with the guidance of professors, that discourse can be conducted in a respectful manner, but that one has to reasonably and logically defend a particular argument.

Academic freedom is the ability of students and professors to research, teach, and debate any and all subjects related to the human experience. Tenure is the anchor that protects academic freedom. Without tenure, any professor can be fired for research, teaching, or expressing ideas that political, scientific, religious, or other groups deem “inappropriate.” Any university administrator who doesn’t like what a particular professor is studying or teaching can effectively end a professor’s employment.

Tenure is the heart of safeguarding academic freedom. “As professors, we must have the freedom to research and teach to the best of our ability,” says Dr. Lugo. “By removing tenure protections, classrooms become political minefields, where eventually no issue becomes safe to discuss. Learning cannot thrive in such an environment.”

*** From the CSUCONNects blog ***

Student Makes Plea To Regents Supporting Professors

At times, Chris Marinelli sits and thinks about what his life could have been.

He reflects on much of his childhood, when he and his sister were living in poverty, spending many nights curled up with their mother in her car until heading to school in the morning. He thinks about their time in foster care, wondering what would be next, and if they would stay together or be separated.

Those hardships instilled in him a sense of determination, a will and desire to do whatever it would take to succeed, and to defy the statistics that show foster children rarely getting a college education.

According to the youth advocacy group Promises 2 Kids, only 10 percent of former foster children attend college, and only 3 percent graduate. Only 50 percent even graduate from high school.

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