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Rising tuition explained?

I have three comments on economics professor Jeffrey Parker’s answers in the “Ask a Prof” column in the spring issue.

One: While it is true that private universities do not make a “profit,” I suspect that “rent-seeking” behavior is common, effectively masking accounting profits by “distributing” them to administrators in the form of high pay and benefits. My suspicion is based on recent reports in the Chronicle of Higher Education that indicate that, while faculty salaries have lagged behind inflation, salaries of administrators, including presidents and financial officers, have outperformed inflation every year for the last nine years, paralleling a similar process in many corporations. Recent news indicates that in some universities administrators have been supplementing their pay through kickbacks from private student loan providers; there’s no sign of cost-cutting there.

Two: Parker’s string quartet analogy is somewhat problematic because musicians do not have tenure or a relatively light workload (relative to, say, a junior college instructor). Also, musicians do not have to meet the licensing and degree requirements that restrict competition and keep costs high. Many musicians work part-time (also the norm at junior colleges).

Three: Parker claims that competition among colleges has to do with quality instead of price. However, the college market is efficient because the seller knows a lot more about the product’s quality than does the buyer—the student. High tuitions cannot be considered a signal of high quality. For example, a close friend of mine—with a master’s degree in ESL from the high-priced University of Southern California—is now studying for a second master’s degree at much-less-expensive Cal State–L.A., and she believes the latter is superior to the former.

One could be tempted to unfairly conclude from the professor’s answers that universities, like health care providers, are indifferent to cutting costs.

Gerardo Nebbia ’72
economics professor
El Camino College
Torrance, California

In your “Ask a Prof” column, economics professor Jeffrey Parker expresses concern about the emergence of a “bimodal student body” due to increasing costs for higher education at elite institutions: “Rich kids will be able to afford our tuition; at the bottom they can afford it because they don’t pay for it, they get grants. And the middle-class kids—the ones with family income from $75,000 to $200,000, for whom this is a steep cost—get squeezed.”

I appreciate Reed magazine’s attention here (and elsewhere) to what is clearly a pressing problem that not only affects individuals’ life chances but also the basic fairness and economic productivity of our society, and I don’t disagree with Parker’s fundamental point. But if Reed taught me anything, it was the power of language, so I’d like to offer three points of clarification.

First: the “they” at the “bottom” don’t just “get grants”; rather they (or their parents) also usually take on a significant amount of student loans. As one of the “come anyway” students, I received considerable grant funding after my first year at Reed, but I and my family also left Reed with nearly $35,000 in loans from private and government-backed lenders, some of which I’m still paying down nearly a decade after graduation. I’m sure many other students at the “bottom” have faced—or will soon face—a similar or worse debt burden upon graduation.

Second: in my experience at Reed, very few (if any) “rich kids” paid for their tuition themselves; rather, it was their “rich parents” who did. While this situation allowed these students to avoid incurring significant family or personal debt, they were often subject to a different form of “indebtedness,” in which their personal decisions were often circumscribed by a sense of obligation to their parents/patrons (a phenomenon that sometimes continued into their post-Reed “adult” lives).

Finally: while I certainly join professor Parker in empathizing with middle-class families who make “$75,000 to $200,000for whom this [tuition] is a steep cost” (i.e. families that make too much to be eligible for need-based financial aid and make too little to self-finance tuition costs out-of-pocket), my deepest sympathies lie with the students from the “bottom” who come from families whose annual incomes are significantly less than $75,000, let alone $200,000.

Since finding a solution to such a serious problem often hinges on how one defines the problem at the outset, we should strive for clarity in defining how the dynamics of class and students’ socioeconomic backgrounds affect their ability to access educational opportunities. When it comes to paying for higher education, students from all circumstances can find themselves “squeezed” into difficult personal and financial choices. 

Jeremy Nelson ’98
San Francisco, California

I remember so well my father grumbling and muttering as he wrote a $2,400 check to cover my tuition and fees for the 1955–56 school year. What would he think of this year’s $45,000 figure? As an accountant, he would probably say, “Let’s see: a 19-fold increase in 52 years. That suggests that when your great-grandson is grumbling and muttering about his son’s fees in 2059, we can extrapolate that they will be 19 x $45,000 = $855,000 a year.” Plus another 20 bucks for a Hershey bar.

John Bear ’59
El Cerrito, California

Reedies reflect Reed

Reed, the magazine, gets better and better. The Spring 2007 issue made me reflect on the alumni body in a new way. Alumni magazines reveal much about the nature of an institution. I have read the Dartmouth alumni magazine for 40 years and it reflects the fact that most Dartmouth alumni consider their college days as the best time in their lives. Perhaps this is why they are so loyal and contribute so generously to their alumni fund. In contrast, as illustrated by the “Memo to Self” article, Reed alumni are a far more diverse and perspicacious body who understand that Reed provided them with an important part of the foundation of their lives. It is thus a much more difficult task for the Reed development office to gain financial support crucial to the future of the institution without merely tugging at the post-adolescent memories of its alumni, and to recognize their widely divergent views of the college. I would like to hear from Reed alumni who had a difficult time at the college and why, years later, they think that was so.

