University of Southern Maine President Theodora Kalikow’s May 12, 2013, column compares education to the steel industry, claiming that education is just a “commodity.” As such, universities need to differentiate to stand out and attract revenues. To her, the layoffs, program cuts and protests of students are the new norm in our “competitive market” for education. Universities must innovate, she writes, producing something so valuable that price becomes a secondary concern.
The protests occurring over the UMaine system indicate that the relationships forged within the university are the source of enduring value to which she refers. Yet it is the administration that threatens those relationships with program eliminations and layoffs.
Value in the university system is created by its faculty, through teaching students but also through their research, which attracts millions of dollars into the system from governments, businesses and foundations.
Look to the University of Maine, in Orono, for an example of how universities integrate students, faculty and business into an innovation process, transforming the future of wind power technology. The contribution of the university relates to organizational, not competitive forces.
Universities are not financed by sales of products, they are financed by taxpayers and students. Students have collectively borrowed $1 trillion and typically graduate into a tough economy $30,000 in debt. Debt must be repaid, eventually, through employment in an era where the “career” is increasingly an endangered concept.
Our universities are still public institutions and student demands carry more weight than ever given their burdens.
Kalikow claimed in a recent article that a $17 million surplus from last year is already earmarked for “big-ticket” capital improvements. The administration pleads poverty, pursues layoffs, and then has the nerve to blow “non-existent” funds on capital projects, and we should just allow it? I think not. Listen to the students.