Let me note just a few contradictions:
- The student organizations at McGill have lined up to support the staff who are out on strike. These folks are seeking higher wages. Where would that money come from? In the past, the undergrad groups have supported the TAs when they have struck (which they are threatening to do again). Again, where does the money come from to pay for raises for folks who work at universities?
- The student organizations gripe about corporate donations, so where do they expect the money to come from?
- The students like to talk about social justice, but low tuition is actually quite regressive. Universities that charge more can then relieve the burden for the folks who are less well off. The real price of an average American higher education is much lower than the sticker price.
- The students should be griping about large classes. Perhaps not the large intro classes, but they certainly should mind taking 80 person classes as seniors. I hardly ever learn the names of students here because I am rarely in a classroom with less than 80 undergrads. So, perhaps they would want to hire more profs and keep those who might leave. But, alas, professors are greedy folks. One of the reasons I am leaving McGill (not the only reason nor the most important) is for more money elsewhere. And I will probably not be replaced immediately, as it saves McG money to keep the position open for a year or two. Who is going to teach the monster intro to IR class next year?
- I have noted before that the students seem to be acting against their self-interests (of course, their organizations/unions have interests that are separate from their members). If the quality of the education goes down due to funding constraints (libraries cut back, staff is reduced, student/faculty ratios increase, professors flee for money elsewhere), that will not hurt this generation because it happens later, after they are gone. But so do the tuition cuts. The key is that a degree varies in value over time, which is why folks are so obsessed about rankings. The more value a degree has due to the reputation of its school, the better a person's life chances--employment, promotions, etc. But the challenge is that it is a global market of education. If Canada freezes tuition and suffers accordingly, degrees from elsewhere will gain in relative value. I don't always think globalization exists (hard to get my car into Canada when I moved here), but, in this case, it is quite true that profs will move to where they can get paid better and have better working conditions. The most competitive students can do that, too.
- The students have asked the profs to strike in sympathy with them. Sorry, but nay. My self-interest is squarely aimed at reasonable tuition increases over the long run. I do think that provinces/states/federal governments should realize that universities are better multipliers than pretty much everything else. But that would require a medium term vision.
- The students seem to think that governments will respond by kicking in more money for universities despite the trend being very much in the other direction. Student activists argue: "I think it will be hard for the government not to pay attention." Guess again. The problem is that students tend not to vote despite having these ideals, and old folks tend to vote a lot and narrowly along their self-interests. Older voters are focused on maintaining social programs for themselves (and no one else) and on keeping taxes low. So, the students should be blaming their grandparents for voting wrong, and their parents for not helping to fund their education.
My colleague, Jacob Levy tweeted: "What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly." Thomas Paine. Indeed.