Letters to the Editor

September 2003

Running on Empty

Who is Paying the Bills?

The lead title: "Running on Empty" of the latest (June 2003) issue of Columns could just as easily (and perhaps more tellingly) be applied to the first Briefings article: "Cuts a certainty -- amount still waits for Olympia to decide," the Prelude: "Gifts and Grumblings" and many similar articles in previous Columns and in similar publications from state universities across the country.

A more or less straight line can be drawn from the establishment of the National Science Foundation in the early 50's to the present condition of the major state research universities. None of us would deny that the influx of federal funds to support university graduate education and research has produced the strongest system of graduate education in the world. However, there have been a few (presumably unintended) side effects, including a radical change in the funding pattern of these institutions. The (once) steadily increasing funds, both direct costs and overhead, gave state legislatures the opportunity to reduce state contributions to the overall support of state universities. Initially the justification was a vaguely divided role, with federal research and graduate education support adding to the pre-existing state support of the education mission. The distinction has become blurred over the past five decades, with an increasing proportion of the total university budget coming from federal sources.

Many state universities now obtain as little as 1/3 of their budget from state legislative sources, compared to nearly 100% fifty years ago. Over the same period (although some reverse in the trend began in the early 80's) the proportion of direct NSF spending on its education mission decreased with respect to direct support of research. The reputations of the universities, the departments and individual faculty depend more on federal research support than on state legislative allocations.

One can understand that state legislators would be delighted if they could keep down state costs of operating the state universities, using increasing federal funds to make up the difference and even to increase the size and scope of the universities. During the last decade or two, the realization has crept into the general consciousness, and that of state legislators, that the activities of university faculty have become more focused on research, perhaps to the detriment of the education of undergraduates. Now we hear complaints about the priorities of university faculty, and the lack of time devoted to teaching, often most loudly from state legislators, including education committee members. The legislative response has sometimes been budgetary "threats". Oddly enough this only magnifies the problem, as universities are forced to further cultivate external funding sources in order to maintain functionality. And when the university is successful with this fund-raising, the response is often to ask why the funds can't go to improve undergraduate education (sometimes the funds do just that, when the donor has that specifically in mind.)

I believe it is fair to say that state legislatures can solve this problem. We will not (and almost certainly should not) return to 100% state funding of the universities, which would be a major educational disaster. But if legislators re-establish a responsible share of university funding, we might expect some correction in the priorities of universities. "Since 1861, the first mission of the University of Washington has been teaching." I hope, indeed I am inclined to believe, this is still true. However, the first priority of the University, its administration and faculty may not be so simply stated. Similarly the first priority of legislatures may not be the fiscal support of high quality education. Any reader can fill in numerous priorities they might have, like cutting taxes. As a lifelong educator, and sometimes researcher, I believe our future depends on maintaining the best possible educational institutions, including research universities. As these institutions have evolved since the early 50's, the tunes may have changed somewhat. If we want to adjust the way the music is played, it might be a good idea to consider who is actually paying the bills.

Professor George H. Show, '69, '71
Department of Geology
Union College
Schenectady, N.Y.

A Growing Disaster

Sandra Hines does a good job of summarizing many of the main concerns of limited Pacific Northwest water resources ["Running on Empty," June, 2003], but she merely touches in passing on what I feel to be the greater concern for adequate water supplies in the future, human population growth.

Hines quotes Marine Affairs Professor Ed Miles as saying that the biggest challenge is planners and other who continue dealing "only with population growth and the Endangered Species Act demands". But these planners don't deal with the cause of population growth, but focus only on managing the symptoms of growth by regulating the impact of human species encroachment in the environment, in hopes of conserving water resources, minimizing impact on other species and maintaining "sustainable growth". Despite such regulation efforts, and regardless of climatic trends of declining or even increasing rainfall or snowpacks, left unaddressed, the unrelenting growth in human population will eventually result in an environmental and ecological disaster; it's only a matter of time. The question is not how many people you can fit in a Volkswagen, but how many you can fit in there comfortably.

