James L. “Skip” Rutherford is worried about the future of public service.
On Thursday (March 1), the dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service addressed University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) students and faculty and the public about what he sees as “a deficiency” in opportunities for public service among future graduates.
Rutherford’s address, “People, Politics, and Public Service,” blamed growing problems in the public service sector on high college loan debt and a shortage of available jobs to combat that debt upon graduation.
“We have grown up in a dream that anything is possible in this country. That when you go to college and graduate, there will be good jobs and great opportunities. The money you borrowed for school would be an investment in the future. But if you look at the last few years of college graduates still looking for jobs, over half didn’t get the ones they applied for,” Rutherford said.
During the hour-long address, Rutherford continually warned that the inability of students to find jobs and pay back debts of “as much as $800 per month six months after graduation with no job” will “challenge the fabric and the fiber of this country. It’s the next big bubble to burst.”
Rutherford said “student loan debt is exceeding credit card debt for the first time,” and noted that student loans are one of few debts “that will not go away if you declare bankruptcy.”
Rutherford also believes students aren’t off the hook. Following the address, The City Wire asked the dean what he believes student responsibility should be in improving the outlook.
“There is a very big responsibility on the part of the student. At the undergraduate level, I would say around the first semester of junior year, a student needs to get serious about seeking opportunities they’re interested in. They need to engage in Internet research, interview persons who are already working in their fields of interest, think about opportunities with non-profits and postgraduate programs. Students often wait too long to start career planning. Students have to want it,” Rutherford said.
During the address, Rutherford pointed out the difference between “doing good” and “doing well” and emphasized a need for both.
“My generation borrowed money and got jobs and paid it back. This generation is borrowing money at six figures sometimes, and looking for jobs that are not there. It worries me in the spirit of democracy that there are less people, who have the financial ability to go out and do good because they are being driven by financial obligation to do well.”
By “doing good,” Rutherford pointed to companies, such as Tom’s Shoes, which has undertaken a “shoe drop” initiative in Ethiopia.
“One of our students helped organize (the shoe drop), which brought thousands and thousands of pairs of shoes to poor areas, where serious foot diseases are prevalent.”
Rutherford said the program donated a pair of shoes for each pair of Tom’s sold.
“That way the company makes money, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but they also give back to very poor areas,” he explained.
Throughout the address, Rutherford emphasized that “profiting is a good thing,” but that public service remains important, “both globally and domestically.”
When asked by an audience member what he would say to people who feel it’s better to “take care of our own” before “getting involved in problems in other countries,” Rutherford explained: “I would liken it to the role of a parent. When you have two children, you love them both. When that first one comes along, you think it’s the greatest thing that ever happened. But when you have a second child, your love expands, it doesn’t divide. I believe we can love and help America and still help with the challenges of the globe.”
Rutherford continued: “These issues are not independent; they’re together. You can do both. You should do both. Several years ago, there was the question of whether a woman could raise her children and have a career. Now we think of that as fine, but years ago there was a debate. In the same fashion, we need to break down those barriers.”