Reading, Writing and Rithmatic

Years ago I was attending a meeting in Chicago with the American Sociological Association and decided to take a tour of Chicago arranged for sociologists with an interest in the ecology of cities. As a professional demographer I had a long-term interest in the historical aspects of the subject of migration-related population change, especially the change which linked capitalism, urbanization and industrialization.

One of the professors from The University of Maryland, with whom I had studied, and whom I liked very much (a relatively well-known Marxist scholar), was also on the tour. Employed as an executive with the Bell System at the time, I worked for one of the large corporations Professor V often mentioned in his lectures on “predatory” capitalist entities as socialist professors are want to do. 

I was stunned when Professor V, climbing on the bus in his Birkenstocks, turned to me and said, “People like you pay the taxes that support our lifestyle,” meaning, I assume the life style of tenured professors in universities. He had never acknowledged to me that he thought I had made any contribution to the academic world.  Impressed with his acumen, I could say nothing.

Some of the universities I attended over the years were “public” universities, i.e. paid for with state tax dollars as well as funds from student tuition and federal grants.  


Keep Calm and Rebuild Public University
(Photo credit: jgsoares21)

I am thinking about this subject today, because we have a big brouhaha here in Virginia at the University in Charlottesville.  Although I am not privy to secret information from the board of directors (some appointed by Republicans and some by Democrats), the fight over the dismissal of the university president appears to come down to money. Here’s my conjecture based on much reading on the subject, as well as years of experience in universities and colleges as a paying student:

Compelled by state law, Governor McDonald and the state legislature must balance the state budget. In economic hard times this means cutting costs or raising taxes. 

To do so, they had to pick what to cut and where to spend during these economically stressed times.

Among other things, they elected to increase the underfunded K-12 teacher retirement fund and increase public school funding across the state. This means they directed available funds to children.

The governor also directed funds to state programs like Medicaid.  

Simultaneously, the governor and legislature decided not to raise taxes on Commonwealth residents, and reduce the annual funds the state sends to state supported colleges and universities. I know this happened because a professor at GMU (another Virginia university) told me about the budget cuts this spring. 

The result is a shortage of funds at UVA and other state universities and colleges which means either raising student tuitions or budget slashing (cutting less relevent programs and job losses for professors??).

A rise in student tuition means the cost of education could lead to fewer downscale kids attending the university or more accumulated student debt from student loans. (Aside: currently the US Congress is working on a bill to prevent a rise in student loan interest rates expected at the end of June.) 

In an effort to keep student tuitions from rising some schools elected to cut costs and others to raise tuitions. (Virginia Tech where my grand-daughter Joy will be a Freshman this fall has raised its tuition and the family is scrambling to make up the difference.)

Rumor says the UVA board directed budget cuts to departments teaching subjects no longer deemed “useful” in the modern world, i.e. German, Latin, classical Greek etc., but the University President refused to execute the cuts, and resigned her post.

The resulting furor is familiar.  The cost-cutters (the board and those who appointed them, i.e. state government) are the “bad guys” and the dons are the “good” guys.

In the minds of some elitists, raising student debt via increased loans for tuition and/or raising taxes on their fellow Virginians is preferable to cutting “obsolete” subjects.  The citizens of Charlottesville are in an uproar in support of the university president (and their life style), but my sympathies are with the cost-cutters.

People who live in Ivory towers need not expect that citizens like my SIL who spends every day on hot roofs in this heat wave (he owns a roofing company) or freezing weather come winter, are “supposed” to pay for their life choices via tax increases. Especially when their own business suffers from the downturn in the economy.  Neither is my granddaughter working 11 hours a day in a restaurant, or my other granddaughter shoveling chicken s— to save money for in-state tuition at Virginia Tech University this fall supposed to pay increased state taxes to support an elitist life style. 

Go ahead, study Greek and Latin and live in a “cloistered” community if you can afford it, but don’t expect the great “unwashed masses,” as I have heard you refer to the average person, to pay for your life style. 

I support the Governor McDonald and the cost-cutters.

My two cents.

Nota bene: the fact that I spent most of my adult life in colleges and universities as a student, paid for most of it myself, and have heard snide comments about students from some professors, does not affect my opinion. I really liked most of my professors and understand most of them are not the ‘enemy’ of the good. Unfortunately, only a few of them like Professor V understood everyday economics or budget issues.


12 thoughts on “Reading, Writing and Rithmatic

  1. Maybe that’s why they call economics the dismal science — it always ends up forcing us to make some hard choices. Many of our universities, certainly including UVA, are national treasures, and we want to keep them that way, but we do have limited resources. I know next to nothing about university budgets (other than the fact that tuitions are obscene), but it does seem that there are a LOT of administrators, that professors get paid pretty handsomely, and that the playing fields and fitness centers are state of the art.

    Btw, I like your idea of Rational Care. I’m in favor of a mandate, simply because its got to work both ways. The medical practitioners are mandated to take care of us, so it’s only fair that we’re mandated to pay, at least something.


  2. Higher education today is all ready obscene. If I had a child of college age today, they would get the first two years in a community college and the last two in the university that best served their major. End result, the same, price, almost half.


    • Hi Patti, Happy to see you back. I set up funds to attend a community college for each of my four granddaughters via a Virginia Education Plan. So far, only one of them has seen fit to attend Community College. I think they are swell institutions, but unfortuntately some people look down their noses at them and my grands were concerned with other people’s opinions.


  3. And academics wonder why working people look askance at the practice of tenure. There is also the perception by some that the escalating tuition at state-funded (or in some cases with all the cuts, state-located) universities is fueled by the easy accessibility of student loans. The cost is now such that”working your way” through a higher education is harder. Is the student loan system a modern form of indentured servitude? And are students today unwilling to accept a lower standard of living in order to pursue higher education?


  4. The new chancellor for the University of Hawaii is getting $100,000.00 more than his predecessor. It’s a huge brouhaha here. It was unanimously agreed upon by the Regents. What the heck? Tuition has gone up everywhere and it’s making parents and students crazy. SIgh….


  5. The truth is that we all have to balance our budgets. The next truth is that someone in some office needs to calculate the number of students in a particular major that needs a class. I was a graduating senior for four years because of budget cuts.


  6. University administrators tend to be over-paid. They get more money and benefits (housing allowance, etc) than the faculty not to mention the fact that students can’t get the classes they want due to overcrowding or class cancellations due to cost-cutting measures.


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