Friday, January 20, 2012

UCR Students Promote a Bad Tuition Plan as Police Beat Protesters

The UC Regents meeting had a little of everything this week: UCR students came up with a new way to fund the university, a long list of new salary increases was released , UCSF asked to quit the system, a retired professor was fired, protesters disrupted the meeting, Regents met behind closed doors, and police attacked protesters who were using books as shields.

What does it all mean? Perhaps, it all adds up to the demise of the modern Western social contract. Without being too dramatic, we are seeing an attempt to resist the destruction of the central institutions of modernity: the university, the public commons, and the welfare state. Although it was once taken for granted that everyone should sacrifice for the common public good, this social contract has been broken, and now some are fighting to maintain it, while others are pushing us forward to a more premodern mode of social organization.

A case in point is the UCR “Student Investment Proposal,” which argues that students should pay no tuition while they are in school, but once they graduate, they should pay 5% of their income for 20 years. At first, this appears to be an elegant solution, but it really represents the final privatization of the public university. Instead of relying on state and federal funds and a common tax base, the new system would rely on private citizens to fund their own education through the use of a non-progressive flat tax. Just as UCSF wants to break its ties with the state and the rest of the UC system, this new funding model would allow students to “pay for their own education,” and would get rid of messy things like financial aid and family contributions.

Under this neoliberal payment program, the students working at Starbucks would be paying the same percent of their income to the UC as the students working for hedge funds. Of course, the university would have a strong incentive to only accept wealthy students, since these students have the highest chance of earning a big paycheck in the future. Likewise, there would be no reason to support programs in the humanities and social sciences if the big earners will all go to law school, medical school, and business school. In short, the student proposal is a private solution to a public problem, and yet we are told that the Office of the President will take it seriously.

It is indeed telling that a student group has come up with such a regressive funding model. We can read this as a sign of the way the backlash against the public good has been so successful that even good-intentioned people present anti-social ideas as if they were progressive. While the program does insist that the state should spend 2% of its budget on the UC each year, it does not say how the UC should use this money. Instead, we are told that students will pay for their own education out of their own future earnings. Of course, this model assumes that these students will have a future income in a world where we no longer have any sense of the common good.


  1. simply impractical
    they don't even want to think about the next twenty years
    where many of them will
    some will have children/child support
    some will divorce/spousal support
    some will have illnesses/insurance gaps/donutholes
    some will need to fund their start ups
    some will need to care for their aging parents
    --even if they don't marry or have kids etc. the plutocrats will still be after them...or creating new dramas in the world economy
    and the alumni will now be in a sick fin. relationship with their alma mater as well.

  2. "Instead, we are told that students will pay for their own education out of their own future earnings."

    I, for one, like this model, and I see it more as a "paying back" system. The student loan payments that graduates currently pay aren't matched up to their income at all (unless you feel like filing for hardship relief), which is even more of a burden for those with a low income than a flat-tax sort of system.

    In my undergraduate days, I didn't take the classes I wanted, I took the classes I needed in order to graduate as soon as possible, simply because of the cost of tuition. I doubt that many students know exactly what they'll want as a career when they start college, but along the way they have the opportunity to select courses that sound interesting to them. I'd rather future generations have the option to take courses they WANT to take, and freeing the burden of tuition limitations should help that.

    Of course, this system will probably only become self-sustaining 20 years from now, and I think the short-term financial situation on the university-side needs to be addressed with as much debate.

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