ORTLAND, Ore. — The admissions team at Reed College, known for its free-spirited students, learned in March that the prospective freshman class it had so carefully composed after weeks of reviewing essays, scores and recommendations was unworkable.
Money was the problem. Too many of the students needed financial aid, and the college did not have enough. So the director of financial aid gave the team another task: drop more than 100 needy students before sending out acceptances, and substitute those who could pay full freight.
College in Need Closes a Door to Needy Students, Jonathan D. Glater, New York Times, June 9, 2009
Here’s a simple question. Why is it that when a public institution is forced, or feels forced, into cut-backs in programs they always cut programs that help the neediest? One apparent answer is that these programs are the most expensive. Another is that these programs are seen as peripheral: “We believe in helping, but it’s not our primary responsibility.”
This story about Reed College is instructive because it illustrates how the moral economy works in the Untied Sates. It’s easy to imagine a hundred different ways the school might have saved money in order to allow students with little money to attend. Imagine, for example, that administrators and tenured faculty all agreed to a temporary 20% cut in salaries.
I don’t know if that would raise the money they need. But we would have to imagine a very different moral culture in order to imagine that as the first gesture made by the college. There may have been teachers and even administrators at the college who proposed this sort of idea, of course. Obviously, it wasn’t persuasive. We don’t think that way.