Sunday, January 16, 2011

Student trolls university, nobody cares

The New York Times reports that this Friday a student named Nic Ramos paid his tuition at the University of Colorado, Boulder in dollar bills: "all $14,309.51 of it — using dollar bills, a 50-cent piece and a penny."

Ramos did this, he said, because "I wanted to give the school a different way to look at tuition." But I doubt that anyone in the administration is going to give Ramos' stunt a second thought once the inconvenience and press attention have disappeared.

The Times rightfully made the comparison to last month's "violent protests" in the streets of the UK following tuition increases there. Here, they point out, such things are greeted with "shrugs". Is Ramos' protest going to make anyone look at the issue in "a different way"? How? Is Ramos voting for office holders who will support higher education and actively working to get others to do so? If he is, then he has my thanks, support, and apologies, but I doubt it. If not, then he's merely doing what so many apathetic people in the US do, lashing out at the nearest "authority figure" in an empty gesture that doesn't even merit the label "symbolic" given to it by the Times.

If Ramos had given this matter some thought, perhaps he would have realized that his protest wouldn't reach any actual authority figures. He has merely inconvenienced a group of public employees during their job's busiest and most difficult time. To be sure, having been a university and college employee in a number of different jobs, I encountered plenty of people who needed to be reminded that their purpose was to assist students, not themselves, but I also encountered many others who needed no such reminder because they were dedicated to that task. Ramos' immature protest makes no distinction between the two.

This sort of attitude has been successfully exploited by politicians and pundits who have actual power to influence decisions about higher education that directly affect Ramos' tuition rates. Lots of people have a bad experience, either from a genuinely bad employee or because they are just angry they didn't get their way, with a public employee, a teacher or somebody at the DMV or the IRS. Those politicians and pundits have successfully made those public employees the target of public anger, shifting the blame for all their budget cuts and bad decisions onto people who are just as much victims of those decisions as the general public. They're members of the general public too. Their children go to the same schools, they get their licenses at the same DMV. It's those politicians and pundits whose kids are in private school, who have aids to run their errands at the DMV for them, who drive away from the blame in their limos while the public lashes out at itself.

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