by J. F. Kelly, Jr. | Coronado

What do Greece and California have in common besides Greek restaurants? A lot, it seems. Both are on the brink of financial ruin as a result of chronic government deficit spending on services and benefits. And sizeable portions of the population in both places, having grown accustomed to governments that give them most of what they ask for whether they can afford it or not, are in a state of denial. In both places, proposed reductions are being met with temper tantrums, demonstrations, and even violence.

In Greece, citizens battled riot police to protest cutbacks in government services and benefits. With its economy in shambles, its ability to borrow impaired and facing European Union sanctions, the Greek government is struggling to reduce its deficit and meet its financial obligations. The cutbacks, naturally, are not popular with the citizens affected. They never are. Disorder and violence, however, only make matters worse as the security and cleanup costs add to the expense of government. This may be a preview of what we can expect here as America’s burgeoning debt forces draconian reductions of our own.

In California, whose economy is far larger than Greece’s, larger, in fact, than all but eight of the world’s nations, the economic problems are no less serious. Last year, the state was forced to issue IOUs to pay its obligations, pending resolution of a budget shortfall. Again this year, the state is franticly trying to eliminate a budget shortfall. But unlike a sovereign state, it can’t print money and it must balance its budget.

Like the federal government and most U.S. states and major cities, California’s budget crisis is greatly worsened by the recession which has reduced tax revenues. Desperate measures must be employed to reduce government obligations and the pain must be shared. No sector should be immune or “fenced” from cuts, including even the former sacred cows like education. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, accordingly, deleted about $600 million in funding from higher education. The regents and trustees in the University of California and State University systems had little choice therefore than to reduce staff, curtail some programs and raise tuition. These are unpopular steps, to be sure, but necessary in the midst of the worst financial crisis in California’s history.

Students are not expected to applaud these difficult decisions. Neither, however, are they expected to act like spoiled children, occupying campus buildings, fighting with campus police, disrupting university activities and blocking traffic. The tone was set, of course, at the once-prestigious Berkeley campus, now famous as much for demonstrations and political correctness as for academic excellence. There students held a “mobilizing” conference to discus demands and invoke commonality with fondly-recalled past protest movements such as the anti-Vietnam War campaign. After occupying a building they reportedly activated fire alarms to disrupt activities at this taxpayer-funded institution. They were apparently encouraged by some faculty members, one of whom likened the tuition increase to racial discrimination. The chancellor was quoted as saying that the protest “exemplified the best of our tradition of effective civil action.” This is your tax dollars, hard at work, educating tomorrow’s leaders.

Students, many of whom are still children lacking any meaningful experience in the real world, can, to some extent, be forgiven for venting their emotions, so long as they don’t damage public or private property or interfere with the business of the university which they are privileged to attend, largely at taxpayer expense. But for faculty and staff to contribute to this nonsense and encourage juvenile behavior is outrageous. They are supposed to be the adults running this asylum. Instead they become part of the problem.

Gov. Schwarzenegger apparently caved in, promising increased funding for higher education. Where will it come from? From law enforcement or firefighting, perhaps? Or maybe at the further expense of California’s crumbling infrastructure? Is that what the taxpayers want? The student-faculty demonstrations illustrate the deeply-entrenched sense of entitlement that prevails across the land. These students apparently actually believe that the taxpayers owe them an education. Where did they ever get that idea? Do they get it that many Californians are unemployed and losing their homes and that many of their children will never get a chance to attend college?

The current financial meltdown in the Golden State will require painful reductions in services. Publicly-funded higher education is fair game. It is now valid to ask if we can really afford ten University of California campuses and a twenty-three campus state university system. It’s also fair to ask if we can afford all the course offerings and extra-curricular activities. It’s also reasonable to ask if admission standards should be toughened to decrease campus populations and ensure that only the academically-qualified get a taxpayer-subsidized education.

Student demonstrations won’t make the budget problems go away. They may, however, turn public sentiment against the students. They would be well advised in this economic climate to spend that surplus energy studying rather than protesting. CRO

copyright 2010 J.F. Kelly, Jr

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California.

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