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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Setting the facts straight: Carleton is presenting maximum efforts to achieve and maintain economic diversity

<oint piece “Is Carleton committed to economic diversity,” written by Ryan McLaughlin and Jacob Schak and printed by the Carletonian in its April 17th issue, is at best an embarrassment of poor research and distorted analysis, and at worst a perfect example of the “obfuscation” it so blithely accuses Carleton College of practicing with respect to its financial decisions.

The piece essentially consists of the single claim, made over and over in increasingly vitriolic language, that Carleton’s financial decisions on the whole are proof of a lack of commitment to economic diversity in its student body. To back up this claim, McLaughlin and Schak make two supporting claims: that Carleton announced “modest compensation increases” for faculty in its February budget update, and that it will continue to hire tenure-track faculty. In both cases McLaughlin and Schak argue the college should spend this money on increasing financial aid.

Absolutely no context is provided for either of these claims. For instance, McLaughlin and Schak do not mention these “modest compensation increases” are named at $400—far less than faculty customarily receive each year, and far less than faculty at Carleton’s peer institutions will receive. Furthermore, the most recent information (presumably unavailable to McLaughlin and Schak at their time of writing) states that faculty will receive no compensation increases at all. Furthermore, through Carleton’s Voluntary FTE Reduction Plan, Carleton has set a goal of reducing overall faculty by 20-30—the tenure-track searches the college announced will replace departing faculty, and still result in a net decrease in faculty. There is no mention anywhere of Carleton’s painful decisions to close River City Books and lay off all the involved staff, to significantly reduce departmental operating budgets, and to postpone indefinitely further work on the Arts Union. How McLaughlin and Schak missed these key facts from the Update while quoting out of context other parts of it is beyond me.
McLaughlin and Schak imply that Carleton is disproportionately increasing the comprehensive

fee or decreasing financial aid in order to finance these extremely modest expenditures. Neither is true. While the College will increase the comprehensive fee as usual, as it has every year in recent history in response to inflation and other economic forces, the magnitude of this increase was significantly scaled back in response to the economic crisis. Furthermore, Carleton is increasing need-based financial aid by 6.6%. Carleton is doing exactly what McLaughlin and Schak criticize it for failing to do: reducing the financial hardship Carleton poses in this time of dire need for many Americans.

There are underlying logical problems with the piece as well. McLaughlin and Schak’s central claim is that Carleton should devote every cent it has towards financial aid for low-income students in this time of crisis. By that logic, Carleton ought to give free tuition to everyone, which would cause the institution to collapse, to the benefit of no one (students, faculty, and everyone else). Carleton is committed to making college a possibility for low-income Americans, but it is not committed solely to this. It must make decisions based on a balance of this value with the need to remain solvent and the need to remain a top-tier liberal arts college. All of these goals, ultimately, are to the benefit of the students who attend Carleton. McLaughlin and Schak consider Carleton’s financial decisions with blinders on, seeing only one of the many complex and important issues at hand, and so draw incorrect conclusions about how the school should proceed.

The worst of McLaughlin and Schak’s hate is reserved for the faculty members receiving the $400 (now $0) pay increases, whom McLaughlin and Schak compare to AIG executives receiving bonuses. This metaphor is absurd, as it implies that faculty are somehow responsible for Carleton’s present troubles. College professors are not well paid in proportion to the amount of qualifications and skill they are required to have. They too have families who are suffering from the effects of the economic crisis, but understand that the College is doing all it can to balance its competing interests of promoting an economically diverse student body and maintaining faculty benefits at a level appropriate for a top-caliber liberal arts college. The suggestion that they should somehow be punished, or have their tenure revoked, is particularly poisonous.

Despite all these issues, there is a core of truth to McLaughlin and Schak’s argument: Carleton is an institution dominated by the economic elite, and despite the College’s best efforts there remain many nearly-insurmountable barriers between low-income Americans and college attendance. To accuse Carleton of complicity in this state of affairs is unwarranted and entirely unhelpful. Carleton as an institution does a laudable amount (in comparison to peer institutions) to break down both financial and social barriers to college attendance, and in many ways is doing as much as it possibly can without fatally compromising its own integrity.

The problem of college entrance barriers is not limited to Carleton, and is far more complex and multifaceted than McLaughlin and Schak seem to suggest. Attacking a convenient, localized scapegoat with unresearched and unwarranted bile is easy; starting a constructive dialogue about the root of the problem between the College, the government, low-income students, and the communities from which they come is difficult. I encourage McLaughlin and Schak to direct their obvious passion for this issue towards this more constructive approach to college access.

-Gabe Davis is a second-year student

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