Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Thursday, April 7, 2016

WHILE I WAS OUT

While I was out shopping for dinner, the comments section exploded with a series of very interesting and knowledgeable responses to my defense of Bernie’s call for free public higher education.  My thanks to all of you.  Rather self-interestedly, I take it as a tribute to this blog that its readership is so classy.  J  Let me try briefly to add a few responses.

First of all, I cannot figure out where I got my original income figures, but they are totally wrong.  S. Wallerstein’s are correct.  My point remains, concerning the relative wealth of America and France.  Sorry about that.

Second, it is quite true that the federal structure of the United States and the state rather than federal responsibility for education makes the situation here much more complicated.  But the general principle that elementary and secondary education should be universal and free has gained acceptance in our system, and so could the principle that tertiary education should be free.  Bernie is not, so far as I can see, supposing that such a principle can be implemented by the waving of a wand, and certainly not by an Executive order.  He is trying, for the first time, to make this principle part of the core commitment of one of the two major political parties.  Clinton is not prepared to sign on to that principle.  If she were, a useful conversation could be initiated in the Democratic Party about how to implement it.

Third, David Palmeter is quite correct about the extraordinary inflation in tuition costs.  When I entered Harvard in 1950, tuition was $600 a year [I recall it as $400, but the distinguished logician and philosopher Charles Parsons, my classmate, graduate apartment mate, Columbia colleague, and long-time friend, recalls it as $600, and I learned long ago that in all such matters Charles is always correct.]  That is $5900 in 2016 dollars.  Tuition this year at Harvard is $57,200, almost ten times the inflation rate!!!  Why do they charge so much?  Because they can.  Then they use their enormous endowment to underwrite grants to many of their students.  It would take me a long time to begin to explain the explosion in costs, but one thing is for sure:  it is not an explosion of faculty salaries.

Fourth, there are all sorts of ways in which the French higher educational system is inferior to the American, setting to one side the so-called grandes ├ęcoles, and I am actually a big fan of the American system, though not of its cost.  To cite just one among many of its virtues, in America it is quite possible for a high school graduate to take some of the academic courses at a local Community College, then transfer those credits to a branch of the state four year college system, eventually graduate and gain admission to a post-graduate program at a campus of the state university system, and thus climb the ladder educationally.  There are many educational systems around the world in which that sort of portability of credits and steady rise is just impossible.


Once again, thank you all for a valuable discussion.

7 comments:

Chris said...

"To cite just one among many of its virtues, in America it is quite possible for a high school graduate to take some of the academic courses at a local Community College, then transfer those credits to a branch of the state four year college system, eventually graduate and gain admission to a post-graduate program at a campus of the state university system, and thus climb the ladder educationally. There are many educational systems around the world in which that sort of portability of credits and steady rise is just impossible."

Without this possibility I would never have made it into a doctoral program, since I was generally speaking a "bad" high school student. This element of American education has be preserved, while the university system as a whole implements major cost reductions.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Indeed. During my work in South Africa, I was struck by the fact that it was not even really possible to transfer credits from one elite White institution to another.

David Goldman said...

"It would take me a long time to begin to explain the explosion in costs, but one thing is for sure: it is not an explosion of faculty salaries."

The details aren't that important, but I couldn't resist googling...
Per here, Morton White was offered $7000 per year as an associate prof at Harvard in 1950. According to this story, the average associate professor at Harvard in 2012 was $120,900. That's about 1.8x inflation.

The ratio of faculty salary to tuition is also interesting. In 1950 an associate prof made ~11.7x a single student's (sticker price) tuition. In 2012 an associate prof made ~2.2x the $54496 tuition.

(Writing this, I became a bit uncertain about the room and board component of these tuition numbers. That $54496 includes room and board. But did the $600 in 1950? Two minutes of googling haven't answered the question, so I gave up trying to find out.)

Robert Paul Wolff said...

No, the 600 was just tuition. By the way, in 1958, I was offered [and accepted] $5500 as an Instructor at Harvard, rising to $6500 in 1960. In 1961, I was paid $7500 as an Assistant Prof at Chicago, and in 1964, I was paid [I think] $9500 as a tenured Associate Prof at Columbia. Maybe that is wrong. It may have been more. My sister in 1948 was the grand national girl winner of the Westinghouse Science talent Search, and her $2400 prize paid for her four years of tuition at Swarthmore, I believe. How things have changed. You really could work your way through college in those days.

Warren Goldfarb said...

The story that Mr. Goldman cites clearly lumps together all the faculty at Harvard, be they in Arts and Sciences (college faculty), Law, Business, or Medicine. There is no way that the "average" salary of an Arts and Science assistant professor is $109,800. More like $75,000. I can't say about associate professors: but if these are amalgamated data, it is pretty much meaningless, at least if you're going to take Morton White, a philosopher, as your basis.

Tom Cathcart said...

Seven years after you started college, Bob, the tuition was $1250, and Pusey apologized to our class for raising the tuition more in his few years than it had been raised cumulatively since 1636. Talk about galloping inflation!

Jim said...

Professor Wolff --

I too am a big fan of the US higher education system -- despite its flaws. Like Chris, I was a "bad" high school student. After obtaining an AA from a Community College, I then transferred to a State College and was ultimately able to pursue graduate work at "elite" institutions. The ONLY prohibitive factor throughout the entire process (and subsequent anxiety inducing factor) was cost concerns. Lower (or non-existent) tuition costs would have enabled me to pursue more educational opportunities sooner than later. The process of transforming public colleges and universities as tuition free institutions may be a complicated task, but it would without doubt benefit many people, myself included.

-- Jim