Town Hall Meeting
February 9, 2010
Deborah Achtenberg

    President Glick, Provost Johnson, thank you for your leadership during the budget crisis.  I am Deborah Achtenberg, Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Chair of Religious Studies.  During this crisis, I have been reading about other campuses that have already experienced the kind of cuts we are now facing, and I want to share with you some of the difficulties they have expressed.  I have six brief points to make.

    First, most important of all, in this time of economic difficulty we need to remember what kind of university we want to be, and not get so stunned by economics that we inadvertently change the university in undesirable ways that we will never be able to change back.

    Second, our university must provide for future economic growth, yes, but must also provide an education for citizenship and for that aspect of humanity that transcends citizenship.  This means the university must continue to provide more than basic skills or applied research, though of course these are necessary, but must also provide an education that includes basic research whose application is unclear as well as a deep education that is challenging, creative and critical.

    Third, we must not balance the budget on the backs of those who clean our bathrooms and our offices, those who serve our food, and those who answer our phones and manage our departments.  When we hear talk of doing more with less we must keep in mind what that actually means for people whose jobs involve physical labor.  They have already taken a hit, and it is a matter of fairness that they not have to take another one.

    Fourth, we need to keep in mind, as we make decisions, which of them are financial and which are curricular, and be sure that committees already authorized to make curricular decisions are still empowered to make them during the budget shortfall.

    Fifth, we need to be on guard against the temptation to privatize basic programs.  The experience of other campuses shows that doing so can lead to research tailored to the interests of private companies rather than to the public good, and can lead to limitations on academic freedom.

    Sixth, we must continue educating Nevadans about the importance of education as an accessible, public good.  As a public good, education benefits the state as a whole and should be supported by the state as a whole.  No one group should be taxed to support it--which is what pay cuts and additional fees for certain programs mean, taxing clerical staff, janitors, teachers and students for a good in which the state as whole shares.  I was glad to hear Chancellor Klaich last week bring up the idea of a modest, affordable tax.  I myself support the Fair Mining Tax.  We are in a budget crisis, yes--but the crisis is exacerbated by the fact that we lack a stable system of taxation in Nevada.

    President Glick, Provost Johnson, these are the concerns expressed at other universities around the country:  education as an accessible, public good provided for through taxation not outsourced to private interests; education with a moral base in how it treats non academic workers within the academy; educational decisions that are made by educators and are not confused with economic decisions; and a deep education that is challenging, creative, and critical. 

    We know our situation is serious.  We know we will not be able to meet our goals to the extent we wish.  My point today is that we must keep in mind what our goals are, and preserve them to the highest extent possible, as we go forward.  Thank you.