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Mar 29, 2021

We all are conservatives sometimes

We have much to preserve. The California State University system is an enormously valuable public investment. Despite its faults, the system has almost half a million students. It has been an awesome machine producing hundreds of thousands of capable employees, and good citizens. It provided countless people with middle-class incomes, and a sense of accomplishment. It lifted out of poverty hundreds of thousands of families and helped build the fifth largest economy in the world. It cannot be taken for granted either. Therefore, all of us, administrative types, spend significant time on preserving what we inherited, on protecting the system from numerous potential threats. This includes avoiding legal and public relation calamities, taking care of public money, preserving the delicate balance of interests with the labor unions, etc. I am personally more inclined to emphasize change and experimentation, but the job requires a great deal of defensive play. I imagine that at the higher levels of the hierarchy those pressures are even greater. No provost, president, or chancellor want to screw up what they have been entrusted to oversee. It is not even about personal risk aversion. They all feel the sense of responsibility for this big, expensive, and ultimately useful thing people asked us to take care of.

If you have been waiting for a “but,” it ain’t coming. Some people including me, have been saying that the higher education is heading or is already in a major transformation, and that the survival should compel us to take on more risks. The funding model replying on growing public investments and rising tuition rates does not seem to be sustainable. However, to be fair, we have been saying these things for decades, and the higher ed stays the same, save for an occasional small contraction or expansion. No one knows the future, and the dire predictions should never be confused with reality. Statistically speaking, the future is most likely to lot a lot like the present. That is the problem with any kinds of predictions, especially with prophecies of doom. You cannot sell books and attract attention by saying that things will be… almost the same. In our everyday life, we all often act as conservatives. This applies to even the most radical agents of change who want to conserve things already achieved.

Again, I am personally inclined towards change. This is why I always appreciate having more careful colleagues around me. In an organization, someone has to be pushing for change, while others should be pushing in the other direction. It saddens me to see how the Republican party stopped being a party of conservatives. Where is the party of adults in the room, who asked us to be careful, to not ruin what we have, to avoid reckless spending, to limit the government bloat, to watch for the dangers of social engineering? Instead, we get a bunch of leaders who care about power more than they care about their principles. Instead of fighting for their ideas, they want to limit voting rights, and to ride the xenophobia wave. But that is a tacit acknowledgement that their ideas are bankrupt. That is not true. If they come back to their principles, and communicate them clearly, they will always have a chance to govern. Americans of all ethnic and racial backgrounds have a very strong conservative streak. Both liberals and progressives would benefit from a fair competition from a sensible Right of Center party. Unfortunately, it does not seem to exist anymore.

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