The SanityPrompt

This blog represents some small and occasional efforts to add a note of sanity to discussions of politics and policy. This blog best viewed with Internet Explorer @ 1024x768

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Douglas Bruce: Nimrod

Doug Bruce is either the stupidest man in Colorado – giving David Harsanyi, Denver Post columnist a run for his money, or the most banefully indifferent to the truth.

Last week he held a press conference on the steps of the Capital decrying the salaries at CU. He claimed that over 1,800 people make over $90,000 a year (the Governor’s salary). There are so many things pathetic about this attack that I don’t even know where to begin. For one thing, the issue here isn’t CU – it’s the rest of higher ed in the state. CU gets only 8% of its revenues from the state anyway. What is at stake with Referenda C & D regards what citizens want for the other institutions in the state. The fact is that we face a 20% cut in higher ed funding next year if C&D fail. That’s the non-partisan office of the budget and planning talking. And with cuts like these the future of places like Fort Lewis College, Metro State, and Adams State is bleak indeed.

I am not quite sure what Bruce wants from higher education. Why are the people who choose this profession supposed to take a vow of poverty? They are highly trained and highly able who happen to have most of the kinds of skills that people need in the new economy of the US. They are actually highly mobile. I know shills like he and Mike Rosen would like to think that the folks in higher ed couldn’t go anywhere else and earn a living, but the fact is that most of them actually could do better in the private sector. The Right typically has in mind the erudite scholar of Sumerian hieroglyphics or the Latin scholar. But for a wide number of disciplines, the ability to think mathematically, or scientifically, or to write clearly are skills that actually come at a premium in this society. They also come at a premium in academia and if faculty don’t get their due here they can go elsewhere and they will. There are lots of states and lots of public institutions (Texas A&M comes to mind) desperate for skilled faculty who right now would prefer to stay here.

Bruce targeted one fellow in particular who earns over $750,000 – woah highway robbery you say! Well he is a cardiothoracic surgeon at the University Medical Center who happens to lead the faculty in that department. That’s not exactly a skill we in society don’t pay a premium for nor is it likely that this person has few other employment prospects. The salary he earns is what is necessary to get him to focus on imparting his skills to others for our benefit rather than keeping his head down in the chests of his own patients earning himself another Mercedes or Lexus. Nevermind that less that $2,000 of his salary comes directly from tax revenues supplied by the state.

Such folks on the Right are typically the first to scream socialism when we decry the outrageous salaries of CEOs and others in this society. But the fact is that academics actually face a labor market that functions a heck of a lot better than the market for CEOs. It’s quite competitive. Sure you can have a flagship filled with faculty who cannot make more than $90,000. But they will be mediocre faculty and your state will be well on its way to making Mississippi look like the Research Triangle or Silicon Valley. In fact, why cast aspersions on Mississippi? Colorado ranks below that state in per pupil funding for K-12, in funding for health care and in funding for higher education. I still don’t get why the advocates for C&D never just ran ads with those facts statistics in them. Let the people see how pitiable the public sector is in comparison to 49 other rivals in area after area.

Why suggest dire circumstances in the future when the situation is already not just dire but laughable. Public spending in one of the wealthiest states in the union is a joke and if people don’t think they will eventually pay a price for that I have some oceanfront property to sell them down in Arizona. States are competing with each other to attract businesses and skilled workers. So far, Colorado’s natural amenities have compensated for its woeful public infrastructure. But the rate at which students graduate and go on to college, student performance on test scores, and other indicators suggest Colorado will soon be breeding a large segment of youth without skills or prospects and no place to go. Think about that for a moment.

It would be nice to maintain the illusion that in a Democracy people could compare facts and arguments and make their opinions accordingly. But when the other side doesn’t really care about the truth or much of anything other than keeping their tax bill as low as possible (never mind what they end up paying in private insurance costs and maintenance fees on the gated communities they have to live in) what’s the point in pretending that democracy is what the other side is practicing?

Galbraith had it right: "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

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