February 4, 1997
James wants fewer colleges," announced a recent front page of the Montgomery Advertiser. Unwilling to raise taxes yet hungry for new revenue, Governor Fob James continues to drool over the state's $962 million budget for higher education. James insists that even a modest number of "consolidations" would save $100 million, a claim disputed by UAB President Andrew Sorensen.
The governor's timing is abysmal. According to a study of the nation's public schools, only 23 percent of Alabama's fourth-graders can read. Only 10 percent of the state's eighth-graders can add fractions. Alabama's high school graduates are profoundly unqualified for most jobs in this century, let alone the next. Closing community colleges and universities now will make it harder, if not impossible, for those graduates to complete the education that they need. Keeping workers in low-paying jobs will not generate the tax income that the governor needs.
Five years of economic growth have showered profits on much of the nation. Nine states including Texas, Michigan, Minnesota and Indiana expect revenue surpluses exceeding $1 billion each. While the financial picture in Alabama is better than last year's, 1997 will be no jubilee. Governor James has repeatedly called for colleges and universities to be run like businesses, with the administrators accountable for their bottom lines. In this state, where belt tightening will continue, it is time to make our own chief executive explain his performance.
- Dan Silver