Now, maybe my expectations coming out of high school were unrealistic. But, I had assumed that a college would have a library that would be way more than what my college offered. Thus, whenever I went to Chennai, where my parents lived, I then spent quite some time at the libraries at the US Consulate (thank you, America!,) the British Council, and at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT.)
Sometime during my second year, I think it was, I had an unpleasant experience at the IIT library. The security guy at the library door asked for my student ID. I told him that I was a student at a different college not at IIT. He said I couldn't go in because it was for students. I got pissed off. I got into an argument with him and asked to meet with the officer in charge of the library.
The security guy walked me over to some guy's office and I explained the situation. He, too, said that it was for the IIT students and that he could make an exception if I proved to him that I was a student at the college in Coimbatore that I said I was.
This made me even angrier. I explained to him that IIT was a government institution and that I had a right to use the library, whether or not I had an ID card. It being the India of 30 years ago where authority was to be respected--perhaps things haven't changed much since--my comments and arguments were not welcomed and I was shown the door. That was, of course, my last time also at the IIT library!
The break ended, and I returned to my college.
I was asked to meet with the principal. I thought it might be over the graffiti that I had created in my dorm room ceiling. Turned out that it was about my encounter at the IIT library. Apparently I had created a bad name for the college with my behavior at IIT. I thought to myself that there were a lot more things that the college had to be ashamed about and my behavior was not one of them. But, I kept my mouth shut.
Now, I am in a different part of the world, and in a completely different academic setting. But, what troubles me is this: high school students and their families checking out our campus as one of their options do not seem to care much about the quality of academic programs or about what our library offers. Instead, they are far more interested to know how good the gym facilities are. They are more interested in whether the giant size television set will fit into the dorm room. They want to know about practically everything that should not matter to them all that much.
What high school students and their families do not realize is that the more they ask those kinds of questions, the more colleges and universities are happy to provide state-of-the-art gyms with climbing walls. Bigger and fancier dorm rooms. Rich and tasty food opportunities.
What high school students and their families do not realize is that the more colleges and universities spend money on these, well, the more students and their families have to pay up as well. They shouldn't be surprised at the end of it all that it is the students and their families who then end up in debt, which has now reached new heights (depths?):
The average debt load for each borrower receiving a bachelor’s degree this year is about $30,000, according to an analysis of government data by Mark Kantrowitz, publisher at student-marketing company Edvisors. That number has doubled over the course of a recent graduate’s lifetime. Even adjusting for inflation, the average debt burden was half that size 20 years ago.Tomorrow, the campus will hold a rally on the "dire" funding situation for public universities like the one where I teach. Accusations will be hurled at every possible direction except one: ourselves. I am willing to bet that there will not be a single placard denouncing the wasteful expenditures on fancy dorms, on the fancy gym, on athletics, .... A good time will be had by all at the BBQ, which will be paid for by the students themselves.
Other groups put the average debt figure even higher. A poll from Fidelity Investments earlier this week found 70% of graduates had at least some debt, and the average was $35,200. That figure is higher in part because it includes debt owed to family and credit-card balances
I will not be there, of course. I do not have the youthful energy that I had when I protested at IIT thirty years ago.
ps: one of the many announcements on the event tomorrow:
WOU 082 SEIU 503, Western Oregon Federation of Teachers (WOUFT) and the Associated Students of Western Oregon University (ASWOU) are pleased to invite you to the
First Annual Western Oregon United (WOU) BBQ and Rally Tomorrow at 12 noon sharp on the WUC Plaza
We hope for a sun break but have inclement weather plans and a dry place for lunch and our incredible speakers. Please bring a jacket or umbrella because, rain or shine, we will be outside for a few minutes. We are Western and a little rain can't keep us down. LUNCH IS PROVIDED.
Tomorrow is about celebrating what staff, students and faculty have in common. The three groups will not always agree, but let's find where we do and work together to benefit all. One such place is state funding of higher education. Appropriations are falling. Tuition is rising. Services are decreasing. Benefits are falling. Wages need improvement.
It is apparent, business as usual is not working.
I think there is a better way. We need to move beyond fighting each other for diminishing funds with diminishing returns. Such tactics serve only to distract from the real issue -- the need for Oregon to reinvest in public higher education. Let's resist the politics of division and fund higher education without doing it on the backs of students. Or those who proudly serve them.
This won't be easy, change rarely is. However, change starts tomorrow. Join staff, students and faculty by gathering as close to 12 noon as possible on the WUC Plaza.