There are very few environmental concerns that aren't caused directly or indirectly by human population growth. We can't just move further into the wilderness because there's no wilderness left. No matter how well we manage the symptoms of growth, if we don't address the cause, then we will continue to have problems of declining water resources, extinction of species, eradication of old growth forests and pollution of the earth, air, and water. If we can't come out of the closet on the subject of controlling population growth, why should anyone take seriously articles like Hines', talking about the symptoms of the problem while ignoring the cause?

Everyone knows population growth is a problem of increasing concern, but procreation being such a personal and sensitive subject, no one wants to talk about it; politicians fear losing votes, and publications fear losing subscribers. But talk about it we must and, ironically, just talking about the problem may raise public awareness enough to reduce the rate of population growth, possibly even to zero, through peer pressure alone. We shouldn't have to wait for a natural decline in population from famine, disease, or increased aggression (war) to force us to deal with the obvious. We need to start somewhere to talk about the problem of controlling human population growth. Let it start with Columns.

John Cartmell, '73

Chicken Littles of the World

Your article "Running on Empty" in the June issue really raised my blood pressure. Here you have a group of apparently well-educated citizens espousing their "sky is falling" diatribe while offering absolutely no viable solutions. This is standard elitist liberal rhetoric right off the shelves of the rabid environmentalist Chicken Littles of the world. To compliment the Endangered Species Act supporters is absurd, as those types are a major part of the problem. All they seek is power (and this article will probably give them more grist for their doomsday mill), and they will be the first to block any viable solution to the alleged problem. Although global warming has not been factually verified, the basic solution for the imagined future problem is a very simple concept; merely entrap more of the excess water runoff in Western Washington and Oregon, and divert some of it to Eastern Washington and Oregon. The fact that these learned experts don't offer some creative recommendations instead of the usual pacifist hand-wringing leads me to believe the article is probably politically motivated, intentionally omitting solutions.

Don Bennett, '52
Calexico, Calif.

Salty Idea

So, we're short of water—and the oceans are rising. Time for another big but obvious step—desalinization—using wind or solar power for the electricity. Kuwait did it for years, using their 'sour gas' and huge boilers, perhaps they're using solar now. Let's hear from the UW engineering department on the feasibility of this for Washington state.

Phyllis Pennell

Extolling Civil Disobedience?

I receive your publication probably because I contributed to the College of Engineering on some previous occasion. I am of the class of 1960 but began my work at UW in the fall of 1946. During that time period I not only got a degree from the UW in mechanical engineering but I also entered the Air Force and flew combat in Korea. I continued my career in the Air Force after the UW and got a master's degree through the AFIT program. I retired from the Air Force in 1969 to go on to a second career which lasted another 19 years. During the years covered above I developed a rather conservative approach to government and to the ways in which it controls our lives.

I'm a bit troubled by your "Lane Closures" piece [on 1970 freeway marches, June. 2003]. It seems to extol civil disobedience which gets me a bit upset since I believe that voting at the polls is the way to express displeasure with current events and not the resort to bothering innocent people. The terrorists use the same argument that killing of innocent people is the only way to get their point across. Both of the conditions cited above seem to be bordering on anarchy and shouldn't be a part of our democratic way of life. I could go on at some length as to my opinions concerning the above but this is enough for now. Thanks for your publication.

Don Jabusch, '60
Springfield, Mo.

Flag Burning, Anarchy, Mayhem

Editor Tom Griffin's article regarding lane closures seems a bit light hearted. I guess if I were caught in that traffic mess I might have taken a different view. It seems that Seattle and its surrounding are infused with that liberal spirit of flag burning, anarchy and mayhem. I wonder what the Columns editorial staff position is on these issues?

James E. Scott, '58
Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

An Affront to Majority Rights

I enjoy reading the Columns because it represents a diversity of opinion, is well written and sometimes controversial. I was very disappointed, however, with the "Lane Closures" article by Tom Griffin in your June issue. The writer made it sound like protests closing freeways are some kind of heroic event of which the protesters can be proud.

Such lawless behavior is, instead, an affront to the rights of the majority of us who use the freeways for our personal needs -- work, pleasure or whatever. I respect your right to express your opinion. Please respect my right to use the public roads as they were intended to be used.

