Leave it to libertarians to reduce every single issue on earth, be it political, economical or social, to absolutism.
Leave it to them to turn an innocuous and practical initiative like Chancellor Biddy Martin’s Madison Initiative for Undergraduates into a new battlefront between those who value freedom and self-reliance and those pesky Marxists who just love leeching off the rich. One needs to look no further than the way those who oppose the Madison Initiative are going about framing the discussion as proof of these tendencies. Yet, is it true that this initiative is just another case of “wealth redistribution”?
First of all, one must realize wealth redistribution is something that is prevalent in most aspects of American civil society. And it is something that should not be feared, as long as it is kept under control. One of the clearest examples of wealth redistribution is the public school system. Americans from coast to coast, regardless of ability to pay, enjoy the privilege of getting an education from kindergarten to 12th grade. Perhaps Americans have enjoyed this privilege for so long they have forgotten how valuable it is for their society to contribute to such an essential program.
I come from the United Arab Emirates, a country which, until the early ’70s, had no form of public education, and illiteracy was the overwhelming norm. Starting with the generation of our parents, Emiratis gained the privilege of free public schooling. Through that system, illiteracy rates became negligible and university graduates have slowly but surely become a majority within our adult population. This has without a doubt benefited every sector of Emirati society.
It might not seem fair that those who possess wealth are forced to contribute more to such programs than their less affluent peers, but this observation ignores two important facts. First, without ability-based contribution, these essential programs will not be accessible to everyone. And second, if public education programs cease to exist, those who will be priced out of an education will not be the only ones hurting. In fact, the society as a whole will be harmed by the lack of a well-educated workforce. Hence, even though the affluent might not seem like they are getting their money’s worth, they are in fact the people who benefit the most from the advancement of this society as a whole.
Even when speaking about the specifics of the Madison Initiative, we find it is less about wealth redistribution and more about maintaining and even improving the quality of education at our university. One of the biggest problems facing our university is the drop in faculty retention rates. We are losing faculty to other universities that are providing higher pay, benefits and other incentives. And the only practical way to stop the loss of faculty is to raise tuition in order to improve what our university can offer. Nonetheless, it is part of our university’s central mission as a state college to remain affordable, especially to in-state students. Hence, it only makes sense that out-of-state students and students from wealthier families bear a higher burden of the tuition hike.
Another objection that is raised against the initiative is that it apparently disproportionally favors Letters & Sciences over other colleges. After all, why should I — a computer engineering major — pay more to improve our L&S department? The answer to this question is clear. First of all, Engineering students don’t take their classes in a parallel universe. During their first two years, most of the classes they take are actually offered by L&S. Couple that with liberal electives and ethnic studies and you’ll find that almost half of all the classes taken by engineers are from colleges other than COE.
Not only do we need to improve the quality of the courses offered in L&S, but more offerings of these courses are needed as well. Ask any student who couldn’t sign up for one of the courses required for admission in to engineering how it felt to wait a whole semester, and you’ll know what I mean.
In the end, when we look beyond all the ideological bickering and the ill-advised metaphors, we find this initiative is an essential step forward for our university. And though it might not be ideologically palpable for some, it is a practical and comprehensive attempt to overcome the challenges facing our university. This is why I hope it is approved.
Ammar Al Marzouqi ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in computer science.