Jon Appleton ’61
White River Junction, Vermont

Remembering Bill Naito ’49

Regarding your article “Residence Hall Named for William S. Naito” in the spring issue, an error was made in the second paragraph. The article reported that Naito served in the 442nd Division in the Pacific during World War II. Please be advised that the 4-4-Deuce, as it is respectfully called, was not a division. It was a regiment (the most decorated one in the war), and it served in the European theatre of operations—not in the Pacific.

Reeve E. Erickson ’50
Portland, Oregon

Editor’s Note: According to a genealogy database of military records and the Japanese American Veterans Association, William S. Naito ’49 served in the United States Military Intelligence Service’s Zebra Platoon, which took a circuitous route across the Pacific, ending up in Tokyo.

We regret the error.

In addition to the Bill of Rights above his desk, Bill Naito also used to hang an original internment notice on the support pillar adjacent to his desk, ordering all those of Japanese ancestry to report to the government for interment.

J. Christopher Hall Jr. ’86
Burlington, New Jersey

Overheard and overblown

It was disappointing to find quotes in Reed magazine from Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP.

Bond’s quote [“Whenever one political party aligns itself with the most retrograde and reactionary ideas in the public, I’d hope that black people would not align themselves with that”] made little sense. Has he forgotten Republican Lincoln’s efforts? How about the key Republican votes in the Congress when the Southern Democrats attempted to kill the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

Many black men and black families are facing a dismal future. Their statistics are starkly enumerated by Human Rights Watch: “The disproportionate representation of black Americans in the U.S. criminal justice system is well documented. Blacks comprise 13 percent of the national population, but 30 percent of people arrested, 41 percent of people in jail, and 49 percent of those in prison. . . .”

These statistics represent a failing grade for Julian Bond, the NAACP, and for all of the black establishment leadership.

Asking young African American students to excel in academics, to be responsible fathers and mothers, and to take responsibility for their actions is not turning them into another race, it is simply a fundamental starting point to assist them in achieving a higher rate of success in their lives. Does that represent a “party playing to the prejudices and ignorances” of the community?

Julian Bond was a very impressive person 40 years ago. However, in recent years he has become a bitter person who appears hopeless and without ideas. If you think my judgment is too harsh, simply compare his recent statements with the soaring rhetoric of the late Martin Luther King Jr.

What was the reason Reed published Bond’s statement? I read it following his appearance on campus in February, and it made no sense at that time—even with the addition of greater context. I can only assume the publication strongly endorses Bond’s comments by noting them in “Overheard.” And I must ask how repeating his statement works to solve the terribly serious problems faced by blacks today. Or, is the publication joining Bond in his feckless political game?

Michael Hartfield ’74
Dundee, Oregon

SDS redux

Two letters in your spring issue touch on the cultural and political attitudes of the late ’60s, but neither gets to the heart of the matter, and the first one, by Bennett Goldstein ’72, distorts the facts in saying most of us place our trust in free-market capitalism. That is grossly anachronistic—but not really surprising, given how the real attitudes of the period have been so suppressed.

In the ’90s, I began noticing how the mood, the way of life, and the events of the counterculture and youth culture were forgotten. I find it rather disturbing that it’s all been so easily and thoroughly airbrushed out of consciousness. In 1998, I was living near Eugene, Oregon, and I made it a habit to ask many hip, dreadlocked young people what they knew about the events of 1968. No one knew a thing!

Vietnam was the central reality for us—a patently stupid, gruesome, and pernicious crime. The whole system or “establishment” that perpetrated it stood condemned by us, but we trusted that our huge generation would restore sanity and justice. (A naïve viewpoint I still heard echoed as late as 1995.)

In January 1967, Gary Snyder ’51 spoke in the chapel in tones of quiet jubilation, as he described the first “Human Be-In” in Golden Gate Park. The hippie attitude was basically a decisive rejection of the premises of capitalism and all its works and pomps. Most young people in elite colleges were affected by this attitude—we turned on or tuned in, even if we didn’t drop out.

Our attitudes were somewhat silly, but rather wonderful in retrospect—after the uncomfortable recent years, I admit I’m nostalgic for those expansive, hopeful feelings. Being in a minority in any way was simply inconceivable to us. But I am of the opinion that the tear-down-the-walls/Paradise Now mood was mostly the product of baby-boomer demographics, profound middle-class prosperity, and the advertising culture that promoted the psychology of instant gratification.

