“We are our choices”
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
We saw last time that PASSHE’s Majority Financial Stakeholders (i.e., PASSHE’s students, parents and alumni donors) face the dilemma presented by two unpleasant choices: 1) to permit the status quo of ‘privatization without representation’ to continue; or 2) to fight the status quo with the goal of achieving freedom from political domination.
In rejecting the first alternative, I asserted that only the second choice—to fight the status quo with the goal of achieving freedom from political domination—provided the Majority Financial Stakeholders with any hope for the future of the students at the fourteen PASSHE universities, which include Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester Universities.
The Status Quo: Unrelenting Privatization Without Representation
The State, in the person of its elected officials from both political parties, has been steadily privatizing the 14 PASSHE universities by one percent per year for the past 65 years. Specifically, the State share of the annual operating revenue to the fourteen universities was reduced from 90% in 1950 to just 25% today.
But our elected officials are not to be blamed for this privatization!
Privatization is the inescapable result of America’s changing demographics. In 1950, a majority of voting households had at least one person 18 or younger living there—someone who could benefit directly from public higher education. Recall that our democratic republic was designed to operate largely on majority rule. And our elected officials, cognizant of the demographics of that era, funded public higher education at high levels in deference to the majority of their constituents, a.k.a., a fear of being voted out of office.
By the 2000 Census, the percentage of households with at least one person 18 or younger living there fell to 34%, and by the 2010 Census it fell further to 30%. And once again, cognizant of the demographics of this new era, our elected officials continued to defund public higher education because some 70% of their constituents live in voting households that can’t benefit directly from public higher education and, it is sad but safe to say, probably don’t want their taxes raised to send someone else’s son or daughter to college.
But our State’s elected officials share blame for failing to plan for the consequences of this privatization!
As the State share of PASSHE funding was consciously if quietly lowered from 90% to 25%, the share provided by PASSHE students, parents and alumni donors was just as quietly raised from 10% to 75%.
Almost lost in this slowly evolving 65-year financial transition is the fact that a huge discrepancy was also quietly emerging between the funding shares and governance shares of PASSHE’s two largest financial stakeholders—the State on the one hand, and the Students on the other. When the State was providing 90% of the annual funding, it was reasonable for the State to control 100% of PASSHE governance seats.
But now that the State is providing only 25% of the annual funding—while the students, parents and alumni donors are providing the other 75%—it is totally unreasonable for the State to continue to control 100% of PASSHE’s 174 governance seats—the 20 seats on the Board of Governors in Harrisburg, together with the 154 governance seats on the 11-member Councils of Trustees at the 14 PASSHE universities.
The Funding/Governance Disparity
Comparing the funding/governance shares of PASSHE’s two largest financial stakeholders—the State and the Students respectively—is very instructive. For the State, its funding/governance share is (25%/100%); while for the students, parents and alumni donors, their funding/governance share is (75%/0%).
The disparity for the State: its 100% governance share is much too high in view of its 25% funding share.
The disparity for the Students: its 0% governance share is much too low in view of its 75% funding share.
It is this glaring funding/governance disparity that leads to the inescapable conclusion that privatization without representation is a form of tyranny that needs to be thrown off by PASSHE’s Majority Financial Stakeholders. And that action is necessary because the elected officials from both parties who currently benefit from the status quo will never voluntarily give up the benefits that their current political patronage perks provide to them and to their subservient political appointees, on both sides of the political aisle.
It would still be possible for PASSHE’s Majority Financial Stakeholders to benefit, despite the current funding/governance disparity that is so heavily stacked against them—if the State’s elected officials, with their 100% governance share, had thought and acted to put the interests of the PASSHE students first.
But official PASSHE data show that since 2002, under governors from both political parties, the PASSHE Board of Governors (BOG) has failed to deliver either end of PASSHE’s Act 188 statutory purpose,¹ which is: “To provide high quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students.”
Instead, the BOG has acted to lower educational quality while, at the same time, focusing not on providing “the lowest possible cost to the students,” i.e., “bottom line” which would benefit the students, but rather on the “lowest possible tuition,” i.e., “sticker price” which provides political benefit to the State’s elected and appointed officials--at the expense of PASSHE students.
Official PASSHE data also show that the BOG’s “low tuition for all policy” burdens students from less than affluent families with crushing student-loan debt, while providing students from more affluent families with unneeded State subsidies—a policy clearly failing on both ends of the financial need spectrum.
“Malfeasance,” from Dictionary.com, “is the performance by a public official of an act that is legally unjustified, harmful, or contrary to law.” Since 2002, the PASSHE Board of Governors has ignored the clear mandate in Act 188 for the lowest possible “bottom line,” which would benefit the students, and instead has focused on providing the lowest possible “sticker price,” which benefits politicians.
To be continued.