Thursday, March 14, 2013

An abomination
Robert Katz, Wilson Library assistant

 (from the Minnesota Daily)

A Dec. 28, 2012, Wall Street Journal article reported on the large increase in the number of administrators at the University of Minnesota — 1,000 added in the last 10 years. The Minnesota Legislature has given the University until March 15 to explain this expansion in its bureaucratic waistline. While for some time there has been a sense among members of the University community that something is fundamentally wrong in the course that the University has been pursuing, this hunt for excessive numbers of excessively paid administrators is a distraction from the growing darkness that lies at the core of the University’s present condition.

A dislike of bureaucrats is an inherent feature of the American character. It would be deeply satisfying for many to see administrators at the University being chivvied out of their snug burrows, forced into the light of day — squinting and mewling — and finally made to account for themselves. Higher education only makes up about 8 percent of the state tax dollar. The University receives about half of this. Administrators’ salaries are probably less than 2 percent of the University’s total budget. So even if administration costs were cut in half, this would only amount to pocket change for the average taxpayer. Targeting administrators is aesthetically satisfying but economically insignificant.

The typical student does suffer real economic ill-effects from the way the University is administered. Administrators, besides needing salaries, require staff, budgets and projects. Their staff also need salaries, staff, budgets and projects. And so it goes. The result is that operating expenditures at the University have gone from $2 billion in 2002 to nearly $3 billion in 2012. Tuition has more than doubled during this period. It seems likely that students could get the same quality education if the University trimmed its budget by 5 percent. This would be a savings of $150 million, which is 20 percent of the annual tuition revenue taken in by the University. What this means is that over the course of four years, the University is overcharging each student by at least $10,000.

However, if we view the situation of the average student from the standpoint of social justice, the consequences of this state of affairs is of little moral significance. The typical student will graduate with student loans of $27,000 or less, and they can eventually expect to earn over $45,000 a year, on average.

Whether that $10,000 overcharge finally ends up in the pocket of a group of relatively well-off people — these University graduates — or another — University administrators and their colleagues — hardly matters as a moral issue.

But not everyone is typical. Several thousand students currently attending the University will suffer significant moral damage. These students will leave the University owing $27,000 or more and will be earning $35,000 or less. College student debt nationally has been steadily increasing over the last decade; already 20 percent of outstanding student loans are delinquent, and 115,000 recipients of Social Security so far — such as parents and grandparents who cosigned loans — are having their benefits garnished to pay for student loans in default. Because of this burden of debt, many University graduates will likely never own a home or start their own business. They will think twice before having children. All of their life choices will be constrained by an aversion to risk imposed by their level of indebtedness. These economic consequences will lead to moral consequences. The limitation of possibilities together with the constant threat of insolvency will lead to constrained, illiberal habits of thought — the exact opposite of what a liberal education is meant to provide. These University students will become debt slaves and as Homer observed, “on the day of their enslavement they will lose half their souls.”

For these students, their alma mater will be the exact opposite of a nourishing mother. The sense of foreboding many of us have felt concerning the course the University has been taking can be ascribed to a growing realization that it has evolved into a creature that devours its young.

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