After seeing the official budgets for the University System of Georgia slashed by 20 percent over the last four years and his junior colleagues furloughed without pay while struggling to establish homes and families with not so much as a whiff of a salary increase over that entire span, the Ol' Bloviator had just about been beaten into a submissive stupor. However, that was before news reached him that Governor Nathan (Can-We-Make-a-Shady?) Deal now plans to snatch back more than half of the exceedingly modest 5.2 percent restoration of funds in the fiscal year 2013 budget. In addition, faculty and staff who are once again summarily commanded to do even more with even less are also ordered hereby to make the cuts as painless as possible on the students and parents--and therefore on the governor, the legislature, and the Board of Regents.
Also, in case you missed it, this bunch of Regents is so pleased with the job they have done presiding over higher education's demise in this state that they have decreed that the new mash-up of what was once Augusta College and the Medical College of Georgia shall be known henceforth as "Georgia Regents University." This tale would be laughable enough simply in that it raises the near certainty that the new school will be confused with Regents University, Pat Robertson's diploma mill up in Virginia. It becomes a bona fide kneeslapper with reports that rather than feeling flattered, Pat and crew are threatening to sue.
It is presumed that no outcry emanating from the campuses in the wake of these latest fiscal eviscerations will be worthy of note, much less response. Yet in a final, doubtless futile, attempt to keep his head from exploding, the O.B. feels compelled to give vent to his frustration and bewilderment that so many Georgians of intelligence and means are willing to look on in stony silence as the state's gains in education over the last four decades are not just being eroded but blasted and bulldozed away in blitzkrieg fashion. Thus, not only are the menials who staff our classrooms and operate our universities entering their fourth year with no pay increases, but they are now told that their health care premiums, which rose annually at a rate of 9.3 percent from FY's 2008 through 2012, are to increase yet again to the tune of 2.5 to 8.5 percent, and by the way, just so a second memo won't be necessary, the system is also cutting its contributions to their retirement by from .5 to 1.0 percent. Beyond that, the Regents' discussions about dropping supplemental post-retirement health care support for new hires give rise to some some ominous implications for the faculty of the future. Admittedly, twenty- and early thirty-somethings interviewing for entry-level positions often pay little attention to retirement benefits. However, more accomplished forty- and fifty-somethings who would typically be candidates for the already difficult- to-fill senior positions vital to maintaining a university's strengths and reputation most assuredly do. Although it has long been understood that such benefits are supposed to offset the heftier salaries available in the private sector, the rationale for nixing this benefit basically amounts to pointing out that, these days, private employers seldom provide health care options for retirees. The Ol' Bloviator trembles at the thought that someone will eventually tell that crew in Atlanta how much they might save by adopting the Wal-Mart health-care model for active university system employees.
The O.B. realizes by now that it is utterly pointless to further emphasize the genuine economic hardships inflicted by such Draconian policies on woefully underpaid staff employees, much less decry the impact on junior faculty trying to achieve some semblance of a middle-class existence before everybody forgets what that is. The simple fact, friends and neighbors, is not exactly that absolutely nobody cares--although it damn sure seems that way most of the time--but that almost nobody cares enough. Forget the consequences of this indifference for the people in the robes and funny hats and those who try to assist and support them. Let's step back and consider what's happening to them in terms of its broader implications for what we've become as a society. The rabid hatred of government is now metastasizing into ill-concealed contempt for almost anybody who works to provide its services at any level. (Recent events in Wisconsin ringing any bells here?) Forget that many of these people have given years of loyal and frequently unacknowledged, let alone appreciated, service to health, education, and public outreach programs that we all depend upon but take for granted. Forget that the little lady whose nose you're getting your jollies off grinding in the dirt is the same person who stayed lateat school to help your kids through trig or sacrificed many an evening with her own family to comb through her students' college entrance essays trying to weed out the sentence fragments and misplaced modifiers. So what if she'll have to push back the day she retires and be hard pressed to keep up with her medical bills when that day finally comes, what with her blood pressure and arthritis and such?
There is a principle at stake here, after all, and it amounts to swearing fealty to Grover Norquist, who appears to reign supreme at every level of representative government almost everywhere throughout this great land of ours. The truth is that this readiness not simply to let our educational and other vital public institutions wither on the vine but to help 'em along with a good, vigorous chokin' every few months isn't rooted in a hard choice between furloughing teachers or offering bread to hungry families. It simply reflects the willful stupidity and/or cowardice of those charged with representing and guarding our interests who refuse even to entertain the notion of asking Georgians to pay a few pennies more for a pack of cigarettes or a six-pack of beer. Yessir, let's stick to our guns, which, thank goodness, are now always within reach. Better yet, let's follow the lead of Slim Pickens in "Dr. Strangelove" and ride this warhead all the way to ground-zero, casualties and collateral damage be damned.