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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Guest editorial: Don’t blame fellow students – public institutions are chronically underfunded

The latest Western Front editorial, “Western’s greedy business hurts students” fails to look beyond our campus (as is common), and misses the primary culprit of many problems – systemic underfunding of our public institutions.

The editorial raises pressing problems on our campus such as our underfunded and understaffed Counseling Center, and the bottleneck classes in STEM degrees. However, the good points of the article are overshadowed by their inept choice to blame the lack of adequate services on new students and increased enrollment. Xenophobes use similar logic by blaming new immigrants for decline of government services, i.e. don’t let new people in until we fix our current problems.

Between the 2015 and 2016 fall enrollment, 242 more new students joined Western, a 1.6% increase that aligns exactly with the 1.7% state population growth reported by the WA Forecasting & Research Division . We shouldn’t deny opportunity to Western’s quality education by blocking increased enrollment.

The authors also declared, “Western is a business” with a goal of “furthering profits”, but provided no evidence of where these “profits” are going. Our president as well as many of our staff/faculty are compensated significantly less than their peers at UW and WSU. There are hundreds of terrible for-profit universities and charter schools all over the country – Western is not one.

Western is a public institution being starved for adequate funding. Twenty years ago, the state paid roughly 73% of the cost of college education, today it is 33%. The difference is a burden placed on the backs of students and families.

It’s not just college, our state lacks proper investment in K-12 education, affordable housing, mental health services, and other vital services necessary for a healthy society.

Our legislators are being held in contempt of court for criminally underfunding K-12. This lack of funding disproportionately hurts kids in school districts with low-income people and communities of color that can’t afford to fund their schools locally through property tax levies.

Mental health services were cut $17 million in 2010, often forcing people with mental illness into ER rooms or onto the streets.

We live in the materially richest country in the history of the world, in the state with the world’s two richest people, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. We could have money – but we choose to maintain a regressive sales tax that impacts the poor the most, instead of an income tax (only found in radical lefty states like Tennessee).

Western’s admin and the Associated Students lobbied in Olympia this year for funding to address problems such as the understaffed Counseling Center and STEM bottleneck. Non-partisan lobbying is powerful but can only go so far.

We need to change the composition of the legislature by electing candidates that unequivocally support equitable taxation, such as an income and capital gains tax. To do that, we need to mobilize and organize. Spend an hour at a march and spend an hour talking to someone new by canvassing/door knocking.

Labor organizer Jane McAlevey spoke to this in a recent interview, “We’re doing just a mobilizing model: all we’re doing is talking to the already-convinced and we’re not doing base expansion. Organizing is about focusing on people who are not yet convinced and not yet involved in our movement.”

Our university isn’t a business, it’s an underfunded public institution that needs adequate funding. Rather than blame new fellow students, let’s organize to change WA’s unjust tax system that is kindest to the rich and harshest to the poor. With new revenue and an income tax, we can fund quality public education, campus services, affordable housing, and mental health services for all. And look forward to shorter waiting lines for campus services!

Galen Herz is a senior double majoring in Biochemistry and Anthropology. He is a co-founder of Bellingham Tenants Union.

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