One of the more interesting things about working at a public institution (I work at a library for a state university), is my dependence on the will of the legislature for my job. And things are a little bit dicey right now, because public education might be defunded.
A few years ago, Governor Pat Quinn introduced a "temporary" income tax increase from a flat rate of 3% to 5%. Now he wants to make the increase permanent. He has said that if the legislature declines to do so, education will be the main thing on the chopping block. My own job is a very contingent "visiting" faculty position at the library, and it is the type of job that will likely probably be cut, or more precisely not renewed when the contract is up.
Therefore, I have a pretty strong personal interest in the legislature making the tax increase permanent. Independent of my own self interest, I do happen think making the tax
increase permanent is a good idea. The state is behind on a lot of its
payments, its credit rating is dropping, and the money needs to come
But I want to focus on my personal interest. It's a strange thing to have one's job dependent on (so it seems) so public a debate. It's also strange to have one's job dependent on the state forcibly taking money from people who might not otherwise want to give it for the purpose. The lack of security and certainty that comes with such a reality is vexing. I think, however, that it behooves public employees like myself to recognize that however much the public benefits from us serving them, we benefit the most by virtue of having a job. It's certainly bad for us if our jobs are cut, and an argument can be made that the public suffers, too, because services get cut along some margin when there are fewer people to fulfill them.
All the same, I have very little sympathy for the idea that my job is so important that the taxpayers owe it to me. I do not believe that I am "embattled" by "anti-intellectual legislators" who want to "gut higher ed." There are legislators like that here in Illinois, and they have a real constituency. And some members of that constituency probably have less than savory motivations.
But the ledgers have to be balanced somehow. And even though I think I do a good and conscientious job and serve the public well, I also think that if, for example, it's a choice between slimming down higher education or cutting down on medicaid payments or other types of aid to the poor, then maybe higher education needs to defer somewhat.
Maybe the choice isn't so stark. Maybe we can have books and butter, too. And from what I understand, the state's actual share of what it offers public universities like mine has been declining over the last couple of decades, so a cut might not be as drastic or as necessary as election-year politics might make it seem. Occasionally, however, something has to give.
If the legislature does one thing, I may be more likely to keep my job. If it does another thing, I'll be less likely. I obviously have a personal, vested interest in the outcome in addition to my interest as a citizen. But I don't think those of us who are so personally interested ought to assume that the public "owes" us.