Higher Education as a Favor from the Landed Gentry

From The Nation: 

Now that the rich have all the cash, and raising taxes is considered unthinkable, we have no choice but to rely increasingly on the rich—whether individuals, institutions, or corporations—to do the things that governments should do, including funding higher education. (And we’re supposed to be grateful, to boot.)

Never mind the fact that private giving is usually self-interested to some degree, which means that it depends upon the whims and calculations of the giver. Stanford’s announcement is best understood not as a form of altruism, but as a way of keeping pace with its competitors. Princeton offers a comparable package, and Harvard and Yale are not far behind. The recent decisions among selective private colleges to increase financial aid have also been driven by a desire to protect their tax exemptions from congressional critics like Senator Charles Grassley.

I say this all the time in my day job: Donation is direction. You want to see something done? You pay for it, in time or money. You do it yourself. Don’t sit around my dinner table talking pie-in-the-sky about what you wish somebody else would do someday. You want something? Get off thine ass, saith the Lord.

Which is one thing when it’s somebody complaining they want higher-quality linens on the table for the benefit, and quite another when it comes to teaching people to read and curing disease.

You don’t want to be dependent on the whims of the fortunate for the essentials. That may make the fortunate feel good, but it’s a shitty way to keep the lights on, as anyone whose position is funded by grants can tell you.

The whole “private charity can take care of everything” canard pretends that private charity will be interested in paving the roads in places where private charity won’t get any press for doing so. Private charity does very well once a year when you are willing to throw it a parade, but it sort of sucks at the day-to-day grind that keeps the world turning, and reducing everyone’s investment in everyone is not how we get any better as people.

The entire POINT of public schooling is to say that I am responsible for teaching you and you are responsible for teaching me. (Want to send your kids to private? I ain’t stopping you: 12 years Catholic, myself, with the ruler scars to show for it.) We have the obligations we assign ourselves and if we give ourselves a pass to just not give a shit about massive swaths of the population because the TV cameras left town or the grant funds ran out or Daddy Warbucks blew his wad in Vegas last Saturday, all we’re doing is getting smaller.

A.

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