The quixotic demonstration at the State House yesterday by citizens sick of seeing our state’s infrastructure rapidly eroding under the stewardship of shortsighted politicians was of course an exercise in futility.
But I’m no stranger to that. A few minutes ago, looking for a link for a previous post that needed one, I went back to the last week of posts on my old blog I had at the paper, and ran across this forgotten item — which, as it happens, was day after the post in which I announced that I had been laid off:
Good job rejecting the tuition caps
This might sound strange coming from a guy who was already counting pennies (or quarters, anyway — I miscounted how many I had this morning in my truck, and ended up with a parking ticket because I didn’t have enough for the meter), with my two youngest daughters still in college. And now I’m about to be unemployed.
But I’m glad the House rejected tuition caps at S.C. colleges and universities. I have an anecdote to share about that.
Remember the recent day when college students wandered the State House lobbying lawmakers on behalf of their institutions. They wanted the state to invest in higher education the way North Carolina and Georgia have. Either that day, or the day after, I had lunch with Clemson President James Barker, and he told me an anecdote he had witnessed: He said the students were pressing a lawmaker NOT to support the tuition caps, because they were worried about their institutions being even more underfunded — they hardly get anything from the state — some are down below 20 percent funding by the state, and the rest has to come from such sources as tuition, federal research grants and private gifts. Eliminate the ability to raise tuition, and the institution’s ability to provide an excellent education is significantly curtailed. If we want lower tuitions, the state should go back to funding higher percentages of the schools’ budgets, the way our neighboring states with better higher ed systems do.
The lawmaker listened to the kids, and then said with great condescension, maybe you kids don’t care if tuition goes up, but I’ll bet your parents would like a cap. He thought he had them there, but the kids set him straight: None of their parents were paying the bills. These kids were working their way through schools and paying for it all themselves. And they didn’t want to see the quality of what they were working so hard to pay for be degraded by an artificial cap on tuition. The lawmaker had not counted on getting that answer.
I wish I had been there to see it, because I’ve been in a similar place before. Back in 95 or 96, Speaker Wilkins had brought his committee chairs to see us, and I started challenging the wisdom of their massive rollback of property taxes paid for school.One of them allowed as how he bet I was glad to get that couple of hundred dollars I didn’t have to pay. And I answered him that I was ashamed that I was paying so little through my property tax to support schools that I knew needed more resources. He said smugly that he was sure I wouldn’t want to give it back. I told him I didn’t see as how there was any channel for doing that, but if he could point me to the right person who would take my money and see it gets to the right place, I would pay the difference. He didn’t have a good answer for that.
It would be great if our lawmakers would stop assuming that all of us in South Carolina are so greedily shortsighted that we can’t see past our personal desire to pay less money, and that we are corruptible by a scheme to starve colleges of reasonable support.
Reading that now, with all that’s happened since — the rise of the Tea Party, the eagerness of Republicans, demoralized after their 2008 defeat, to embrace destructive extremism (and of course, what happens to the Republican Party as happens to South Carolina, which it dominates), the election of Nikki Haley over more experienced, less extreme candidates of both parties — it reads like thoughts from another century. And, of course, another place.
Imagine, even dreaming of our state caring enough about education to invest in it the way our neighboring states have, much less suggesting that we do so. How anachronistic can one get? All that’s happened since then is that South Carolina has run, faster every day, in the opposite direction — with out elected leaders firmly convinced that that is not only the right direction in which to run, but the only one.