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Overvalued tuition a false assumption

While the overvaluing of private colleges is a valid issue, Smith’s article resembles nothing close to an intelligent opinion, but rather, a random jumble of half-researched claims and self-righteous venting worthy of David Horowitz.

Arieh Smith’s article “Expensive Waste” (4/14/09) is nothing but an unorganized, gibbering rant from a sanctimonious first-year lacking any pure or even practical reason. While the overvaluing of private colleges is a valid issue, Smith’s article resembles nothing close to an intelligent opinion, but rather, a random jumble of half-researched claims and self-righteous venting worthy of David Horowitz.

The entire paragraph, describing supply and demand of tuition costs, does nothing other than demonstrate Smith’s presence in Allen Sanderson’s introductory economics course. If Naked Economics is the only source of Smith’s informed opinion about economic value, the asymmetry of information between Smith and the University of Chicago is, well, asymmetric. Perhaps this explains Smith’s inability to realize the gaping flaw in the Dale–Krueger study—a single data point without any time evolution or normalization—which, ironically, was pounced on by Wheelan himself.

Regarding the many “unknown” private and public A-list schools in the College Prowler guide, one has to wonder whether Smith researched the $36,190 annual tuition for Reed College or even the $11,037 tuition for incoming in-state freshmen at the University of Michigan. I am unsure as to where the argument degenerated from an economic one of price tags to a sociological one of prestige, but I’ll leave Smith to play Six Degrees of Separation from Harvard.

The most fatal (and the most disturbing) flaw is Smith’s inability to realize a contradiction in his core argument. Read: “Some say that maybe places like the University of Chicago are essential to the functioning of a true democracy. I am extremely suspicious of such proclamations,” and juxtapose that against “In fact, the ‘classicization’ of [insert your favorite Greek author here] began only in the Renaissance, when ancient Greek was essentially rediscovered by the rebellious proponents of humanism.” Smith’s blindness to history is reflected in his gross ignorance of the founding of our nation: “To suggest that democracy depends on the sliver of the population that reads Aristotle is really pushing it.” In case it is not clear, Mr. Smith, the gross elitists you speak of are the Founding Fathers of this nation, and Aristotle enjoyed a slot on their bookshelf alongside Homer, Plato, Euripides, Dante, Spinoza, Locke, Hume, and others.

There truly is no substitute to the intrinsic value of combining a liberal arts education with the comprehensive research training our university provides. True, we may be able to immerse ourselves in the Great Conversation elsewhere, but if Smith continues to prattle on about “learning something useful or at least interesting [elsewhere],” he should immediately cease his unconscionable waste of the university’s time and transfer to the cheap “non-elite” colleges he so admires.

Daniel M. Choi

Class of 2010

3 Comments

Ari Allyn-Feuer

Spot-on. This discussion deserves a better crop of disputants than the one it’s been getting.

Reply
Arieh Smith

1. I am not in econ, nor have I read Naked Economics. I didn’t “take” my argument from anywhere.
2. I link to a criticism of the study in my reply to the comments on the original article. While I think that there are many valid arguments against it, the central contention — that the prestige of a school doesn’t matter as much as we think it does — is broadly true and is supported by multiple lines of evidence. (See this Atlantic piece: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200410/easterbrook.) Somehow our willingness to dismiss the value of elite colleges collapses when we are called out on it.
3. In case you haven’t noticed, $11,037 is a *third* of $36,190.
4. There is no “contradiction.” I am not dismissing the importance of these books’ ideas but the cost of how we usually study them. The University does not have a monopoly on the Classics.
5. I am not suggesting that reading these books is not important, and of course you can read them without being an elitist. What I am suggesting is that you don’t have to pay for the privilege of doing so. Your “Great Conversation” (the artificiality of the phrase makes me cringe — it’s not real) doesn’t have to take place here or at any other university. Where you do think the founders discussed these books among themselves? At the University of Chicago? Come on — the internet is as suitable a forum as any. The sort of discussion that goes on in hum classes (at least two of which, probably more, are only extremely tangentially related to ancient Greece) is ten times less vicious than what is taking place right now. The university as we know it is increasingly becoming an artifact of the past.

The founders were not elitists. They took the books, combined them with careful historical analysis, and made a government. And where are most of the people who *do* read them now? Evidently, not in government.

Reply
M. R. McKay

Mr. Smith:

Your responses to Mr. Choi’s articles are to be expected, but at the same time lack any actual substance in rebuttal. Perhaps I shall go through line by line and assess your concerns.

>1. I am not in econ, nor have I read Naked
>Economics. I didn’t “take” my argument from
>anywhere.

