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Kansas to the creative: Get out, stay out

Published on -5/25/2014, 4:37 PM

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I recently asked my students to take an online survey called "Where Do You Fit" by the Pew Charitable Trust. The survey features a list of paired answers, one reflecting a more liberal perspective and the other a conservative one, about different topics. Students were nearly unanimous in affirming the statement "homosexuality should be accepted by society."

On the other hand, not a single person raised a hand to agree with the statement, "immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care." These pro-LGBT and pro-immigrant views largely mirror the results in national surveys of the millennial generation. My students mostly come from rural or suburban Kansas, and they hardly are staunch liberals. Most of them question the value of government programs designed to combat poverty and ensure racial equality, for example. Even so, our college-educated young people might be leaving soon, and recent actions by the Legislature, secretary of state and Board of Regents worsen the problem.

Urban politics scholar Richard Florida notes today's young, highly-educated, creative workers give us much of our innovation, patents and job creation. When deciding where to live and do business, they focus not on low taxes, but on a community's openness to diverse people, ideas and ways of life. This explains high growth rates in bohemian communities such as Austin, Texas, Portland, Ore., Minneapolis-St. Paul, Seattle, Boston, the San Francisco Bay area and even Lawrence. In contrast with this view, a bill by Rep. Charles Macheers, R-Shawnee, would have authorized open discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Kansans, alienating not only the LGBT community but also their straight allies, including most young voters. Thank goodness this bill stalled in the senate, but it did pass the house. Rumor has it conservative Republicans will attack their moderate colleagues who opposed the bill, in this summer's primary elections. Ugh.

Trouble also brews on other fronts. My colleagues in the Emporia State University Teachers College tell me some students already are changing majors or transferring out of state. They no longer wish to teach in a state where teachers have been stripped of due process protections and school funding is being slashed. We lost these high-performing young scholars -- exactly the kind of teachers we need to stay competitive. The Board of Regents got into the act, too. They recently reaffirmed their policy that professors can be fired immediately for exercising free speech on social media. Open climates and free speech are the hallmarks of universities that educate and train future employers and employees to think outside the box, while also creating jobs through their research -- but not in Kansas, apparently. Finally, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's legendary hostility toward immigrants spells more trouble. College-educated millennials are overwhelmingly friendly toward immigrants; indeed, some are immigrants themselves.

Our state's leaders are telling young job creators: Get out, stay out, and take your inventions, patents, educations, jobs, tax revenue and high incomes with you. If this does not change soon, the next Kansans to move away for good just might be your own children.

Michael A. Smith is an associate professor of political science at Emporia State University.

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