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Who Profits When Key Professions Are Underpaid?

Well, Duhhhhh.......

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, October 18, 2000.

Two different groups of Boulder employees are claimed to be vastly underpaid. The University of Colorado now reveals that its median salary for professors is well below that of institutions its size, and the gap is widening. Professors are talking about collective bargaining. This is an ancient issue, hereabouts.

Then, it turns out that a sizeable plurality of Boulder County Sheriff's department employees, including deputies, have to live outside the County because they cannot afford to live within. Thus the Sheriff, George Epp, has requested salary increases from the County Commissioners during the final weeks leading up to the November election, hoping a candidate would blurt out a promise that others would have to match. Sheriff Epp is also the one who releases horrifying data about the jail, about how overcrowded it is, and these revelations also seem to occur at those times shockingly close to elections.

Now, it ought to be noted that the City of Boulder has nothing to do with either issue: the University, after all, is directly a State controlled entity, and as such is dependent upon the Republicans in the Colorado Legislature. The Sheriff is funded by the County, and serves the City mostly as a document server and hosts the jail. But both issues are considered Boulder's, not unreasonably, because Boulder profits from the correct choices being made.

Here is a clear-cut election issue: the Republicans only want to pay CU professors if they win the odd Nobel prize or are so encased within right wing power structures that the Regents feel safe having them in the office without armed guards. The others, to the flaccid minds in Denver, are clearly communist pin heads who are responsible for all that is wrong in the world. Republicans like merit pay, so long as it is solely they who decides what is meritorious, which can be summarized in two words: cheap labor.

Democrats, on the other hand, seem to feel that a professor is worth the moon no matter how weak his teaching skills, how bovine his course, and that it is a crime against nature to even suggest that professors have to be competent, or even coherent, or sober enough to show up for their classes. After all, that's what graduate students are for. If we need a football coach, the vaults are pried open, but if we need to have students who can think, we suddenly become concerned about the tax rate, and staple our wrists to the forehead to bemoan the poor, hardworking taxpayers.

The Sheriff's department is another story. Why it is considered essential, or even appropriate, for the people who are to inflict supposedly unbiased law enforcement on a population to live within the area of patrol is, at least, questionable. If officers have multiple connections to the people they live with, any thought of objectivity clearly goes out the window. This is especially true further up the ladder. Judges should not be appointed from the ranks of silver throats who practiced before the same bench. Judges should be new and unknown to the ranks of attorneys as they are to the schmucks brought before them. So while I don't buy the argument of high realty prices as a concern, I do buy the argument, mystifyingly unmade, that an underpaid police force becomes a corrupt one. The reason we have both police and sheriff in Boulder is because of the horrendously corrupt State Police and the scandal that embarrassed the state fifty years ago. The troopers were horribly underpaid and took bribes. Of course, what sort of people can pay bribes? Well, the wealthy have a clear edge here. There is method to the madness.

There is more than a whiff of self serving in the notoriously conservative Colorado Legislature that views the goals of higher education. If the faculty is poor, they are pliable, seems to be the unsung theory. But these days, underpaid professors tend to simply pack up and go elsewhere. The last Nobel Prize winner from Colorado's faculty started packing as soon as the reward was announced. Was any effort made to keep him here? We don't know, of course, the newspapers didn't say. Nor did they seem to be concerned. He wasn't a football coach, so why should they?

Bear in mind that the last thing most conservatives want is a totally independent faculty not overly grateful for new buildings that bear the names of the donors. Like the fine arts, they want education in this country dependent upon the upper classes, not a government. They want educators to sense the direction from which sanctions flow, with no intervening authority. Given their way, it would be nice to have the police forces feeling similar emotions. These issues are not discussed by the media too often. Of course, the media is already owned by those very conservatives. Still, the situation is very obvious, and nobody can reasonably argue they knew it not.