The Pandemic of American Politics

By Alan J. Yeck

It’s been a bit tough trying to write this week. So much information coming at us and so many emotions in the mix that it’s been hard to bring my thoughts to clarity. Then I saw a picture today and in it I found a few moments of focus. It was a picture of a short hose coming from a fire hydrant, attached to a larger PVC pipe with a dozen drinking taps on it. It’s a fresh water station on the streets of San Francisco for the homeless. There is not a better example of the biggest problem we face today in the United Sates but if you think I’m saying ‘homelessness’ is our biggest problem, you’re wrong. Our biggest problem, and it didn’t start with this administration but I promise you it will continue with the next, is how we address all of our problems- we treat the symptoms and not the causes. The problem isn’t providing drinking water to the homeless, it’s the homeless! Instead of addressing the causes of homelessness, e.g., mental health, affordable housing, life sustaining wages, education, etc., we hook up a hose to a device that is supposed to be used to put out structural fires and call it a day. The world leader in innovation does it again. The COVID-19 equivalent would be to never develop a vaccine and just treat the symptoms with Alka-Seltzer Cold and Flu. “Plop plop fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is.” That should do it.

Meanwhile, on any given night in our country, more than 500,000 people go homeless every night, 40 million of us are living in poverty, 21 million are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, 10 million women and men are physically abused by their partners, with 700,000 children abused and neglected yearly  (the actual number is much higher because so many go unreported). And what is our mainstream solution? Our judicial system which ensures the extremely profitable prison system has a never-ending supply of customers.  We have 2.3 million people in 110 federal prisons, 1,833 state prisons, 3,134 local jails, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 218 immigration detention facilities (immigration is another problem where only the symptoms have been addressed), 80 Indian Country jails, state psychiatric hospitals, and military prisons. Prison is the largest treatment for mental health in the U.S. What I mean is that where so many Americans need mental health treatment (the root causes of incarceration, homelessness, drug abuse…) instead of making sure they can receive that, we treat the symptoms and sent them to prison where they are beaten, raped, abused and come out more likely to commit greater crimes than before they went in. Prison is like the ITT Tech of criminal instruction. It’s not good but we’re paying for it anyway. 

Those are just an example of some of the many troubles we need to deal with, head on. How do we address them, by finding the root causes or only treating symptoms? These are national issues that affect all of us therefore it is the responsibility of our government and elected officials to implement policies to make the positive changes. But they don’t do they? Why? 1) Follow the money. Always, follow the money. 2) Keep the people asleep. A person in California was asked, “why do you think there are so many homeless people here?” Her response was, “because we have nice weather.” That’s right, homelessness exists there because the weather is nice. OMFG! 1 and 2 working together are hard to beat, but not impossible. 

How do you feel the government systems we’ve been using are working for us? All of them, blue and red, are accountable for what the United States is today. All of them. Until we remove corporate and lobbying influences (the money) and expand the two-party system, the corruption will only continue. And the worst part? Me, you, and your sister too have allowed it. It is time for us to wake up from our social coma. Demand from those whom you vote for that they support this and if they don’t, then know they are why all of the above continues. They are why the capital was attacked, they are why democracy is dying, and they all make money from it. Vote for the person that agrees to make these changes in our system and restore democracy to the people. If they don’t, don’t vote for them.  Yes, it is just that simple. 

Be well and keep up the peaceful fight. 

Walking Dead Higher Ed: Leadership In A Pandemic

By Alan J. Yeck

Since the beginning of the pandemic there have been over 300,000 cases and 80 deaths at U.S. colleges and universities, according to a survey done by The New York Times of 2000 campuses. Of note is that the majority of cases occurred since the start of the fall semester (almost 70,000 cases since the start of this month). Also, given there is no national tracking system The Times relied upon the institutions’ self-reporting but at least 70 ignored requests while another 80 said they had zero cases. What we know about data is its ease in manipulation, and what we know about higher education is its ease in lack of transparency. The reality is that those numbers are likely higher than being reported/discovered.

The other numbers that are directly related to COVID are the job losses in education. According to an analysis by The Pew Charitable Trusts, since the start of the pandemic state colleges and universities are down 14% with some exceeding 20%. Declining enrollment, already a huge problem prior to the pandemic, continues to increase the financial strain. As state funding is reduced, declining enrollment revenue, and increased costs of COVID testing, their budgets are in complete chaos. 2021 doesn’t look to be any better. There is no surprise that most states are projecting greater revenue declines, which directly affects the already minimal aid given to education. Declining revenue and increased costs will surely mean more layoffs.

Now we have transparency of the problem. Now we can see the challenge – keeping revenue up enough to keep colleges open while not killing any more students or staff. Keep people safe but keep the money flowing. That’s a tough problem but I do have the answer – you can’t. Anyone who says the teaching and learning is just as good as it was a year ago is in denial or a liar (or maybe in denial that they’re a liar). The learning taking place on many of the colleges today is poorly done regardless of the quality of the instructor or the student. Fatigue coupled with curriculum never meant to be taught online to students who were never meant to take these classes online by faculty who were never meant to teach these classes online means learning outcomes blur down to, survival. Nothing more. Senior leadership and trustees must realize they are not only robbing the students tuition but wasting the students’ time and cheating them with a subpar product. It’s a pandemic and the issues need to be addressed as if it were a pandemic – because it is. We will recover but if your plan is to keep the lights on at the students’ expense, it’s a poor plan from poor leadership.

Colleges and universities must work together and present a unified front to the state capitals and Washington. Remember these are the same folks that bailed out Wall Street after the mortgage crisis (which Wall Street causes in the first place). Your voices must be loud and in unison. Do not let them ignore you or surely you will fall, one by one.

There will be more layoffs until this is under control but stop passing that burden down to the students. It’s a pandemic.

Institutions that bring students back on campus to fill dorm rooms to ensure their money flow should be held liable for any deaths they cause. It’s a pandemic.

While there is no argument that success in teaching and learning, historically (but not exclusively) has been through a classroom experience, historically we haven’t done this in a pandemic. Yes, again, it’s a pandemic.

Higher education leaders who would risk students, faculty and staff (and their families) to make up for years of financial mismanagement are playing a dangerous game. Take care of your people, first and foremost and brighter days will return for all. It’s a pandemic.

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