Budget cuts leave scars

Budget cuts leave scars
Photo illustration by Jay Arcansalin/ UVU Review

Photo illustration by Jay Arcansalin/ UVU Review

In an executive order, Governer Gary Herbert added insult to injury by heaping an additional three percent budget cut onto Utah’s higher education budget for 2010. More cuts are possible depending on what the state’s revenue numbers say come February.  All told, UVU’s 2010 budget will loose approximately $2 million. This, of course, does not count proposed 2011 cuts, which further reduce our numbers and ignore increases in growth and needs like the science building, among many others.

The immediate implications of these cuts for the university are predictable – more hiring restrictions and more benefit cuts for faculty and staff, which means less available sections for essential classes, even as we become the fastest growing university around,  not to mention higher workload and less compensation for faculty. Where new hiring does take place, the temptation to opt for cheaper adjunct faculty might be impossible to ignore, which is again a turn for the worst.
But there are deeper and less obvious problems with these cuts. They could have implications for us even beyond the time that they are done away with and budgets are restored to pre-economic crisis levels. The direction that we take well into the future could be altered.

All of these budget cuts are forcing us to ignore our institutional strengths and turn this public institution, the people’s university as it were, into a more market-oriented, hierarchical, and doggedly competitive place of “learning.”  What students in departments with huge enrollment increases, like English, are learning is that their education means less not only to the legislature but also the UVU administration. Why hire new faculty and open more sections for classes required for graduation like English 1010 and 2010 when you can focus on building a new and deeply superfluous MBA program? It will most likely turn a profit, but will do little to further what should be the goals of  our university – providing a great and inexpensive education to those people who are most economically and culturally disenfranchised in this state.

In a perverse way, continued cuts to the budget actually serve the interests of those who wish to take this university in an even more market and capital driven direction by focusing on “professional” programs like business and health care (as though college professors, artists, and schoolteachers aren’t professionals with real careers). They allow future planning to focus on programs that get graduates into the profitable labor force as soon as possible, thus saving the university and the state money, while ignoring more and more students and programs in liberal arts, education, etc. “Engaged” learning becomes more and more the norm, which involves milking labor and time out of students in the guise of hands-on experience while they get their education.

Cuts to higher education don’t just affect the students who are required to pay more, or who are put on waiting lists for required classes. The effects extend into other sectors of the educational system in Utah as well – there will be fewer teachers produced in the halls of this university, which means a harder time putting teachers in primary and secondary education classrooms, a task already difficult in a state which pays its schoolteachers so little to begin with.

Of course, not many (except perhaps our more libertarian public officials) really want to see higher education funds get smaller, for obvious reasons. But the less obvious reasons that cuts are bad might prove to have the longest-lasting results.

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