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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    State needs to reexamine priorities

    Everybody seems to have noticed that something is rotten in Arizona. The feeling of apprehension and dread regarding the Arizona economy – analogous to a 6-million-passenger plane falling toward earth with its wings cut off – has not subsided since the rabid “”fiscal crisis”” episode that opened the semester, like Shakespeare’s opening street brawl scene between the Capulets and the Montagues in his enrapturing though pitifully unsettling “”Romeo and Juliet.””

    As one could expect while experiencing this timeless tragedy for the first time, by the accounts of respected Arizona educators the reality of our own education crisis will only grow immeasurably worse, miserably tragic and unspeakably criminal.

    The best that has happened is that the situation didn’t turn out as bad as the state legislature had threatened. The drastic $100 million in budget cuts to the UA alone was reduced by the legislature, after the massive protests, to $57 million this year, anticipating $40 million cuts next year. But as one professor remarked to me, the overall cuts so far invariably “”represent the ‘eliminate 50 departments’ variety,”” not any slight reforms spread out over logical places – like reducing the gluttonous $600,000 salaries of state education administrators.

    In other words, the violent blows to the state economy by way of public education were altered from a swift decapitation to a slow, wrenching gut wound.

    But has anyone asked what’s behind the cuts and what serious alternatives there are? Thinking people should be more skeptical. Because, even in times of crisis, money is still available, it’s just a matter of where it is, how it’s spent, and who benefits from it.

    Interestingly, the state program among the least cut – in fact, a cut so hardly felt it’s off the spectrum beside all others violently slashed, the plight of public education leading the way – is the metaphorical hair cut off the fantastical budget of Arizona prisons. As prodigious and insatiable the prison industry’s billion dollar appetite is, the “”cuts”” on prisons were like clipping a toenail, while everything else, particularly education, continue to suffer, with much more to come.

    But in the tough words of the new Governor Jan Brewer, prison cuts are out of the question, as our Arizona prison system is particularly indispensible “”for public safety.””

    Really? In an imaginary, hypothetical society, perhaps. But in our state – one that leads a country with by far the largest prison population in the world – reality is quite different. There are 8 million people locked in jails throughout the world – the United States houses 2.3 million of them. The cost of roughly each inmate throughout the states – California for example – still exceeds the cost of housing, feeding and “”educating”” someone at Harvard University.

    But if prisons are so desperately needed to keep us civil and safe, then we should pay a rational price for them. Higher incarceration rates (up) and crime rates (down) should go hand in hand, right? “”The more people in prison, the less crime””? Regardless whatever one may think of this liberal principle, the opposite is indeed true for the United States, particularly in Arizona. Our state is leading the country in the gravest of crime rates, while 60 percent of the people in Arizona prisons are locked in for nonviolent offenses, the spawn of “”mandatory sentencing”” laws. Meanwhile, prison spending soars off the charts year after year, while quality and spending on education decreases.

    The priorities of the people who run our state are more structured toward these fabulous fears of “”security”” in the eyes of the public and profit in the pockets of their friends in the corporate sector. After all, the “”U.S. prison”” is one of the largest and profitable industries in the country, which is to say, the world.

    This situation requires an ongoing question: do we want prisons or universities? The answer is something we already know. It’s just a matter of forcing government policy to comply with public opinion, social needs and humane requirements.

    – Gabriel Matthew Schivone is a junior majoring in art,
    literature, and media studies.
    He can be reached at
    letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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