An Open Letter to Steven B. Long, Esq. Who Cuts UNC Programs for Capitalism

by Gordon Haber

Dear Mr. Long,

Greetings from New York City, land of liberals and lattes!

I read that the Board of Governors of the UNC System voted to discontinue 46 degree programs. I am sure that you know all about that, because, as the Vice-Chairman of the Planning Committee, you voted for the cuts.

I am writing because I was disturbed to read that you said, in regard to the cuts, “We’re capitalists, and we have to look at what the demand is, and we have to respond to the demand.”

I strongly disagree with this statement. In fact, I believe that the assumptions behind this statement have ruined higher education in America. No, that’s not strong enough. The assumptions behind this statement may actually lead to the ruination of America, period.

This letter will explain why. I hope you will believe me when I tell you that I write not to attack you personally. I am going to go out on a limb and say that you are a religious man. Me too! And my religion (which is Judaism! I’m a Jew!) teaches that it is wrong to embarrass people. So while I may seem harsh, please take it in the spirit of the Judeo-Christian ethic, or something, I am less and less clear on what that means, but that’s a letter for another time.

Anyway. Allow me to take a moment and discuss the UNC’s Board of Governors itself, which, according to my desultory research, doesn’t seem to have UNC students’ best interests at heart. This is just a guess, but I think it’s a solid one. Why? Because it seems that patronage, and not competence, has a lot to do with who gets on the Board in the first place. Candidates for the board (or their family members) donate up to tens of thousands to the politicians who appoint the board. Call me cynical, but that smells bad.

You may argue, Mr. Long, that the board members work in the public interest. I doubt it, as the board doesn’t (how should I put this?) reflect the public. In a state whose population is over 20% African-American and presumably 50% female, the board is (surprise!) overwhelmingly white and male. I am not going to dwell on this too long, as I felt really icky staring at tiny pictures of the Board of Governors and counting black people.

I will say that you, Mr. Long, seem to be confusing ideology with public service. Let’s be honest here. You were a board member of the Civitas Institute, which is the kind of place that makes my Brooklyn friends tremble with rage over their craft beers. My personal favorite indication of your political proclivities, Mr. Long, was when you kvetched about the UNC Center for Civil Rights. For focusing too much on racial equality. As opposed to “other civil rights,” like freedoms of religion and the right to bear arms. In North Carolina.

That one, Mr. Long, deserves some kind of award.

All that said, the most telling thing was when the Daily Tarheel quoted you as saying, and I think it bears repeating, “We’re capitalists, and we have to look at what the demand is, and we have to respond to the demand.”

Now here you and I are going to have a big disagreement. Which is a shame, because I believe that capitalism is grand. Seriously. I’m not a liberal. Nor am I a conservative, really, but again, that’s an issue for another time.

The issue, Mr. Long, is your assumption that the market solves everything, that the market is everything, that there is no question of ethics or inequality that cannot be addressed by the free market. Because if we are to be intellectually honest (and face up to things like “evidence” and “history”) then we should agree that although capitalism solves lots of things and economic freedom is indeed a crucial element of liberty, it is an egregious oversimplification to believe that everything must work according to supply and demand.

If it makes sense to cut the jazz major from North Carolina Central University, by all means do so. I love jazz, I love the arts, but if there’s a budget crunch and only two kids signed up for the major and one of them doesn’t seem very serious, well then, cut away, you can use my scissors. This is a non-partisan opinion, Mr. Long; I’d say the same thing about a major in Wiccan Studies or the Awesomeness of President Reagan.

But when I look at what kinds of majors are also being “discontinued”, I see disproportionate cuts to programs in elementary and secondary education. (See below.) That’s really disappointing, Mr. Long, considering how desperately North Carolina needs good teachers.

Imagine, Mr. Long, that you’re a student commuting to UNC-Greensboro or UNC-Charolotte or Appalachian State University and you really, really want to be a teacher. But that’s going to be tough because you can’t afford to go away to school and your nearby study options have been severely curtailed and anyway the pay for teachers in North Carolina is so bad that they’re being poached by Houston area schools.

