Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed: My University is Dying, And Soon Yours Will Be, Too., by Sheila Liming (University of North Dakota):
I live in a land of austerity, and I’m not just talking about the scenery. When most people think about North Dakota — if, indeed, they ever do — they probably imagine bare, ice-crusted prairies swept clean by wind. They see the clichés, in other words, not the reality — the towns that are, in fact, aesthetically identical to so many in America, with all the usual houses and shopping malls and parks and freeways. On the campus where I work, though, austerity has many meanings and many guises. Some of them you can see, like the swaths of new grass that grow where historic buildings stood just last year, before they were demolished in the name of maintenance backlogs. Most, though, are invisible.
Starting in 2016, our state university system endured three successive rounds of annual budget cuts, with average 10-percent reductions resulting in a loss of more than a third of the system’s overall funding. Additional cuts, even, were on the table this past year. And while our state legislators ultimately avoided taking yet one more stab at the dismembered body of higher education, there has been no discussion of restoring any of those funds.
The experience of living with the metastasizing effects of austerity grants me some insight into what has been going on in Alaska. In July, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced a plan to strip the University of Alaska system of 41 percent of its operating budget. He has since tempered this plan, opting instead for a 20-percent cut to be meted out over a period of three years. After weathering three straight years of forced retirements, self-protective “pivots” to administration, and personal waterloos on my own campus, I cannot help but grieve for my colleagues in Alaska. Some of them, I know, will lose their jobs, or else be coerced into giving them up, as my own colleagues have been (my department lost 10 tenured/tenure-track faculty members — half of its roster — in four years and has not been permitted to rehire). But some of them, I know, will not, and I grieve for them, too. …
ur campus has struggled to recover, first, because austerity isn’t over for us, even if the blitzkrieg of cuts has stalled for the time being. The second reason is because there are fewer people around now to help see each other through the grueling work of recovery. …
But these are the obvious losses, the ones that could be counted and read about in the local newspaper, or in the The Chronicle. It is the many and lingering surreptitious forms of loss — loss of confidence, of spirit, of purpose — that do the real damage.