Education and the U.S. Moral Economy

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.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Post Navigation