Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. If the discussion yesterday is any indication—and usually it’s a pretty good one—the Supreme Court seems poised to make a serious blow against public employee unions. And it’s part of a pattern: this Supreme Court’s credence of arguments that support privilege. This time, it’s public employees who will suffer.
I’m productive, but Jill Lepore writes an extended article for The New Yorker every few weeks, a book every two or three years (including a fantastic book on Benjamin Franklin’s sister, a novel, and one about to come out on Wonder Woman), served a number of years as chair of the History and Literature program at Hah-vuhd, co-founded Common-Place, has won an award for undergraduate teaching, and, yes, raises at least a couple of children, probably a dog or two, and perhaps some spotted owls or endangered whales rescued from the wild.
By “Jill Lepore syndrome,” I don’t mean that I can accomplish what she can. Just the opposite–and you and I know it. What’s a self-respecting mortal academic to do?
Today in the NY Times, Steve Cohen argues that the federal government should reform the criteria by which families’ “expected family contribution” (EFC) is determined. The EFC is the amount a family is expected to pay to a college or university for student costs, as opposed to what students can get from Pell Grants, loans, and an institution’s financial aid apparatus. Taking as his example a family of four with an income of $100,000, Cohen argues that the EFC should be lower, allowing “middle class families” to pay less. I’m all for making college more affordable for everyone, but that’s not what Cohen’s about in this article. Without more money in the system either for aid directly to students or to fund universities, or lowered overall college costs that can be passed on to students, his solution to have well-to-do families pay less would only increases costs for students from US households lower down the economic scale (which is 72.3% of them, according to this calculator) than what he thinks as a prototypical “middle class family.” It solves none of the really tough cost problems in higher education–rather, it only serves to feed the gripes of well-to-do Times readers, most of whom are not middle-class, but upper class. What we really should do is to make college free for everyone.
As Evan Rowe reports, he and his fellow adjuncts are working to unionize at Broward College (it’s the community college of Broward County, FL, which includes Fort Lauderdale). Rowe is one of the BC army of adjuncts making $16k a year, usually teaching only one class fewer than tenure-track professors who make several times as much, get health benefits, have job security, and get keys to the tenured-faculty washroom, where they wear smoking jackets and eat bon-bons. OK, I’m exaggerating on the bon-bons, and no one ever gave me a smoking jacket. But here’s the main point: especially given the kind of “leadership” provided by BC president J. David Armstrong, this is further proof of the intentional casualization of the academic workforce for no other reason than to cut a few financial corners, burnish upper-administrators’ sense of toughness, and to deny faculty and any meaningful say over the terms of employment, much less curriculum or how universities ought to be run.
Don’t just take my word for it. Two new online calculators show a) how state support of higher education as a proportion of universities’ budgets has plummeted, and b) how recent policies at the federal, state, and institutional level have combined to increase poor students’ costs in relative and even absolute terms compared to rich students. In either one, you can look up hundreds of institutions.
BGSU my august institution for some reason isn’t on the first one, but it is one the student cost tracker one, and the results are shameful. Between the 2008-2009 year and the 2011-2012 year, net price in inflation-adjusted dollars for poor students (defined as family income less than $30k) went from $10,765 to $13,966; that’s an increase of $3,201, or nearly 30%. For rich students (defined as family income over $110K), net price barely budged, rising from $18,817 to $19,236, an increase of $419, or a smidgen above 2%. Some of these are beyond the scope of BGSU my august institution’s ability to address. But not scholarships.