03/01/2011 12:40 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Education and Women's Health Care: Investments in the Future We Can't Afford to Cut

This past weekend Wesleyan University was visited by two of our leaders in Washington, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Senator Richard Blumenthal. Our representative in the House stopped by briefly to talk with our Trustees about threats to the financing of education, and Connecticut's new senator was a featured speaker at a rally on campus in support of Planned Parenthood. Although their topics seemed very different, by the end of the weekend I began to think they were in fact closely intertwined.

Rep DeLauro has long been a friend to education. She serves in the Democratic leadership as co-chair of the Steering and Policy Committee, and she is the ranking member on the Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee. She stopped on campus as part of a series of events at which she discussed the effects on Connecticut citizens of the budget cuts proposed by the House.

She reminded us that these cuts would reduce the maximum Pell Grants, monies that go to the neediest students. Head Start, Upward Bound and AmeriCorps as well as funding for low-income and first-generation students would be dramatically cut. Rep. DeLauro, like me a first generation college graduate, emphasized that these reductions in support would further compromise the ability of our educational system to be a vehicle for cultural and economic mobility. Without financial aid, highly selective schools just reproduce a static status quo. Education is an investment in the future, and undermining this investment is a counterproductive way to reduce government spending.

Senator Blumenthal is a newcomer to Washington, but he is already becoming an important figure in the defense of health care for women and families. He and the other speakers at the Planned Parenthood rally spoke eloquently about the importance of reproductive rights. Student organizers brought together hundreds of men and women to demand access to quality information and health care with regards to sexuality, birth control and parenthood. One in five women in the country use Planned Parenthood's services at some point in their lives. Cancer screenings, STI testing, accurate information...these are just some of the essential services offered by Planned Parenthood. Sen. Blumenthal pledged to fight in its defense with "every fiber of his being," and he praised students for "showing America what it means to stand up for American values in the 21st century."

How are the cuts to education and to women's health care related? Some would say by an urge to reduce the budget deficit that threatens our economic future. But even if you think that deficit reduction is a priority, these cuts are cultural and political choices, not just economic necessities. And the these particular choices would reduce the social and economic mobility of vulnerable members of our society. The attack on education for low-income families and on low-cost health care for women would limit the abilities of these people to direct their lives -- to change their lives, if they so desire.

That's why as a university president I think it important to speak out on these cuts. I usually try to avoid overtly partisan public stands, but this assault on financial aid and health care for women is an assault on what we are trying to provide our students year in and year out: the possibility of transformation through education. There is still time to reach out to our friends, neighbors and elected officials in Washington to let them know what we stand for. Don't let Congress undermine our future by limiting our capacities for learning and health.