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Protests, reaction to damage higher education more

Not wanting to do a run-of-the-mill fifth year anniversary story on the Hurricane Katrina disaster, I wasn’t sure what to do and these past couple of weeks kept finding better stuff about which to write. Then, thanks to some manifest irresponsibility and self-absorbed cluelessness, I found this direction in which to head.

Narcissistic students who fancy themselves as “rebels” (who all end up dressing, acting, and thinking as a herd of lemmings) and hippie graybeards in academia must have had their hearts skip a beat of joy when they discovered student protest over university funding cuts had broken out at the University of New Orleans. There of all places made it a wonder still; the vast majority of the students at my alma mater with their jobs and family responsibilities don’t have the time, their parents’ money, or taxpayer-funded free tuition to allow them the luxury of behaving as spoiled brats.

First, it was a small group (not all of them UNO students) that barred classes from starting in one building by getting themselves locked in overnight, then obstructing doorways. After their disgorgement in time for the next set of classes to begin, some actually cheered their brazenness. Then, at a rally already scheduled to protest the reductions a scuffle broke when university police ordered several dozens of participants to leave and some refused after they unexpectedly entered then yawped around the Administration Building, leading to violence and a couple of arrests.

That the initially-planned rally was ill-conceived did not make it too counterproductive. Had it been held out as a rally at which could educate about the state’s budget situation, the place of higher education within it (including the inconvenient facts about there being too many schools a high per capita spending on them), and how to influence policy-makers to alleviate the extra structural burden higher education faces in fiscal arrangements in the state, that would have been a positive step. Instead, from reports it ended up as a festival of whining and posturing combined with a dance party.

Unfortunately, this degree of cluelessness exhibited should surprise no one in academia. It never ceases to amaze me how some college students, who have roofs over their heads, generally get the chance for three square meals a day, have their health care paid for one way or another, and who get paid by taxpayers or from the generosity of donors or family to study and not work full-time, can form any idea that they in any way are being “oppressed.” Live a year in Cuba, Iran, or North Korea and they might wise up to the fact that larger class sizes with fewer scheduling options and major courses of study available isn’t exactly the end of the world.

Such an experience might do some good especially to the young savants who hung up signs like “Occupy! Strike! Resist!” and another who stated his selfless goals as “We want free education, free university for everybody” – despite the fact that the rally was scheduled specifically to conflict with class times and some associated with it urged students to boycott these classes, So, they want everybody else to pay for letting them sit in classes at which they don’t even bother to show? Many non-participating students seemed to grasp that, but because they just went along with their business of acquiring education it didn’t garner any publicity.

Regrettably, the stupidity did. Viewing this, thinking members of the public might conclude UNO enrolls too many people who, if their brains were gunpowder, couldn’t even blow their own noses. The problem is, perhaps they took their cues from a few too many members of the faculty as some (students said) encouraged students to miss classes to attend the rally, and the even more accommodating ones cancelled classes. Needless to write, such an abrogation of duty by these pretentious blowhards and/or milquetoasts not only demonstrates a distinct lack of character but also great willingness simultaneously to give taxpayers a Bronx salute and to cheat students out of education by failing to perform the very task for which they are supposed to be there.

Nor did their superiors acquit themselves well. They did, by breaking up the Administration Building disruption, hew to what the university spokesman said, that UNO would not allow the normal functioning of the university to be impeded. But then administrators validated the very concept of disruption by refusing to punish the building occupiers/barricaders, who caused class cancellations, and invited them to do the same in the future by meekly requesting the powers that be to get served a heads up next time on any planned occupational activities.

This all connects to Katrina because that is what started UNO’s downward spiral that prompted some of these toy revolutionaries to get worked up. Heavily dependent on the surrounding parishes for enrollments, with Orleans and Plaquemines still down substantial numbers of people, when budget crises came at the state level, you simply couldn’t keep a university with infrastructure and personnel budgeted for 16,000 students operating when only 12,000 were there. It’s sad that services must be cut and people let go, but it’s a fact of life.

And when the general public sees these events, itself under pressure from other state cutbacks and general economic malaise that only has grown since Pres. Barack Obama came into office saying he’d produce the exact opposite, this will strengthen its conclusion that in dealing with predicted future budget woes the cutting of more funds for self-indulgent students, self-absorbed faculty members, and self-parodying administrators isn’t such a bad idea after all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Professor--Good take on the protest and the relaity facing our alma mater---sad but true.

Also sadly enough, there will be no real change in higher ed in the state until we come to grip with the fact that we have too many universities and university systems. Until we end the needless duplication of efforts just to placate the racial political feifdoms, we are doomed to wallow in the ever decreasing budgets. The problem is the state is passing the buck to the individual colleges--this is counterproductive. The state needs to close some of these pitiful excuses for diploma mills and spread the remaining wealth amongst the survivors.

Brad Duhe
UNO Class of '90