Monday, February 27, 2012

March 1st National Day of Action on Behalf of Higher Ed

This week is one of those rare occasions in which the blog post for both sites I manage is the same.  My reason for this overlap is the severity of the crisis we face in Higher Education in the United States.  In the last thirty years, public funding for Higher Education at the state and federal level has consistently been reduced.  Private colleges have also been squeezed more each year by a decline in alumni giving and the investment returns from their endowments. 

With colleges and universities living in a constant state of budget crisis, students are more dependent upon loan debt rather than scholarships and grants to finance their education.  A recent study conducted by the non-profit Institute for College Access and Success indicates that the average student indebtedness in the United States is around $26,000.  In my home state of Illinois, 62% of college graduates reported owing some form of debt upon graduation.  That is up from 46% in 1990. 

Students are also becoming part of the low wage economy through work study jobs that not only have no connection to their studies but have unwittingly helped dismantle blue collar employment on campus.  Who wants to pay $45,000-$65,000 a year to clerical and service workers when the same work can be done by an undergraduate for pennies on the dollar. 

Colleges were forced by circumstances to find ways to "economize" and "monetize" their existing assets, but inviting corporate logic into the realm of Higher Ed was like welcoming the fox into the hen house.  Higher Education has now become a factory that turns out graduates while remaining agnostic about their fate subsequent to graduation. 

In order to address this crisis, Occupy Education, a branch of the larger Occupy movement, has called for a National Day of Action to be held on March 1st throughout the United States to draw attention to the problems we face and hopefully prod those interested towards crafting a solution. 

Here in Chicago a number of rallies are planned throughout the city. I will be at events taking place in the Loop beginning at 8:30am and ending around 4pm.  Here are a list of those events:

8:30am-- A panel led by Diana Vallera, the president of Columbia College's Part-Time Faculty Union (P-Fac), and Curtis Keyes, the lead organizer for the union at East-West University will be held as part of the National Education Association (NEA) convention taking place at the Palmer House Hilton.  That panel will address the current crisis in Higher Education and the work that unions have been doing to combat it.

11:00am--A rally will meet outside the Palmer House as Curtis Keyes speaks with members of the student group C.A.C.H.E. (the Coalition Against Corporate Higher Education) prior to marching south to the main offices of Columbia College at 600 South Michigan Avenue.

1:00pm--C.A.C.H.E. will continue its march to Congress and Michigan and hold a rally. 

These are just a few of the events occurring that day.  Hundreds more will pop up all over the city so keep your eyes open.  If you are unable to find or participate in one of these rallies, check out these facts on Higher Ed and share them with a friend or coworker.  Together we can insure that college education is available for all who want it and maintain the educated citizenry necessary for a healthy republic to survive.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Chicago Bureaucrats Take Cabbies for a Ride

On January 18 the Chicago city council passed taxi reform legislation championed by Mayor Emanuel and Alderman Anthony Beale.  Supposedly influenced by a Tribune expose published in December on problem cab drivers who remained behind the wheel, this legislation seeks to modernize the existing cab fleet, improve driver safety, and increase handicap accessible cabs. 
Sounds good right?  It certainly did to this sometime cab rider.  That is until I began to talk to those who drive cabs in the city to earn a meager living.  Here is what I found out. 

For starters, the requirement that cab drivers not spend more than 12 hours behind the wheel represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to drive a cab for a living.  Many if not all drivers use their cabs as a personal vehicle.  During the time they are behind the wheel, not all drivers are looking for fares.  Some are shopping for groceries, picking up children from school, or have parked their vehicle for a few hours to take a break.  This new legislation would not account for such down time and would actually force most drivers to literally remain behind the wheel for 12 hours to recoup the cost of their daily lease and (maybe) make a profit.  Of course, I've yet to figure out how the city plans to enforce this time limit.  Will they put chips in cabbie's brains to track them from the city's 911 center?

