Rob Bobb betrays teachers' values

This week is the College of Business’ Fourth Annual Ethos Week whose supposed goal is “to promote business ethics and to further ethics education.” As its keynote speaker, the administration has chosen Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager of the Detroit Public Schools (DPS).

Not only does the selection of Bobb make a mockery of the very concept of ethics, but it is also an insult to the EMU student body in general and to those studying to be teachers in particular.

The administration’s embrace of Bobb is an unprecedented betrayal of the more than 160 years of Ypsilanti residents defending the right to a decent public education.

In 1837, the year Michigan was granted statehood, the state’s first superintendent of public instruction, John D. Pierce, called for the establishment of a school to “normalize” teaching standards.

Although more than a decade would pass before the founding of Michigan State Normal School (changed to Eastern Michigan University in 1956), Pierce’s vision was certainly ahead of its time.

The nation’s first normal school was founded at Lexington, Massachusetts in 1839. When Michigan State Normal School was founded in 1849 and opened its doors in 1853, it became only the fifth such school in the nation.

Ypsilanti beat out Jackson, Marshall, Niles, and Gull Prairie to become the site of the school due to the generosity and commitment its citizens exhibited in their bid.

More than a century and a half later, EMU produces the most educators in the nation. Its very mission is an embodiment of some of the most revolutionary struggles of the 18th and 19th centuries and an expression of Thomas Jefferson’s belief that “talents and virtues [exist] as liberally among the poor as rich,” but are lost “by want of means for their
cultivation.”

Given this heritage, what business does Robert Bobb have speaking at EMU? Last year alone he closed 29 schools. This year he will close dozens more, lay off hundreds of teachers and impose unprecedented benefit and wage cuts.

To the record number of teachers who will graduate this spring, Mr. Bobb is their antithesis.

However, it would be a mistake to consider Robert Bobb an aberration. His assault on the DPS is only the most criminal given the social devastation which exists in Detroit.

In reality, he serves at the pleasure of Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm who appointed him last year and is extending his contract this year, with a raise to $425,000 this year, up from $344,000 last year, while she oversees hundreds of dollars in per-pupil cuts in educational funding.

Moreover, Bobb is in lock step with the Obama Administration and its education policies. In fact, Detroit is cynically being used as the test case for such measures.

In what amounts to blackmail, Obama’s “Race to the Top” program has allocated a mere $4.35 billion for all 50 states to fight over. Compared to the estimated $20 billion in combined state-level funding gap which will exist by 2011, the initiative is woefully inadequate.

The winners will be those who implement the education “reforms” advocated by the administration such as the closing of “failing” public schools in favor of charter schools (privately run and publicly funded institutions) and the introduction of merit pay for teachers.

The deliberate goal of these policies is to establish a class-based education system.

Reminiscent of the open contempt Obama showed auto workers when he forced the bankruptcy of General Motors because its concessions “didn’t go far enough,” Obama recently applauded the firing of the entire teaching and support staff at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island when they rejected the “turnaround” plan drafted by his Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

The plan called for tearing up their existing contracts and would have required longer work hours without additional pay.

The selection of Bobb is also an affront to the students, teachers, staff, parents and community members who have been opposing Ypsilanti Public School Board’s attempt to place the burden for the district’s $6.4 million deficit on their backs.

In addition to closing two of the city’s four public elementary schools and possibly one of the two public middle schools, the school board plans to cut 42 teachers, nearly a third of all Ypsilanti teachers, and many staff positions over the next few years.

In an important first step, the community formed the Ypsilanti Action Committee to defend the right to a decent public education. The committee was deliberately formed independent of the trade unions and outside of the Democratic Party.
This effort not only reflects the community’s deep-rooted commitment to public education, but it demonstrates the growing realization that these organizations represent hostile class interests.

Students and community members should let the university administration and Robert Bobb know that their brand of ethics is foreign and contemptible to them.

Let a teacher graduating this semester use Bobb’s time slot. It is Bobb and his admirers in the administration who stand to benefit from a lecture on ethics.


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