I'll be attending the Annual University of Arizona Lunch tomorrow. I attended last year's lunch, and was quite entertained by President Robert Shelton's speech. I couldn't quite figure out the theme, but I think the title was "We The Cultural Elite are Trapped in a State full of Cave Dwellers."
The opening set the tone...Shelton opened by telling a story about Tucson originally wanting the "insane asylum" to be located in Tucson, but ended up with the UA. That set up the opportunity for this cheap shot.
We actually have some great friends from the legislature here today (who probably sometimes feel like they are working at an asylum) and we are very appreciative of their support in a difficult and challenging time.
Rim shot...I'll be here all week. Of course, Shelton was serious. He--and his appreciative audience--view themselves as the visionaries who are building the future while being stymied by the unsophisticated rubes who managed to get themselves elected. He followed up by showing that he wasn't actually joking.
Sadly there are always some in any community who just can't bring themselves to envision the possibilities of a brighter tomorrow. The singular objective of these naysayers seems to be blocking those who dare dream of something better.
Shelton--remarkable for his lack of critical thinking--tossed out this fallacy.
Investing in education has always been the right thing. The returns are enormous.
Indeed, his speech and perhaps his entire world view, is dominated by this slogan. Naturally, he threw it to the audience and they accepted it without question. But are education returns really enormous? Sure...to a point, but the returns aren't linear. Take a country of subsistence farmers like America in the 1860s, or Japan and Korea after WWII, create schools to teach engineering, agriculture and medicine and you will see great gains.
But Gender Studies? Western Civ. from a Marxian perspective? Endless courses through the paradigm of sustainability and Global Climate change? Do those program yield enormous returns? If your 25 year old son came up from his "home" in your basement and asked for another $50K, or he could finally get that masters degree in Sociology, would you calculate that the "returns are enormous"?
Actually, Sheldon and his uncritical cultural elite audience should take an intro to economics course and learn about Diminishing Marginal Utility. Legislators and parents understand that the returns on education start strong, rapidly taper off and eventually decline. So, much to Shelton's surprise, legislators have decided to fund things like, you know, dialysis.
After he takes an intro to Economics course, Shelton should drop by a Freshman statistics class. Check out this trick.
In less (sic) than two decades we've seen higher education's portion of the state budget pie in Arizona decline from more than 16% to 10%.
That's awesome. Bureaucrats used to argue that when their agency didn't get the raise they had hoped for, they were getting a "cut." That's always been a bogus argument. If I don't get the raise I'm expecting, I can complain that my boss "cut" my salary. But check out Shelton's argument. He's claiming that UA got a "cut" because the other government expenses (mainly health care) grew faster than his budget. So Higher Education used to be 16% of the state budget and now it's 10% of the state budget, so he's been cut 6%. The pie is MUCH bigger than it used to be, but by golly, his share of the pie is smaller--even though his piece of pie is bigger, he's been "cut."
In response to this massive "cut" Shelton has been forced to...redraw his org chart.
As a result, we have had to eliminate 600 positions. We closed 24 academic programs; merged nine other academic programs and consolidated four colleges into one.
Wow, eliminating "positions," (That's code talk for "vacancies") and merged programs. Gosh, the pain must be awful.
He concludes his point about massive cuts by accidentally admitting that the cuts actually aren't massive.
The tragedy is that it doesn't actually take very much to restore the funding the UA has lost. It would cost about $15 per Arizonan per year -- a little over a dollar a month.
Golly, it's a HUGE amount when we are talking about funding, but it's such a small amount when we are talking about taxes.
No line in the speech exemplifies the bureaucratic mentality more than this one.
In the end, the old dictum still holds true: you get what you pay for. And there is no place where that is more true than in education.
You get what you pay for? Really? That expression was invented by bad managers selling uncompetitive products to captive audiences. Remember those 56 inch flat screen TVs that cost $4,000 at Wal-Mart last year? They are down to, like, $575. Education is the only industry in which the "leaders" brag about worse results being achieved with higher costs.
I thought this next line was funny. Have you ever talked to someone who said something really silly like "he literally ripped my face off." Dude, if you put "literally" in front of a silly expression, you simply look foolish. So check this out.
It is not an overstatement to say that the future success of this state depends on the success of the University of Arizona,...
Really? That's not an overstatement? I thought the future success of this state depends on Spring Training, or was it TGen? No, it's the Science Foundation, no its the Discovery Triangle. All Day K. That's right...oh, I'm so confused.
But the audience wasn't confused and they weren't skeptical, they just clucked their tongues, enjoyed their salmon and commiserated that guys like Robert Shelton have to deal with the mouth breathers who run Arizona State Government. Dude, Shelton's $550,000 isn't nearly enough, poor guy.
Guys like Shelton--educated at Stanford, making millions off a government payroll, surrounded by like minded Mandarins--live in a bubble. The sad thing about Shelton's speech is that he really believes it and he's presenting it to an audience that really believes it. Consdescending group think at its unexamined worst.
We'll see what Shelton says tomorrow. I'm expecting to hear the complaints of the cultural elite whose half million dollar government salaries don't nearly compensate them for having to live in a backwater and deal with the unwashed troglodytes who govern them.