Guest Post: “An Open Letter to the Wesleyan Community on Our Current Situation”

The following is a guest post by Ross Levin ’15, titled “An Open Letter to the Wesleyan Community on our Current Situation”:

During the fall semester this year, I was not on campus, but whisperings of the efforts to save need-blind admissions still reached me, through Wesleying, through friends, through maverick independent journalist Ben Doernberg ’13. I was enthralled by all the activity and excited at the prospect of joining in the movement upon returning in January. However, in early October I received a startling email. Apparently, I was being fined $50 for writing a few sentences in chalk on the University’s pavement last April. And evidently, without paying the full $50, re-enrolling at Wesleyan University wouldn’t be an option.

So I replied to the email from our Dean of Students, inquiring as to the provenance of the figure of $50. The Dean wrote back promptly, informing me of the fact that ResLife, the office of the Dean of Students, Physical Plant, and all other institutions, organizations, sub-contractors, and autonomous collectives involved in the hefty task of regulating student-committed acts of chalk against pavement, brick, concrete, and otherwise script-conducive surfaces, have at their disposal a “formula.” This formula is precise in its calculations of financial damage done by the chalk. My $50 fine, I was graciously informed, was exactly equal to, no more and no less, the cost of restoring the Wesleyan University campus to its original state, as if I had never carried out that heinous deed.

Rather regrettably in hindsight (how naïve I was just some months ago!), I found myself rather perturbed by this response. In this irritated state I replied to the reply of the ever-helpful Dean, inquiring as to the nature of the formula itself. My frustration-fueled curiosity hit a brick wall, despite the best efforts of the various relevant staffpeople, and our Dean of Students referred me to Professor of Economics Harold Skilstein.

Professor Skilstein, I soon learned, happens to be none other than the formulator of the formula. By my luck, Professor Skilstein also occupies the Freedman Chair of the Department of the Study of Punitive Economics. Beyond simply suggesting that I reassess my view that the entire field of economics is punitive, Professor Skilstein was able to explain that not only was my fine a fair judgment, but that the fate of the University itself rests upon the dutiful execution of this formula.

Thus, fellow studentfolk, the formula:

Due to the generosity of our presiding President Michael S. Roth ’78 and the selflessness of our Board of Trustees, each Physical Plant worker charged with clearing the chalk perpetrated upon University Property earns an hourly wage, which we shall call w. In addition, each Public Safety and/or Res Life employee who discovers the calcium-rich misdeeds earns an hourly wage (how generous they are!), which shall henceforward be referred t as (wage of the discoverer). If they happen at the moment of the discovery to be working overtime, then each of the possible wages shall be referred to as or , respectively, with each being greater than their respective non-overtime counterparts. These variables, referred to as the “marginal labor value earned,” are thus dependent upon time: the time discovering, and subsequently clearing our immaculate grounds of student-initiated graffiti (ruffians!) could otherwise be devoted to the rather more productive activities to which they were originally assigned. For example, profiling people in order to keep Middletown residents off of our campus in the case of Public Safety or forcing students to hide their weed in the case of Res Life. This displacement of productive time shall be called “efficiency displacement.” Here, we have two variables, and can thus generate some illustrative graphs of the situation thus far:

Now, having accounted for both marginal labor value earned and efficiency displacement summed over time, we progress to the second part of the formula: materials. Potential materials used to remove chalk include hose, water, pressure washer, bucket, soap, scrubbing device(s), boots, pants, underwear, shirt, undershirt, glasses and/or sunglasses, motorized vehicle, deodorant, walkie-talkie, paper, pen, computer, University handbook, and so forth. Together these shall be referred to as “required material elements.” The amount of required material elements is thus dependent upon the severity of the chalking deed. This severity, formally referred to as “intensity of the deed” can be logically, universally, and comprehensively measured in a unit known as an “intensiv.” A simple and small-in-scale drawing of male genitalia upon rather easily-scrubbed asphalt might yield an intensity of the deed of 2.5 intensivs, whereas a scrawled ? with the message “NO GODS, NO MASTERS—ANARCHY IS ORDER” in all capital letters upon the brick of our beautiful student center known colloquially as Usdan could produce an intensity of the deed well over 8 intensivs. There is no maximum limit of the scale (this is not a challenge).

