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Published: 6/2/2007

Distinguished for what?

A COUPLE of oxymorons stand out in the title for former Gov. Bob Taft's new job at the University of Dayton. One is "distinguished" and the other is "educational excellence."

Officially, Mr. Taft is to join UD on Aug. 15 as "distinguished research associate for educational excellence." His duties during the two-year appointment reportedly will be to help the private school attract greater research funding and to steer its students toward studies in the sciences and mathematics.

The sad truth is that Bob Taft, during his eight years as governor, was "distinguished" in the public eye mainly for ethical lapses - all those unreported free rounds of golf - which made him the Buckeye State's only sitting chief executive to be convicted of a crime.

And, it's fair to say, that his administration was "distinguished" for allowing politically connected insiders to lose nearly $300 million in ill-considered investments made for the Bureau of Workers' Compensation. Who can forget Tom Noe's "Coingate" escapades or that fancy Bermuda hedge fund?

As for "educational excellence," Mr. Taft presided over a damaging downturn in support for higher education. During his eight-year tenure, state colleges and universities received a funding increase of only 10 percent, while overall spending rose 44 percent.

In regard to primary and secondary education, Mr. Taft's chief contribution was to help throw tons of money at a mediocre public school system that is largely under the sway of the voracious teachers' unions. When fundamental changes were attempted, such as the new "core curriculum" for high school students, they came late in the game as a prop to the fading Taft legacy and with the problem of funding left for the next administration.

What Mr. Taft was successful at was inducing Ohio voters - on the second try, in 2005 - to pass a $2 billion bond issue that included $500 million for high-tech research projects.

Just how much that money is helping the still-struggling economy is hard to say, but the bond issue has added millions to the state's already stretched debt-service load.

All in all, Mr. Taft's record is hardly one of "educational excellence." We agree that he "distinguished" himself as governor, just not in the way his new employer would like Ohioans to believe.



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