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Solidarity with OWS at Temple

Posted By Arnold Ahlert On November 3, 2011 @ 12:35 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 12 Comments

In yet another testimonial that inadvertently reveals that the term “college education” is rapidly becoming an oxymoron, a group of faculty members from Temple University has posted a statement on Facebook expressing their support of the Occupy Philadelphia chapter of the OWS movement. “Statement of Solidarity from Temple University Faculty” is a reiteration of the boilerplate progressivism that passes for wisdom and/or open-mindedness on far too many college campuses around the nation. Here’s what they have to say, with some reality added to the mix.

We are proud to serve at a public university that has helped generations of Philadelphians, many of them the first in their families to attend college, to improve their own economic situations, to produce new knowledge, and to become more engaged in civic life. But we see that legacy under grave threat when we consider the increasingly difficult lives of our students, many of our faculty, and our neighbors in North Philadelphia. It is a threat born of a collusion between concentrated wealth and political power; Occupy Wall Street gives eloquent testimony to this dangerous alliance and offers some hope for a solution.

Among the many demands made by the OWS movement, most of which bear no resemblance whatsoever to “eloquent testimony,” the one over-arching sentiment that has been expressed is the idea of kicking capitalism to the curb in favor of a “fairer” more “socially just” society. Yet the professors and others might wish to consider what is more likely to produce a “collusion between concentrated wealth and political power”: an expanded socialist state in which a handful of bureaucrats pick winners and losers–aided and abetted by well-connected crony capitalists protecting their market share in the process–or a free-market capitalist system in which millions of people making millions of decisions tethered to talent, ambition, self-interest and hard work produce goods and services?

The statement continues:

As faculty and staff at a public university, we understand that cuts in state funding for higher education and in federal student grants have driven the costs of a college education beyond the means of many. Students are increasingly forced to finance their education through extraordinary levels of personal debt. Thus, we support the Occupy Wall Street movement, in part, because only by restoring progressive taxation at the federal and state level can we restore adequate funding of higher education and render it accessible and affordable to all. We also endorse calls for a federal program that would relieve students of the back-breaking debt levels they have been forced to assume. Higher education, for those able and willing to pursue it, should be a right and not a privilege.

Education cuts to state budgets undoubtedly make college more difficult to afford. But if one wonders what else contributes to driving the costs of a college education beyond the means of many, the Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2010-2011, reveals that railing against the collusion of concentrated wealth and power pays quite well at Temple University. The faculty there earns the following in total compensation, which includes salaries and benefits: $163,500 for a professor; $118,900 for an associate professor, $87,000 for an assistant professor, and $68,700 for an instructor. The average income in the state of Pennsylvania? $41,152 per year. And the average Pennsylvanian lacks one other job perk that applies to many college professors: the lifetime job security of tenure.

As for restoring progressive taxation, when did it ever go away? The state of Pennsylvania may have a flat personal income tax rate, but even there, the top one percent pay 14 percent of the state’s income taxes. On the national level, the top one percent pay 36.7 percent, while the bottom 47 percent pay no income taxes at all. As for college being a right as opposed to a privilege, perhaps the professors might wish to explain how a “right” whose costs average more than $30,000 per year should be underwritten. Costs which have risen 130 percent over the last 20 years, far outpacing inflation. And far outpacing salary increases for a lot of Americans–college professors not included.

The faculty members continue:

More broadly, we share the outrage of Occupy Wall Street at a system that provides increasingly few opportunities for the majority–the 99%–while generating vast profits for a tiny minority. Along with the demonstrators, we are demanding an end to the extreme inequalities that structure our society. We share with many Americans acute anger at the government’s unconditional bailout of bankers and Wall Street firms that drove the economy to disaster. Our country urgently needs to address not the problems of Wall Street but the problems of the 99%: massive unemployment, the erosion of our social safety networks, our decaying infrastructures, social and education programs, and workers’ wages, rights, and benefits. We join Occupy Wall Street in calling for urgent action to increase employment and to protect programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, in part by requiring the wealthy, the investment bankers, and the large corporations to pay their fair share of taxes.

Who’s to blame for increasingly few opportunities for the majority? How about colleges that churn out thousands of graduates with majors completely unsuited for employment? The Daily Beast, hardly a bastion of right-wing journalism, has compiled a list of the 20 Most Useless College Majors. Potential students might want to peruse it before deciding whether college is worth it. Temple faculty members who signed the petition with their names and what they teach, much of which makes that Top 20 list, might also want to look at the list–and perhaps in a mirror as well.

As for the social safety net, massive unemployment, decaying infrastructure, etc., it should be noted that the Obama administration has spent more than a trillion dollars in Keynesian economic stimulus and added almost $5 trillion to the national debt, immediately following eight years of a “compassionate conservative” Bush administration which also added $5 trillion to the debt. That’s some fairly “urgent action” in the space of  eleven years. Unfortunately, none of it has stopped or even mitigated the runaway freight train that is entitlement spending. As for large corporations paying their fair share, thankfully none of the professors who signed the petition teach economics. Here’s a reality check for those that did sign the petition: corporations invariably pass taxes on to consumers.

The faculty members wind it up:

We also join the protesters in decrying the disastrous effects of the costly wars that the United States has been conducting overseas since 2001. Only by identifying the complex interconnections between repressive economic, social, and political regimes can social and economic justice prevail in this country and around the globe. We applaud the efforts to keep the protests peaceful and democratic. As teachers we express our conviction that without social justice, education is a shell game. And as scholars we celebrate the creative and intellectual work of Occupy Wall Street as an essential partner to our own efforts to facilitate the emergence of a better social order and a smarter commitment to its lively perpetuation. As individuals proud to be members of the Temple Association of University Professionals, we join our colleagues in the labor movement, especially teachers unions, and at other universities and colleges, in supporting this peaceful and potentially transformative movement, and we call on all members of the Temple community to lend their support.

Perhaps it never occurs to such people that maybe the reason there’s been no reprise of 9/11 in any other American city–like in Temple University’s home city of Philadelphia for example–is because we’ve managed to keep Islamic jihadism off balance since 2001. As for the next bit, one can identify all the complex and repressive interconnections one desires–without an iota of so-called economic justice prevailing. Or, to put it in terms a non-academic can understand, talk is cheap.

With respect to education being a “shell game” without social justice, I point the professors to the differential between their own compensation and that of the average Pennsylvanian and ask the following question: how much of a pay cut would they be willing to take to simultaneously achieve a modicum of that social justice and make college “accessible and affordable to all”?

As for the OWS movement being “peaceful and transformative,” numerous instances of stealing, reports of rapeviolent clashes with police,  exhibitions of anti-Semitism, and professed support for the OWS movement by the American Communist and Nazi parties indicate otherwise.

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