Marc Becker on Covid, Reopening, and Neoliberalism

On June 18, the provost at Truman State University sent a message to department chairs ordering that “Faculty are expected to physically be on campus this fall for the majority of their teaching, advising, research, service, office hours, etc.” That mandate caused an outcry among the faculty who rightfully believed that the administration was putting the interests of the institution above the lives and safety of the students, staff, and faculty. The administration feared that as a residential school if they did not force students on campus they would lose an important revenue stream from the dorms and Sodexo food service, financial resources that, incidentally, they had claimed were separate from the academic side of campus and could not be used for instructional purposes.

This is only one of many examples, as we are all aware, of how the Covid pandemic has exacerbated the neoliberal turn in education that harms all of us. Public appropriations for higher ed have plummeted to the point where some institutions can no longer hardly be called “state” institutions (the last figures I have seen for Truman indicate that 53 percent of the funding comes from the state budget). The Republican-controlled state legislature claims that there are no funds available for higher ed even as the state (and the country) has record amounts of wealth. The Republicans vigorously campaigned against a constitutional amendment to expand Medicare coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that barely passed with 53 percent of the vote on August 4, falsely claiming that it would take funds away from education. Meanwhile, the legislature and Republican Governor Mike Parson engage in cut after draconian cut to the education budget even as they engaged in tax giveaways to corporations (what George H.W. Bush famously called in his 1980 presidential primary debate with Ronald Reagan “voodoo economics”) that has resulted in an unprecedented upward redistribution of wealth.

This tactic of setting poor and marginalized people against other poor and marginalized people to the benefit of an increasingly small group of very rich individuals has got to stop. The quickly rising rates of inequality harm us all. What we need is democratic control over our lives and our economies, not in the sense of electing Democrats whose policies, frankly, are hardly any better than their counterparts on the right side of the ally, but in terms of organizing so that policy decisions reflect the interests of the public at large. With so much wealth in the country and the world at large, there is no reason why we need to be fighting over these scraps and leftovers. Instead, since we the people created the wealth we the people should enjoy its benefits.