Getting newer, more environmentally friendly, and handicap accessible cabs on the road is also a laudable goal.  Ever since Ford and GM stopped production of the Crown Victoria and Caprice full sized sedans, police departments have had to switch to different vehicles for their squad cars.  This has trickled down to the cab business and changed the look of the fleet.  Today Chicago's streets contain a dizzying variety of makes and models.  Some of which are hybrid vehicles. 

Forcing cabbies to lease these new vehicles as part of a "tiered-leasing" model, which includes vehicle age limits, does nothing for drivers.  It simply puts more money in the hands of the companies who lease the cars to would-be drivers.  If the city wants to modernize it's cab fleet, they need to put some cost regulations in place on the cab companies to ensure that drivers aren't getting fleeced when they sign a lease on a newer car.  Otherwise, there will be a strong incentive to lease an older, more rundown vehicle, or operate a "jitney" cab (a private car operating as a cab), which will receive its own category of license under the new legislation.  Mayor Emanuel apparently believes that outsourcing is also good for cabs.  Some Democrat.

Although there are certainly good intentions in the taxi reform bill, the current version will only enrich the cab companies at the expense of their drivers.  I suppose this shouldn't come as a surprise given Alderman Beale's ties to taxi industry lobby.  In a recent story from the Chicago Dispatcher, a monthly paper devoted to the interests of cab drivers, George Lutfullah points out the cozy relationship between Beale, the chairman of the city's transportation committee, and Baxter Swilley, the one-time third party candidate for Lt. Gov. of Illinois and a major lobbyist for the taxi business. 

A photo in the paper shows Swilley at a fundraiser for Beale.  Perhaps the Tribune shouldn't pat itself on the back just yet.  Seems to me like Chicago-style politics got this law on the books and not the high minded advocacy of the "World's Greatest Newspaper." 

With Chicago Bureaucrats taking cabbies for a ride, I can't help but wonder who will give the last Chicagoan a ride out of town when they finally get tired of paying the new taxes and fees dreamed up by Emanuel I.  I guess they'll have to walk. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Hull House Closes Its Doors For Good

A little over a week ago local news reported that Hull House would be closing its doors for good and transferring its operations on behalf of children and families to other social service providers in Chicago.  If you thought this closure had already happened 48 years ago, you could easily be forgiven.  Most people have long forgotten about this organization, which is better know for its founder (Jane Addams) than the work it continued to do in the Chicago area. 

Although there are many reasons for the demise of this historic organization, a few of the more prominent reasons are easy to pinpoint. 

First, it lacked a visible headquarters after the demolition of the Near West Side neighborhood that anchored the organization throughout much of its history. All that remains of that once glorious period is the Hull House Museum, which is owned not by the Hull House organization but by the institution that destroyed the area--the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Without a visible new home, Hull House quickly entered the public record primarily as a museum. A historical phenomenon rather than an active social service provider. 
Image Courtesy of chicagonow.com
Second, the Hull House organization gradually moved away from the solicitation of private donors that had marked much of Jane Addam's tenure as head of the organization and helped it to remain visible among public officials.  Instead it increasingly came to rely on state money, particularly lucrative contracts with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.  This source of funding eroded dramatically as the state's budge woes have grown and the loss of public visibility insured that not enough private funds could be found in time to save the organization from closing. 

And finally, the Hull House organization's ethos was not necessarily in tune with our current cultural climate.  Hull House remained resistant to multi-culturalism and its hyphenated vision of American identity throughout the 1960's.  This led the organization to drift from its role as assimilator of immigrants into the dominant national culture into a different one of social welfare provider to the poor.  In doing so, the organization lost its sense of direction and more than likely struggled to define itself against much larger groups such as the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities. 

Hull House organization's demise reminds us that nothing lasts forever but adaptability is a key to survival.  One should be careful when adapting, however, to not forget their roots.  A tree without proper anchoring falls in the slightest wind.