Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s controversial move to cut public funding for higher education is an affront to all those affiliated with any of the commonwealth’s colleges or universities. But are we really surprised Bevin has taken this route? Within a month of taking office he has decided to strip any institution deemed unworthy of his corporate state of its leaders, money or both. And there is no end in sight.
Any new university regent will be a Bevin acolyte, acting only against the university’s interests. Prospective students are going to be turned away by higher tuition and/or a lack of decent programming. Faculty searches (already in a dismal state) will be further hindered. When I graduated in 2012, there was already a campus conversation about the over-reliance on adjuncts and the corporatizing of campus. What seemed to be a slowly developing reality is spiraling into a nightmare. On Feb. 12, the Courier-Journal quoted University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto as saying “We can’t protect any part – any part of our campus – in the face of these draconian cuts.” If the president of UK is that forlorn I can only guess how gray Wells Hall seems right now.
So the question is: What is to be done?
Recently, more than 200 students protested in Frankfort on the issue of the budget cuts. According to The News, more than half came from Murray State. And while I am proud representatives from my alma mater could make a showing, this is still a dismal number. Why did campus leaders not fund busloads of students? If only the same amount of energy the university puts into filling seats in the CFSB Center were applied to fighting these cuts.
There are more than 11,000 students attending university facilities. Tell me how that is not a force to be reckoned with. If leaders are organizing with other universities, that number could be more than 100,000.
In fact, why not shut down the campus for a week to occupy the Capitol in Frankfort? Is that too radical? Their short answer is probably yes. The very thought of mobilizing students and faculty for mass action may seem inappropriate to university officials. Trust when I say it’s at the core of our democracy to organize such a movement. While administrators and regents work their channels, write their letters and lobby lawmakers, they are losing out on a fundamental opportunity to change how Frankfort sees us as an institution. Are we a staple of education to this region, or are we just a four-year carnival meant to bring easy loan money to local businesses? Because that is how many see us both locally and in Frankfort.
In this pivotal moment, we are losing ground rapidly. If Bevin is willing to strike this hard in his first year, there is no telling how devastating his first full term will be. We don’t just need online petitions and Facebook campaigns. We need people on the ground. We need the physical presence of all those affected by these cuts at every Bevin event. Putting thousands of bodies in Frankfort taking effective action for their schools is how we send the strongest message possible. There are so many other tactics than the current ones being implemented. It’s time to learn how to use them. And there has never been a clearer, more galvanizing strategy for the campus community to rally around. Stop Bevin from gutting our universities.
Living in Kentucky usually means having to be patient with politics. I’m tired of being patient with both sides of the aisle. Now more than ever the university has a chance to take the lead. If anyone is to carry the banner, it should be those schools with the most to lose. That’s us. Bevin is not playing a waiting game and neither should we. The writing is on the wall. For the sake of the next generation, don’t just read it because they might not be able to.
Letter from John Walker, Alumnus from Wilmore, Kentucky