Higher Education In The U.S.

With the verdict in on Penn State’s Sandusky, the University-commissioned independent report (written by a committee headed by former FBI Director Louis Freeh ) dropped the hammer on the University and football program administrations. The NCAA then stepped in with its verdict yesterday.

That morning I was on my way to work, and was listening to the NCAA press conference announcing the sanctions. As it happened, I pulled into work at the same time as my boss, and the first thing he mentions is about the sanctions. This lead to much discussion throughout the day about the specific merits of the individual penalties, as well as general issues of higher education.

One topic concerned whether big-time sports actually brings in any money; specifically, does any of it go to undergraduate education. Major research universities are often guilty of shortchanging undergrads. For instance, they sign on big-name researchers who then attract wanabee famous researchers who have to teach these stupid undergraduate courses. In more material ways – such as buildings and grounds, lab and studio space, food services, etc. – Colleges and Universities are skimping on daily necessities while raising tuition and fees. So where is all that TV revenue going?

I then came across this article discussing the ever-increasing tuition rates (see article for picture reference):

The picture is also a good metaphor for what is going on at public research universities. When questions are asked about why tuition is rising so much faster than inflation, various opaque answers are given. The equation that seems to be in use for setting tuition is of the form:

[$Asked For] – [$We Get] = Tuition Increase

And the justification used to the state legislature is from an old hair-coloring advertisement: “Because I’m worth it.”

He then goes on to discuss determining the costs of research to the university and removing that portion from the shoulders of the undergraduates. It occurred to me that this is where all the football and basketball program revenue goes, which is the same place all the money goes – to fund basic research with no concern for marketable results. The university only provides the seed money and the facilities. A lot of the money comes form outside sources. Thus one thing that makes for a great researcher is having the ability to write successful grant proposals. Thus some corporation or industry trade group may offer $5 million if the university puts up $500,000 for equipment and salaries. When the NYT Bestseller Researcher brings this to the Administration, of course they will find the money somewhere.

So we are squeezing the middle class (particularly with the indentured servant student loan system) to fund basic research which private individuals will use to make money. Socialize the losses and privatize the profits.

I am all for state-funding of basic research. But the state, that is, we the people, should retain a larger slice of the pie. This is all part-and-parcel with state-funded roads, bridges, power generation, etc. Anyone who made any money “in computers” would be nowhere if the engineers at IBM and Intel did not have the publicly-funded basic research upon which their gadgets are based.

As an aside, Obama pointed this out in saying no one builds a business by oneself. Romney then went all hyperbolic about it and made it talking point number one. Unfortunately, even Romney’s friends suck at the public teat:

It seems painfully evident at this point that Mitt Romney’s campaign seriously sucks at, well, campaigning. Their singular message for the last week or so has been all about how the president of the United States dared to suggest that America’s noble businessmen benefit from things like “roads and bridges,” specifically, and dared point out that it is the cruel, oppressive American government and cruel, oppressive American taxpayers that provide those roads and bridges, and how horrible the president must be for thinking such things.

Indeed, apparently this rather banal and oft-repeated observation about the interplay between government and business was considered such an insult to the business community, a community of which Mitt Romney is self-appointed lord and master, that the Mitt campaign felt compelled to respond with all possible force. And their response, consisting in part of an ad showing a John Galtish businessman being outraged by Obama saying such mean, anti-business things, sucks worse than the history off all the things that have previously sucked in the Mitt Romney campaign, and that is saying something.

Because that businessman complaining up there? He’s a poster child for government assistance to businesses:

The New Hampshire Union Leader’s John DiStato today reports that in 1999 the business in question, Gilchrist Metal, “received $800,000 in tax-exempt revenue bonds issued by the New Hampshire Business Finance Authority ‘to set up a second manufacturing plant and purchase equipment to produce high definition television broadcasting equipment’…” In addition, in 2011, Gilchrist Metal “received two U.S. Navy sub-contracts totaling about $83,000 and a smaller, $5,600 Coast Guard contract in 2008…”

The businessman, Jack Gilchrist, also acknowledged that in the 1980s the company received a U.S. Small Business Administration loan totaling “somewhere south of” $500,000, and matching funds from the federally-funded New England Trade Adjustment Assistance Center.

“I’m not going to turn a blind eye because the money came from the government,” Gilchrest said. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m getting some of my tax money back. I’m not stupid, I’m not going to say ‘no.’ Shame on me if I didn’t use what’s available.”

So the guy the Romney campaign went to for their attack ad has a business has received $800,000 in tax-exempt bonds, another $500,000 or so in small business loans, does contracting work for the U.S. Navy, but he’s pissed off that Obama said that government helps businesses. Say what you will, but that sounds like the perfect Mitt Romney voter, right there.

It is past time we had coherent conversations about the role of government and the nature of the commons.

This entry was posted in Education, Politics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.