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University system cuts go too deep!

By JoEllen Smith Marietta Daily Journal Parents of teenagers pay attention. You think your biggest worry is whether your children will get the HOPE Scholarship? You are in for the surprise of your life this year, and for the next couple of years. What about whether the degree programs they wish to pursue will even exist? Perhaps they will have to give up those long-held dreams. The good news is, there is something you can do about the oncoming disaster. And I am not the one inventing the word “disaster.” How would you like to wake up tomorrow and find out that the equivalent of two-thirds of the colleges and universities in Georgia are shut down? That is the magnitude of cuts the governor and state Legislature are planning to visit on the University System of Georgia. According to Chancellor Errol Davis, a reduction of $385 million is equivalent to cutting “the entire budget for 23 of the state’s 35 universities.” That reduction is in addition to the $264 million that has already been cut in the governor’s proposed budget. One thing is for certain, many degree programs will be have to be eliminated. The governor travels overseas to persuade companies to open new plants in Georgia. The legislature votes to offer tax incentives to companies to relocate here from other states. But those same businesses will be denied access to high quality workers with this shuttering of higher education. And those executives’ children will have to leave the state to attend college themselves, which means that they will probably decide not to relocate their corporations here in the first place. In addition Georgia, along with other southern states, is already fighting the unfair, redneck image of being hostile towards education. Let’s not give our critics further ammunition. Fellow parents and fellow voters, you do have power. As always it resides in your vote, and 2010 is an election year. The students of the University System of Georgia are already actively organizing and, although historically known for being politically disengaged, when it comes to their education they are most definitely tuned in. I have a feeling you will see them being a major voting force in November based solely on this issue. Don’t believe me? Go and sign-up for the FaceBook site, “USG Students for Quality Education.” Just recently formed, it already has close 5,000 members and is also becoming an organizing force for on-campus protests. This is their Tea Party Movement. Many professors and concerned community members, like myself, are also there and we are warmly welcomed for our support. So please sign-up. We realize that these students are valuable to our state for future tax revenue and to help raise, and keep, the overall intellectual reputation of our state. Even more important, you can do two things. First email or call your state legislators; go to www.votesmart.org if you need contact information. Second, e-mail or call the state legislators responsible for making the decisions on this budget item. State Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs), at earl@ehrhart.4emm.com, phone: (404) 463-2247 and state Sen. John Wiles (R-Kennesaw) at john.wiles@senate.ga.gov, phone: (404) 657-0406 Fortunately, they both happen to be from Cobb County, so be sure to let them know if you are a constituent. I believe they are simply in a tough position due to the state’s economy. However, it’s important they hear what our universities mean to thousands of people. It’s a “squeakiest wheel gets the grease” issue. I think if we parents push from the top and the students push from the bottom, together we will have a huge effect. I understand that our state legislators are between a rock and a hard place and I don’t envy them. But let’s look at cutting “nice to have” items before “have to have” items. And let’s look with a jaded eye toward “business stimulus” investments unless we know they are a sure thing. I know we don’t have zero-based budgeting yet. Such a law would prevent antiquated programs from automatically being renewed, simply because they are on the books. But perhaps legislators can zap some of them anyway. I think a healthy dose of common sense, a skeptical eye, and questioning “Is this truly a do or die item this year?” will work wonders. JoEllen Smith is an education activist and freelance writer in east Cobb County.

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