A new documentary that examines ongoing efforts to “disrupt and reform” America’s historic public universities will be shown at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 17, at at The Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington Street, Iowa City. The film screening is free and open to the public.
Starving the Beast tells the story of how public higher education has been defunded over the last three decades and makes a case that an ideological fight lies behind that process. The film, released this fall, focuses on dramas playing out at universities across the country, including the University of Wisconsin, University of Virginia, University of North Carolina, Louisiana State University, University of Texas, and Texas A&M.
The screening is being brought to the community by the University of Iowa Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, UI Public Policy Center, and FilmScene, with major support from the UI Undergraduate Student Senate, Graduate Student Senate, Faculty Senate, POROI (Project on the Rhetoric of Inquiry), and the UI chapter of American Association of University Professors.
Texas-based filmmaker Steve Mims made the film after he learned of a series of institutional reforms advocated for by then governor Rick Perry. The proposals led to “unusual” public debates and protests among faculty, staff and alumni at two state universities. Joining forces with producer Bill Banowsky, Mims discovered reoccurring themes and players at universities across the country.
Their research eventually turned into Starving the Beast, a film that Mims says, “takes the shape of a story of 35 years of state funding reductions resulting in a transfer of financial burden from the state to students via tuition and fees and programs introduced through market-oriented think tanks to radically reform the public university system.”
Investigating the reasons for and ramifications of this trend, Mims interviews a range of educational leaders and politicians, including Peter Flawn, President Emeritus, University of Texas at Austin; Hunter Rawlings, then President of the American Association of Universities (and former President of the University of Iowa); Wallace Hall, Regent for the University of Texas; Jeff Sandefer, Acton School of Business; and Noel Radomski, and Director of the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education.
At the heart of Starving the Beast is a series of questions which local co-sponsors believe are important for members of the UI campus and all Iowans to consider: What is the mission of public universities and how is that mission changing? Do we want it to change and for whose benefit? Should higher education be treated as a profitable commodity or a public good?
The film will be immediately followed by a curated conversation in the Englert’s upstairs café and exhibit space, where there will be light snacks and a cash bar. The Obermann Center and Public Policy Center will sponsor several other panels and discussion groups in the spring semester that will continue to probe some of the issues raised by the film.