Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Building House to House

Several years back, my daughter took the orals part of an English test at a university called St. Thomas, here in Amagasaki. I went with her, and I heard rumors that the school was being shut down. I couldn't believe it. Nice campus, large, modern classroom towers. Well, some of the smaller buildings showed a little evidence of needing care.

Toward the end of 2015, the last student enrolled took a graduate degree and the school shut down.

(I should log in to Wikipedia and add the information about the school shutting down to the school's English page, I suppose, but it will take a bit of time to do it right -- get my sources together and annotate everything. Sufficient information is on the Japanese page for those who need it.)

I am not an investigative journalist, and I have too many other responsibilities to suddenly become one. So I am not going to detail my impressions of the school closure. I'll just note that it seems a very odd thing to just shutter a school as large as Eichi/St. Thomas was.

And it leaves the city with a monetary sinkhole, tearing down some of the less long-term viable buildings and converting to other uses buildings that are just too structurally sound to waste. (That has been in the news lately.)

And it reduces available options to student who are college-bound.

Working on my resume, as I must every year around this time, I found myself reading the Wikipedia page of one of my almae matres (;-), Odessa College. And I found this rather disconcerting paragraph:

In 2011, Odessa College, along with Frank Phillips College in Borger, Ranger College in Ranger, and Brazosport College in Lake Jackson were proposed for closure by the State of Texas. The Texas Association of Community Colleges rallied successfully to keep the four instiututions open. In a letter to Texas House Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio and Jim Pitts of Waxahachie in Ellis County, then the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, TAAC leaders referred to state budget restrictions at the time:
Community colleges are fully aware of the state's budget crisis, and we understand that we will have to bear our share of the budget pain. We pledge to work with you to reach a fair and equitable solution ... the decision to close these four colleges is unfair and inequitable in that it appears to be arbitrary and ill-advised. We stand in support of our sister colleges, and we look forward to a productive debate ...[6]
[6]"Letter to the Honorable Joe Straus" (PDF). January 24, 2011. Retrieved September 15, 2015.
Well, I'm glad the other community colleges in Texas rallied around us, there, and that the state legislature suffered an attack of reason.

What on earth were they thinking of?

It would be easy to recall the political infighting about bringing in a branch of the University of Texas (University of Texas of the Permian Basin), and assume that the University of Texas had gone predatory.

Let me unpack that. UTPB is a good school, and contributes to Permian Basin economy and society. But when it was proposed, there were real and reasonable concerns that the city could not support both schools.

(Midland was all too happy to suggest that UTPB be built in Midland County, instead. I think a lot of the ordinary citizens of both cities would have been quite happy to have had the campus built on the border between Midland County and Ector County, near Midland Air Field, and make it a joint venture.

But it is a joint venture, anyway. You have to understand West Texas to understand how territorialism is fundamental to West Texan rivalry-style cooperation. Maybe it's not ideal. There's lots of room for improvement. But it works. Midland gets their share, too (the Bush family? :-/). It's never fair at any one time, but it seems to balance out. Usually.)

UTPB was originally supposed to be upper-level only, to avoid taking students away from Odessa College. The plan was that Freshman and sophomore classes would be taken at OC, and students would have a two-year Associate's degree that they could use to get a job. Students who wanted to continue could then enroll at UTPB at their leisure.

Students who wanted to focus purely on academics could go to Texas Tech (Lubbock) or one of the other UT schools (Austin, for instance), or one of the many Christian schools in Texas. Or not in Texas, if they really wanted to.

(There is this attitude in West Texas about distance. A three hour drive from Odessa to Lubbock just to go to a different mall than usual doesn't raise eyebrows. Odessa and Midland are next-door neighbors. San Angeles, Lubbock, San Antonio, they're just down the street a ways, not furatall. Abilene, Dallas, and El Paso, yeah, they're a small piece of driving. Just six hours. Go in the morning, be back in time for bed, if you want. Shoot, even my second alma mater, BYU, was just a long twenty hour drive.)

This lack of concern about a break between the sophomore and junior years is part of the attitude in West Texas that school comes after work. I share that attitude. I think most students would benefit from at least a two-year break from school between high school and college. At minimum.

I'm showing my West Texas roots and rambling. Back to the subject.

In the 1990s, it seems to have been decided that competition for students would no longer be a problem. So UTPB was allowed to begin accepting incoming Freshmen.

In truth, it hasn't really been a problem. That is, UTPB had a record enrollment last year, over 6,000 students. And OC has about 5,000 traditional students and about 11,000 non-traditional students. OC runs several extension centers for students who need to live and study outside of Odessa, including a branch campus in Pecos. From my point of view, there's nothing to fight about.

Where was I?

St. Thomas quit taking new students in 2010.

The proposal to close schools competing with the UT System was floated in 2011.

There were other issues discussed in both cases.

But there were a lot of attempts to consolidate education systems (ergo, by closings schools) around 2010.

It's not surprising. Education is part of the market. Every industry wants to consolidate.

Misery loves company when it looks like it's time to change.

Upper-level management that has gotten used to their perqs and have become hide-bound seem to prefer seeking solace in the illusion of control that scarcity economics presents.

There is a scripture in the Bible, Isaiah 8: 12 --
Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.

This proclivity towards empire building has existed in human nature for a long time, and it generally leads people away from freedom, from God, from all that can be right in the world.

Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!

In mine ears said the Lord of hosts, Of a truth many houses shall be desolate, even great and fair, without inhabitant.
That's Isaiah 5: 8, 9.

I suppose I'm repeating myself, but big is bad. Small can be good, can be so much better.

Three must have been a better way than to shutter Eichi/St. Thomas University in Amagasaki.

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