COLUMN: It could have been worse

Friday, January 1, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 4:33 p.m. CST, Saturday, January 2, 2010

COLUMBIA — I walked into Booche’s for lunch earlier this week, and an unusually perceptive reader greeted me: “George, I don’t remember what you wrote about; but I agreed with you.”

Thus encouraged, I made a New Year’s resolution to keep on keeping on. And how better to begin 2010 than by taking a quick look back at its predecessor?

If you’re seeking a summary of 2009, I suggest “It could have been worse.” True, it was bad enough. But it wasn’t as bad as it might have been, at national, state or local levels.

First and most important, the horrific recession didn’t turn into an outright depression. Jobs disappeared and home prices fell, but there seems to be a consensus among the experts that belated federal regulation and the much maligned stimulus package have prevented the worst. At year end, we see some signs of economic life and reasons for cautious optimism.

We also see, a mere century after Theodore Roosevelt advocated it and 15 years after Bill Clinton bungled it, the prospect of health insurance for nearly everyone. No wonder the Republicans complained of undue haste.

Locally, the federal stimulus eased the pain at our most important institution, the university. Thanks to that infusion of revenue, the stand-still deal struck by Governor Nixon and President Forsee — no tuition increase and no cut in the core budget — looks awfully good compared to the crises that hit higher education in other states. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the tentative deal they’ve made for next year will survive in the legislature. And, of course, higher education remains underfunded and the faculty underpaid.

While university employees kept their jobs, they had to begin contributing to the pension system for the first time. Not for the first time, a push for benefits for same-sex partners got nowhere.

Speaking of our governor, you probably saw the Associated Press article that summed up his first year in office as being pretty good, all things considered. That judgment would be way too kind for the legislature, what with three members convicted, the former speaker indicted and the FBI snooping around. The Former Boy Governor’s name made the news, too, when the aide he fired for warning of Sunshine Law violations was vindicated and awarded a hefty cash settlement. Both parties are suddenly promising ethics legislation.

The state’s leading pork producer, Kit Bond, announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate. Rep. Roy Blunt, Missouri’s version of Tom Delay, wants to succeed him. That ambition is not universally applauded even in his own party. If he makes it through the primary, Robin Carnahan will await in November.

Here at home, 2009 brought us promising new leaders of the Columbia Police Department and public schools, the Boone County Fire Prevention District and Stephens College. All appear to be off to strong starts. In April, for the first time in a generation, Darwin Hindman won’t be on the mayoral ballot. His legacy lives in our growing number of trails and bicyclists.

What will be on the April ballot is one of those well-intentioned but misconceived attempts to promote public safety: cameras covering downtown. The City Council demonstrated wisdom and a certain amount of courage in resisting 3,000 petition signatures and refusing to authorize the cameras.

Wisely or not, the council also voted a big tax break for the redevelopers of The Tiger Hotel and committed millions to downtown’s other major developments, the enlarged city hall and a huge new parking garage. Despite public pushing and backstage maneuvering by the publisher across town, our rulers did refrain from condemning private property for a new historical museum. And that was before the Youzeum flopped.

Left over on the public agenda is the contentious question of urban chickens.

So the Old Year could have been a lot worse. The New Year surely will be better. Won’t it?

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.


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Ayn Rand January 4, 2010 | 8:05 a.m.

Good luck getting many voters to agree that "of course, higher education remains underfunded and the faculty underpaid," especially when the average MU prof makes -- $111,200, according to the AAU -- more than three times the median income for a Columbia household.

Plus, outside of the sciences, there aren't a lot of tenured or tenure-track opportunities for faculty to jump ship. Hardly a week goes by that the Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed doesn't have a story about dwindling job opportunities. In fact, the latter's Jan. 4 edition has a story that begins, "The job crisis for faculty jobs -- especially for new Ph.D.'s looking for tenure-track jobs -- is spreading."

With MU and many other schools considering three-year programs, I would hate to be a Ph.D. student in the humanities. Humanities requirements no doubt will be the first to go as schools restructure their undergrad programs around the mantra that "people just can’t afford to waste time and money anymore,” as Forsee put it.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 4, 2010 | 12:04 p.m.

If New Zealand's higher education is any example, the majors most apt to become three-year bachelor's degrees will be those in liberal arts. In New Zealand, bachelor's degrees still requiring four-year programs tend to be the sciences: physics, chemistry, biology (and pre-med) and all engineering curricula.

A practical reason why the situation exists is that the subjects named above are laboratory intensive. For that reason it's difficult to scale them down to three academic years.

One can obtain a three-year business degree (bachelor's degree) in New Zealand. If one compares course requirements with a four year business degree in the United States the new Zealand requirements are simply the sophomore, junior and senior courses in the U. S., with the freshman year "lopped off."

Changes would have some dramatic effects on colleges and universities, but a minimum reduction of 25% in the cost of college is something to be considered.

(Report Comment)
Daniel Jordan January 4, 2010 | 1:40 p.m.

The average salary that Ayn Rand reports is for tenured full professors only, not associate professors or assistant professors, who get about half that amount.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 4, 2010 | 2:26 p.m.

Daniel, the AAU says that associate profs average $75,300 and assistant profs average $61,100. Source:

Keep in mind that all of these figures exclude medical faculty, whose high salaries would skew the average.

(Report Comment)

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