Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Truth About Elite Universities


Seeing the world as it is means viewing it without preconceptions but with a fresh eye. As if seeing it for the first time.

When you apply this attitude to elite universities across the country, you discover they’re not at all what they represent themselves to be—places of social justice and equality. They’re in fact among the most hierarchical institutions in America, along with the Roman Catholic Church and the military, except without similar truth-in-advertising.

When you look at universities objectively you notice something even more curious—that they exist as protected islands of wealth amid the bleakness of the rest of the country.

Plenty of examples abound. Yale, the campus a secure fortress against the poverty of New Haven. Columbia in New York City, whose campus spreads ever more each year, chasing residents out of their neighborhoods. Princeton, a bucolic Gothic-spired dreamland safely nestled between Philadelphia and New York City. The University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, which I lived near for a year. Throughout much of the rest of the city is extreme poverty—including blocks away from campus—but the privileged on campus are untouched. Or the University of Michigan, whose base of Ann Arbor has a downtown business district overflowing with affluence—far more thriving and valuable than downtown Detroit a mere thirty minutes away.

When you step back and look at them, these environments are like spots on the landscape which suck up wealth. The inhabitants are almost invariably (not 100%) from affluent backgrounds. This applies most to foreign students, who come from the wealthiest families in their home country, whether that country be France or Nigeria or China or India. (These students just as arrogant as the American-born variety.)

The students may protest against police—but they themselves are well-protected by a strong local police presence combined with the university’s own private police force. Outrages which take place blocks away from campus must not be allowed inside the ring of security! The students, after all, are the elite.

The islands are always building and expanding. Continual building programs; new halls, research labs, ultramodern student housing, administration complexes, constant construction, as if the islands have no other way to expend their excess funds. Anyway, it’s an indication the universities HAVE excess funds, a lot of it. The flow of wealth and improvement is always one way. These places only get richer, year by year; day by day.

Where does all the money come from?

First, the tuition is too high. In part, “What the market will bear” philosophy. If there aren’t enough wealthy parents to send Binky and Brett to school at the particular institution, there are other wealthy parents overseas who can pay, whether Chinese Communist overlords or Mideast oil sheiks or leftovers from European aristocracies. Other students have to go into enormous debt to meet the high tuition rates.

Second, the American taxpayer subsidizes these places in a number of ways. They’re tax shelters for hyperwealthy donors. Many of the not-quite-as-privileged students are government subsidized via grants and scholarships. Loans to students are government backed. If the schools are public/state universities, they’re subsidized by taxpayers directly.

A layer removed is the enormous investment made into universities by government agencies. The CIA and the Defense Department have long had a symbiotic relationship with elite universities. This is a topic that once was looked into by writers, but not lately. Research on new weapons systems, or cyber technology, or genetic engineering, you name it, the U.S. government utilizes universities as Research and Development facilities—which means they pump billions if not trillions into them to get from them what they need.

Private business such as new technology startups—or more established corporations—also enter into generous partnerships with universities.

Which means there’s nothing independent about the contemporary university. They’re an arm of the government and a partner with business. They’re part of what is really one vast system; one unthinking institutional beast with many arms and legs.


Such are the bubbles the top universities have become that their privileged students are able to imagine themselves social justice warriors, even though they live in the most UNegalitarian of environments. They care, you see. About the outrages they see on their TV screens or smartphones pumped at them by establishment media. Or about the workers serving them in their college cafeterias, or cleaning their classrooms and dormitories. Not that they want to switch places with the workers. They just want to know those who serve them are paid properly. Not by them, but by the same money tree which funds the rest of the operation.

The students have to believe in social justice, as an institutional necessity, because then they’ll support more efforts to solve the ills of society, which means ever more institutions, programs, apparatchiks, bureaucracies. Which means the money just has to keep flowing.

This may be why college towns like Ann Arbor are among the most segregated places, by class, in America; among the most affluent; and at the same time the most liberal in ideology. It’s not a contradiction if you think about it.


This is where the Bernie Sanders plan for free tuition (an apt plan from a long-time professional student, before he became a professional politician) goes off the rails. It shows the Bern as a Leftist strictly of the Pseudo kind. You’d end up with the 70% of Americans who don’t receive a college degree even further subsidizing higher education than they do already—including ultra-privileged places like Stanford and the Ivy League. It’d mean even more money flowing indirectly into the wealth islands; even less fiscal discipline and financial accountability from school administrations. More defense research, perhaps. More technology for the NSA. More building programs. More expanding into urban neighborhoods. Higher administration salaries. More chic high-priced campus restaurants and clothing shops to properly cater to burgeoning high-priced tastes. (The inevitable end result of all gentrification—beer and burger prices double overnight.)

University folks truly will have found a neverending money tree.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Winter Reading

O. Henry and Ernest Hemingway were two very different kinds of writers. One wrote in a populist style, the other a modernist one. They did happen to write two similar stories, whose similarities only enhance their difference in style.

Both stories are about a person dangerously sick in bed in the bad winter weather season. Apt reading at the moment when we’ve been hit with a nationwide blizzard. When it’s a perfect time of year to remain indoors, cozy and snug, reading.

O. Henry’s story is one of his masterpieces, “The Last Leaf.” It’s set in Greenwich Village bohemia not long after the turn of the century. The lead characters, Sue and Johnsy, are a pair of young starving artists, both women. Transparently a couple. They remind me of young DIY artists of now. If they were around today they’d be creating zines.

Johnsy becomes sick with pneumonia, and loses her will to live.

In Hemingway’s short tale, “A Day’s Wait,” the bedridden person is a young boy, nine years old, being taken care of and worried over by his father.

You’d have to read both stories to recognize the similarities in plot. Both have endings which are something of a surprise—each in ways that are a reflection of the author’s worldview and literary style.

As in so many of his stories, O. Henry buries a Christian message at the bottom of his story. In this instance, the theme of sacrifice. There’s a sense of an overarching universe at play, not exactly karmic, but a place where goodness is rewarded by changed outcomes.

Hemingway’s worldview, like his writing style, is starker than O. Henry’s. His a more hard-edged, matter-of-fact view of reality, but not without sympathy and emotion—and a profound understanding of people and life.

Both stories have a kick. The contrast makes them worth reading together. Either is worth reading by itself as a winter weather story.