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Taken for a Ride: Tax-Funded Higher Education
Somewhere, there are hundreds of parents who have sent their children to the University of Illinois in order to get an education. They let choose sociology as their major. Their children now spend their days repeating the most important phrase for sociology graduates: "Do you want fries with that?"
Today, other parents just like them are repeating this decision. It costs them up to $35,000 a year -- and rising. It costs them up to $49,000 a year if they are out-of-state. That is if their children graduate in four years. Some won't.
The University of Illinois (Urbana/Champaign) is the premier campus of the tax-funded university system in Illinois. This means that if any taxpayer in Illinois refuses to pay taxes to operate this school, he will be fined, and if he is really recalcitrant, will be arrested, tried, convicted, and sent to prison.
One of the sociology professors at the University of Illinois. He is not a full professor. He is an associate professor. He earned his Ph.D. in 1995. It has taken a long time to get to associate professor. He may never make it. But I think he will. He has mastered the specialized language of sociology.
I respect this. I never could learn how to do it. I had graduate-level courses in sociology, but that was under Robert Nisbet. He never mastered the lingo of sociology, either. He got into the field early, before World War II, when you were still allowed -- even encouraged -- to write in English.
Let me give you an example of a recent academic paper that our U of I sociologist wrote. He is hoping to become a full professor. He therefore still writes academic papers, hoping for a promotion. In the conclusion to one of these papers, which means the final word in which he is making his most important point, we read the following point. Your challenge, should you decide to accept it, is to determine what the paper's topic was.
In structural terms, what I presented here is another case of strength of weak ties and structural holes arguments. Yet, in the context of mobilization, its theoretical and substantive implications are made more vivid, showing how networks matter and how the micro-macro Mobilization linkages operate (Burt 2000; Diani 2003; Gould 1991; McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly 2001; White 1992). In accounting for collective action dynamics from a relational point of view, Granovetter (2002: 53) distinguishes three kinds of configuration of social networks and their corresponding potentials. One, fragmented social structures deficient in bridging ties, are likely to find collective action difficult, failing to mobilize politically. Two, those that are densely connected, though amenable to a high level of cooperation, are even less likely to be effectively coordinated from a center. Lastly, in the structures characterized by cluster-and-bridge configuration, the presence of a limited number of actors towards whom most interactions converge greatly facilitates the transformation of an aggregate of largely isolated groups into a connected and coordinated movement network, as it opens up channels of potential communication and mutual recognition (Diani 2003: 118; Simmel 1955). This is where Granovetter (2002) expects to find the greatest potential efficacy for large-scale social phenomena. Revere and Warren found themselves in precisely such a setting, and they acted to couple the decoupled (Breiger 1995: 126-127; White 1992). In mobilizing for the American Revolution, this was the other--and, as I have argued, far more important--ride.
What was topic? Do you know? Are you sure? (Do you care?)
It was the midnight ride of Paul Revere.
Someone is surely being taken for a ride: taxpayers, legislators, and students majoring in sociology.
Taxpayers in the state of Illinois are compelled by law to pay this man, who uses his time to write this kind of material. The politicians have no control whatsoever over the hiring and firing the professors of the university. In his case, he is tenured, so he cannot be fired for academic reasons. In other words, he will spend the rest of his life as a ward of the state. He is a well-paid ward of the state.
When you think about the midnight ride of Paul Revere, you wonder if Paul would have risked his life in order to create a tax system in which an associate professor of sociology would analyze his midnight ride, drawing the conclusion which you have already read.
The author did boil down his paper for the common reader. He concluded. "No one could have contrived it just so; yet they were at the right place at the right time." For this insight, it takes a Ph.D. in sociology and guaranteed lifetime support at taxpayers' expense.
Here is how his students rate him: So-so, not much, average.
The reason why men and women with bachelor degrees in sociology are working at McDonald's can be seen in the quotation you have already read. What businessman in his right mind would pay anything except minimum wage to test the intellectual capability and work ethic of somebody who was willing to spend 4.7 years attending what is laughingly called an institution of higher learning, in order to be trained by someone who could write what you have read? The only reason why somebody would pay minimum wage to such a person is that there is a minimum wage law. Otherwise, he would hire somebody else for half the money, but no degree in sociology.
There are parents who actually believe that spending anywhere from $140,000-$240,000, so their children can get a bachelor's degree in sociology, is a good investment. The money comes out of their retirement portfolios. The money is after-tax money. But they are convinced that they are doing their children a favor by sending them off to an accredited university, so that the students can sit in classrooms for 4.7 years and be lectured to by somebody who has the communication skills of the man who gained tenure by writing the paragraph you have read.
How smart is this? Not very.
Or they can keep their kids at home and spend about $15,000 so that the student can earn a bachelor's degree online in about three years, although not in sociology. The student can pay for this by earning minimum wage at McDonald's. Part time.
How smart is this? Very.