December 21, 2008

Extending education offers lasting benefits

The recommendations of the Bohanan commission have triggered a typical eruption from the anti-government, anti-education right ("Higher-ed spending not the answer," Commentary, Dec. 17).

It contained the usual sort of assertion that "we put more people into universities than can benefit from them," and a reference to "the bureaucratic inefficiencies - and special-interest payoffs - that accompany almost anything that government does."

The commission recommends greater investment in higher education by the state, based on the undeniable fact that Maryland's investment in higher education has historically been well below that of many competing states, relative to Maryland's wealth and to the needs of its knowledge-based economy.

The notion that we are spending too much on educating "them" has been around for several centuries, although one might have hoped that it had been put to rest by the indubitable success of the 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act, the law that triggered the development of many of our great public universities.

In the words of Jonathan Baldwin Turner, the education reformer whose ideas spawned the law, the act was intended "to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes" (who were the 19th Century's "them").

And, as we wrestle with our current crises, it is worth remembering that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act in the middle of the most destructive war ever fought by our nation.

We must certainly address our immediate problems, but we should recognize (as Lincoln did) that investment in education for all our citizens is certain to yield long-term benefits.

Donald N. Langenberg, Baltimore

The writer is a former chancellor of the University System of Maryland.

Colleges add billions to region's economy

In response to Neal McCluskey's column disputing the idea that universities are engines of growth ("Higher-ed spending not the answer," Commentary, Dec. 17), I would point to a study released this year by the Baltimore Collegetown Network that shows that the region's 15 colleges and two affiliated hospitals annually pump more than $17.2 billion into the local economy and support more than 162,000 jobs.

The Baltimore region is competing fiercely with other metropolitan areas to build an economic base around technology and information, and this makes a network of strong colleges and universities a critical asset.

Colleges and universities also contribute to quality of life through activities in health, K-12 education, community service, entertainment and culture. Such quality-of-life issues often prove decisive in attracting and retaining the talented people whose presence can propel a region's economic growth.

The Bohanan commission's recommendation that the state invest an additional $760 million in higher education represents an investment in our region's future ("More funds for colleges urged," Dec. 11).

Kristen Campbell, Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Baltimore Collegetown Network, a consortium of area colleges and universities.

Time to abolish the death penalty

Last week, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment finally released its report and recommended abolishing the death penalty in Maryland ("Report fuels death debate," Dec. 13).

As a reader of your newspaper and a concerned citizen, I would like to second that notion, especially in the light of current complications of the death penalty case involving Troy Davis in Georgia. I urge the lawmakers in the General Assembly to forever abolish the death penalty in Maryland.

Pavel Machalek, Baltimore

$25 ticket a small fee to be part of history

As a fellow monthly MARC patron, I disagree with the letter-writer who complained about having to pay an extra $25 for a ticket to Washington on Inauguration Day ("MARC makes patrons pay twice for big day," letters, Dec. 18).

Why should I be allowed to ride on my monthly ticket on a day MARC will be overloaded with riders to the celebration?

For this glorious occasion, I would gladly pay the extra $75 for my two daughters and me to purchase MARC tickets to go to Washington to witness history.

Sharon Wright, Baltimore

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