TINA: The Perfect ‘Neoliberal’ Storm is Crushing Public Universities in New Mexico

TINA: The Perfect ‘Neoliberal’ Storm is Crushing Public Universities in New Mexico – Antenarrative Blog post by David M. Boje.
New Mexico State University was founded in 1888 and University of New Mexico University in 1889. About 188 years of great education for New Mexicans is coming to an end. Doors are still open, but fewer and fewer parents are sending their students to enter. The news is out. Both universities are being hit hard by devastating cuts to programs, hundreds of faculty positions cut, entire academic programs cut and scores of staff members and their services can and just plain wiped out by a perfect storm. This storm has a name. It’s called ‘neoliberalism’ the idea that ‘free market’ economic forces are an ‘invisible hand’ of perfect competition that can make any public institution more efficient and more effective. Guess what? Neoliberalism is a ‘perfect story’ that may well close the doors of public universities across America, and its epicenter is here in New Mexico.
This is not the first perfect storm. New Mexico higher education has undergone three economic crises during my 20 years. I have lived through three turbulent and devastating neoliberal storms since coming to work at NMSU in 1996. First the financial collapse in 1997 when I was department head. Second the 2008-2009 bank and mortgage crisis. Third the State’s oil and gas revenue funding crisis expected to last at least three years.  
Each of these financial nightmares is a result of neoliberal ideas, implemented without much any debate, and having major consequences on public university survival. Neoliberalism ‘free market’ ideas are being used in New Mexico to justify budget cuts to its public universities that may mean the end of education greatness.
What is Neoliberalism Perfect Storm in Education? The first and most basic idea of neoliberalism, to let ‘free market’ economic forces determine funding in K-12 and in higher education (i.e. public universities in New Mexico). The second idea is widely known as TINA, which stands for There Is No Alternative. For example, we are told by the Governor, and leading economists: gas and oil prices have dropped, revenues of New Mexico legislature are tied to gas and oil markets, therefore there is no money in the budget for K-12 and for public universities. In other words, TINA!

Source of TINA image.

There is a fire before storytelling generates its grand narrative.

TINA is antenarrative to the grand narratives of neoliberalism. An antenarrative is the untold stories before a narrative is told. There are many untold stories of people whose jobs are gone, university programs scrapped, students who were planning to enroll at a university, then heard all the bed press and changed there mind, and went to some other university, not as close to the heart of the storm, the storm’s eye.

How did Neoliberalism Begin? Neoliberalism is a term coined by Alexander Rustow in 1938. It was taken up by Nobel prize winner Friedrich von Hayek at the end of WWII. It became the economic philosophy of Milton Friedman (‘the business of business is business;’. Novelist Ayn Rand also popularized it. Neoliberalism policies in New Mexico are based on Adam Smith ‘free market’ rationality of ‘survival of the fittest. It combines with Herbert Spencer’s ‘Social Darwinism’: life of humans amounts to survival of the fittest as natural selection of the market acts to select fittest to survive, while the unfit poor should not be aided by the State. Neoliberalism in government was championed by Margaret Thatcher, who, by the way, invented the term TINA!
What Neoliberal Policies are in force in New Mexico?  There are four main policies:

1. Lower the state expenditures to public universities, reduce I&G subsidies, and attempt to transfer the gap in funding to private market initiatives, such as Arrowhead development of revenues from faculty, student and community member patents.

2. Institute budget cuts for faculty, staff, and graduate assistantships; cut academic programs and support units.

3. Implement tighter top-down controls, centralize decision-making, standardize curriculum (eliminate course options), and increase focus on annual performance reviews, outcomes assessment, & accreditation preparations.

4. Implement administrative practices to create ‘docile’ faculty bodies that do not resist increased top-down bureaucratic control, surveillance, and recurrent meetings on conforming to reaccreditation reporting. 

My Questions to anyone who can answer them:
 
Question 1: What is the history of the ‘neoliberal’ changes made to Public University (& K-12) financing in New Mexico?
Specifically, I am referring to realigning financing of legislature financing of education (and many other things) to oil and gas prices.  As I understand it former Governor Bill Richardson implemented policy changes to New Mexico government financing that pegged the available budget to gas and oil market prices.  If prices are up, there is money for K-12 and public university budgets. If prices are down, then there is loess money allocated that year.
People forget history:

There were great antenarrative bets on the future by the free market forces: 

” State Expects $400 Million Revenue Windfall from Oil, Gas  By Barry Massey Associated Press. SANTA FE — New Mexico is reaping a revenue windfall because of high prices for oil and natural gas, and a top legislator says the state should give its citizens a tax rebate to help with skyrocketing fuel prices. Revenue collections should be almost $400 million higher than expected in the current budget year, mostly because of the money New Mexico collects from taxes and royalties on the production of oil and natural gas. The updated revenue forecast was issued today by economists in Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration and the Legislature. The revenue windfall this year can be used for one-time spending projects such as capital improvements, to supplement the budgets of agencies or pad the state’s already healthy cash balances.”

