Letter to the editor

Dear Arthur,

I won’t ask you to print the word but Brad White’s explanation of what went wrong with university finances in the 1980s and ‘90s is full of a certain material that biologists study.

Suffice to say that classes in the Humanities require a room and people, whereas biology requires, at a minimum, classrooms fitted with laboratory equipment and sometimes, at Trent in particular, entire custom-built buildings – plural! – to teach students. Math is hard but it’s not that hard.

What is most glaring though is White’s assertion that universities have changed because students’ intention in going to university has changed, which displays a stunning disregard for cause and effect.

A university education is expensive and, for most students, generates a debt burden that is almost sublime in proportion. Students are understandably anxious about their future and try to increase their odds in the job market by studying something linked to a recognizable career – a calculation that favours professional programs.

Tuition is expensive because the province doesn’t subsidize it enough. If tuition was subsidized for everyone and low-income students were issued grants rather than loans, as they were within my institutional memory, we would see a more natural distribution of student majors.

Unsupportable debt isn’t an unfortunate by-product of higher education; rather, it is at the core of universities’ pedagogy. Its intention is to scare and bully students into thinking of themselves as marketable brands and to get them away from things they are “merely” curious or concerned about.

Rather than bemoaning their small number, I applaud students, especially those from modest backgrounds who are essentially leasing out their earning power to a bank for the next decade or two, who take the brave risk of studying something un-marketable. And I empathize with those who don’t.