Our system of public higher education is in a state of slow-moving crisis. Decades of the fiction that it is possible to "do more with less" have supported steadily deepening cuts in state funding for higher education. State governments increasingly retrench what was not very long ago considered a vital public good and pass costs on to students and their families in the form of escalating tuition and fees and to faculty and staff in the form of income stagnation and speed-up.
In some states -- e.g., Wisconsin, North Carolina, Kansas, and Louisiana -- right-wing governors have gone after higher education with a vengeance that reveals motives that extend beyond even shortsighted cost-cutting and preference for upward redistribution. The likes of Scott Walker, Pat McCrory, Sam Brownback and Bobby Jindal are militant ideologues, who oppose public education on principle. They would just as soon, to paraphrase right-wing anti-tax guru Grover Norquist, shrink their states' public colleges and universities until they are "small enough to drown in a bathtub."
The assault on higher education comes from several directions. Anti-secular political conservatives would replace public schools at all levels with religious institutions. Privatizers see in this public good as in many others an opportunity for great profits by looting the public's resources. Other political reactionaries are threatened by the very idea of an educated citizenry and would rather roll back the clock to a time when access to higher education was restricted only to the children of the affluent.
The result is that pursuit of higher education is becoming more and more difficult for more and more Americans, and the existence of public colleges and universities themselves is imperiled.
It is past time to reverse this irrational and antisocial trend. Three decades of politicians from both parties have been too willing, even eager, to subordinate the aspirations, security, and opportunities of the American people on the altar of the billionaire class's whims and greed. The assaults on public higher education stem from the same sources as attacks on public K-12 education, on the U.S. Postal Service and other public services, the same sources that created the abomination of a health care system dominated by predatory insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and the obscenity of a ballooning, increasingly privatized carceral state.
The 2016 presidential race can be our opportunity to turn the tide. The Bernie Sanders campaign is committed to a clear and emphatic reassertion of the importance of public goods and the public sector that provides them, including public higher education in particular. His College for All Act would eliminate undergraduate tuition at 4-year public colleges and universities, thus making a powerful statement about the central importance of higher education as a public good. It would also take serious steps to relieve and reverse the crippling burden of student loan debt and the exploitation of adjunct labor. And it would strengthen faculty tenure systems, themselves under attack by conservative forces.
Bernie Sanders is the only candidate seeking the nomination from either party who has made such a serious and concrete proposal and demonstrated resolute commitment to higher education. Higher Ed for Bernie is a coalition of faculty, students, staff, parents and others concerned with justice in higher education, and who endorse and support his campaign.
Cornel West, Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice, Union Theological Seminary
Frances Fox Piven, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology, CUNY Graduate Center
Walter Benn Michaels, Professor of English, University of Illinois at Chicago
Adolph Reed, Jr., Professor of Political Science, The University of Pennsylvania
Michele Barry, Dean for Global Health, Stanford University
Robert W. McChesney, Gutgsell Endowed Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Heather Gautney, Associate Professor of Sociology, Fordham University
Willie Legette, Associate Professor of Political Science, South Carolina State University
Jeffrey A. Winters, Professor of Politics and Director of the Equality Development and Globalization Studies Program, Northwestern University
Wendy Brown, Class of 1936 First Professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley
Steve Striffler, Doris Zemurray Stone Chair in Latin American Studies and Professor of Anthropology, University of New Orleans
Michael Hardt, Professor of Literature, Duke University
Leon Fink, UIC Distinguished Professor of History, University Illinois at Chicago
Touré F. Reed, Associate Professor of History, Illinois State University
Kathi Weeks, Associate Professor, Women's Studies Program, Duke University
Steve Early, Pacific Media Workers Guild, TNG-CWA
Rand Wilson, Adjunct Professor, Labor Studies Center, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
John Halle, Director of Studies in Music Theory and Practice, Bard College
Steve Fraser, Co-founder of the American Empire Project and Editor-at-Large of the journal New Labor Forum.
Samir Sonti, Doctoral candidate in History at the University of California at Santa Barbara
Jeffrey J. Williams, Professor of English and of Literary and Cultural Studies
Carnegie Mellon University
Steven Hahn, Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History, The University of Pennsylvania
Jon Queally, Senior Editor and Staff Writer, Commondreams
Ted Swedenburg, Professor of Anthropology, University of Arkansas
Nancy Fraser, Henry A. and Louise Loeb Professor of Politics and Philosophy, New School for Social Research
Gordon Lafer, Associate Professor, Labor Education and Research Center & Political Science, University of Oregon
Nicholas Brown, Associate Professor, English & African American Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago
Noel Kent, Professor of Ethnic Studies, University of Hawai'i at Mãnoa
Max Page, Professor of Architecture and History, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
Anne Norton, Professor of Political Science, The University of Pennsylvania
Norman H. Edelman, Professor, Preventive and Internal Medicine Program in Public Health, Stony Brook University
Inger L. Stole, Professor of Communication, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Lester Spence, Associate Professor of Political Science, Johns Hopkins
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