by Jonathan Gramling
pretty much gone into the pockets of the fabled one percent, the people who own most of America.
There are times when I feel like a hamster running around on his circular tread mill, around and around it goes and the hamster gets nowhere. But if someone
attached an electric lead to it, perhaps it would produce electricity for someone else, but not the hamster. Why am I feeling like a hamster?
And so when I hear people say, ‘Cut, cut, cut, save, save, save, do more with less’ and other urging to make things more efficient, I have to ask, ‘Is this so
someone else makes money while I make less? Is there another value that needs to enter in here like my quality of life and that of others?’
And so while I like efficiency, I still have to watch for the sleight of hand that diverts the funds to a select few.
All of this is a rather lengthy introduction to the purpose of today’s column. Recently UW Systems kicked off the ’15 to Finish’ campaign. The system is pushing
students to take 15 credits each and every semester — eight semesters in four years — so that the student can finish in four years and move on.
Articles have been written that say this push makes many youth better students, that their grades are higher, they spend less money, etc. It’s the all-purpose cure for
But there is something that bothers me about this and perhaps it’s just me.
Now if a student has the means and the desire to take 15-credits per semester to get out in four, more power to them. If they also want to take summer classes and
get out in less than four years, more power to them. That is what they want and they take control of their lives to effect what they want. And in many cases, these
students knew what they wanted to be when they grew up as early as elementary school.
But there are a lot of students who don’t fit that mold. There are a lot of students of color and first-generation students who must work 20-30 hours per week in order
to support themselves and often times other family members while going to school. It might be unreasonable to expect them to get out in four without assuming a lot
more student loan debt.
There are other students who end up changing majors in the middle of the stream because while they thought they were going to be a doctor because everyone told
them they should become one, perhaps they find more satisfaction as an environmentalist. But the change in majors means, often times, at least an additional
semester in college. And if they don’t make the switch, will that impact their lives later on because they need therapy or worse, drugs and alcohol because they are
stuck in a profession they really don’t like?
I guess the times have changed since I started at UW-Madison as a freshman in 1970. When I arrived here, I was an art major. But I became so enthralled with the
knowledge that so many subject matters presented to me that it was difficult to make a decision. I loved it all and became a type of professional student. And taking
all of those subjects have enhanced my ability to be an editor. Although I am not a master or expert in any subject area, I can follow pretty much any interview and
discussion and write a decent story on it. I was helped because I studied outside of my academic silo.
I worry that this drive for 15 credits per semester is just another piece in the drive to make the university a quasi-vocational school, an assembly line form of
education. And again if this makes the university more efficient in turning out workers, does the benefit come to the student who may have racked up additional debt
or to the company who hires him/her for less than they are worth because the students has to settle for less? Who is the beneficiary of the efficiency?
Whatever happened to the sifting and winnowing of the intellectual process at our great universities?
I still value knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Sometimes great things are discovered when we don’t intentionally search for them. I would hope that the university
education that I pay for is for my benefit As a human being and not to be the cog in someone else’s machine although making a living is important. I hope the
university does so too!
For instance, when ACT 10 was implemented back in 2010, if my memory serves me correctly, the salaries and benefits of teachers and state workers were cut and
funding for public schools — including the state universities — was slashed. And then didn’t a tax cut enter in there somewhere? So if we cut public services and
the funding for our public schools, which impacted the quality of education for students whose parents couldn’t afford to send them to private schools and perhaps
delayed the provision of public services that I need and a tax cut shifts those funds into the pockets of disproportionately wealthier people while handing me a few
crumbs, then wasn’t this another case of shifting income and value to the wealthy? Isn’t this part of the skewing of incomes and making us more have nots?
Ever since I studied public administration in graduate school at UW-Madison in the early 1980s, I have always been a fan of the
concept of efficiency. Sometimes it was driven by the need to use limited resources as wisely as possible, making the stretch
as far as possible. And sometimes it seemed to be driven by an occasional bout of laziness. How can I get this task done as fast
as possible so that I will have time to watch the Green Bay Packers on TV.
But I have to admit that I’ve started to think differently about efficiency. Granted efficiency is still greatly desired and the drive for
it has led to many an invention to make our lives easier, to a certain extent. I am not opposed to efficiency. It’s just that I have to
wonder if I am any better off with it being the only variable that’s important.
I have to admit that I’ve been pondering the value of efficiency ever since I read articles that detail how American workers have
been impacted by the advances in productivity since the 1970s. Or how they haven’t been impacted. While American workers
have become a lot more productive — for the most part due to technological innovations and efficiencies like the economy of
scale — the increased value of that productivity has not been shared with American workers. The value of the productivity has