As a strengthening Hurricane Isaac takes aim on The Big Easy, seven years to the day of Katrina’s catastrophic devastation, an even bigger bag of wind is set to be unleashed tonight in Tampa as NJ Governor Chris Christie takes the podium as the GOP’s Presidential Convention keynote speaker.
For the past week Chris Christie has been the topic du jour of all the news shows. Morning Joe, Good Morning America, News 12 New Jersey and the front pages of the local press have paraded and fawned over the GOP’s ascending star as if he were the second coming of Abraham Lincoln.
Journalists ask Christie if he intends to unleash his “fire and brimstone” Jersey hubris during his keynote speech. His tough talking, take no prisoners’ attitude seems to be all the rage in Republican Party circles these days. When GMA host George Stephanopoulos asked Christie if he represented the GOP mainstream Christie answered, “I’ve been to over thirty states since my election as Governor and everyone has welcomed me with open arms. With me you know who you’re buying.” Indeed Christie’s value as a political celebrity is rising. In his brief tenure as Governor he spends a lot of time jetting about the country, politicking for himself and the GOP. He’s been out raising funds for his reelection campaign and his coffers are overflowing with out of state money from his well heeled big time 1% contributors. Mr. Christie’s discerning buyers know what they are purchasing. His hubris is a nice word for his arrogance and opacity that are the hallmark of the political deals he’s cutting for his out of state friends when he arrives back home in the Garden State.
Christie’s supporters love his tough talking style but his tough talk is nothing more than the arrogance of power, the political and economic elites employ to cover their back room deals. Christie’s tough talk is nothing more than a front to deflect. When a reporter asked Christie about failing water delivery infrastructure and its impact on public health, the tough talking Governor answered “Did I say on topic? Are you stupid? On topic, on topic. Next question,” Christie said to the reporter. “Thank you all very much and I’m sorry for the idiot over there.” Christie also scored big with anti-union and privatization of education supporters by calling public school teachers, “drug mules”. Its a denigration unworthy of a governor and a damaging characterization of professionals working within a systemically challenged public school system.
Yeah Christie’s a real bad ass tough guy. When a Navy veteran asked for more details from Christie about the proposed merger between Rutgers Camden and Rowan University, he called the gentleman an idiot and used the power of his pulpit to brow beat and insult the man; who had every right as a citizen and taxpayer to receive a respectful reply to his question. This week Christie is crowing that he finally closed the Rutgers/Rowan deal with the bipartisan help of his lap dog democrat friends; as details concerning the financing and costs of the project remain obscure. It will be left to vigilant citizens to follow the money and see where and how state funds will flow into which private hands.
Yes Christie and his GOP supporters may love his tough talking but I suspect they pay a premium for the Christie brand because he knows when to keep his fat mouth shut. Sure their thankful when Christie refuses to shed any light on his business dealings and political moves. Christie’s less then transparent appointments of commissioners to the NJ Highland Commission allowed the governor to pack the oversight board with pro-development interests. The NJ Highlands is a sensitive watershed region for millions of state citizens. In a densely populated state like New Jersey, protection of water resources and environmental conservation should be priorities but out of state El Paso Corp has eminent domain to dramatically expand its pipeline through the ecologically sensitive area to deliver natural gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale deposit. Is this the fruit of Mr. Christie’s cross country road show to interested buyers? Christie’s short term profit is New Jersey’s long term problem.
In another strange case of the bloviating governor going mute is his refusal to provide insights into his interests and practices in a privately run prison halfway house business that regularly receives state funded taxpayer money. Governor Christie, “the entrepreneur” catches a bad case of laryngitis when asked to provide insights into his cashing in on the privatization of the prison system and the rent seeking practice of his company using government funds to provide substandard service.
Yeah they’ll be a big wind blowing through Tampa tonight that will rival anything Isaac can throw at New Orleans. Christie will crow about the New Jersey miracle since his governorship began but statistics show that the state is lagging its Mid-Atlantic rivals. Facts and politicians seem to be two mutually exclusive matters so it shouldn’t present an obstacle for Christie to say or claim anything the tough talking Jersey Dough-boy claims as truth.
This is particularly true of a fact based, reality challenged Republican Party that believes there is no science to support climate change, the idea that public schools are a liberal conceit, the notion that women rape victims can’t get pregnant, progressives are enemies of the state and to preserve the constitution we must withhold the rights of some citizens. If you think that this is an unfair shot at the GOP mindset, did you see the GOP California poster of Chris Christie riding a surfboard? Talk about a problem with the concept of reality.
Music Selection: Beach Boys, Surfin Safari
Risk: truth, transparency, civil discourse, consensus
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