Sunday, February 08, 2009

Why the University of Arizona cuts make sense

Being an ABD grad student I'm a little "bothered", so to speak, by the prospect of mandatory furloughs. The "deferred compensation" alternative presented by Ted Downing--who I miss having in the legislature--seems more sensible, but at the very least the policy could have been distributed differently between higher-paid employees, departmental staff, junior faculty, and grad students. The high-paid employees can take the hit, University departments are already running on skeleton crews and can't afford to have staffers taking days off, and five days' income is so much for junior faculty and grad students that it's sure to hurt morale. (Both will come to work anyway.) ASU has taken this into account. U of A charged forward clumsily.

Then again, the details haven't yet been sent to us, so maybe the plan isn't set in stone.

But that aside, the cuts make sense. University of Arizona President Robert Shelton sent an e-mail early last week presenting them in brief. To quote:
We will also be forced to eliminate or greatly reduce many of our outreach and community-based activities. This will result in:
a.. The suspension of three-quarters of University funding for UApresents.
b.. The current Flandrau Science Center facility, Planetarium and UA Mineral Museum will be closed to school groups and the public later this spring.
c.. The Arizona State Museum will be open to the public fewer days per week, and many outreach and educational activities, including public events, will be cancelled later this spring.
d.. The UA Museum of Art will be open fewer days per week, and will eliminate its engagement in university-level education as well as educational outreach.
e.. A significant portion of the UA's outreach and extension operations across the state will be suspended.
The new partnership creating the Colleges of Letters and Science allows us to reduce the number of academic colleges from 16 to 13, and we have previously announced the closing of University College, the functions of which are being absorbed in the new Colleges of Letters and Science.

Letters and Sciences makes sense from an intellectual perspective, although some toes will surely be stepped on. But as for (a) through (d): why were these things paid for by the State, anyway? To fund museums, UA Presents, etc--highbrow stuff, all--with the taxpayer dime is simple exploitation. It's the worst kind, too: literate sorts who prefer the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields to AC/DC can put together pretty-sounding albeit half-baked arguments for subsidizing their entertainment with far more skill than the AC/DC fan can bring to bear in telling them to go fuck themeselves. It isn't a fair fight. (Full disclosure: your narrator owns a copy of Back in Black but usually prefers Sir Neville Marriner's chamber orchestra.) Back at Tulane the classical-music concerts didn't come out of our tuition fee, but were financed by ticket sales--usually free or a small peppercorn for students--and donors in the community who valued the arts.

It should be that way at the University of Arizona, too, and this is the correct way to make it so. Did you know that UA Presents was subsidized? Neither did I. (Isn't government funding of colleges and universities insidious?) Now I do, and now I know the subsidy has gone away. And I'll pay more for the ticket, and perhaps start paying a fee to drop in at the museum. And some high-minded businessman who does think that artsy stuff should be more affordable than a Rolling Stones concert or a day at the ballpark (it is, but it's less popular anyway) or who wants to be a patron of the arts will make a donation or even establish an endowment. Bread-and-circuses stuff has the public's immediate interest and attention. Elimination of a support staff position in the Department of Transgendered Jewish Chicano Studies does not.

I suspect that the set of moaners and the set of donors will be largely exclusive. Belief that everything good is the government's responsibility pretty much absolves one of any duty to support anything privately. We're far more likely to see Jim Click's name on a plaque in the Arizona State Museum than we are to see the establishment of a Paula Aboud Chair for Study of the American Political Tradition. I will, however, contribute the dollar equivalent of 19.68 euros if that last one ever happens.

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