Ohio Gov. John Kasich will address University of Cincinnati graduates at the annual December Commencement Dec. 14. In addition to speaking to the newly-minted Bearcat alumni, he will receive from President Santa Ono the “Presidential Award for Excellence.”
This has caught many people, including faculty, by surprise - not only because this has the trappings of a campaign appearance, which is inappropriate for a graduation, but also because Kasich’s record on a whole range of issues is not one that really accords with the values of the university. It would have been helpful had faculty been involved in this decision and, hopefully, that will be true in the future.
What “excellence” can we cite for Kasich?
• Problems surrounding the issues of diversity have surfaced at the university recently and the Ono administration has promised more progress on that front. That makes Gov. Kasich a peculiar choice. From the early days of his administration, the governor has maintained a dismissive attitude toward diversity issues. Gov. Kasich’s nearly all-white cabinet does most definitely not look like Ohio and he has clashed with African-American lawmakers on the issue. Those lawmakers even talked of bringing legal action over the absence of diversity in his administration. When state Sen. Nina Turner, an African-American, pursued the governor on the issue, he responded: “I don’t need your people.” Afterwards, he clarified that he meant “Democrats.”
• The governor’s centerpiece legislation was Senate Bill 5, which was designed to undermine collective bargaining for public employees statewide. That included almost all of the thousands of employees at the University of Cincinnati, including secretaries, food service, maintenance, and police. And, for the faculty, there was a special provision that would have effectively eliminated the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) at UC. Fortunately, Ohioans heavily rejected that attack on the UC community and collective bargaining by a 62-38 percent margin at the ballot box in 2011.
• Then there was House Bill 194, dubbed by many the “voter suppression act,” which Gov. Kasich signed into law that would have sharply restricted access to the polls in Ohio’s elections. Another successful petition gathering effort was launched and, this time, rather than take a drubbing at the polls, the governor and his party repealed their own bill – a first in Ohio history.
• The news media in Ohio has regularly criticized Gov. Kasich because of his penchant for secrecy in government. Especially noteworthy is the determined effort to conceal the workings of his controversial JobsOhio program, which has involved the privatization of millions of dollars in public money – transactions not subject to open records laws.
• And then there is public education that has been pummeled since the governor took office. Gov. Kasich’s first two-year pass-the-buck-budget cut funding to K-12 public schools by $1.8 billion. Local taxpayers have had to pick up the tab by passing an estimated $1.1 billion in school levies. At the same time, there have been dramatic increases in state funding for corporate charter schools – most of which underperform their public school counterparts. Some would say that such Draconian cuts to public education (not to mention municipalities which also took big hits) were necessary because the recession created the state deficit. But, in fact, a big driver of the deficit was the sharp reduction in the state income tax - a big windfall for the wealthy - as well as the elimination of the corporate income tax, which were both “reforms” the governor sought. Meanwhile, Ohio’s unemployment rate is higher now than a year ago.
• While the cuts to higher education statewide have been slightly less dramatic, the governor announced a new funding plan early this year for the state’s public colleges and universities. It requires more of the funding to be based on outcomes, that is, course completions and graduations. No one, except the students, has more invested in student success than the faculty.
Unfortunately, this plan gives even more money to colleges and universities already doing well, while cutting funding to institutions with lower admission standards or open admission, who arguably need the most financial assistance. This may create pressure to simply pass students in order to get the funding.
One of the key problems here is that the faculty – the people actually working with students in classrooms and laboratories - were not consulted in creating this plan. How do you expect something to work if you never talk to the people actually doing the work?
Now that the University of Cincinnati has provided Gov. Kasich with this prestigious award, we hope that the governor will take a new direction in the remainder of his term and begin to recognize the faculty at our colleges and universities as partners in enhancing higher education in Ohio. Ohio’s students, faculty, and institutions of higher education deserve that kind of respect and collaboration.
And to our wonderful graduating students, your faculty are very proud of you. Congratulations on your achievement and “Go Bearcats!”
McNay is in his 13th year at UC Blue Ash, specializing in the History of American Foreign Relations. He is the president of the Ohio Conference, American Association of University Professors, which represents 6,000 faculty members in a dozen chapters in Ohio, including UC’s. The views here are his and not necessarily those of the AAUP.