roasting marshmellows in phd hell

University of Lies- The Big Kahuna Edition

with 4 comments

This post is inspired by a recent one on the topic of student debt from A Post-Academic in NYC.  PAINYC writes:

There’s nothing we can do about it, so why bother complaining?

I am not complaining. I am engaging in reasoned critique, which is what academia taught me to do. Or maybe it’s simply a matter of pointing out the obvious, even though there is no Wall Street ticker for such an activity on the CNN crawl.

In that spirit, here is a very serious question: Why should we have to pay back our student loans when we have essentially been lied to, hoodwinked, abused, and rejected? Where does the supposed moral obligation come from? What sustains it now that the game is up?

It’s an excellent post- if you haven’t seen it already, it’s compelling reading.  It

Where can I get one of these suits??????

also features a video with David Graeber, an anthropologist/anarchist (winning combo, really) who was involved in planning Occupy Wall Street.  And it was news to me, uneducated non-history student that I am, that debt forgiveness has roots in the ancient world:

…a Biblical-style “jubilee,” a forgiveness of all international and consumer debt. Jubilees are rare in the modern world, but in ancient Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt under the Ptolemies they were a regular occurrence. The alternative, rulers learned, was rioting and chaos in years when poor crop yields left lots of peasants in debt. The very first use in a political document of the word freedom was in a Sumerian king’s debt-cancellation edict. “It would be salutary,” Graeber writes, “not just because it would relieve so much genuine human suffering, but also because it would be our way of reminding ourselves that money is not ineffable, that paying one’s debts is not the essence of morality, that all these things are human arrangements and that if democracy is to mean anything it is the ability to all agree to arrange things in a different way.”

How fucking interesting is that??

So after reading PAINYC’s blog entry, and googling a bit about Graeber and the history of debt forgiveness, a few things jump out at me.

1. Why do nations and corporations have the ability to negotiate their debt?  The ol’ too big to fail argument?  I found this gem on the interwebz, about debt forgiveness/renegotiation in Iraq.  Look at this crazy shit:

Following the ouster of the Saddam Hussein regime in spring 2003, Iraq’s external debt was estimated to be around $130 billion. Reducing this debt to a sustainable level has been a priority of the U.S. government. Since 2003, debt relief negotiations have taken place in a variety of fora and led to the cancellation of a significant amount of Iraq’s external debt…Iraq’s debt relief remains a priority for both the Executive Branch and Congress. Debt relief is
important to U.S. interests for several reasons, including releasing funds to help support Iraq’s budget, pay for Iraq’s security, and reestablish Iraq’s financial standing with international creditors and the financial markets.

Now as I do not own a Riddler suit, I don’t know what kind of butterfly effect


Ashton Kutcher crap might occur as a result of all this debt cancellation.  But it seems humane and rational to say, ‘ok Saddam went a bit nuts at the mall so we are going to renegotiate, since we don’t want to fucking cripple the future of Iraq here.’  How great that the gov wants to help Iraq help itself pay for future shit and ‘reestablish Iraq’s financial standing…’  AWESOME!  So why isn’t this same option extended to students?  You know, those unwashed, slightly hung over kids who didn’t run a bloodthirsty regime and kill loads of people?

2. Why does a college education in the US cost so much money?  It’s no news that the cost of higher education has gone up something like 2,000 percent since the 70s.  According to that NPR link, tuition at Berkley in the 70s was $700 a year.  As of 2011,  it’s $15,000.  A prof interviewed for the story explained this skyrocketing cost as a result of states paying less and students having to make up the difference.  Buuuuulllshit.  I can say that with authority because I am an anonymous internet commentator.  But for serious Matil, look around.  Sports stadiums, new buildings, technology, endless amounts of deans, provosts, assistant to the dean-provosts etc.. The money’s in administration.  It sure as hell isn’t going to hire tenured faculty.  Which brings me to my next point.

3. How did we let this happen?  There aren’t enough question marks in the world for this one.  How, in the course of one generation, did the cost of a US college degree increase by 2,000 percent?  It boggles my fucking mind.  What happened when governments tried to push through tuition increases in other countries?  In the UK, the protests were successful in Wales,  Scotland (though not for english studying in scotland), and Northern Ireland.  England is another story, but that shit is complicated by Nick Clegg and the Lib Dem’s failure to stick to their promises.  In Greece, where there’s a rich history of students checking the government (including saving the country from the military junta), and they protested the shit out of the idea of university fees.  It’s still free to get a university education there.  Why did this work in Greece and not the US or Quebec?  Is it because they had petrol bombs? (legal disclaimer: I fucking hate violence)  Or is it the legacy of Socrates and Plato? Yeah, I know they’ve got about 8 million other problems at the minute, but tuition fees isn’t one of them.

