Cut ’em out?!

The Montana University system seems to be facing a budget crisis. Not as bad as California, where the universities are raising tuition by 32 per cent, but enough that all employees, professors and staff, are seeing a wages freeze.

So, it must be time for some bold ideas – either cut some significant costs or find a new source of revenue. How about we close down one or more of the campuses?

There are four campuses of Montana State University – Bozeman, Billings, Havre, and Great Falls. Likewise, there are four campuses of the University of Missoula – Missoula, Dillon, Butte, and Helena. Then we can toss in three community colleges – Flathead, Miles City, and Dawson. Add seven tribal colleges and three religious colleges (Carroll, Rocky Mountain College, and the College of Great Falls). Do we really need all 21 of these campuses? Can we afford them?

Let’s take MSU-Northern and UM-Western, for example. I understand that in many a year they are run at a loss, subsidized at the expense of the major campuses in Bozeman and Missoula. They’ve had a spotty record of attracting students, so raising tuition would be likely to drive some of the better students to the main campuses.

Whereas tuition and fees at UM-Missoula is $2590.25 per semester in 2009 (in-state, undergraduate), tuition at UM-Western is $1,837.45. At MSU-Bozeman the cost is $2,683.85 and at MSU-Northern it is $2,194.78. Quite the bargain, compared to the California cost of about $4,150 per semester, going up to around $5,150 next fall.

Why do we keep these branch campuses? Certainly it is more affordable for students, both local and from out-of-town, to live in Havre or Dillon. They can continue to work at their family’s business or farm. And some students prefer the education at these smaller, more intimate campuses. But, maybe they should pay extra for the luxury of smaller class sizes and greater access to their professors?

There is, of course, a political reality that says if you want support for state colleges and universities from legislators from SW and N Montana that you need to have colleges and universities in their part of the state. But, it is becoming more and more apparent that legislators from outside of Missoula, Bozeman, Great Falls, Helena and Butte would much rather not fund the university system.

Maybe it’s time for Montana to privatize some of these campuses, like Michigan and other states are considering? As I’ve previously pointed out, the State of Montana contributes close to the lowest of any state to the cost of a resident’s college education. So, we’re already close to having privatized our colleges & universities! If students still want to study in far-flung locales, then they should pay to do so?

Lost in all of this discussion is the underlying purpose of state colleges and universities. It is not so much about educational benefit to the individual students, but rather an investment in the wisdom and learning of the state as a whole. If we want educated folks living among us, running our state and making it a better place for all of us, then we should expect to help contribute to that social good. And if the less-populated parts of the state are important to us, and we need to generate knowledge and understanding in those regions, then we should invest there, too. That means greater state support of universities, not less.

The current budget crisis shouldn’t be balanced on the backs of our future (the students), nor the world-class scholars who bring their expertise to the state (the professors). Instead the cause of the crisis should be considered head-on.

Can conservatives love public transportation?

Political conservative, transit advocate, William Lind argues that public transportation enhances national security, promotes economic development, helps maintain conservatives values, builds community, and gets people to jobs.

Click here:

(An excellent 4 minute video, that I wish I could embed.   It is based on Lind’s book, shown below.)


Palin – a turning point for the GOP?

It is no secret that we are not fans of Sarah Palin. During the 2008 election, she felt like a distraction from the serious business of selecting a President. But, there were some saying she was the fresh face of the Republican Party – youthful, direct with the people, and popular. This Monday, when Palin is on ‘Oprah‘, I think we’ll find out whether she is, indeed, the new look of the Grand Old Party.

Will Palin be rude, particularly towards Oprah who was, and is, quite vocal in her support of the current President? Or, will we see a more stateswoman-like style? Without the McCain minders watching and controlling her every move, will we see the attack-dog-Palin, or a gracious, charming, diplomatic Palin? Given the recent harshness of the tea-baggers, the shrill criticism of anything the President does by Beck/Hannity/Rush/etc, and the dis-ingeneous lies being bandied about my some GOP Congressmen and women, Palin’s behavior may be a breath of fresh air. I think she needs us to like her!

If Palin is trying sell her book, then I suspect much of the show will be about her. Sarah as a journalism major, Sarah as a small-town mayor, Sarah as a mother-in-law, Sarah as a mis-treated part of the McCain campaign, Sarah as symbol of Alaska and Sarah as the future politician. While all that might be fun for day-time television, I am intrigued to see whether she will talk about the future of the country, about how we should recover the crushing impact of two wars and an economic downturn. Can Palin be an inspirational figure, or will she resort to her aw-shucks routine?

Somehow I doubt we’ll learn much about her decision to resign as Governor of Alaska, much as I doubt whether we’ll hear about why so many corruption charges were leveled against her while Governor. I hope that we don’t hear sugar-coating about the difficulties her family (Levi, Bristol, and Tripp) have faced. It was an embarrassment during the last campaign, and it could well be an embarrassment in any future one. Honesty would be preferable to pretending they are one happy lot. Likewise, I’d really appreciate hearing some straight-shooting about the Republican party.