By multiplying the intensity of the deed by the cost of the materials needed (that is, the intensity of the deed multiplied by the material factor, m), we arrive at the second part of the formula, as first produced in the ever-accessible Professor Skilstein’s seminal paper On Punitive Management:

At this point, I was well aware that my previous state of humbuggery had been rather unwarranted and the level of my fine the product of a just, reasonable, and universal formula. The man explaining it to me was, after all, a professor of economics. Who was I, a lowly student and wild-eyed radical at that, to question its legitimacy?

The venerable Professor Skilstein then leaned over his dark oak desk and, his breath holding a faint odor of pipe tobacco, whispered slowly toward my face that the significance of the formula would be underestimated at our peril. Professor Skilstein had not only created a mathematically perfect system of justice, he had also conjured up a plan to save the University itself from certain financial ruin.

Incidents of chalking, he explained, have increased tenfold at least in recent years. The offenders almost always get away with nary a fine at all, by a ratio of approximately 27:1 against those apprehended. When the well-published Professor’s formula is applied to these acts of chalking without penalty, the results generated are shocking. The costs to our cherished, lauded Wesleyan University are astronomical. It is truly a crisis, a disease on the level of epidemic. What we have seen in the past as merely “fun” or “expressive” is in fact only serving to destroy the University’s endowment. Especially after the financial crisis, we simply cannot continue like this, Professor Skilstein continued. After salaries, chalking is the single largest University expense. The only way to remain competitive with our peer institutions if this trend does continue would be to lay off a few dozen workers, get rid of need-blind admissions, and choose students based on who can contribute most to cleaning the chalk off the pavement and bricks.

Fellow students, we find ourselves in a crisis unlike any other faced in the history of our University with quite a long history. Ordinary times do not quickly change a radical activist like I (shamefully!) was into someone calling for expanded punishment and higher tuition, but these times are anything but ordinary. As a nation and an international community, we are called upon to sacrifice together our public schools, our welfare programs, our public infrastructure and so forth to ensure the future possibility of wars and well-deserved high salaries for our business leaders. It is now a necessity for us here at this eminent and hoary University to sacrifice our janitorial staff, our visiting professors, and potential poor and middle class students to ensure the continuity of the greatest aspects of our institution. What would we be, after all, if we had to reduce administrative salaries? Perhaps we wouldn’t be able to retain our dear leader Michael S. Roth! Where would it leave us if we couldn’t afford copious new construction? Amherst might build more LEED certified buildings! What if our food were not gourmet and shipped thousands of miles, or our dorm rooms slightly more cramped? Egad, we might not attract students who prioritize luxury! Rather than enter that Hell on Earth, let us join together to sing the song of austerity in harmony!

So, fellow students, I say nay to keeping need-blind admissions and nay to legalizing chalking! Up with Public Safety—more officers are needed to prevent this blight! Up with tuition—to stop the bleeding while we work to stop the chalking! If seniors in 2016 will pay over $70,000, let’s double that for the Class of 2020! Down with expensive and destructive defacing of University Property! Down with the radical free expression so corrosive to our unity in this time of need! Down with dissent against empirical economic rationality! Up with enforcement, punishment, contribution, Michael S. Roth, and the Board of Trustees! Up with Wesleyan University, forever!

16 thoughts on “Guest Post: “An Open Letter to the Wesleyan Community on Our Current Situation”

  1. Pingback: Chalk is Talk: Eric Stephen ’13 Analyzes Legality of Wesleyan’s Chalking Ban | Wesleying

  2. Pingback: A Decade Without Chalking, Part Five: An Interview with Dean Mike Whaley | Wesleying

  3. anon

    This would be way more ininteresting and useful it it was more clear what was fact and what the author made up.

