No Way to Run a State


A land fit for heroes, a war to end wars

The promise was made and men died for the cause
How can the souls of the dead have respect

For those who leave hunger and famine unchecked

Who let charities deal with the sick and the poor

And spend countless millions on weapons of war

The haunting words of this World War II anti-war song floated through my head as I attended two astonishing meetings last week. It was one of those cosmic juxtapositions that make you wonder what this world is all about. How can our priorities be so screwed up?

We just spent $350 million on a special election where every proposition failed and they could all have happily waited until the next regular election. The state's share was estimated at $50 million. Yet we can't find $330 million to roll back student fees in our community college system. And the case for this special election was apparently built on the lunatic premise that collectively, teachers, nurses and firefighters are the state's public enemy number one. And then there's Compton College. It's hard to imagine a community in greater need of a community college. And yet the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, whose fundamental raison d'tre is protection of students, boldly and resolutely decides that because of the actions of a few administrators and trustees, the way to best protect students is to completely remove the college's accreditation and turf the students out on the street. Can you imagine them treating a fly-by-night proprietary school this way? Compton College meanwhile is already administered by the State Chancellor's Office and has an Academic Senate team led by Greg Gilbert working with the Compton faculty to ensure that all the academic standards pass muster. We're supporting them. Could it be that ACCJC deems Compton to be a community not worthy of their support?

But I digress. The first of my two cosmic meetings was a day-long symposium on "Strengthening California's Community Colleges," organized by the Hewlett Foundation. It brought together an eclectic group of players: personnel from a variety of education initiatives sponsored by Hewlett such as California Tomorrow, The Campaign for College Opportunity and Cal-PAS , plus some other interested state parties such as the Legislative Analyst's Office and the Academic Senate. There was an inspiring discussion of the type and level of education that California needs. Who should we educate and to what level? And there was a sober recognition that if we fail to meet this challenge, California will turn into a state where we probably won't want to live. Unless we can improve our educational success with rising "minority" student populations, education levels, followed rapidly by personal income and state tax revenue, will steadily decline and we'll become a "third world" state. Most of the jobs that require skills beyond high school will have been exported to India and China with their astonishing explosion of bachelors degrees and beyond.