Budget cuts, also known by the ominous name “austerity measures,” have been making front-page news for a few days now, but this tidbit seems to have escaped my attention: “Striking Greek teachers seize TV studio on Monday when Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou was recording an interview” (Voice of Russia). It seems these teachers wanted to make their complaints heard following extreme education cuts. There was a scuffle with police, after which the protesters left the building. Teachers also marched peacefully with other public sector workers to parliament to protest the stringent measures. (Read more @ BBC, Voice of Russia, and BusinessWeek.)
Locally, similar measures—though not as wholly overhauling or as stringent—are transpiring as well. New Jersey recently had a round of sweeping education budget cuts, reducing public education by $820 million and financial aid by $175 million (The Daily Princetonian). These cuts have been called “devastating,” and statements indicate that these cuts “reflect waning support of public education [and] unions” (NJ.com).
As an junior halftime faculty member at a New Jersey institution, I’m concerned not only about my own job security but—more idealistically—about the quality of education students will receive in the future. Adjunct faculty generally comprise a large number of university faculty, as we’re paid less to do more; cuts in adjunct faculty will likely result in fewer classes with higher caps, or possibly reductions in class options altogether. Higher caps means faculty will be busier, less able to work one-on-one with students, and more likely to (pardon my French) half-ass their work. When I first started teaching and ended up with thousands of pages to read by midterms, I learned it was standard practice to spend the entire weekend in the department office grading and taking shots. No kidding. This speaks directly to the problems that adjuncts face: tight deadlines and too much to do, a problem that will only get worse if there are fewer of us to share the work. As such, the quality of education students receive will also deteriorate. We’ll be left with straight-A students graduating with various B.A.’s and B.S.’s who will enter the job market and be quickly made aware that they know nothing about the field they supposedly aced in college. Not kidding about this either. It’s occurred in departments that neighbor mine.
A while back one of my students informed me about a “mothers and babies” protest in New Jersey, where mothers held their babies high in the air and chanted, “College education; no more budget cuts,” or something to that effect. I wasn’t there, but I can picture a sea of mothers, holding their screaming children up to the sun a la The Lion King, shouting in protest. Too bad they didn’t storm a state television studio.
The thing that baffles me is how we seem to believe that it’s okay to cut education, when secondary and higher ed together make up the foundation of our future. I realize that something’s gotta give, so to speak, but is this the place to begin? Many of my current humanities students have told me, tearfully, that their high school has had to cut or reduce its liberal arts and performing arts programs, namely in film, theater, and visual arts. This is fodder for another post, but it really seems sometimes that we are the only country to not take its artists seriously, and while our education system, comparatively, has always been borderline in a global sense, budget cuts could very well cripple it. It makes me think a little of the movie Idiocracy. Not to be a doomsayer, but that’s probably where we’re headed, probably not too long from now.
God I hope I don’t lose my job.
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