Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Where Credit is Due

"If your grad school gives you a full ride you can easily afford to go. Or if you can afford to pay for your schooling yourself with money left over. Or if you don't want children and are completely indifferent to material considerations. A rule of thumb is that you can afford to go to grad school if you can afford to spend an equivalent amount of time lying on the beach."
Can I afford a PhD?

Recently, there have been a number of student and labor actions, aka “strikes”, at the University where I have a young relative now in law school. He has posted here and here some perceptive and insightful reflections on these strikes, and on some of the actions taken by “The Regents of the University of California” and the administration at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB), Law Schook, aka “Boalt”. The irony that UCB is the founding member of the Free Speech Movement from way back in my own college days.

His undergraduate professors and his graduate professors were able to attend the University of California in the 60’s and graduate without any debt, and get a good job in the academy or the still shiny new corporate world. In contrast, Laz graduated with a PhD in 2009 and a debt of >$30k, as did his spouse with her own $30k school loans. Through hard word during and between academic responsibilities, they managed to buy a house when the market was at the top of its game, back before the Bush Crash of 2008. Having graduated without job prospects last May, they moved to Berkeley. Being prudent, they put their house on the sale and rental market more than a year before their anticipated move. It has not sold or rented to date, partly due to professional incompetence of real estate and property experts and partly to the global financial meltdown. They are flat broke.

Half the student loans come due next month. Some people look at their scholarly pursuits as if they are selfish in not procreating and consuming. What if these people admitted how easy they had it compared to this generation? What if we gave them affordable, good healthcare now, while they are in the prime of their lives and working harder than we did with less to show for it?

In their exceptional dedication and determination, my relatives in the same cohort as Laz have sacrificed material wealth in favor of what they consider a more worthwhile goal: to make the world a better place. Some have decided to forgoe adding to the weight of the world by making little copies of themselves to overdress and spoil. Others - in their wisdom and compassion drawn from a life experience in much harder times than we boomers ever had - have insisting on taking a course that meaningful to them: fostering a sound and compassionate community. I think that’s a better choice than my generation’s own self-absorbed insistence on our inalienable right to our own individual happiness.

They may fail. Just like the Hippies failed to change the world when we were young. They may also succeed. You’d think we’d all be looking for a better world, no matter who got the credit.

1 comment:

Martha in Michigan said...

You make an excellent point. Our generation (boomers) seems unaware of how good we have had it, in comparison to those before and after us. My $500 scholarship paid for everything but books (okay, I lived with my folks, too) circa 1970 at a state university. As the states have cut their subsidies of public higher ed over the decades, the inflation-adjusted cost to students has risen by orders of magnitude. But we still moan about how much we pay in taxes.

Here in Michigan, public pensions are exempt from state income tax. Private ones are exempt up to the first $45K or so (it goes up every year). Private savings (i.e., the 401k/403b our kids may be lucky enough to have) have no such privileged status.

A retired couple in the newspaper Sunday, whose Social Security and double pensions are totally free of state income taxes, opined that it would be unfair to levy new taxes on them unless "the pain is shared by everyone." Don't they get it? They are the only ones now exempt from the pain! Meanwhile, Michigan schools and universities and less privileged individuals circle the drain....