But a market that goes up can also come down:
Rio Grande Foundation post during Bill Richardson’s term as governor: “About half of New Mexico’s general fund, and much of its public school permanent fund, once rolled in from oil and mining industries. But the old mines are mostly played out, the oil and gas wells are drying up, and the governor’s policies all but ensure that no new ones will take their place. When they’re gone, New Mexico will remain one of the poorest states in America – worse than Juarez. …State Representative James Strickler who represents the natural gas-rich Farmington area has said of the new regulations, “As a freshman legislator and 30-year veteran in the oil and gas industry, I know the regulation is poorly thought out, ineffective and a huge threat to our state economy.” If it is implemented, “legislators will be pressured to raise income, property and gross receipts taxes in an effort to replace lost revenue. Governor Richardson is trying to over-regulate us out of business for no environmental gain, and with no cost benefit analysis.””
Now back to the future, the now of neoliberal policy changes:

MORGAN LEE, Associated Press, and KOB.com Web Staff, one September 30, 2016 06:44 AM, writes “New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez announced Wednesday she will convene a special session of the Legislature to try and plug a budget shortfall linked a downturn in oil and natural gas markets … A spokesman for the governor said the Legislature will meet Friday, after more than 60 days of unfruitful negotiations between the governor and Democratic lawmakers over just how to restore depleted operating reserves and fix a projected general fund deficit for the current year… New Mexico depends on oil and natural gas revenues more than almost any other state and has watched its operating reserves dwindle into negative territory amid a sustained downturn in energy prices… Martinez also opposes any tax increases and has directed agencies under her control to decrease spending during the current budget year by 5 percent, without yet outlining details of proposed cuts publicly. ”

Actually, NMSU and UNM already did cuts to offset 5.7 million each, and hundreds of faculty and staff positions were cut at NMSU. This means as the legislature meets tomorrow (Friday), there will be a huge cut coming.  But will this 5% cut be enough to bridge the gap in falling oil and gas prices?

Notice the TINA-logic: THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE to the gas and oil market forces, only they can determine the stream of money available to public education.

Moody’s Investors Services has placed the state of New Mexico’s finances under review. This could mean a downgrade of the State’s debt ratings. This will increase the cost to borrow money, such as all those building’s constructed for K-12 and public universities.

Other energy-dependent states have increased taxes or tapped rainy-day funds, but New Mexico has already spent all its operating reserves, and does not want to tap into its $219 million saving account. That money came from a settlement with Tobacco companies.

Meanwhile, every week on our College of Business, committees meet to find idle professors to dismiss, courses to cancel, add work load to surviving faculty, and cancel budgets for office supplies — in the hope that unspent I&G funds will count for the next 5% cut.

“Sen. John Arthur Smith, the Democratic chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee that drafts the state budget, said satisfying credit agencies is ‘going to take more than frantically digging into the couch cushions for find loose change.'” IBID. MORGAN LEE, Associated Press

Question 2:  Should gas and oil market fluctuations in price be allowed to destroy two New Mexico public universities in this perfect storm?
The president of University of New Mexico submitted his resignation. He sees the perfect storm about to devestate a once great university, and he’s not going to rebuild after the whorling vortex rips through the campus in Albrqueuque.
There are sharp decreases in enrollment at New Mexico State University since the implementation of neoliberal policies. For example, Aggie Excellence sign ups by potential students and parents are down 50% this year, compared to last year. It appears that pegging Public University financing to gas and oil prices, is causing over 120 positions of faculty and staff to be purged, and there is another cut coming since the current governor Martinez is saying there will be no help. My question, do you each agree that

Question 3: What are you recommendations concerning neoliberal agenda is being implemented?

 

I propose NMSU and UNM do a study of the ROI in Public University education. The payscale.com web sites indicates that NMSU has a 46% graduation rate, and UNM a 48% rate of graduation. I compiled a list of peer institutions. Only UTEL (38%) has a lower rate. I hypothesize that this explains the difficulty of NMSU in increasing its enrollment.

I hypothesize that the poorer students in New Mexico public universities are moving farther away from the possibility of entering middle class living standards because the graduation rates (as reported) are at 46 to 48%.
There is a strong and widespread neoliberal assumption called ‘There Is No Alternative’ (abbreviated TINA) in our New Mexico discussion of the necessity of implementing neoliberal idea systems and policies, to respond to the New Mexico drop in oil and gas prices. The problem with the assumption is that the private market (e.g. oil and gas) cannot support the legislative revenue needs for K-12 or higher education. The policy change to put New Mexico on an oil and gas revenue standard was implemented by former Governor Richardson. The result is at NMSU all colleges and administrative yuits are making budget cuts between 5 and 6.2%, and eliminating jobs (& benefits), outsourcing programs (e.g. Health Center outsourced to Memorial Medical Hospital). and defunding programs (e.g. Equestrian program) to cover the shortfall.

We need to be more critical of how neoliberal agenda is implementing changes to public university faculty governance and student debt.

  1. We need to snap out of the TINA syndrome and come up with revenue creating strategies
  2. Aggie Experience has had a 50% drop in parents and potential students visiting the NMSU campus.
  3. Talking with parents they are saying, “no body want to get on board a sinking ship.”
  4. People are reading about the cuts in programs, staff, and faculty, and deciding NMSU is not the place to go.
  5. It was suggested that NMS needs to change its marketing and its budget control tactics

 

Here is the entire presentation I did on Tuesday October 4 2016, concerning the impact of Neoliberal policies on the decline of New Mexico universities:

Oct 4th 2016 Sustainability Council meeting 8:30AM in Milton Hall 85, with Boje presentation on Neoliberalism and the Unsustainability of Public Universities in New Mexico

Video of Boje’s presentation on Neoliberalism impact on Public Universities in New Mexico at Oct 4th 2016 Sustainability Council meeting

There is an online survey https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/FWGY9FT on impact of Neoliberalism policies on Public University downsizing, budget cuts. I can take the first 100 respondents, but don’t have the money for the premium edition of Survey Monkey that would take more responses.

There are also alternative. Don’t be a TINA!

Note: these are my own questions and concerns as resident of New Mexico, and do not represent those of the university where I work.

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