So yeah.  How did this happen?  Maybe as private institutions started to raise tuition, the public ones saw they were getting the crazy prices they asked for and it became easier to ask for more? And the distinction does have to be made between governments pushing through tuition hikes in Europe/Canada vs private institutions in the US raising prices on their own.   So did this insanity stem from a distinctly American  idea of ‘you get what you pay for’ rather than the more Euro/Canadian  ‘socialist’/egalitarian  concept of ‘education should be free’?

And where the hell do we go from here?

Written by universityoflies

July 3, 2012 at 10:01

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. Thank you for your kind words about my post. I want to venture a partial answer to your question about why tuition has risen exponentially. Indeed, the cost of college has grown faster than anything else in our economy over the last few years. The reason higher education costs so much is because it is debt financed. As public funding for ed has been cut, the burden falls to individual students to make up the difference. That means loans and debt and rising costs. Debt financing is a complex phenomenon that involves college administrators, the government, and Wall Street. (Notice I did not say faculty. Faculty salaries have nothing to do with it, despite what Joe Biden says.) I will try to write more about this on my blog. In the meantime, here is a very informative article about the debt financing of higher ed.


    July 3, 2012 at 13:17

    • Thanks for the reply and the article link.. I understand what you’re saying about the debt financing stuff, but I still don’t get the justification for the cost as a whole. Why should educating one student cost 15,000 a year? Reminds me of those statistics of how much the US spends on things like healthcare and education.. they are #1 for cost but then something like 47th in ranking. agh.


      July 3, 2012 at 17:47

  2. I understand your concern about financing university but I think that the whole fee paying business is a bit more complicated for Canada and Europe. Let’s not include Greece in this category since those who live in this country just known for paying taxes and corruption is rife.
    In Europe it could be argued that if everyone pays their income taxes to the state (i.e. national) government that you’re essentially contributing towards the pot of cash that will pay for the education of country’s children so that everyone who has the intellectual capacity (i.e. they make it through the national qualifications can attend university for at least an undergraduate degree). So, the your argument that Europeans and the Canadian see ‘education should be free’ isn’t technically correct since it’s possible to argue that these costs are covered and people have, by the fact that their parents and their parents’ generation have already paid for this education via the taxes that have been already been paid to the national government. Why? It’s argued that everyone in a society benefits from having an educated population. So, since everyone pays for it anyone can attend if they have achieved the academic requirements required to obtain an undergraduate degree. A highly educated population is able to generate more jobs, more income to be taxes and greater contributions to society both in terms of buying power, income generation…improve health care, education and in turn be able to pay more tax to fund education of the next generation, pay for the health of those who alive, pay for their country’s foreign policy, etc etc. The logic is that a highly educated person will has a well paid job who in turn pays higher taxes than an individual who isn’t as highly educated and so becomes an individual who is highly beneficial in many ways – they’re likely to create jobs, build businesses, be highly trained and encourage others to do so by example. Essentially a highly educated individual becomes involve in wealth creation for all.

    But it has to be remembered that the situation changes for those intending to take a Masters and a PhD since even in Europe these costs have covered by the student not by society. Sure some of the costs have to be subsidised and they are usually subsidised by the national government, or provincial government in the case of Canada on the grounds that an educated populous creates wealth and income for all. It in the long is better for its society. In the US it appears that the costs of education aren’t covered by the taxes paid by the general populous since education isn’t viewed in the same perspective as it is viewed in Europe or Canada since the value of a highly educated person to society aren’t the same a highly educated person isn’t perceived to have as much value in economic terms to the society as a whole. Perhaps the fundamental difference is the manner in which different countries perceive the value of an individual ..its not necessarily an economic value but a social value as well. A Brazilian phrase works well here to explain the value of educating someone for society…”One hand washes the other but both wash the face”. …A highly educated person can work with another educated person to create something which in turn generates jobs..i.e. creates companies and hires others who might be less educated…gives them an income so they buy goods…from those who grows/create stuff and so on. I think that the US, as with many other countries, has to rethink the manner in which education is being paid for and its relationship to society as a whole.


    July 9, 2012 at 04:39

    • Thanks for your comment, Anthea.

      You are right, and I could have phrased it better, in that in canada and many european countries (undergrad) university educations are funded through taxpayer funds, so to say that ‘education is free’ is false. I think the sentiment you express is what I was trying to say though, that many countries outside the US see educating people as a benefit for society at large, and thus worth the ‘investment’, where in the US the burden is placed on the individual.


      July 9, 2012 at 09:10

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