Like other politicians who have campaigned for the presidency, Mitt Romney seems to want to have it both ways on certain issues. He says that he is committed to education. He even has a plan for improving public-school education. (A recent article on Yahoo! News does a good job of summarizing it.) But Romney also says that he wants clamp down on most Federal spending. How is it possible to help students without spending some money to fund student loan programs?
One way to get a read on what Romney might accomplish in American higher education, is to look at his record on education during his term as Governor of Massachusetts (2003-2007).
For an insider’s insight on what Romney accomplished in Massachusetts, I spoke with my brother, Prof. David Lenson. He has taught at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, since 1971, and is now Program Director for Comparative Literature there. Here’s what he had to say:
“Governor Romney’s first engagement with higher education came in 2003, when he launched a public campaign to drive UMass President William M. Bulger from office. Romney alleged that President Bulger was refusing to cooperate with Federal authorities in the long manhunt for his brother, James `Whitey’ Bulger. Billy Bulger resigned in September of 2003, and was replaced by the more tractable Jack Wilson.
“The University’s Board of Trustees was dominated by Republican functionaries left over from the three previous administrations of William Weld, Paul Cellucci, and Jane Swift. During his term, Romney’s broad cuts in funding for higher education caused tuition and fees to increase by 63%. His policies contributed to the effective privatization of public higher education. State support now provides less than 20% of the University’s annual budget. In 2009, UMass Amherst, the flagship campus, was looking at a $40,000,000 budget deficit, which would have led to extensive layoffs and the economic ruin of three counties in western Massachusetts. President Obama’s stimulus money arrived just in time to avert the disaster.”
Here are some other sources of information about Romney’s educational record in Massachusetts:
- ThinkProgress.org posts statistics about Romney’s accomplishments in Massachusetts. The page also quotes Glen Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, who said, “His impact was inconsequential. People viewed his proposals as political talking points, and no one took Romney seriously. What he gets credit for is absolutely refusing to compromise on everything he wanted to do from the moment he took office, and some people think that’s commendable.”
- A recent article in The Boston Globe, “Mitt Romney’s education record was mixed: Two major plans proved ineffective” by Tracy Jan, provides a nicely balanced view about what Romney achieved for public schools. Jan reports that “Paul Toner, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Union, said Romney’s policies stalled during his term largely because of his aloof style and refusal to engage meaningfully with teachers, school committees, and superintendents.”
- An article by Kristin Rawls on Alternet.org entitled “Does Mitt Romney Have an Education Platform?” quotes Paul Toner, the director of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, who said, “Romney cut education funding deeply while he was governor. In 2003 and 2004, Massachusetts cut spending on K-12 education more than any other state. He also slashed funding for public higher education by a quarter during those years.”
Of course, it is possible that those sources are biased against Romney. It is also possible that if he were elected, he wouldn’t slash educational spending as drastically as he would now like his supporters to believe while he is campaigning to win their votes.
But given the abundance of evidence showing that Romney didn’t really support education in Massachusetts, it seems something of a stretch think that he will become a strong supporter of American students – except, possibly, through lip service – if he is elected president of the United States.