When millionaire Eliot Cutler ran for governor for the second time in 2012, he told voters in one of the debates that UMaine System faculty were both underworked and overpaid. This from a child of privilege whose father was the first Jew to be allowed to practice medicine at Eastern Maine Medical Center. And this from someone whose family connections got him into prestigious Deerfield Academy and then Harvard College and then Georgetown Law School.
Cutler’s outrageous statement no doubt went over well with some (hardly all) who control Maine public higher education–those for whom System faculty are indeed allegedly guilty on both counts. Not a few of these influential folks are, like Cutler, themselves extremely rich and often have not a clue as to how System faculty spend their time outside of the classroom and the lab. It isn’t spending time in their mansions and on fancy resorts.
Cutler’s desire to elect HIS kind of independents for the legislature would only reinforce the ignorance and the animus toward professors, instructors, and poorly paid adjuncts that Cutler reveals. It is also part of America’s long tradition of anti-intellectualism that never goes away.
Cutler’s views might not matter that much if, despite his alleged independence, he were genuinely non-partisan. Far from it. It is clear to many of us that Cutler stayed in the 2012 race for governor in order to try to get LePage re-elected and to defeat Rep. Mike Michaud. Cutler’s reward for such “independence” was becoming the head of the would-be Harold Alfond Center for Business, Law, and Public Policy (what’s left of the once progressive Muskie School in Portland). Cutler no doubt never hesitated to take his reported $195,000 annual salary–considerably more than any System professor, as far I know. At least he won’t be homeless!
Over the past year or more I have learned a good deal about Cutler’s attitude toward my colleagues in other parts of UMaine as the Alfond Center evolves. Without exception, each complains of unrelenting condescension at best in Cutler’s typical one-way “discussions.” He knows what’s best for the peasants, as he makes painfully clear. Maybe not as hostile toward public education as our Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos—who got the cabinet post thanks in large part to “Our Senator” Susan Collins. But no champion of ordinary Mainers, as far as I can tell (and I hope I’m wrong here).
Cutler’s evolution from a progressive Democrat who worked for Senator and later Secretary of State Ed Muskie to a right-wing apologist for corporate influence over public higher ed is hardly unique. Other (former) Democrats have made the same self-serving and remunerative journey. The problem is that Eliot Cutler has the educational leadership position, the political influence, and, not least, the wealth to undermine any lingering progressive elements and policies under his purview.
Hard to go along with one of Cutler’s 2012 gubernatorial placards: “Stay calm. Vote for Cutler.”