Austerity Is Crap

Since the peak of the Great Society, on the first official Earth Day, captains of industry have engaged in a conspiracy to destroy the gains made for working people over the last century. These plans were laid out in the Powell Memo, which in addition to naming Ralph Nader as the most dangerous man in America, declared that a 30 year plan should be set in motion that seeks to place corporations and the wealthy elite that head them, firmly into positions of power within government, to remove the ability of the people to use government as an independent arbiter of law that would protect them against the abuses of the wealthy elite, and to stem the tide of citizen power that had grown throughout the 50s and 60s.

The strategy laid out in this memo is coming to its final fruition now. In feudal times, the nobility were educated in music, science, arts, and affairs of the state, and the peasants were simply there to toil in the fields and provide bounty for the nobility through their labor, and education of the working class outside of what their particular field of labor was, was not valued by the nobility.

Today, we see everything that prevents us from backsliding into some sort of feudalistic society is currently under a very calculated attack under the manufactured crisis of Austerity.

Here in Maine, at my Alma Matter, the University of Southern Maine, the Austerity agenda has long been shoved down the throats of students, faculty, and staff alike. While I was a student from 2001 through 2010, I was a first-hand witness to the same conditions happening now.

To set the scene: USM, like most public universities in the United States, was seeing annual tuition hikes, while simultaneously cutting faculty and staff, fighting back against staff unionization.

Post 9-11, Democrats were obsessed with being the party of “fiscal responsibility” in order to win some sort of imaginary political messaging game against the Republicans, despite the Democrats holding control over all three branches of Government in Maine. Our “fiscally responsible” Democrats oversaw the giving away of tax dollars to business, under the pretext of jobs and growth. This lost revenue, with the addition of accounting errors in the Department of Health and Human Services led to a budget shortfall, which rather than addressing this budget shortfall through minor restructuring of Maine’s basically flat income tax brackets, Democrats instead led the charge to use the University of Maine System fund as their personal piggy-bank, which caused a budget shortfall in the U Maine system, which trickled down to the University of Southern Maine in the form of department consolidation, laid off faculty, and reduced staff.

When the USM Student Senate became concerned about how tuition was steadily rising, while faculty and departments were being cut, we used Student Activity Fee money, which was normally used to for planning 80s night dances and buying pizza, to pay for an independent audit of the University System. That’s when we discovered that while tuition was rising, so were the salaries of Administrators, creeping ever closer to the realm of the 1%. We learned that despite the growing ratio of students to professors in the classroom, there were fewer than four faculty for every one administrator.

We discovered that half of the tuition dollars that we paid to USM went to the “flagship” campus that had nearly half the enrollment numbers that USM had. We learned that members of administration at this flagship campus earned salaries similar to those working for Goldman Sachs, north of 300k a year.

We learned that one of the biggest cost for the university was paying for the healthcare benefits of its faculty and staff- Single Payer Healthcare would eliminate this entire line item from the Universities balance sheet.

We tried to mobilize the students, and only to discover that they did not care. They were here to get a diploma, and get into the workforce, and many assumed that they would be gone in four years, or that since cuts weren’t happening to their particular major, it didn’t affect them.

Cuts moved forwards, without much organized or vocal opposition from students, or faculty.

Post 2011, the Occupy Wall Street had happened. Faculty and Students alike were present in Zuccotti Park, and even made trips on the MegaBus between Portland Maine and New York City. Professors from USM collaborated with ows activists in writing the Debt Resistors Handbook, and provided broader contextual illumination to system issues in several working groups.

After Zuccotti had been cleared by police, those connections remained in Occupy USM, which continued on through 2012. A concerted effort was made by student activists to build solidarity between students and faculty, to illustrate shared struggle. The University of Southern Maine was now facing deeper cuts as part of a “restructuring” program set forth by a corporate hatchet-woman, who had previously worked in the private sector doing the same sort of thing as Mitt Romney did at Bain Capital, and had recently taken the helm as President of the University.

For this round of cuts and consolidations, a solidarity between students and faculty had been well established, and grew and flourished under the recognition that we had shared goals in preserving the University of Maine System, not only for their jobs, or for our quality of education, but for the broader benefit of society that a liberal arts education provides, in allowing all working class people to lift themselves up into an intellectual realm that had until only recently in human history been reserved for priests and nobility.

A vote of no confidence was issued forth from the Faculty Senate, and Selma Botman resigned, only to be replaced by President Theo Kalikow, who has continued forth advancing the austerity agenda on the University of Southern Maine. Selma Botman, while vacating the seat of the President, was allowed by administrators to continued to draw her salary for the duration of her term, and was in fact hired back as a consultant, and paid an additional $300,000 to write a paper, putting her annual earnings well into the realm of the top 1%. As though to thumb their noses at the student protestors, Administrators gave themselves a raise of $20,000 and upwards.

This year, the University System is facing these same cuts system wide. But finally, the civic immune response has been triggered, and the many isolated fingers involved in this movement, students, faculty, staff, Alumni like myself, and even members of the surrounding community, all broken easily on their own, are joining together to form a fist of solidarity and are fighting back.