With Janet Napolitano leaving Homeland Security to become president of the UC system, I've found myself imagining her transition as metaphor. How great it would be if this move symbolized a rebalancing of priorities, with public education deemed as important as anti-terrorism spending in keeping us secure.
Just a few weeks ago, my daughter graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara. She began her college career the same day general strikes were held on every UC campus to oppose slashes in public funding and huge tuition hikes. Protesters were angry that the Master Plan, which ensures affordable, excellent education as a linchpin of California's well-being, had been betrayed. Over the next four years students continued to pay more for less, in part because of the recession, but largely because of anti-tax sentiment throughout the country. Austerity fervor led to widespread divestment in the programs that ensure a prosperous and fair society. For my daughter's California cohort, this meant fewer course offerings, larger classes, more time needed to graduate and huge debt -- if students could afford or find a place among the shrinking slots in higher education at all.
In my daughter's senior year, Californians, rejecting anti-tax absolutism, passed Proposition 30, interrupting the cycle of budget cuts and escalating tuition.
When we arrived for graduation, the mood on campus was festive and hopeful. Naturally, I was proud of my daughter as she walked across the stage to receive her diploma. But I was just as proud of the visionaries who devised the Master Plan, and of voters who finally acted to stop its dismantling.
The dream of ensuring opportunity for every student has been tarnished. Maybe it will shine again as we realize that homeland security includes taxpayer commitment to public education. After all, it's one of our best defenses.