Well then, that is certainly a relief, because one would expect the average freshman econ major to have a more erudite grasp of economics than you exhibit in your article.

>2. I link to a criticism of the study in my reply
>to the comments on the original article. While I
>think that there are many valid arguments against
>it, the central contention — that the prestige of
>a school doesn’t matter as much as we think it does
>– is broadly true and is supported by multiple
>lines of evidence. (See this Atlantic piece:
>http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200410/easterbrook.)
>Somehow our willingness to dismiss the value of
>elite colleges collapses when we are called out on
>it.

One, I hardly consider journalists like Mr. Easterbrook and his friends at The Atlantic to be social scientists and they clearly do not understand scientific methodology. The report you present is merely editorial ballyhoo with Google searches presented as “evidence”–a true rigorous study would include time series analysis and experimental controls/normalization factors.

Second, that was not the point of Mr. Choi’s sass–he was curious as to how your argument of price has suddenly magically become an argument of “prestige.” He was merely calling on your abrupt and poorly executed segue into what seems to be irrelevant to the main issue: the cost of college tuition. True, you may argue that “prestige” is irrelevant, but I suggest you try applying for a job first as a UChicago alumnus and as an experiment apply as a Colgate alumnus–see if they treat you any differently.

>3. In case you haven’t noticed, $11,037 is a
>*third* of $36,190.

In case you haven’t noticed, $11,037 is also the price of *in-state FRESHMEN*; once they become upper classmen, UMich’s *in-state* tuition and registration rises to $12,439, whereas the out-of-staters pay $33,069 as freshmen and $35,391 as upper classmen. Note that UMich is also a state school. I believe it is clear now.

>4. There is no “contradiction.” I am not dismissing
>the importance of these books’ ideas but the cost
>of how we usually study them. The University does
>not have a monopoly on the Classics.

No, the University does not have a monopoly on the Classics, you are correct. It is, however, one of the few schools that impart it on the entire student body. What is more curious is that it is integrated into a rigorous program in experimental sciences, both physical and social. That is quite interesting, is it not?

>5. I am not suggesting that reading these books is
>not important, and of course you can read them
>without being an elitist. What I am suggesting is
>that you don’t have to pay for the privilege of
>doing so.

Of course you don’t have to pay for the privilege of doing so. But would you read them if you didn’t have to pay anyway?

>Your “Great Conversation” (the artificiality of the
>phrase makes me cringe — it’s not real) doesn’t
>have to take place here or at any other university.

Once again, you make a claim that has no relevance whatsoever. This has also been addressed in Mr. Choi’s article.

>Where you do think the founders discussed these
>books among themselves? At the University of
>Chicago?

There is no need to get cheeky, Mr. Smith. The Founders lived in an era when education *was* the Great Conversation–a coined term you may cringe at, but if you understand the history behind it (why it was deemed necessary to Western civilization, particularly after the horrors of the Great World War), perhaps you would actually understand the reverence many people give it. Of course the University of Chicago did not stand back then; in fact, the University restructured itself after the Great Conversation in the 1930s. But let us look at the present: praytell, where is the Great Conversation present? Which brings me to:

>Come on — the internet is as suitable a forum as
>any.

Oh, please show us the great scholars of YouTube! Perhaps the learned men of Reddit? The abbots of Digg? Once you’ve completed a comprehensive translation of Kitty Pidgin, please, let us know, for we would like to see moar.

>The sort of discussion that goes on in hum
>classes (at least two of which, probably more, are
>only extremely tangentially related to ancient
>Greece)

Immaterial.

>is ten times less vicious than what is taking place
>right now. The university as we know it is
>increasingly becoming an artifact of the past.

So you are conceding that there is value in the University in the first point? If what we have today is a watered-down Core and you complain because it is not “vicious” enough, you then admit that it has “intrinsic value” in the first place, do you not?

>The founders were not elitists. They took the
>books, combined them with careful historical
>analysis, and made a government.

As Mr. Choi states in his article, you are grossly ignorant of history. I would suggest you read any biography of Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin. In fact, cf. the entire political history of the United States pre-Andrew Jackson.

>And where are most of the people who *do* read them
>now? Evidently, not in government.

Evidently not. But once again, a correct claim that is immaterial to the argument.

In conclusion, none of your criticisms seem to either 1) hold against logic, or 2) further the argument. Perhaps Mr. Allyn-Feuer is correct in assessing the need for a better crop of disputants than the likes of you, Mr. Smith. I suggest you either stop trolling on /b/ and learn some basic methods of argument (flaming is not one) or go to the wonderful State University system of New York that you are obviously more qualified to enter.

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