In my opinion, protesters often express arrogance as to other people's rights while asking compassion for theirs. Mutual respect and consideration are the foundation of a society of law.

Gordon Barnes, '50, '54

Mishmash of Facts and Fiction

The interview of Professor Ellis Goldberg ["The Tipping Point," June 2003] was an intriguing mishmash of facts and fiction. I particularly noted that he used the word "Islamic" only once in his replies to the interviewer; and thereafter, avoided any mention of one of the most demonstrably virulent aspects of the culture of the Mideast -- witness the hate-filled sermons by the imams and ayatollahs issuing fatwas and exhorting their followers to kill the Great Satan and Jews by any means. The male dominated society of the Mideast is obviously conflicted in regards to their self-esteem and resort to a lot of yelling and firing AK-47's in the air to demonstrate their masculinity as well as suppressing and beating their women..

As to the support of the French by Professor John Keller, their actions in regards to resisting the war most certainly didn't come from "principle," at least the kind alluded to. Their "principle" was the fear of being found out. The French were circumventing the U.N. sanctions, and did so right up to the invasion by coalition forces -- providing Iraq with war materials, specialists and other assistance in contravention of the 17 U.N. resolutions. As to the general French resistance to the war, there is an old saying that "Fifty million Frenchmen can't be wrong." France has been proving that wrong for at least the last 200 years, and the same could be said of Germany and Russia. One should also note that a significant portion of the population of these countries is Muslim.

Regarding the protests against the war, Professor William Rorabaugh is doing all right until he comes up with the gratuitous comment that the war wasn't the real issue "They were protesting the whole rotten society" and he cites the economy and Enron scandal as fodder for the protestors. I take exception to the demonizing of the U.S. society as being "rotten." The protestors were primarily instigated by left-wing, Marxist organizations directing naifs and willing idiots in support of their anti-U.S. agenda.

Respecting the weakening of the U.N., it has been very successful doing it unto itself. One of the items of the U.N. Charter is: "to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest." And where was the U.N. in Angola, Nigeria, Cambodia, Iraq, etc., to maintain the peace and security of the slaughtered millions?

When you have an organization made up of undemocratic countries that practice genocide on their own people, they will never vote for the U.N. taking action other than in the form of pusillanimous, non-enforced resolutions.

I would suggest that Professor Greenberg produce a book on the slaughter of children around the world and the psyche of the Mideast versus child labor and globalization.

Leif O. Thorvaldson, '61

Absolute Absurdities

I was shocked to read such drivel in an article in a university magazine of all places ["The Tipping Point"]. The comments by Professor William Rorabaugh were especially offensive.

He states: "I just don't buy that it's (the war on Iraq) Un-American. This is a direct response to 9-11. September 11th is the attack, the Pearl Harbor, that started this war. There are terrorists in this world and they are out to get us."

There is no proof whatsoever that Iraq had anything to do with 9-11. The religious zealots who did the deed have been identified as either Saudis or Egyptians, none of them were from Iraq! Why did we attack Afghanistan first if Iraq was the culprit as Professor Rorabaugh says?

That he actually thinks that the possible accumulation of "weapons of mass destruction" is reason enough to attack other countries is frightening. This is hardly logical thought or is it based on historical prospective. Reason tells me that a better form of protection for our country and the world, would be to regulate the weapons industry, rather than attack the countries we sell the weapons to.

I was shocked to read absolute absurdities by a UW professor.

Sue Mandeville '71
Springfield, Ore.

9/11 Was Our Pearl Harbor

Sept. 11 was the "tipping point" in the quest to defeat organized international terrorism; just as Dec. 7, 1941, was the "tipping point" to defeat the Axis powers in World War II. Appeasement preceded and prompted both incidents, but was not mentioned in the article ["The Tipping Point," Sept. 2003]. Appeasement specifically contributed to the Iraq War, as well.

I was expecting a more academic discourse and understanding of the Iraq War, as a component part of the larger war on terrorism, rather than being treated as a major "war" per se, (i.e. an "end", rather than a "means"). I was expecting more from the college professors, who seemed more prone to expound "biases" than scholarship.

