Sunday, February 01, 2009

Class Bias in Practice

The term "class bias" like many others has an idea or theory behind it but is not really brought home until you see it in practice as I have over the last few months. In the midst of my University's huge budget cuts, the Law School has avoided any cuts at all. It has done this by raising tuition and cutting class size. Some faculty feel shame at the idea of eliminating 25% of the students while increasing the law school budget and faculty size while the rest of campus suffers. Some feel it is simply a way to up the US News ranking by lopping off the bottom of those admitted. I hope not but this will depend on admissions practices which have not revealed themselves yet.

Still the idea of fewer students and higher tuition is not unreasonable. Fewer students can mean lower class size and, since our tuition is very far below the average, raising it, while unfortunate for students, does mean that those who benefit from the Law School pay a bigger part of the cut. It also lowers the stress on taxpayers most of whom are less able to pay than the students and their parents.

So where is the class bias? While law faculties grant tenure to the children of privilege year after year without a serious inquiry into whether they deserve a live time job and continue to hire even more of the privileged, they ignore the plight of maintenance workers, secretaries and year to year contract people are on the chopping block.

To be fair, a few have volunteered to teach extra in order to decrease the need for new hiring under such extreme conditions. But, for the most part there are excuses -- how do we know where the money will go? It's important to grow the law school, etc. And there are leaders who want to be able to take credit for steering us through hard times. Those negatively affected by this tunnel-vision will be unheard from when the "credit taking" occurs.

And finally there is the tendency to become company men and this I cannot claim to be class based. To understand what I mean think of the last time you had any kind of complaint about a product or service and had to interact with a clerk who immediately became defensive on behalf of the company. So too with faculty. At some point the goal is not to do good but to protect the School or a program regardless of what it is doing. Having always been an outsider, I'll never understand the transformation to company man when the company has gone astray.

Consistent with my New Year's resolution to be too quick to judge, I've searched for a charitable interpretation of events but cannot come up with one. If there is one, I'd like to hear it. But that would violate another rule the privileged go by: To engage on an issue is to concede there may be two ways to look at it. So, do not engage.


Anonymous said...

Since state funding is based on student enrollment, it seems any tuition increase would have to be enormous to make up the shortfall. I guess that is the plan.

I'm always puzzled when university officials cite Florida's across the board low tuition as a bad thing. Shouldn't access to education be the goal of any land-grant institution?

Anonymous said...

Any idea how much tuition is going up at UF? 15-20%? While it wont affect demand, it certainly doesnt help the 50-75% of current students who might be jobless because of the economy...

Jeffrey Harrison said...

I think there is a yearly max in the neighborhood of 10% or so but I am not sure.

first thing said...

On company men/women: I think it is class based, since in defending the company (to the death?) you get labeled as loyal, and makes your job that much more secure. I've been in a spot like that before, and it had everything to do with being seen as irreplaceable and reliable.

Then again, if one has tenure, then you make a good point.