On May 25th, the Colorado Conference of the AAUP held its 2019 annual meeting at the University of Denver with special guest Christopher Newfield of the University of California Santa Barbara. Professor Newfield is the author of the terrific book, The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them.
While Professor Newfield’s presentation covered much that is in the book, he also related his general insights to the situation on the ground in Colorado. He told us that we in Colorado are typical with respect to the systematic underfunding of higher education. In California, where Newfield works, college was once essentially free. He suggested that it could be again, but that racism might be responsible for this now-popular proposal not being treated seriously by people in power.
Newfield put great stress on the value of higher education being a public good rather than an individual responsibility and stressed that we all need to redefine the perception of higher education amongst the public along these lines. Since the general public benefits from higher education, the public at large should pay rather than force students to shoulder an ever-increasing share of the burden.
Years of preparation are needed to make this change possible, Newfield argues, but as the success of right wing groups that were once considered radical demonstrates seemingly-outlandish ideas like free college can become a reality. This is especially true if we as faculty make the case to the public based on our unique knowledge.