  4. Nick

    Kid, you’ve got pluck. I like it. And I love me some math to really break it down, but I’m missing your argument here.

    Need-blind policy to me should be sacrosanct, and few things hurt me more in the last few years than hearing about Wes dropping it. But I don’t see why Wesleyan needs to to retool its priorities because you’re being asked by the University to settle a cost that you incurred. And if the calculus of the fine is intended for satire, then it’s kind of weird and overblown strawman reasoning. As in: there’s a lot of mathematical handwaving that the University did to keep your chalking fine from pulling open the curtain on their financial aid policy? (And presumably the shadowy economics professor is responsible for introduced and never used notation, the used but never introduced notation, the inexplicable decision to integrate across time on a linear cost schedule, the fact that the integration across ED implies that the fine() expression is actually not a function of ED, and faulty arithmetic in multiplying the “I” terms?) I’m sympathetic, and I want to be getting you Ross–help me get there, sir.

    In footnotes, your naming of the professor adds a bit of insult to injury. “Skilstein” seems to be a conflation of Professors Skillman and Adelstein of the economics department. I never took a class or otherwise had a personal relationship with the latter, but the former is an avowed heterodox (think: Marxist) economist and a gentleman. But perhaps I’m misreading you on this one?

    Also: I just flat out prefer the Elverson Spivak variant for gender-neutral pronouns.

    -Nick ’00 (Math/Econ)

  5. Chalkster

    This is fantastic. Ross you have a hilarious sense of humor. Chalk away, I say, and fuck all that nonsensical, economic, bureaucratic bullshit.

  6. rankings

    what if wesleyan was ranked 50-100? would you be upset if you put wesleyan on a job application and people havent heard of it/ dont care? see no one actually gives a shit about the quality of life. all that the rankings care about are money money and money. see the ranks are why wesleyan went of need blind, to keep that high “reputation” (according to US new and world report)

    1. alum

      money may equal ranking, but it also equals financial aid. there’s a reason why schools like Amherst have a no-loans financial aid policy. it’s called a $1.5 billion endowment. it’s a slippery slope argument about QoL, by the way – let’s just all sit on bales of hay in candlelight, eat cold potato soup everyday, and debate philosophy for 4 years, right?

      yes, administrator salaries are high. but guess what – if Wes offers to pay the best president candidate/all-star professor x and Amherst offers 2x, guess where the person is going? same thing with financial aid.

      also, if I’m paying $50,000 a year for college, I expect facilities and QoL to be up to par for that money. Your idea of what people are looking for in a school is not necessarily what others are looking for. Do I want diversity? Yes. Should Wesleyan also have the facilities and opportunities available for a school of its stature? Of course.

      I do think that we have too many administrators, I’ll give you that.

  7. yeah

    one of the best wesleying posts i’ve read. going through venerable Professor Skillstein’s formula is so illustrative of what is wrong not only economics but Wes in general. end the neo-liberalization of the academy!! chalk away!!!

  8. Jesse

    The reason for the cost of the fine is because Wesleyan contracts union laborers to power-wash the chalkings. They are entitled to log a certain number of hours (1 or 2, I forget) for every incidence. Wesleyan spends in the neighborhood of $100,000 per year on “vandalism” which includes chalking.

    1. Samaritan

      This is retarded. I donated this year, but hearing the idiocy of this kind of policy makes me think twice about donating again.

      1. spread the word to end the wor

        glad wes alums are using the word retarded in that way. way to go!

        1. Samaritan

          Glad Wes students are using sarcasm to enforce politically correct diction. I apologize to all zero intellectually disabled people who were offended by my post.

          1. Batte_A

            You are pretty much entirely missing the point if you think this about “political correctness”. The problem is that you’re reinforcing the stigmatization of mentally disabled people by using language that justifies that mistreatment, and psychology indicates that ableist, sexist, racist etc. language, EVEN WHEN JOKING, reinforces -ist attitudes in people who use the terms. This is bigger than just “offending” people.

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