Civil Discourse Now

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Higher education is too valuable to "infrastructure" not to be tuition free: response to Ogden on Kennedy.

   Sheila Kennedy blogged about the attempt by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to remove language from the University of Wisconsin’s mission statement that its mission it to “extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campus” and to “serve and stimulate society.” Ms. Kennedy reports Associated Press as noting “He also wanted to remove the statement ‘Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.’”
   Paul Ogden, at “Ogden on Politics,” took issue with Ms. Kennedy’s position that Walker’s is an anti-intellectual position “so rampant on the American Right. He is one of the (far too many) shallow and ambitious politicians who think education and job training are synonymous, that scholarly research and the ‘search for truth’ are elitist non-essentials, and that humans don’t need to know anything that isn’t immediately useful for obtaining gainful employment.  They’d have handed Socrates that cup of hemlock without thinking twice.”
   Mr. Ogden agrees with part of Ms. Kennedy’s blog, but counters that “the intellectual world that Kennedy and I would like to live in, the one which values education simply for the knowledge received, is not the real world that the young adults of today face.” He goes on to point to the six-figure debt many of the students face upon graduation.
   Mr. Ogden shifted the argument. His objection is not with the goal of higher education as the University of Wisconsin has stated for however many years. Rather, he points to an affectation of our system of higher education. Instead of higher education seen as part of our nation’s infrastructure, politicians have seen it as a sort of “luxury.” One person who replied to Ms. Kennedy’s blog noted then-Govern Ronald Reagan’s statement to that effect about California’s system of higher education. When Reagan took office, higher education was free to that State’s students. Now, corporations that toss out a lot of money in campaign contributions have gamed the system so they can prey on students who want to attend college.
   Had Mr. Ogden continued his studies at Hanover College, perhaps he would have winnowed out the argument, instead of shifting.
   We should encourage higher education. If a student has the ability and makes the grades, we should have a public university system available without the student having to pay tuition. Medical doctors, engineers, lawyers, and computer scientists are important to our society. Also important are anthropologists, historians, philosophers—and people with bachelors’ degrees in those fields who have a better understanding of the human condition. A lot of liberal arts majors become contractors and entrepreneurs.
   Governor Walker, by the way, apparently lacks the fortitude to stand by the changes he proposed. As Ms. Kennedy notes: “When the proposed changes became public, the enormous blowback obviously took the Governor by surprise, and he backed off, initially suggesting the change was ‘a drafting error’ that hadn’t been caught.”
   There should be no mistake about the situation: the tuition would not be “free.” Taxpayers would pay into a system that would enable students to pursue degrees. Those who favor privatization of everything are shocked by such prospects. What is more expensive, though, is an uneducated population. As a bumper sticker once said—if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

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