Wednesday, December 22, 2010

An Issue for Next Year: An Examination of Equity

As we end another calendar, not academic, year, I find myself thinking particularly about one issue in our society, that manifests itself on our campuses too: equity, rather lack of it.

Here we are in what is the last week of the academic year on most campuses and our government has just taken a step that makes an even larger statement to me than the intended focus on this particular government action.

I am referring to the legislation President Obama signed on December 17th extending the Bush era tax cuts for all Americans, including the wealthiest two percent of the population whose joint adjusted gross incomes are in excess of $250,000 a year. While I do believe that we have done this, there is a part of me that is still the rational academic trying to practice critical thinking. How could a country in which one major party claims to be obsessed with concern about the deficit, have just forced legislation on the country to give the wealthiest of our citizens a tax cut costing the government over 800 billion dollars in the next two calendar years, and increasing the national debt by this amount? What this means then is that all Americans have just put themselves in debt to give a huge Christmas gift to the wealthiest, a debt which all Americans will have to repay.

Of course, this is all about inequality. We are surrounded by indicators of increased inequity including on our campuses.

I don’t live and teach on a campus anymore, and haven’t since 1999. But I still “teach” only my “students” are professional higher educators like myself. And while I visit campuses almost every week, I don’t focus my energies exclusively on one. But everywhere I visit I see inequities that mirror the larger society, where on our campuses the high status programs that serve high status students enjoy a much larger slice of the resource pie than low status programs that serve low status students. How could it be any other way in America?

Well, it could be different. Campuses don’t always have to precisely mirror the values of the larger society. At times we take it upon ourselves to practice our academic freedom and take on more idealistic causes to argue for alternative ways of living in our country.

So if I were going to be on one campus primarily in 2011 with my own set of students in their most formative years intellectually, I would be focusing, some at least, on this issue of inequity. Where does it exist on our campus? Why? What are the consequences for the institution, its members, and our country? And what might we be able to do about this. For example, in our own resource reallocations, are we letting the rich get the biggest tax breaks of all? You tell me. Better yet, tell your students, if you dare.

-John N. Gardner

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