Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Knowledge is Good

The state college and university system is confronted with mounting challenges as state and federal funding sources continue to trim budget allocations to these vital institutions. State funded college education is a critical social service and support institution that provides higher education opportunities to our lower and middle class citizens. The availability of affordable and accessible public education is critical to maintain an efficiently functioning democratic society. Education offers economically disadvantaged people the hope of social advancement, cultural assimilation and a chance to realize the greater aspirations of America’s promise.

As state funding for higher education decreases, consumers will have to pay more. Colleges will need to scale back offerings and will be required to become more of a market driven enterprise. They will also need to rely more on the largess of alumni and corporate support to remain economically viable.

Cutting state colleges loose to navigate the ebbs and flows of the market economy threatens institutional independence and moves state education services one step closer to privatization. On the positive side this will encourage and inform institutional development and program initiatives that address the needs of the diverse communities’ state colleges serve. This will tend to temper the “ivory tower” criticism of academic institutions; but they must not lose sight of state college’s principal mission to enlighten citizens, serve cultural needs, enhance economic advancement potential and advance the political liberties of citizens.

State colleges are not vocational schools. Nor are they pools of labor and intellectual capital created to support these requirements of capitalist enterprises. As state colleges become more dependent on private sources of funding, it risks that its institutional culture will assume characteristics and political biases to support and advance the interests of its funding sources. This is another dangerous example of how privatization is assuming control of functions previously considered the domain of the state. The privatization of certain military functions, administration of elections and leasing highway toll road administration to private interests signals the growing pervasiveness state capitalism and commercial control over social and governmental institutions.

A free society requires educational institutions to be free from the control of special interests. Partnerships between corporations and public education institutions are critical to the success and growth of both parties. Academic freedom and the protection of the marketplace of ideas must never be compromised for the want of funding and must be guarded at all costs.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” Wendell Phillips, the abolitionist wrote. Extra vigilance is required to assure that state education continues to be well funded and that the source of funds does not inhibit academic freedom and the ultimate liberty and freedom of expression of our citizens.

The challenge to maintain a standard of excellence, secure funding, maintain costs and create brand differentiation of the state college curriculum and service offering are keys to its survival. Like all market driven enterprises, state colleges need to create and market a unique value proposition. State colleges must balance course curriculum, services and institutional experience to equally serve its social constituents and commercial interests of its funding sources.

The experience of “No Child Left Behind” is a good example of a well intentioned policy that has harmed the primary education experience. NCLB’s places an emphasis on student’s ability to pass standardized tests. Test results are used as a metric to score the schools effectiveness and as a yardstick to reward good performance with additional funding. This program compromises the schools core education mission of instilling a love of learning to better prepare students to be productive members of society. NCLB more closely resembles a grant application process for capital funding that places the protection of the institution ahead of its mission to teach students.

Democracy requires citizens to possess an ability to question, reason and understand how dissimilar issues, events and disciplines intersect and connect in an increasingly complex world. State funded colleges are communities where these types of skills can be developed, nurtured and shared equally and dispersed widely to all members of the society.

That is what the original Lyceum was all about.

We close with a fight song from one of our great public universities, Hail to the Victors!

Risk: public education, civil liberties, informed electorate, participatory democracy, institutional bias, reputation risk, market risk

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June 25, 2008 Posted by | education, government, pop, private equity, taxation | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Disaster Response Triad

The earthquake that devastated the Sichuan Province in China, the cyclone that flooded the Irrawaddy River delta in Myanmar and the hurricane that leveled the beloved American city of New Orleans is an interesting study in comparative approaches to disaster response.

All of these natural disasters were terrible human tragedies. The significant loss of life, the destruction of property and environmental damage has forever altered the way of life for millions of people. These disasters have also revealed telling insights into the values of the national governments responsible for rescue, relief and recovery efforts.

The Myanmar effort or more appropriately, non-effort to address the mass misery of its people is a stunning example of authoritarian ambivalence towards the suffering of its subjects. This abomination is more criminal then tragic and is a striking example of the lengths a despotic ruling clique will go to preserve its power through control of the means of subsistence.

Myanmar’s paranoid government uses obfuscation to conceal the impact of its governance practices on its people is damning. Clearly the world has a clear understanding that the Emperor has no cloths and hopefully it will not be long before the people of Myanmar will be able to fully execute its will and rid itself of a repressive government that’s sole purpose is the perpetuation of its oppressive rule.

The Peoples Republic of China’s response is the antitheses of Myanmar’s government’s non-response. China has quickly and efficiently mobilized its state apparatus with military precision. China’s militarization is pervasive and its army is a powerful extension of the state that touches many aspects of daily life and serves as an organizational focal point for the culture and the country’s rural political economy. Here the military is an instrument of relief not of repression as in the case of Myanmar. To be fair the economic strength of China puts it in a better position to respond and provide the relief that a disaster of this magnitude demands. The earthquake has silenced the public relations debacle of the worldwide tour of the Olympic Torch. The Olympic Torch tour has served as a focal point of protest and has eroded the stature of China’s reputation. The earthquake has helped to create some sympathy for the people of China and has shown that the rulers of the Forbidden City are very capable managers of a very formidable state apparatus.

The US Government’s rescue and response efforts following Hurricane Katrina have been scrutinized, dissected and politicized since the time of the event almost three years ago. Lots has been written and we should examine in more detail the risk management lessons from the numerous historical, political, economic and cultural dimensions of the Katrina event. The most salient feature of the US response was how FEMA and Homeland Security could organize and manage a market solution to Katrina. Wal-Mart had the trucks and the logistics, Home Depot had the generators, AT&T the phone cards, General Honore brought the honor and President Bush dispensed funds from the Federal treasury.

I suspect that the Federal Government’s initial reticence to respond to the Katrina crisis was the ideological conviction that the market will provide a solution. Bush’s circle knows that capitalism like nature abhors a vacuum. The spirit of entrepreneurialism will fill the breech that Katrina blew into the intricate levee structure of America’s most idiosyncratic city.

You Tube Video: Dr. John, Sweet Home New Orleans

Risk: Force Majeure, Government, Market, Political, Civil Stability

May 14, 2008 Posted by | China, government, infrastructure, military | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment