Show Me the Money

It’s fundraiser week on my local Public Radio Station (WILL) and so I am feeling characteristically crabby about public life and services. It might be worse this year, since I discovered the wonders of BBC 3 and 4, and Canadian Public Broadcasting, all available without begging or commercials or the passive aggressive guilt tripping attitude typical of National Public Radio.

I value NPR, of course (I’ve been listening to it daily for almost 30 years) but it galls me that a radio station in the wealthiest country in the world, affiliated with a rich university, needs to ask for money from its listeners. We seem to suffer from a permanent lack of imagination when it comes to public services. A simple 1% sales tax on MP3 players would probably fund NPR once and for all.

I just read a piece about so-called “idea incubators” that are becoming more and more common at some universities (“The Idea Incubator Goes to Campus”). It’s not uncommon, of course, for public money to be transformed via a university into private wealth. What’s crazy, though, especially given the ongoing collapse of government financing, is that the universities never seem to get a cut.

If an idea is commercialized, it’s certainly true that the local community can benefit from the new jobs as well as the investment of capital. But if the universities retained a small share of the ownership of the products developed then the investment could pay real dividends. If all of this money was put into a single national fund, we could use it to make education more affordable for everyone.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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