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!