Fighting the downsizing of education at the University of Vermont.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Priming the Pump

As students and many faculty return to campus from Spring Break, here are some recent news developments and analyses from the around the country to "prime the pump" as students, staff, and faculty at UVM consider our next steps in the struggle to stop the downsizing of education at UVM by administrators who refuse to be accountable for their mismanagement and who insist on hanging onto salaries that are two, three, and even four times those of full professors--and many more times the salaries of the staff and lecturers they seek to lay off:

First, suggested by BronwynVt, from the Huffington Post's Phillip Slater, "Money Doesn't Attract Talent, It Merely Attracts Greed":

When the banking and auto industries claimed they needed their exorbitant executive salaries to attract 'talent', we all laughed to think the 'best and brightest' were needed destroy the global economy. What actually did the job was greed, which is, after all, what money attracts.

Whereas the average ratio of CEO to worker salaries is about 20 to 1 in the rest of the industrial world -- and was about that in America only a few decades ago -- it has ballooned to 400 to 1 in recent times. Does this mean American corporate and banking executives are not only 20 times smarter than those abroad, but also 20 times smarter than the American executives who ran our economy before 1980?

Not very likely. But they're certainly 20 times greedier.

James Surowiecki points out that these overpaid executives were notable for making mergers, two-thirds of which ended up destroying shareholder value. Eighty percent of the new products they introduced lasted less than a year. As he points out, "the business landscape of the last decade is littered with CEOs who went from being acclaimed as geniuses to being dismissed as fools".

If American executives were willing for a century or more to work for reasonable salaries, what other than an obsessive greed makes it necessary to overpay them today?

Bach never got rich, Mozart died in a pauper's grave. Money didn't attract C├ęzanne, van Gogh, Rembrandt, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, etc., etc., the list is endless. You don't have to starve to be great at what you do, but money doesn't seem especially relevant. Nor is this lack of connection restricted to the arts. Einstein worked in the Swiss patent office to survive while he came up with his major contributions to science, and most of the authors of major inventions were poor before they made them. Small firms come up with 24 times more inventions than large ones with fat R and D budgets.

The truth is, money has nothing to do with talent in any field. The biologist Lewis Thomas once said that the need to feel useful, to make a contribution, is fundamental to human beings. People crave challenges, like to exercise their abilities. They also like to eat. But our culture -- or at least the least evolved elements of it -- have distorted this need by using money as the only criterion of worth, which has elevated some of the least valuable members of society to the most valued. Huge sums of money attract only the most neurotic members of society -- those who feel empty, who have nothing to give, who are sick with greed. The decline of America in the world is due largely to this failing. We can only hope Obama will inspire a reversal of this pathological trend.

Next, an example of how teachers, students, and parents facing downsizing elsewhere are indeed inspired by our current invigorating political climate to say no to cutting education in a country that's still funding Wall Street and war,  a video of a protest and sit-in by teachers in Los Angeles:

http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Rallies-Planned-in-Respose-to-Possible-LAUSD-Layoffs.html

And for the fuller story by a Los Angeles teacher: http://socialistworker.org/2009/03/12/la-teachers-sit-in

Finally, check out UVM professor Tina Escaja's essay, in Spanish and in English translation, on bringing the spirit of Pablo Neruda into the struggle for UVM's future: http://www.redpoppy.net/journal/Pablo_Neruda_Presente.html


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