Stingy Stenger

Residents of Broome  County weekly, see snazzy images of the current President of Binghamton University, Harvey Stenger, with glowing stories and commentaries to follow.  The recent announcement that the Southern Tier “won” a $500 million economic development grant from New York State was announced with “YES” in huge text and a smiling President Stenger, co-chair of the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council, foregrounded just below it in the local capitalist press.  Graduate workers, however, see something much different. To them, President Stenger looks like that caricature of undemocratic, fat-cat greed and stinginess, Rich Uncle Pennybags: the Monopoly Man. That’s why the same day that President Stenger, who makes over $500,000 a year, graced the front of Press & Sun Bulletin, BU graduate workers chanted “equal pay for equal work,” amongst other things, outside a meeting between top BU officials and department chairs. They demanded a change to the university’s discriminatory wage policy outlined in the companion article “Binghamton University Teaching Assistants Demand Equal Pay for Equal Work.”

The above scenario, where the same person denies wage increases for low-wage workers while also taking credit for half a billion in development funds begs a question: what is economic development?  SUNY2020, the plan under which current TAs would be denied pay increases, is a statewide plan “to elevate SUNY as a catalyst for regional economic development.”  How is paying TAs low and unequal wages an economic good?  How does it help PhD students raise families, purchase homes, and be active members in our community? It’s clear from long experience that economic development is not about paying good wages or raising the living standards of workers.

Economic development is just another name for the upward distribution of wealth through the state machinery.  Take the $500 million award.  Where is that money going?  Newman Development, Raymond Corporation, Binghamton University, Lourdes Hospital, Anchor Glass, Bates Troy, and the Arnot Mall in Elmira: the same big businesses that already receive large tax breaks and monetary transfers from the state.  The idea behind this method of economic development is that state dollars funneled to private companies–Binghamton University and Lourdes are more businesses than anything else–will spur “economic growth.”  These state-run investments, however, come with little state oversight and carry no wage or job creation requirements.  Little to no evidence exists to show that this type of development works, while scores of reports and newspaper investigations (including those published in the People’s Press) have documented their abuses and failures. Why send state money to large companies rather than, say, invest in expanding access to higher education and healthcare, or investment in clean energy technology and infrastructure?  These types of investments, just like paying graduate workers fair and equal wages, are not considered economic development because they don’t go into the pockets of the rich.



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