“In big lecture halls, students can’t buy the best seats or arrange for extra help sessions with their parents’ checkbooks.”
Above, a group of Occupy Atlanta protesters link arms on Peachtree Street as city police move in to make arrests. Hours earlier, Mayor Kasim Reed revoked an executive order permitting the protesters to remain in the park. In Oakland, police resorted to tear gas and a stun grenade to disperse over 1,000 protesters marching on Oakland City Hall. In Lower Manhattan—where this whole party originated over a month ago—protesters continue marching through the streets “denounc[ing] for-profit healthcare.” Wesleyan came, saw, and got arrested.
From DR’s Himanshu to Daniel Handler ’92 to Tenured “Claire Potter” Radical (newly hosted over at the Chronicle of Higher Education), a colorful grab-bag of WesCelebs have weighed in. (And really, what’s a party without Slavoj Žižek and Judith Butler?) So where’s everyone’s favorite BOF (Blogger Over Fifty) amidst the chorus—what’s Michael Roth’s take on all this?
Publicly silent on the issue until recently, President Roth came out last week with a bold, sweepingly optimistic Huff Post column that directly addresses the nationwide protest movement—and links it (surprise!) with higher education and the university model specifically. (We’re a little slow on the reporting, but hey, Fall Break happened, and this shiz is still mighty relevant.)
“At Wesleyan,” MR writes, “some of our students have joined the group in Zuccotti Park in New York, and others have found a variety of ways of expressing their support.” No mention of the arrests, but Roth is at least moderately supportive of the activism: “it’s easy to mock the lack of clear policy initiatives . . . but it seems to me that we get a pretty clear picture of their discontent”:
It’s easy to mock the lack of clear policy initiatives . . . but it seems to me that we get a pretty clear picture of their discontent. Like many Americans, they are revolted by how huge infusions of money are corrupting our political system. And, they are aghast at the trajectory of increasing inequality.
“Economic inequality in the country is accelerating in frightening ways,” the president admits. “There is plenty to protest.”
So where can we turn?
Shocker: President Roth likes writing about Wesleyan. But it’s more than that: in Roth’s vision, the university is more than a place of education. It’s a “place of equality and freedom,” a site of Jeffersonian egalitarianism, and so it may serve as the model of equality (or at least reduced inequality) the Wall Street protesters are seeking.
The main points, essentially:
- Once you’ve made it to the university, comparative wealth means little. “In order to learn, you have to park your privilege at the classroom door. In order to teach effectively, we try to ensure that our students have an equality of opportunity that doesn’t erase their differences.”
- In the university system, freedom and equality function in tandem—without libertarian-style cries against centralized authority. “Universities and colleges are lucky insofar as they still have an ethos of equality that is linked to freedom in the classroom and around campus. You don’t need strong central power to ensure this.”
- It’s all about the Jeffersons, baby. “Even with all his prejudices, [Thomas Jefferson] favored education at the public expense to prevent the creation of permanent elites based on wealth.” [ . . . ] “Jefferson saw education as a key to preventing permanent, entrenched inequality.”
- So keep on keepin’ on, then. “Universities must at the very least serve as models: they must continue to strive to be places where young people discover and cultivate their independence and must themselves resist the trends of inequality that are tearing at the fabric of our country.”
Roth’s rhetoric of the university is inspiring, but his discussion of entrenched inequalities that dot the road to the university may seem fleeting. Where does the disparity end and equality begin—and to what extent is the university system relevant as a model for broader society? Thoughts?