Tag Archives: Detroit

When Evidence Doesn’t Matter

A friend who lives in Wisconsin recently shared an article from the Madison newspaper,┬ádetailing the declining rank of the University of Wisconsin in the wake of Scott Walker’s savage cuts to that institution.

Now-retired UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley would often say that it took well over 100 years for the people of Wisconsin to build a world-class university, but it won’t take but a few years to tear it all down.

We saw the first signs of how true Wiley’s observation is when late last week the National Science Foundation reported that the UW-Madison has fallen from the ranks of the top five research universities in the country, a position it had maintained for the past 40 years.

The news underscored how the university is being impacted by the draconian policies of the current crop of Republicans who are running state government. .The governor and several key legislators have consistently insisted that UW faculty are overpaid and coddled. Walker chided that budget cuts could be weathered if only professors taught one more course. Other legislators would go so far as threatening more budget cuts when they would hear of a class they didn’t like.

Not surprisingly, a number of professors have left for greener pastures, and have taken their research grants with them, exacerbating the University’s fiscal woes.

As the article points out, Walker’s dogged insistence that cutting taxes and spending are the cure for anything that ails state government isn’t just affecting the university.

Wisconsin’s once-proud K-12 public education system is being forced to go begging to property taxpayers with referendums just to keep school districts’ heads above water. The condition of our lakes and streams and even our groundwater has been deteriorating each year and the DNR, charged with protecting it all, is being starved to death under a secretary who won’t fight for it. Our job creation is far below the national average and Wisconsin workers, many no longer protected by unions, earn less.

Wisconsin’s experience isn’t unique. Kansas’ economy continues to decline under the similar ideology and even more draconian policies of Sam Brownback. Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, has presided over the abysmal performance of Detroit’s schools, thanks to a radical privatization philosophy she and Trump want to employ nationally. Paul Ryan and other House Republicans have their guns trained on Medicare, ignoring the fact that the program is both popular and cost-effective.

In each of these cases–and many others I could cite–elected officials are pursuing their ideological commitments with a decidedly religious fervor. Reality be damned.

When evidence doesn’t matter and experience doesn’t inform, Dark Ages aren’t far off.

A Broken City

I am in Detroit. I came with a colleague to present a paper at an academic conference at Wayne State.

The last time I was in Detroit was at least 50 years ago, and even then I didn’t go downtown–I was visiting friends in a suburb. So I really had no idea what to expect as I drove to the Motor City Hotel and Casino, the venue designated as the conference attendee’s accomodations. The hotel/casino is a huge fortress-like structure, surrounded mostly by empty parcels. After circling it twice, we found the valet parking entrance.

Since we were too late to catch the shuttle to the University, we took a cab. The mile or so drive went through a landscape that reminded me of a third-world country; boarded structures, lots where nothing remained of a structure but rubble and trash. Here and there, we passed a new development–forlorn evidence of periodic efforts to resuscitate a dying city.

It had been easy enough to get a cab at the hotel, but when I decided not to wait for the return shuttle at 5:30, and tried to return from campus mid-afternoon, I struck out. I called every taxi company on the list. No luck. Most didn’t even answer the telephone; the two that did explained that today was a “very busy” day, and they’d get a cab to me as soon as possible. After an hour and a half with no taxi in sight, I went back to the conference and waited for the shuttle. (Ordinarily, I’d have walked, since the distance was only a couple of miles, but the weather was gusty, cold and snowy, and the conference staff made it very clear that walking was not considered safe.)

The hotel I’m in isn’t the sort of place I’d choose–I’m not much on gambling and glitz–but the rooms are really luxurious and the service has been exceptional. Anywhere else, a room of this sort would run 250+ per night. (More in New York or Chicago.) Here, it’s 129/night. Granted, that’s a conference rate–but I think what the price (and the presence of the Casino) really reflect is the fact that not many people want to come to Detroit just to visit Detroit.

When a city is broken, it depresses the economy of the whole state. Michigan’s travails have been widely reported, and it’s no surprise.

As yesterday’s post pointed out, keeping a city healthy requires constant attention and talented leadership. It requires attention to infrastructure and economic development, and the “care and feeding” of the service industry folks who are the first ambassadors seen by visitors. When I was serving in the Hudnut Administration, I remember special outreach programs to the cabdrivers and other service personnel who represented Indianapolis to visitors from elsewhere. Those efforts, among others, translated into a reputation that eventually brought us events like the SuperBowl, and the dollars those events pumped into the local economy.

When a city looks like Detroit looks now, it’s hard to believe anything will fix it. It should serve as a cautionary tale to those who take a vibrant city for granted. With enough disinvestment, enough abandonment and neglect, it can happen anywhere.