Laslo Boyd: Last Call

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Once I’ve selected a topic, I’m generally a pretty fast writer.  This column has taken longer because it’s the last one for Center Maryland.   I’ve been writing for about nine years counting previous efforts at the Gazette and the Daily Record.  Over all, it’s been a great ride.

I still enjoy writing and have a few opinions left to voice, but this is a good time to pause and reflect.  I expect to reappear in some form but I haven’t yet sorted that out fully.  I’m even getting some tutoring from a much younger person about Twitter, but we’ll have to see if I can adapt to a format that right now seems fairly incomprehensible.  My friends already know that I often give in to the temptation to offer opinions on Facebook and certainly plan to keep doing that.

2015 has been an eventful year for me as well as for our political system.  I reached a milestone birthday successfully and without trauma.  I engaged in an intensive examination of the American health care system and found it can work quite well under the correct circumstances.  The keys, I discovered, are being enrolled in a single-payer system (Medicare), having access to a first-rate academic medical center, and having a strong support system.  Everyone should be as lucky as me, but we’ve got a long way to go to achieve that.

Whatever writing opportunities are down the road, I will continue to be guided by some principles that have been central to all my previous columns.  I genuinely believe that government can be, and often is, a force for good in our country.  Not always of course, but much more than the knee-jerk opponents of all taxes, regulation, and government efforts would have you believe. 

Who else is going to build and maintain the nation’s infrastructure? Provide education for the great majority of our children?  Respond to crime, fires and national emergencies?  Who else is going to provide a countervailing force to the concentration of power and wealth that resides in today’s private sector?  Do we want to leave the decision on whether the food we eat is safe to the whims of the free market?  Do we want to allow monopolies to set whatever prices they want for their goods and services?  Do we want the poor and disadvantaged in our society to be without access to the basic necessities of life?

I also believe that public service is an honorable profession and that most of the people who enter the field are motivated to do the right thing.  In Maryland, we have had lots of examples that confirm that view.  I started my public career working for that giant of public service, William Donald Schaefer, and am still inclined to see him as the standard by which all elected officials should be judged.  Having said that, I also admire lots of politicians who have a different approach than Schaefer and who disagreed with him when he was in office.

During my years writing columns, I have been able to spend time with a number of extraordinary leaders.   We have had outstanding representation in the U.S. Senate by Paul Sarbanes, Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin.  I’m looking forward to Chris Van Hollen joining that list and filling the large metaphorical shoes of Senator Mikulski.

Maryland’s General Assembly is a fascinating place to observe, with a rich and colorful array of actors.  My three favorites, all great examples of individuals who are smart, highly principled and politically skilled, have been House Speaker Mike Busch, Attorney General Brian Frosh and Treasurer Nancy Kopp.  Any state would consider itself incredibly lucky to have those superstars holding elective office.

I’ve spent lots of time opining about higher education in Maryland, one of the State’s most important assets and a field in which I’ve worked for many years.  Again, we have been blessed by a number of strong and thoughtful leaders including, but certainly not limited to, Freeman Hrabowski, Brit Kirwan and now Bob Caret.   Public education has had its own stars such as Nancy Grasmick and Lillian Lowery.

One of the big challenges that the State faces in the coming years is whether it will continue to provide enough support to make the word “public” a meaningful one in public higher education.  Backing away from a strong funding commitment will reduce both the access that is essential if all citizens are to be full participants in the future workforce and the quality that is critical to be competitive in the global economy.

Additionally, however, it is a field facing challenges that go beyond money, which will require fundamental changes in the organization and operation of universities.   Incorporating technology into the educational experience, both in the classroom and through growing use of online courses, is not an option but a necessity.  Similarly, higher education will have to figure out how to be more efficient without undermining innovation and creativity.   Some of the same struggles that heath care has faced are looming on the near horizon for higher education.

Let me close on a final note about the condition of our political system.  Between teaching, being a participant in government and politics, and writing columns, I now have several decades of experience.  I have never seen our politics as polarized, as dysfunctional, as mean-spirited, and as devoid of focus on problem solving and serving citizens as it is today.  Neither party is without fault.  We have no perfect politicians or office holders.  But that doesn’t mean that everyone is equally culpable or that both parties have an equal share of the blame.

We are watching the Republican Party teetering on the brink of self-immolation.  Donald Trump may be the manifestation, but his rise has been empowered by a party wallowing in a nihilistic atmosphere of its own creation and by the unwillingness of its purported leaders to stand up to Trump’s early outrages.  Even today, candidates like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are making political calculations about how they can win over Trump’s supporters rather than showing any backbone or adherence to principle other than self-advancement.

As the number of voters in the Republican nominating process gets larger and more diverse, it is still possible than Trump will fade, but it’s far from certain.  If he maintains his current standing, the only way to stop him will be for Republicans with credibility to make it clear that they will not support him in a General Election.  That will require more courage than they have shown so far.

Writing this column has reminded me how many important issues are in front of us right now and will require our attention in 2016.  I’m not sure how long my period of “pause and reflection” is going to last.

Happy New Year.

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Laslo Boyd's professional experience includes serving as education advisor to the Governor of Maryland, Acting Secretary of Higher Education, senior administrator in several higher education institutions and university professor.  His work in political campaigns has involved strategic communications, public opinion polling, and development of position papers.  Dr. Boyd has consulted for a wide range of clients in higher education, government, and business.  He has provided political commentary and analysis in both print and electronic media.