Dartmouth College students recently staged an overnight sit-in the office of their president Philip Hanlon. They had over seventy demands. Apparently, they grew out of their alleged suffering at the hands of “racist, classist, sexist, heterosexist, trans-homophobic, xenophobic, and ablest structures.”
Translating into English, the students elaborated, “Our bodies are already on the line, in danger, and under attack” — suggesting conditions similar to the teen-aged Marines who stormed Fallujah in November 2004, or perhaps the iron-workers who tip-toe on girders 1,000 feet above Manhattan, or an acquaintance of mine whose work clothes reveal that he pumps out quite messy rural cesspools. As redress for their suffering, the oppressed students issued Orwellian calls to ban particularly hurtful vocabulary, to create new faculty positions based entirely on race, and to ensure gender-neutral student housing.
Most of the students represent the .01% of American society. They can enjoy their four- to five-year hiatus from the American rat race, either due to wealthy parents or to charity in the forms of grants that allow them to pay the $60,000 per year plus in room, board, and tuition. Again, most Americans either do not have such money or access to such money to afford the quarter-million-dollar “under attack” Dartmouth experience.
President Hanlon apparently felt the students’ pain of what they had called “micro-aggressions,” or the day-to-day psychodramatic angst that these young elites feel that are their own versions of the world of the Wal-Mart checker, the roofer in Delano who nails in 105 degree August heat, or the tractor driver who has disked half-mile long rows day in and day out on the farm. If you have never done such things, and you have $60,000 a year to spend on Dartmouth, then I suppose you could conceivably dream up a micro-aggression of being tortured to read woman for womyn, or having to use either the boys’ or girls’ bathroom.
The odd thing is that the students did have a point about the university’s illiberal oppression, but hardly in the manner that they had dreamed. About every year, the Dartmouth board of trustees meets to announce that undergraduate tuition for the upcoming academic year will rise about five percent over the current year’s tuition rate. When they add in similar increases in room and board, the price tag for this next academic year will easily exceed $60,000. In defense of such indulgence, Dartmouth, like other Ivy League atolls, then reminds parents and students that the real costs are about $120,000 and the difference subsidized by gifts and endowments.
But why do very liberal universities do very illiberal things like raise their costs consistently above the rate of inflation, for which, in similar circumstances, food markets or gas stations would be chastised? And why do very liberal professors over the last three decades insist on teaching fewer classes for more money, in a world where nurses do not serve fewer patients for greater salaries? And why do universities in general depend on graduate teachers, part-time lecturers and adjunct faculty to teach many courses that are identical to those taught by full, tenured faculty at rates of compensation three times higher — in an exploitative way that Target or Costco would be fined for? And why, if students are suffering from such micro-aggressions, do they have dorms and student unions and recreation centers that have metamorphosized from the motel like conditions of the past into Club Med resorts, with indoor pools, rock-climbing walls, and Starbucks latte bars?