Challenging the US Commission on the Future of Higher Education
Statement to the U.S. Commission on the Future of Higher Education
by Jason Pramas
University of Massachusetts Boston
Class of 2006
March 20, 2006
Good afternoon. My name is Jason Pramas, and I am senior in the
Community Media and Technology program at the University of
Massachusetts Boston. I am also chair of the Committee on Higher
Education of our Undergraduate Student Senate.
I'm here today to tell you what students at my predominantly
working-class multiracial commuter college need from the federal
government. And what we don't need.
We don't need huge cuts to the federal higher education budget of the
type that the Bush administration is currently prosecuting.
We don't need a higher education system that shifts its funding burden
from a collective cost shared by our entire society to an individual
cost born heavily by students and their families.
We don't need a higher education system that dumps public money on
relatively small private colleges while giant public university systems
starve for funds--as is certainly the case in Massachusetts, where the
bulk of federal funds goes to private colleges despite the fact that the
bulk of students here go to public colleges.
We don't need an expansion of the already out-of-control national
standardized testing regime that saps resources from public education at
all levels in the service of the questionable goal of proving students
ability to take standardized tests.
We don't need a continuation of the structural transformation of higher
education to an increasingly corporate model where students are viewed
as "units" to be moved, ("products" to be produced); faculty and staff
are subjected to endless attempts to destabilize their job security and
their control over curriculum and governance; and administrators believe
themselves to be "managers" and "CEOs" who rule the roost like feudal
What we do need is simple. We need a fully tax-payer funded public
higher education system. Extending our existing K-12 public school
system to become at least a K-16 system. Pretty much every other
industrialized nation in the world has this kind of system, and reaps
the benefits therefrom.
Protestations that we, the richest nation in the world, couldn't
possibly afford such a system are ludicrous--especially given that
studies show that it could be done for well under $100 billion a
year--at a time when our nation is spending over $100 billion a year on
the occupation of Iraq.
Beyond such a public K-16 educational system, we need a solid education
that does not narrow itself to meet the needs of fashionable industries
of the moment--for example, the biotech industry--and we need good jobs
when we graduate.
It's worth mentioning that members of this Commission speak at length
about the dire need for more education and training for
Americans--particularly in the sciences--at precisely the moment when
the contingentization of our labor markets for the past 30 years has
destroyed the very idea of a good job in this country. Job security,
decent wages, and benefits are things of the past for most Americans. A
problem which is perhaps outside the purview of this body to deal with.
More's the pity.
Higher education itself is dependent on a subsidy from the hidden
majority of its teachers: namely contingent or part-time or non-tenured
faculty who have poor pay, little job security, few or no healthcare
benefits, and yet are charged with the most important aspect of higher
education service delivery: teaching. At the same time, the Commission’s
make up does not represent this core constituency of higher education.
In this vein, needless to say, we're skeptical about the Commission. It
seems stacked with corporate representatives, conservative think-tanks,
Bush appointees, and a light sprinkling of academics, but has no
representation of the vast majority of participants in our higher
education system. The giant membership organizations and unions of
faculty, students and staff--the AAUP, NEA, AFT, and USSA--are nowhere
to be found in your ranks--which seems a rather startling omission,
given the gravity of the Commission's mandate.
And holding a bare handful of meetings and small public hearings like
this one seems a rather poor way of taking the pulse of American higher
In any case, the needs of the students of the University of
Massachusetts, and indeed the needs of students across the United
States, can only be properly fulfilled by a fully taxpayer-funded public
higher education system. And that will only happen if the need for
higher education is once again seen as a public good.
To the extent to which this Commission sees that the need of American
students is a public need, and that the interest of American students is
the public interest, it can be a useful endeavor. However, if this
Commission is bound and determined to continue to push American higher
education further down the path of continued privatization, then what is
happening in France right now where large numbers of students are
fighting for decent jobs and education. . .will be happening here in the
years to come.
Because American students, and Americans in general can only be pushed
so far, before we react in the defense of our basic rights. So
constructive public solutions are needed now. Or our higher education
system will face years of decay and turmoil. This is the basic choice
before you. Thank you.