We were cruising on easy street. When I lived in San Francisco, I was able to hitchhike as a quick, practical form of transportation! The thing that I find hard to convey to kids today is that young people didn’t need money to live, until 1980. In group households, rents were nominal and food stamps easy to get—that was our “free-market” faith! The fact that these households were fluid and informal more than intentional communes with rules and agendas points to the heart of the matter and real bottom line: between 1965 and 1975, baby boomers mostly placed their trust in each other. (That is a generalization to make my point. I don’t deny that there was a lot of deep disappointment with the youth culture in the ’70s.)

A final fact that will astonish people under 40: in the mid- and late ’70s, pot was openly used and shared on the West Coast in parks, cafés, theatres, and academic parties (mixed gatherings of students and professors). Everyone fully believed that it would soon be decriminalized.

There are a few novels and memoirs, of course, that do evoke the milieu I’m hinting at: those of Marge Piercy, and a memoir by Robert Stone. Two memoirs by women appeared about seven years ago that superbly evoke the lost world—one by one of the founders of the Lama Foundation (Finding Fran by Lois Banner), and one by Diane DiPrima, mostly about Bohemian life in the ’50s in New York City, but the sections on California in the ’60s are a rich and potent Proustian bite of the world that we assumed would never change, a world of incredible, unprecedented freedom, especially for women.

Teresa Cronin ’71
Fayetteville, Arkansas

Honor among reedies

I wanted to respond to C. Norman Winningstad’s letter in the spring issue. His ironic and patronizing tone was too much to swallow. The majority of people I knew at Reed were idealistic more than they were “naïve.” It was the kind of idealism that was informed and came from a choice and a decision to live one’s life in a certain way (honorably), and to seek out a community of like-minded people with whom to study.

I did not experience a culture of ignorance at Reed regarding the existence of cheating, lying, and stealing in the world, past or present. What I saw, and still see, was an eyes-wide-open choice to live better, and by doing so, perhaps create waves of change, large and small, just by living what we believed, then and later.

Winningstad’s derisive remarks about our capacity for knowing the difference between the “territory” and the “map” (or reality and cloud cuckoo land) come from a mistaken grasp of our ability to see one reality while attempting to achieve a better one—an attainable one, we believe. We are not dumb. We just made a different choice than he did, and it was not a choice to be cynical. If we ask if honor is dead, it is because we have curious and proactive minds, wanting to know, and willing to do something about it. And, yes, there is something in it for us—a better world.

And why should we “trust” someone who tries to ridicule us while he’s informing us that the reality of our fellow human beings is fixed, i.e. that they will lie, cheat, and steal. I chose not to think it is fixed, just as he chose to believe it is.

His choice made him helpless.

Elizabeth Donnally Davidson ’70, MAT ’71
Bainbridge Island, Washington

I appreciate that C. Norman Winningstad had the guts to send a letter that broadly criticized Reed students, and that Reed had the integrity to publish it. Unfortunately, while Winningstad’s letter makes an interesting point with an element of truth, his argument has major flaws. First, he implies that ensuring a particular freedom is “naïve” or otherwise misguided if the psychopathic minority would abuse it. Without additional qualifications, this could just as well be applied to the Bill of Rights, or to the protection of almost any significant freedom. He also claims that “Reedies sincerely believe the whole world would be nice, like they are, if only they had the advantages Reedies had.” I can’t speak for the entire student body, but most Reedies I know understand that Reed’s culture emerges largely from properties, like its small size, that can’t be extended to the wider world in any straightforward way. Finally, he says that Reedies confuse an ideal “map” with a real “territory” containing “potholes, detours, etc.,” but goes on to acknowledge that Reed may have less than the average number of psychopaths. If Reed really has fewer potholes than the wider world, then couldn’t Winningstad be confusing an accurate map of Reed with an idealized map of everywhere?

Robert Friel ’10
Seattle, Washington

Dog gets runaround

Shep the Wonder Dog ’02 would like to formally correct an error that was printed in the Spring 2007 issue of Reed. It was stated (in a photo caption for Becky Bart and Kater Murch’s wedding) that he still had P.E. credits to complete. In fact, he more than filled his requirements in between writing his thesis (Tails from Under the Desk: A Case Study on the Impact of a Reed Dog on Thesis Office Productivity) and cleaning up the library lobby. He completed at least two quarters of independent P.E. study (running on the rugby field track), and the other four were fulfilled by daily laps around and through commons, while his human counterpart took the Lord’s name in vain and tried to convince him that returning to the thesis office was better than soggy fries. She should have known better. Shep did indeed graduate from Reed in May 2002, photographic evidence of which can be provided if required to clear his good name.

Rachel Mills ’02 (as dictated by Shep ’02)
Santa Rosa, California