Light Tea In Pennsylvania

Governors like the ghoulish Rick Scott of Florida, or the sleepy-eyed Scott Walker of Wisconsin, have gotten a great deal of media attention for short-sighted, ideologically-driven policies that have undermined the quality of life for the citizens of those states. Education budgets have been cut, teachers, police and fire fighters have been laid off, and local services have been pared down. In Wisconsin, Governor Walker's union busting agenda has sparked a grassroots movement to recall him as well as his lieutenant governor.

The high profiles and radical "Heavy Tea" policies of Scott and Walker have, indeed, provoked a large measure of "buyer's remorse" and political resistance. Pennsylvania's recently elected governor, Tom Corbett, seems to maintain a much lower profile than his counterparts in Florida and Wisconsin. His agenda, though, is pretty much the same as his publicity-seeking colleagues in the South and Midwest -- cut spending to reduce budget deficits, avoid raising taxes, and grant businesses incentives -- including tax incentives -- to trigger job growth, none which has seemed to induce past or present economic prosperity in Florida, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania. Indeed, Governor Corbett's proposed budget is a particular noxious pot of Light Tea that will be difficult, if not impossible for most Pennsylvanians to swallow.

The dangers of such Light Tea is that at first it seems rather bland and doesn't call much attention to itself, which means that people may little or no attention to its ultimate noxiousness. If you pay a bit attention to Governor Corbett's proposed budget brew, you quickly see that he thinks that education, especially higher education, is expendable. In his 2011-12 budget and his budget freeze, Pennsylvania's state-owned universities lost more than $112 million in Harrisburg funding. Put together, Governor Corbett's proposed budget, if passed without revision, would mean that the state university system will have lost $175 million in funds since his 2010 inauguration.

According to Steve Hicks, the president of the Pennsylvania based Association of State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), the state-owned universities in Pennsylvania are charged with the mandated mission of providing

accessible, high quality education at the lowest possible cost to students. Our universities cannot continue to meet these goals without critical state support...The governor's proposal puts current funding for the State System below 1989-90 levels. This shortsighted budget fix will have a lasting impact on the future of the Commonwealth.

The proposed cuts to Pennsylvania higher education totals $265.4 million with funding reductions for The Pennsylvania State University, Temple University and The University of Pittsburgh, community colleges and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. In short, Governor Corbett's batch of Light Tea, like the Heavy Tea brewed in Florida and Wisconsin, is an outright assault on higher education, which is, sadly, a threat to our social future. As Steve Hicks wrote:

Since taking office, Governor Corbett has taken every opportunity to decrease funding for our universities. We understand that these are challenging economic times, but our students and their families are already struggling to make ends meet. Additional budget cuts are going to put the college dream out of reach for many Pennsylvanians.

The numbers, which describe the depth and breadth of these budget cuts, of course, tell only a small part of the story of contemporary higher education. How will these budget cuts affect the lives of college students in Pennsylvania and elsewhere? I've been teaching for more than 30 years at one of Pennsylvania's state-owned universities, whose highly qualified and dedicated professors provide a quality education for a reasonable cost. Accordingly, our universities have attracted students from families of modest means. For them, coming to college is not simply a rite of passage, but an opportunity for a brighter future. Some of my students are the first people in their families to attend college. Most of them have to work one, two, and sometimes three jobs in order to pay the costs of a higher education. Most of my students have little time for goofing around, let alone partying. If they're not working, they are studying -- all for a shot at a better future.

Governor Corbett, not to forget his higher profile colleagues in Florida and Wisconsin, has little sense of what it is like to be a college student of modest means who is struggling to pay her or his way, who is seeking a pathway to a better life. Indeed, ideological blindness and social insensitivity are the primary ingredients of the toxic mixture of Light Tea that Governor Corbett has brewed.

Such ill-informed alchemy should be stopped. It's time to spill out the contents of those pots of noxious tea, no matter where they have been brewed, and replace them with healthy mixtures of aromatic herbs and spices that promote health, well-being and a viable future not just for our college students but for our society as well.