The recurring theme in almost all of the academic departments I visited during my trip to the US is the lack of adequate funding. Seeming profligacy from politicians at the capital is forcing academic departments to make drastic changes to their programs, or at best Faustian bargains, because of a budget deficit and accumulating debts at the state level. From foreign language departments to English departments in universities, from the international programs office to elementary schools to high schools in the state, the problem is the same: “tough decisions” are being made by politicians, and teachers are bearing the brunt of it. In most cases, it’s teachers in liberal arts departments.
It’s not just cuts and layoffs, and this doesn’t seem to be a new problem. I remember once worrying about it here a while ago. Whenever money gets low, teachers usually become the easy punching bag, the lowest hanging fruit, the go-to pinata for all that’s wrong with the state. It’s not a uniquely American problem either, but let’s stay on topic. From what I’ve heard from Republican politicians from the mid-term elections in 2010 to date, teachers are all that is wrong with the country. They earn too much, according to politicians, they spend too much time in “teacher lounges”, and they indoctrinate children with “liberal ideology”. Therefore, they should be laid off, reduced of remuneration, and checked in every way possible, leading to horrible working environments.
Now, a couple of courses in my old university will probably be dropped, at some point in time, due to low enrolments this year. This makes me very upset. As far as the university administrations are concerned, low enrolments equal a lack of relevance of said course, leading to reduced funding. I guess it makes sense, if the university is seen as a money-making venture. The more students sign up for a class, the more money that class brings to the department (and the university). But maybe there is a way to see the university differently: as a place for all kinds of knowledge, requiring full and standard funding by the authorities, notwithstanding who is or isn’t showing up to register for them. For instance, I don’t see a whole lot of students trooping in to register for Yorùbá, or Latin, or Greek, or German/French every year, except by some divine intervention or a charismatic teacher. But should this stop an investment in those courses as regular fixture of the foreign language department? Not if we believe in knowledge as being power in itself.
The problem is not an Illinois problem alone either. In this news feature, Indiana is put on the spot for the amount of teachers that has fled the state in recent months due to poor conditions of service. What can I say? Maybe the United States is trying to outdo us in Nigeria by treating public teachers equally as poorly.