War, Health Care, and Drug Policies: Are These Issues That Academic Senates Should Weigh In On?

February
2006
Leon Marzillier,

Some colleagues argue that the business of California community college academic senates (CCCAS) has been defined in law and regulation, enshrined in the passage of AB1725, leading to the strengthening of CCCAS by incorporating into code and regulation the position that CCCAS are responsible for the so-called 10+1 academic and professional matters. These colleagues go on to put forward the position that academic senates should be confined to these matters, and steer clear of other vital issues of the day, because these are too "political" or are of more concern to our "union" brothers and sisters. I would like to take issue with that position.

The Iraq War

In 2002 and 2003, when the current US administration was gearing up to declare war on Iraq, ostensibly as a response to 9/11 and because (since discredited) intelligence somehow portrayed Iraq as an imminent threat to the security of the united states, some CCCAS decided to pass resolutions in opposition to a declaration of war. Others decided to forgo taking any position, because whether or not the us goes to war is not an academic and professional matter. Leaving aside, for the moment, the question of whether or not the current us administration would pay any attention to an academic senate resolution, I would like to argue that the war in Iraq has had a profound effect on what we do as community college instructors, and on our students. The overwhelming number of us deaths (now over 2000 and climbing) since the war began in 2003 has been to the young (teenagers and twenty somethings) and to the poor.

In other words, it is community college students, actual and potential, who are dying for this administration's reckless cause.

As educators, do we not have the responsibility to take positions in support of our students? Item 5: Standards/policies concerning student preparation and success of the 10+1 could be interpreted to mandate that. After all, our students are not going to "succeed" if they are dying in a reckless military adventure halfway around the world. And Item 10 Processes for planning and budget gives us some responsibility over our college budgets.

If only a fraction of the billions lavished on the military and companies such as Halliburton, operating in Iraq under no-bid contracts, were instead spent on education, our community college budgets would be much healthier.

Health Care

.and speaking of health, the same Item 10 Processes for planning and budget could be invoked to express our interest in the crisis of health care in the united states. If you have been teaching in the community colleges as long as I have (35 years and counting) as a tenured professor, or even if your tenure has been shorter than that, you will undoubtedly have noticed that either your health benefits have deteriorated since you started in the profession, or a bigger and bigger slice of your college's budget has to be carved out for the health care of its employees, or, even more likely, a little of both.

The current US administration has chosen to focus its energies on the coming crisis in social security predicted to be unsustainable in 2042. The crisis in health care in the us is right now! In 2006, it is predicted that the number of americans without health insurance will exceed 50 million people. They are more likely to wait longer before seeking help, resulting in far more costly health cures, often avoidable by seeking preventative care earlier. This extra cost is translated into higher premiums, co-pays, and deductibles for those of us with health insurance. The us spends more per capita on health care than any other country in the world, but (and it is a big but!) the vast majority of americans receive inferior health care to countries such as canada and britain, who have state-supported health care. That's because 25-30 cents of every dollar allegedly spent on health care in the US is actually paid to insurance companies and on paperwork. Shouldn't academic senates have the responsibility to take positions on this ostensibly union issue?

Think what academic senates and administrations could do with their existing community college budgets (or even somewhat reduced budgets) if health care premiums for its employees were excised from them!

Items 1 Curriculum and prerequisites and 4 Educational program development would have a whole new lease on life with a massive injection of funds generated by cost savings in health care.

Drug Policy

The situation in the US in 2006, with the government's war on drugs, is akin to the US during Prohibition in the 1920s. We still have Prohibition; only the nature of the substances being prohibited has changed. The War on drugs (like the Vietnam and Iraq wars) is unwinnable. Didn't we learn anything from the failure of Prohibition? Law enforcement personnel and judges, even staunchly conservative judges from orange county and elsewhere, have condemned this country's drug policy. Why? Because inordinate amounts of time and money are spent on enforcing and prosecuting violators of the new Prohibition, and even more money is spent on incarcerating non-violent users of illegal substances. Courts, prisons, and jails would be freed up if a more enlightened drug policy were enacted. Drugs, especially largely recreational drugs such as marijuana, could be regulated and taxed, the way liquor is now. If only a fraction of the billions of dollars saved by courts and prisons, and the extra billions generated by taxing these substances were spent on education, just think how much more our community colleges would have at our disposal to educate our students and those potential students presently diverted into the lucrative gang life. The most effective tool to combat gangs (as true now as 75 years ago) is to wrest control of the substances that provide the gangs' wealth.

With war, health care, drug policy, and other issues seemingly unrelated to our responsibilities as academic senates, unenlightened policies inhibit our ability to perform the duties that benefit our students.

Our colleges don't exist in our communities in isolation.

I maintain that we have a responsibility to speak out on a wide range of issues, whether or not they have a direct bearing on the 10+1 academic and professional matters. Our students deserve no less.

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