I teach at the University of New Orleans. Every day, I get some sort of threatening e-mail from a listserv I belong to. I received this salvo recently, a headline from NOLA.com: “Louisiana budget shortfall in higher education, health care will worsen.” Will worsen? How could it get worse than the $300 million that we’ve been struggling to bend our minds around?
The idea of cuts isn’t new. The reality of cuts isn’t new. In the four years I’ve been teaching at the University of New Orleans, we’ve been forced to cut, cut, cut. Up until now, the English Department where I work hasn’t had to fire anyone. That will surely change if these cuts go into effect. People will be dismissed, lose their jobs. There is no way around that.
I’m sick and tired of the stress from the budget cuts looming, like a crouched tiger, coming from Gov. Bobby Jindal. This constant anxiety and fear have made it difficult to work and concentrate, not to mention to sleep. If the worst happens, will I be able to continue paying for my child’s education? Will I be able to pay the rent?
What about my colleagues? Most are married and have children. In some cases, the meager salary they pull down each week is hardly enough to get them by. Some have small children who will be in their care for years to come. Some are single mothers. How will they cope? I see the anxiety on their faces. They have questions that can’t be answered. The accumulation of this weight of stress has worn them down. They’re literally getting sick. The mind suffers the consequences of this constant battering, and so does the body.
The students, of course, also bear the consequence of this barrage. Despite every effort and an unwavering commitment to their learning, how can teachers do their absolute best and remain undistracted day after day with this doomsday machine ticking, ticking, ticking in their ears?
You read about percentages and shortfalls and prices of oil and all sorts of numbing numbers. The mind is staggered and doesn’t comprehend. This all clouds the effect the slashing will have.
Gov. Jindal, these are not statistics. These are people’s lives.
Richard Goodman is an assistant professor of English at the University of New Orleans. He’s the author of French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France.