The war on terror is a challenge to Western Civilization and is being waged by international terrorists, not nation-states. It should be remembered that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda called for a "jihad" following 9/11 to achieve non-representative government on a secular basis. Yet, I noted no mention of "jihad", the Baath Party, nor the international terrorist aspects in the article.

I appreciated the article, though it be myopic.

Roger E. Pederson, '58
Mount Vernon

Knee-Jerk Patriotic Propaganda

I very much enjoyed Tom Griffin's interview with History Professor William Rorabaugh in the June issue. I was a (gray-haired) antiwar protestor because I thought Bush's linking the war with 9/11 was fraudulent; and unfortunately, Professor Rorabaugh didn't speak to this particular concern in the interview. I wish I could ask him why he believes attacking Iraq was a logical and necessary response to 9/11 when Saddam, however evil he is (or was), could not be shown - then or now - to have been any part of the Al Qaeda terrorist network. There may have been very good reasons for the war, but none of them was used to sell the war to the American people. Instead, all we heard was knee-jerk patriotic propaganda. I guess what I hated most was that my leaders thought I was a fool who would believe whatever they pushed the media to print.

What were the reasons for going to war? If we are going to start protecting the world's people from terrible, inhuman dictators, could we please have a democratic discussion of this change in our foreign policy-and leave out the "God Bless America," "We're good and they're evil" rhetoric?

Beverly Clark Haywood, '82
Juneau, Alaska

Single-Minded Environmental Approach

It dismays me to see that the UW School of Law is going to create an environmental law clinic ["Environmental Law Gets Stronger Through New Clinic," June 2003]. It further demonstrates the rampant and single-minded approach to natural resource protection, namely the lawsuit by special interest groups, which further threatens the health of forests in the Pacific Northwest.

I was lucky enough to have been taught by some of the best and brightest professors at UW in the School of Forest Resources--Chad Oliver, Barney Dowdle and Bill Hinkley. An education about our natural resources teaches that active management is the best way to protect and preserve the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

The law advocacy clinic will undoubtedly not represent forces interested in protecting our state's forest resources through thinning programs or fire re-introduction. Boo, to the UW School of Law, one more reason for me to withhold financial support to the University at large.

Ben Carlsen, '00

The Best Issue in 49 Years

Congratulations and approbations for the best issue of Columns I have received in my 49 years as an alum. I was, of course, proud and pleased at the Bill Gates genome grant, and particularly the fine faculty we have assembled in this field.

Even more pleasing and satisfying were the four "Tipping Point" interviews on the Middle East problems. The four faculty respondents came across as erudite, articulate and balanced in their analyses. Very, very impressive. No doubt however you will receive some negative comments from extremist readers on both sides of the problem. So be it.

The "Running on Empty" article was excellent also, but long on facts and predicted outcomes, but short on solutions, as are all the other many articles on the water problem that I have read over the past two years. Our water problem in Oregon may be worse than Washington's, with no good solutions in sight also.

Keep up the good work.

Don Kane, '54
North Plains, Ore.

Connecting on Important Topics

Your recent issue was very interesting. The article on water in the Pacific Northwest, as well as that on the war in Iraq were both timely and well-written. I appreciate it when Columns serves as a connection between the University faculty and the former students on such important topics.

A suggestion for a future topic may be the Boeing subsidies: not just from an economic point of view (is the benefit greater than the cost), but also from a social-sciences point of view (what does it say about us as a society when we are cutting programs for the poor to give money to wealthy corporations.) In any case, keep up the good work. I am sending my membership fee today, because I would like to continue to receive your magazine.

Jan Heine, '97

Lavishing Largesse

Surely, the University can extend Coach Neuheisel some of the largesse it lavished on the medical department liars, whose dishonesty beggars his. Be fair: pay him to leave, too.

Gordon Anderson '53, '58

Letters to the editor are encouraged. Brief letters are more likely to be published; longer letters may be edited. Please include a daytime phone number.

Editor, Columns Magazine, 1415 N.E. 45th Street, Seattle, WA 98105
fax to (206) 685-0611

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