Alchemical Thoughts

OK, so you get a cool new building or monument, but no funds to use it

Posted on: February 20, 2009

Marc Fisher, of the Washington Post's Raw Fisher blog, asks "What if they built new libraries and couldn't afford to let folks use them?" in his post about D.C. Libraries' new 25 million dollar construction. Mr. Fisher is looking at how the DC libraries can afford to build a big new building, but they have to cut back hours and staff due to, you guessed it, lack of funds. Mr Fisher explains this apparent contradiction: "Welcome to the wonderful world of government spending, where capital budgets exist in a separate universe from operating dollars, meaning that you can build a building and then find yourself barely capable of using that building."

I was going to leave a small comment on his blog, but it is one of those blogs that require registration to comment, something I personally find annoying. And please, don't bother pointing out the irony of the fact Vox does the same registration b.s. for commenting. I did not make the rules on that one, and it does annoy me. Anyhow I am digressing.

What I was going to say is that Mr. Fisher may want to take a look at academia. My current workplace is a pretty good example of the same apparent contradiction he describes. My library is getting a very nice garden and water monument in front of the building. However, we lack funds for basics like buying books. And while we are hiring, we are only doing so because of accreditation issues. If it was up to us, we would not be hiring since the state system did put a hiring freeze in place. So, how come we are getting a million dollar or so aesthetic piece in front of our building when we can barely keep the inside? Welcome to the wonderful of world of university (and nonprofit) wealthy donors. In essence, the university got some anonymous donor. By the way, it seems most of the time these people do want to remain anonymous. Maybe a little shame they may be asked about their vanity? I mean, we could certainly use money for books, scholarships, etc. instead of a big fountain or a big phallic clock tower (yep, we got one of those too). So, that is how it works. And that is not just here. This is the second college I have worked at where some anonymous donor wanted to give money for a big phallic tower clock. Yes, they are pretty much phallic time pieces because they are designed to stand out straight and proud and to be seen from miles away. In academia, the hope often is that, if we sweet talk one of those donors to give money for something vain, like a fountain, they may be moved later to give money for something practical like books. To be honest, I would love to see some study done where we can find out if that glimmer of hope works or not. In the end, the situation in academia, especially in small colleges like mine, is a reflection of states basically abdicating their role to properly fund public higher education. We have to find the money any way we can. I am not saying it's right, but that's the way it is.

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February 2009
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