- Associated Press - Saturday, May 17, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Glenn Poshard has been active in Illinois’ public affairs for more than 30 years - U.S. congressman, state senator, Democratic candidate for governor and, most recently, president of the Southern Illinois University system. He has three degrees from SIU, starting classes there in 1966 with the help of the GI bill after serving in the U.S. Army. And he considers his decades-old ties to the university his greatest source of pride.

Newly retired but serving as a consultant to his successor, the 68-year-old Murphysboro native shared with The Associated Press his thoughts on the nexus of higher education and states’ troubled finances. He laments state funding cutbacks for universities and sees trouble if the only recourse is raising tuition: “To me it threatens the very culture of this country.”

Here are edited excerpts of his remarks:


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Q: Higher education funding has faced lingering cuts over the past decade or so. Is it true public education anymore?



A: “Universities have been taking on more and more of the state’s responsibilities with pensions and other areas, and it’s reducing the operations of the public universities to very threatening levels. As you see that reduction in state and federal funds coming down the pike, you only have one other area where you have any chance of making up that difference and that’s tuition. … To me it threatens the very culture of this country. There’s a whole plethora of things that are being threatened right now by the failure of state governments to pay attention to the need of public higher education.

Q: Should the Legislature make the temporary state income tax increase permanent?

A: “(The governor) has given a scenario that if they are not made permanent, public higher education will see a 12.5 percent decrease (in state funds). That’s impossible for the university to take that kind of a cut without severely damaging the number of faculty and quality of programs we have. … I think you’re looking at an even deeper hole if you can’t sustain the tax base that you have.

Why have other countries surpassed us in math and science? Because they have chosen to put the education dollar in the areas where it’s needed the most. And in this country we continue to distribute the education dollars predominantly to those areas that are not in great need.”

Q: Who’s to blame if higher education is not the priority it should be?

A: “I can’t lay the blame at anybody’s doorstep. It’s a combination of things - the public not paying real attention to educational needs, the legislatures not really understanding a long-range view of what a college education contributes to the economics of this society as well as building good citizenship in this society. On both ends, you’re doing a disservice to the social and economic fabric of the society.

You have people preaching today that a college education isn’t worth it. Well, bullarkey. We depend upon an educated, enlightened society to sustain the greatest economy and greatest democracy in the world. You cannot put public higher education on the equivalency of filling a pothole in the road or some other area. It’s what sustains us, what makes us creative, productive. Without that, all you’re seeing is a slow destruction of the American middle class.

Q: Illinois has become dominated by Democrats, a so-called blue state. Is one-party rule good for a state?

A: “That’s up to the people. But as a state declines economically, obviously you’re going to have more people on that line that delineates the well-off from the less well-off. And those people for the most part need the kind of supportive programs that Democrats want to make sure of, whether it’s Medicaid funding or more help for student scholarships.

Q: What will it take to right the ship?

A: “If we don’t start looking really deep down inside us and grappling with the leadership from within, I don’t know how we solve these problems. Because it seems to me all we do now is find fault with anything anyone else comes up with. It’s not a matter of constructive criticism. It is a matter of destructive criticism. And that permeates our whole society now. It’s what’s wrong with Congress. It has infiltrated states. Everybody hurts over that.”

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