Budget cuts are consequence of going for quantity over quality


There’s nothing quite like the unexpected sense of having one’s guts ripped out and fed to the crows.

It’s one of those million dollar existential experiences you wouldn’t pay a nickel for. This, I imagine is how many of those summarily fired in the recent SDSU cuts feel. If they can come out of it with less than bitter sentiments, my hat is off to them. I’m not sure I could.

SDSU President David Chicoine, in justifying the budget cuts was quoted in last week’s Collegian that SDSU’s “Business as usual cannot be sustained.” He’s probably right but not in context with the subject at hand.

You’d think a university president could come up with a better cliché than “business as usual.” It’s a rhetorical device reserved for the stupid and self-serving. I’m not one to suggest that the SDSU leaders have ever been stupid or self-serving, but in light of the ‘business as usual’ quote, maybe the folks running the show are. . . stupid—if not self-serving.

The budget cuts (so far estimated at $4.7 million) represent the first public consequence of SDSU’s current policy to go for quantity rather than quality. The rush toward “big school” status with the emphasis on research rather than teaching is apt to become one of the boondoggles South Dakota’s educational system is known for. Faculty payrolls at last report are frozen. This, along with the emerging expectation that faculty members should put more time into research (a.k.a. university funding and income), I wonder how it happens that our state educates anyone.

Then there’s the on-campus construction. I don’t have figures on how much is being invested in upgrading SDSU facilities, but it’s got to be high. You know how it goes; a million here, a million there; and pretty soon we’re talking real money. It looks very pretty in the architect’s sketches. How much of it, however, was really needed?

A small case in point is the new entryway at the South Dakota Art Museum. Lord knows how much was spent in constructing what amounts to a glorified mud room—and if that’s the end product, God help us. I’m sure it cost more than one soon to be ex-SDSU employee’s salary.

I remember an aphorism displayed on the desk of a secretary in the old Education Department during the mid 1980s. It read “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” I imagine the quote was relative to personal growth and not financial risk. In any case, I took it to heart. I began to train horses and though my career earnings might be fodder for lame jokes, I lived closer to the heart of my aspirations than many dare to imagine. I don’t regret a bit of it and with a bit of grace, I may do it yet again.

I’m now older than many of my instructors and don’t suffer fools as gladly as I once did. Hell, I’ve become an expert on the issue of foolishness. However, I’m even less inclined to play the grad student’s game of ‘yes sir, yes ma’am’ to get my degree.

I do, however, appreciate a quality education but in order to get one, instructors need to be focused on what they’re teaching and not concerned with when their job or program will be put on the chopping block and/or whether they’re generating enough income through grant writing and research. Furthermore, since we’re speaking of research, there’s the recent news that Three Cups of Tea, SDSU’s Common Read, is mostly fiction and the author’s charitable organization is filling his coffers more than investing in the education of Afghanistan’s youth. Maybe somebody should have researched that.

To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it seems “something is rotten at SDSU.” I’m not, however, going to presume from where the stench is coming. That’s up to people better informed than I. What I sense, however, is some sleight of hand being played at the expense of the people, students and staff of South Dakota and SDSU. If so, then despite Chicoine’s rhetoric to the contrary, it’s ‘business as usual.’

Keith is an SDSU alumnus and current journalism graduate student. Reach him [email protected]