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Public Higher Education Advocacy Day Remarks

Location: Unknown

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming out. This is incredibly important that you're here. It's important for all the reasons you know already. All the opportunities to try to contain tuition hikes, fee hikes and the sorts of things that are making it hard for you and for other students to afford the chance that you need to make the most of economic and job opportunities and life opportunities going forward -- you can get all of that. You can get all of that.

I want to just make a point about something I describe as a generational responsibility. There was a column I read many years ago that -- I don't know if you've had the experience of having something on your mind and you can't quite give it voice, and then you read something or you have a conversation and you think: That's it! I read this column that described the greatest generation and prepared that generation, my generation, the Baby Boom generation. And the column described the greatest generation the way we've all heard it described: the generation that fought and won the Second World War and then rebuilt Europe and Japan and then came home and created great public institutions, great public universities, the federal highway system, the central safety net we still worry about, they really launched the modern Civil Rights movement. And then the author described my generation, the Baby Boom generation, as the grasshopper generation, because we've been feeding off that all our lives.

During the blizzard last month, I remember being out on the Pike at a point in the day when there wasn't much else for me to do. We'd made all the big decisions, the forecast was pretty firm at that point. The only ones out on the road were the clouds and emergency vehicles and me. Coming or going, I don't remember which -- there was a bunker in Framingham where we go for emergencies. I was thinking to myself: just as soon as this storm is over, everybody is going to be back on the Pike crowding it because we all depend on it. But we get to depend on it because our grandparents made a decision in their time. That they were going to do what was good to make their lives and ours better. And we have to step up right now in that same spirit.

We have been, in a way, self-defeating, about how to fulfill a better and stronger Commonwealth. We have done all kinds of things that we were supposed to do, even without the recession, to try to squeeze more out of a buck, to try to make sure that we were as efficient and effective as possible. And I can tell, having spent most of my life in large organizations in the private sector - that work, in a successful organization, never ends. There are always painful decisions, there are always new ideas, there are new ways to use technology. There's always decisions about how to think, about getting more out of the resources we have. But I have stared at this budget long and hard, at these line items long and hard, and more to the point -- I've talked to you, so I see the faces and the lives behind those line items. And I'm here to tell you that we are not going to be able to reform our way to an affordable higher ed system -- we have to invest in it.

But that does not mean that you and I are off the hook. It still means that in the leadership at our state colleges and universities, that in the student leaders as well -- you've got to be thinking about how to do what we do better, smarter, and in a more cost-effective way. That does not end. How we looked at campuses to collaborate on their energy or power purchases, for example. How we get better value and economy out of all kinds of things that colleges and universities have to buy on our behalf. That work has to continue -- if anything it has to be more robust. But if we're going to keep the "public" in public higher ed, then the public has to step up too.

All I want you to do is to go and engage. Engage. Engage with the members of the legislature, many of whose best leaders are here today, and I thank them for being here. Engage with the members of the legislature who are nervous and uncomfortable about a so-called tax vote. Remember and remind them that taxes are the price of civilization. These are not careless questions, they are not idle or lightly-taken asks. This is a big deal. This is big deal. And so engage respectfully. There are going to be people who are deeply concerned that this vote may jeopardize their reelection. That is the political reality in the lives of an awful lot of good people who work in this building. Don't belittle that -- engage. When they are worried about that, tell them you'll show up at election time and help them. We want to stand by the people who stand with us. We want to reward political courage. And we want a kind of political behavior which says we're not just about accumulating political capital, we're willing to spend it when it's time to do the right thing.

Thank you for being here.

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