Campuses are becoming the haunts of the very wealthy and the poor, with little regard for any in-between — sort of like California.
Let me explain. Lately lots of strange things have been in the news about college campuses — from the Rolling Stone’s mythography of the University of Virginia fraternities to Lena Dunham’s invented charges of rape against a supposed Oberlin College Republican to courses on “white privilege” to “hands up; don’t shoot” demonstrations protesting the police shooting of Michael Brown.
Tuition and Debt
But there are lots of campus topics that garner little publicity. Take tuition costs. Aggregate student debt is reaching $1 trillion — a result of an insidious relationship between federally guaranteed loans (many of which cost over 5% annually to service) and tuition spikes that habitually exceed the rate of inflation.
As a result, in a logical universe, there would be widespread student protests against the lack of transparency in university budgeting. There would anger at paying Hillary Clinton nearly a third of a million dollars for a boilerplate 30-minute chat. There would be grassroots complaints about the costly epidemic of new administrative positions and federal mandates that have nothing to do with in-class instruction. There would be inquiries about why teaching loads have declined as tuition skyrocketed.
Instead, there is mostly silence on campus. Why? Perhaps the answer reflects the fact that the campus bookends the trajectory of California — in that elite and wealthy students do not really care that much whether their combined tuition, room, and board tab goes from $55,000 a year to $60,000, given their parents’ ample resources. At the other end, poorer and often minority students are more likely to have access to college grants and scholarships. The working classes in between, who often lack familial capital and are not designated as disadvantaged in ethnic or class terms, more often pay the full bill. Do universities count on such dichotomies — that the most influential in terms of race, class, and gender issues are the most likely not to have to pay themselves the spiraling tab?
Faculty as Wal-Mart Greeters
Another dead issue is the presence of winners and losers on campus. The universities are divided into two classes: tenured and tenure-track professors versus part-time lecturers. At some public universities, the number of units taught by the part-time pool is exceeding 40% of all classes offered. The former grandees make three to five times more per class than the latter losers, and receive better benefits, life-time security, and far better working conditions (class selection and times, offices, release time, sabbaticals, etc.).