Dear Governor McCrory,
I am writing with regard to the “NC” lapel pin you gave me and, I’m assuming, all UNC system employees, with the enclosed card asking that I “please accept this token as our appreciation for all that you do to make North Carolina a place where we are all inspired to do, see, create, experience and achieve more.” I know that you’re a generous if utterly tone deaf kinda guy; I remember when you offered the Moral Monday protesters cookies as they stood on your lawn protesting your tightening of restrictions on access to abortion (if I remember correctly, your cookies were returned with a note that read “we want women’s health care, not cookies”).
Oh, look! A pin!
In the case of the lapel pin, I don’t own a single item of clothing with lapels, and even if I did, I wouldn’t wear this pin (is that a pine tree between the N and the C? My god, that’s ironic. Wouldn’t coal ash make more sense? A nice, wide swath of the stuff bifurcating the “North” from the “Carolina”?) because I’m not proud of my state at present, not willing to don an “NC” pin when I think that those letters rather stand for “Nefarious Conservatism” or “No Compensation” – particularly with regard to our state’s educators. Did you send these pins to public school teachers? Because while you’ve been governor, you’ve gutted public education, induced a mass exodus of our best teachers, failed to adequately compensate their labor, and sat idly by as our national rankings have plummeted.
(For the love of all that is holy, please tell me you didn’t send those little pins – which I found for $.49/each if you buy in bulk – to North Carolina’s public school teachers. It’s bad enough that you sent them to us.)
University faculty and staff in the UNC system haven’t seen raises since 2008. That’s seven years, Pat. I know you’re giving us all a $750 bonus on December 23, and like the good Bob Cratchits that we are, perhaps we’ll raise a glass to you, our benefactor, two days later (please, sir, may I have another lump of coal … ash?). But the lapel pin. Your timing couldn’t be worse. We’ve all just learned that the Board of Governors, who, like you, is owned by the Koch Brothers,, behind closed doors has approved insane raises for 12 of the 17 system Chancellors, some as high as 20% of already exorbitant salaries.
Do you have any idea what this has done to morale on those campuses? Do you care? This looks very much like the bribe that it is to those of us not getting raises. Which is the rest of us. All of us.
And (again behind closed doors, angering even staunch conservatives in the legislature) the Board of Governors has hired Margaret Spellings, the homophobic former George W. Bush education secretary who has never done an ounce of work in higher education, to take over as the system president after the still-unexplained ouster of Tom Ross.
Who, me? Homophobic?
Please know that what you’re reading is actually a love letter to my state regardless of its criticisms; my family has been in western North Carolina since the 1700s. We’re dug in, as they say, like ticks, and I’m not going anywhere. My father graduated with a business degree from Western Carolina University where I now work. I am the product of an undergraduate education at Appalachian State University and an MA degree from East Carolina University. I taught there, then at North Carolina State University for four years, and I've been at WCU for the past 10. I have been here a damn long time, long enough to be utterly fed up with your treatment of your citizens, your treatment of my state’s environment, and your destruction of my state’s formerly exceptional educational system.
Coal ash! Just like the lapel pin, a gift that just keeps on giving.
So back to the lapel pin: what an insult. How stupid. How unconscionable. How very “let them eat cake” and all. The pin as final nail in the coffin, as emblematic of your administration’s belief that we’re too dumb to see what you’re doing to us. That a trinket is enough to placate all the frustration and anger that so many of us are feeling.
At my own institution, I’m watching a game being played out to its logical conclusion, and I’ll tell you how it looks. Every year, the faculty in my department –and other departments across campus – take up collections for our administrative assistants and housekeepers who are so woefully underpaid that it’s embarrassing. Most are women, often supporting families, who have to hold down another job in addition to the full-time work they do at our university. My colleagues contribute their own money – and remember that they haven’t seen raises in years – because it’s the right thing to do. But here’s the thing: it’s actually the right thing for you to do. But you’re not doing it. Meanwhile, the Board of Governors just gave our chancellor a 19.43% raise, taking his salary to $335K. I realize that this raise isn’t his fault; it’s just further evidence of an utterly broken system. A system that you broke.
And there’s more: the Koch brothers have purchased ungodly amounts of influence in our state’s governmental processes and have worked (through the Pope Center and the John Locke Foundation) to demonize, gut, and defund specific aspects of our university system (see, for instance, this piece on my discipline and this piece on the Koch’s role in the elimination of specific UNC system centers). The Koch Foundation has then offered starved and vulnerable institutions a life line in “free” gifts to support “research and education programs that analyze the impact of free societies” and focuses on “a select number of programs where it believes it is best positioned to support positive social change.”
And now the Kochs have offered WCU a two million dollar “gift” to establish a Center for the Study of Free Enterprise. I’m not an economist, but I’m worried that my economist colleagues are missing the economic implications of this maneuver in the face of needed funding; I’m worried that they aren’t seeing that they are being given money by the very entity that is denying the institution for which they work money. The Kochs are buying bits of the institutions that they have worked to starve. And the ideological costs of such transactions are huge.
The Faculty Senate at WCU voted overwhelmingly against support for the center, citing the lack of peer review, the lack of institutional need for such a center, particularly given that WCU already has the Center for Public Policy, the cost to our institution’s reputation, and the monetary cost to the institution (in terms of faculty lines that will support the center). But the Kochs effectively own us; they have shaped our state legislature and our Board of Governors, and they have, therefore, been instrumental in the processes that have given our chancellor and others gigantic raises. This "gift" then seems like a deal that he can’t refuse, doesn’t it? Nonetheless, I hope that he does because doing so, again, is the right thing to do.
I’m not an economist, and I’m not a political scientist. I’m a humanist, and if the Pope Center is correct, my ilk is the biggest threat out there. The job of the humanist is to call out hypocrisy and injustice, to assess the cost of certain transactions to our very humanity. And, I hope, call out those who would deem to do us harm. So that’s what I’m doing.
As for the lapel pin, I’ve found a good home for it.