(Wait a minute. The job fairs mentioned in the link above—the ones where Houston schools came to North Carolina and said, “Come work for us, you’ll be able to eat”—those job fairs were held in Greensboro, which lost 5 programs for secondary education. This is a coincidence, right? Because wouldn’t interfering with the students of Greenboro’s ability to make a decent living be interfering with capitalism?)

(Come to think of it, since you’re a tax lawyer and a libertarian you might like this idea: grant serious tax breaks to NC teachers so that their net income approaches their Texan colleagues’.)

Let me get to the point, Mr. Long. The reason I am writing this instead of (say) doing something that actually will earn me money is because I care about education very much. And while of course you need to act within budget constraints, I’ll send $50 to this North Carolina charity for homeless children—which surely we can agree is a worthy cause—if you can prove to me that you actually give a rat’s ass about improving (a) access to education and (b) education itself for the many, many poor people (or even middle-class people!) in your beautiful state.

Mr. Long, as you know, the goal of capitalism is to make money. The nice thing about it is that (while trickle-down is nonsense) a rising tide does seem to lift all boats, or at least many boats, or at least some boats. But that’s a nice unintended consequence. The capitalist doesn’t care about lifting boats. The capitalist cares about making money. Which is fine, I don’t care. All I am saying is that it’s a dumb idea to conflate the goals of education with the goals of capitalism.

So what is the goal of education? You might say, “Helping students get jobs.” Whereas I say, “Sure, help them get jobs, and teach them to read and write, and a little something about the world, and how to be well informed citizens, because unless they acquire some critical thinking skills, then it becomes real easy to impinge upon their liberty, I mean really impinge upon it, in a ‘the NSA-is-listening way.'”

If you’re really concerned about liberty, Mr. Long, you’d be doing everything possible to improve the fucked-up mess that is education in your fine state.

If you want to look at it purely from a budgetary perspective, why aren’t you concerned about easing administrative bloat—one crucial factor in tuition hikes? I am always curious why free-market types, who are all about efficiency and lowering overhead, don’t fire a shitload of deans. Admittedly, this may not be under your purview. But don’t you find it at all disturbing how tuition keeps rising?

When you graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1982, Mr. Long, the cost of attendance was $2512. That’s somewhere between $5k and $6k in today’s money. The current cost of attendance is $24,120. Today’s students do not have access to the same quality, affordable education that you did. Are you cool with that?

I am not trying to put words in your mouth. But your own comments suggest that you ascribe to these assumptions. If I am incorrect, please let me know. Please, let me know if you feel tar-heeled with the same brush (get it?).

Because I suspect that you support an educational system that does not exist to help its students acquire basic skills and even learn something beautiful but financially useless. I suspect that you support an educational system that exists only to make good little workers—which sounds a lot like Communism.


Gordon Haber


Discontinued Programs in the UNC System (from the Daily Tarheel)

Appalachian State University: Family and Consumer Sciences, Secondary Education; Technology Education; Mathematics, Education

Elizabeth City State University: Special Education, General Curriculum; Middle Grades Education; English, Secondary Education; Political Science

East Carolina University: French K-12; German K-12; Hispanic Studies Education; German; French; Public History; Special Education, Intellectual Disabilities; Vocational Education

Fayetteville State University: Art Education; Music Education; Biotechnology

North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University: Comprehensive Science Education; Physical Education

North Carolina Central University: Theatre; Jazz

North Carolina State University: Africana Studies; Women’s and Gender Studies; Business and Marketing Education; Physiology

UNC-Charlotte: Child and Family Development; Special Education, Adapted Curriculum; English Education; Mathematics Education

UNC-Chapel Hill: Human Biology

UNC-Greensboro: Mathematics, Secondary Education (BA); Mathematics, Secondary Education (BS); Economics, Secondary Education; Biology, Secondary Education (BA); Biology, Secondary Education (BS); Composition; Latin Education; Biochemistry

UNC School of the Arts: Film Music Composition

UNC-Wilmington: Physical Education and Health; Music Performance

Western Carolina University: Health Information Administration

Winston-Salem State University: Biotechnology; Elementary Education; Teaching English as a Second Language and Linguistics