August 31, 2017

Film examines funding, public higher education on campuses

By Elizabeth Money —

The Speed Art Museum featured a screening of Steve Mim’s documentary, Starving the Beast, Aug. 24. The film aimed at revealing the disturbing attack being waged against public higher education.

The film calls the situation one of the nation’s most important and least understood fights. This was a nod towards how a lack of public knowledge – primarily achieved through education – can contribute to ignorance and often makes solving national problems much more difficult.

The film was followed by a panel discussion consisting of former U of L trustee Emily Bingham, SGA President Vishnu Tirumula, Professor Enid Trucios- Haynes, Philosophy department chairman David S. Owen and Senator Gavin McGarvey.

“Public investment in (less practical degrees’) future is disappointing,” Tirumala said.

This echoes one of the film’s major points: the problematic, philosophical shift in higher education.

The underlying debate throughout the film is whether higher public education should be regarded as a private or public good. Throughout the film, academics and politicians weigh in to determine who reaps the benefits of higher public education. Starving the Beast also questions who should bear the financial burden.

Some argue that the students receive the most direct benefit – a degree – thus they should be primarily financially responsible. According to the film, most followers of this school of thought believes that universities should operate like corporations, with more emphasis on profits and less government funding and intervention.

The opposing argument to this is that society as a whole reaps the benefit of public higher education, so students should not be primarily financially responsible. To support this, the film cites better health outcomes for graduates, new research and technology put forth by the students and faculty and the local economic activity generated by universities.

In other words, universities are no longer being viewed as a place of knowledge meant to produce well-rounded, empathetic thinkers, creatives and problem-solvers. Rather, they’re seen as a highly regulated business that reduces higher education to job training, treating students as though they are economic capital.

Kentucky State Senator Gavin McGarvey shares his disappointment. “We are starving the people of intellectual and creative capital,” he said, as a result of making higher education less accessible and more about producing workers than thinkers.

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