By Tony Van Der Meer, Africana Studies
[The following is a transcript of a talk given as part of the Financing Public Higher Education panel at the Invest in Minds Not Missiles Forum at UMass Boston. Full video of the forum is below.]
While I was invited to participate in this forum, I was then dis-invited, and eventually re-invited. So it’s safe to say that the question of inclusion is a constant struggle, especially for people of color.
I must say that I was outraged that the president of my union, FSU, would actually politic to exclude me from participating in this forum. Maybe I could be wrong – that free speech and my first amendment right, particularly at an academic institution, is something a president of a union would uphold. Maybe I could be wrong – that inclusion of faculty ideas, despite their different views, is something that we uphold in the academy.
However, I am in full support of increasing federal and state investment in higher education. At the same time we need to be certain that those resources are used equitably to also assist underserved urban student populations of color to successfully matriculate at this and other public universities. We need to make sure that all faculty are paid and treated equitably. We need leadership in our unions, among our students, staff, and faculty, as well as elected officials to ensure education is viewed as a right and not a privilege just for those that can afford it.
The deepening privatization of public education is becoming a factor along with private universities in the gentrification of our urban neighborhoods. Not only is this having an impact on students, it’s having a deep impact on our staff and faculty. But the impact is the greatest on working class communities of color whose education and income further marginalizes and limits them from being able to live decent lives.
According to a study by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, the net worth of a single black female is only $5. The National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) points out that 73% of children in poor families live with a single parent. With the high rate of single mothers, how are they able to provide the basic necessities for their families? How do we expect students that come from these families to not only concentrate on their studies, but to also successfully matriculate without incurring burdensome debt?
As students, staff, faculty, and administrators, how can we allow the state and federal government to spend public money to profit corporations while public institutions and infrastructures deteriorate?
We clearly need accountable and transparent leadership. We also have to do our parts – to ensure that there are consequences for negligent and incompetent leadership unable to properly represent its constituency.
We can’t be naïve to assume that those in power will do the right thing. It is absolutely absurd that according to the Pentagon, it’s costing the US Government $45 BILLION dollars per year for the war in Afghanistan. Yet, our universities are not adequately funded. We have to organize ourselves from the very bottom of the most disenfranchised groups to ensure that their voices are heard and that their needs are included in our agenda and program of action. Our continuing struggle is to change the power relationship to one where the central needs of ordinary working people are met. This means we have to also engage urban community organizations, churches, and neighborhood groups in this process. It is their children and communities that are impacted by the lack of public resources. They are also an important base that will make elected officials accountable.
With the engagement of local communities we need to organize a mass democratic and inclusive movement to force state and federal government to fully fund public higher education. We (UMass Boston) need to set an example that other states can follow.