The problems of a small state college point to the weakness at the heart of liberal society—a weakness that undermines the strength of our republic at home and endangers world peace. And neither political party has the answers.
A Drought of Ideas
by Walter Russell Mead
Last weekend, the New York Times ran a profile of Chicago State University, a 150-year-old state school predominantly serving poor black residents of Chicago’s South Side that is on the verge of closing its doors. Caught in a budget fight between Illiniois’ Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and the state’s Democrat-dominated lesiglature, the school has not received any money since last July. It relies on state funding to cover 30 percent of its budget. The Times:
In February, the school declared a financial emergency. Officials canceled spring break and moved commencement up to April 28, rushing to finish the semester before funding goes dry. Last month, members of the faculty and staff were notified that the school was making contingency plans to collect their keys. Reserve funds to pay employees will run out after April 30.
“People are losing their minds,” said Barbara Ameyedowo, 28, a math major who is expecting to graduate in December. “Students are leaving. I’m hopeful that it will be resolved, but I’m so sad. Chicago State is all this part of the South Side has left.”’
The Times vaguely alludes to mismanagement problems at the school: apparently, the story notes, the university administration failed to bill its students for tuition for an entire semester in 2010. That’s an almost charming oversight—poor students got a free semester of education due to administrative bungling! But the story airbrushes out the less cute problems besetting the institution. For example, Governor Rauner’s office has pointed out that Chicago State has the highest administrator-to-student ratio of any state school in Illinois—one for every 17 students—and that it spends up to 45 percent of its total payroll on those administrators.
Airbrushing inconvenient truths out of the picture is standard operating procedure for sentimental reporters writing stories about the problems of the poor. We’ve heard much more about the suffering imposed on Puerto Rico’s municipal employees than about the decades of cronyism and dysfunction that produced a bloated, inefficient government that can neither provide needed services nor pay its own bills. One could read the New York Times for decades without hearing warnings about how one-party Democratic rule has entrenched patterns of corruption and sloth in major American cities. It’s much more fun to wring our hands about the problems of the poor, and blame everything untoward on Republican racist tightwads. John F. Kennedy once said that Americans were willing to do anything for Latin America except read about it; one often feels that a certain type of contemporary liberal will do anything for the poor that doesn’t involve thinking.