Ohio community college professor talks advocacy, higher education and election 2012
by Dr. Patrick McLaughlin
Slouching Toward November…Advocacy and Agon in the Age of Partisan Politics
The last two years in Ohio have involved higher education faculty in an unprecedented level of grassroots advocacy to protect their collective bargaining rights and to preserve a high quality learning environment for their students. It was not a fight they sought—it was brought to them by those who thought they knew more about the educational enterprise than those who have dedicated their entire lives to teaching students and fostering meaningful shared governance at the postsecondary level. Starting with the passing of Senate Bill 5, which became Issue 2 on the November 2011 ballot, the assault was sustained, unrelenting, and particularly virulent. What followed in its wake was a massive show of solidarity as various constituent groups in Ohio banned together under the banner of “We Are Ohio” to soundly defeat Issue 2. Now, some legislators—both at the federal and state levels—set out to do piecemeal what could not be done in toto.
As I see it, the contrast could not be more sharply drawn in this election cycle. The forces of anti-public employee and education sentiment are not open to reasonable and responsible compromise on the issues. Thus, the lessons we learned in defeating Issue 2, the coalitions we built, and the bonds of solidarity we forged must now be brought to bear to elect public-education friendly candidates, who see the importance of addressing the following issues in a principled manner, based on shared values and a common understanding of the collective good of all citizens in a democratic society.
Assuring Access and Affordability
Assuring college access has always been a challenge. But it is doubly so today, given the number of displaced workers, young people in need of 21st century skills, and workers who need to retrain for the knowledge economy. The cost of a college education has sky-rocketed in the past decade, in large part because states have slashed funding for higher education at unprecedented levels. We have been especially hard hit here in Ohio. Restoring full funding to postsecondary education should be a major priority of any office seeker deserving of our vote.
Maintaining Collective Bargaining Rights and Providing for Properly Funded Pension Plans
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The ability to collectively bargain one’s terms of employ and working conditions is the cornerstone of meaningful shared governance, as faculty and administration work to build and maintain quality learning environments for the students they serve. Efforts to undermine the process or take away essential faculty rights must be resisted at all cost.
Moreover, faculty members who have devoted their whole lives to helping others to maximize their potential and reach their dreams should not have to worry about living a subsistence existence or whether the terms of their pension plans are radically altered a few years before their retirement so that they are unduly burdened by the requirements or must postpone retirement indefinitely. Sensible and measured pension reform is in order, but faculty must have a voice in that process and retirement systems should have the autonomy to enact reforms which serve the best interests of their members and the long-term solvency of their funds.
The choice this November could not be clearer. We must strongly resist supporting those who believe they can buy offices with near limitless amounts of money from special interests to whom they are beholden. Rather, we should support those candidates who are most interested in advancing the common good by framing policies and funding programs which strengthen public education for an increasingly diverse and pluralistic society.
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