Pubdate: Tue, 22 Nov 2005
Source: Massachusetts Daily Collegian (MA Edu)
Copyright: 2005 Daily Collegian
Contact: 413-545-1592
Note: Publication of University of Massachusetts
Author: Aaron Wodin-Schwartz


The matter of the Higher Education Act (HEA) is a serious one. It 
goes right to the heart of the ousiai, or essential purpose, of our 
university and of higher education in general. Let us suppose the 
ultimate purpose of higher education is to better the quality of life 
and perceived dignity of society. At the most fundamental level, 
education in the West is a process whereby the learner undergoes a 
transformation of mind and soul, eventually emerging as an 
enlightened member of society prepared to engage in citizenship and 
teaching. At universities such as the University of Massachusetts, 
students select from a wide variety of intellectual subjects so there 
is a high amount of individual control in the improvement of minds.

Ideally, everyone would encounter this mental and spiritual 
metamorphosis. Yet here there are two issues: the first is many do 
not desire a scholarly education, and the second is there is a stated 
need by individual institutions to rule out certain applicants in 
order to maintain the quality of the atmosphere and education 
offered. Without getting into the problem of incoherent and biased 
admissions standards - a problem for which UMass is deeply implicated 
- - there is an underlying assumption of pure meritocracy determining 
access to tiers of quality in education.

The ostensible goal for everyone is free higher education for all; 
the inability to provide this is rationalized with the insufficient 
availability of funds. In fact, eliminating financial concerns would 
likely go a long way in rectifying the merit-based access in higher 
education. The shortcomings of the economic-tainted meritocracy are 
glaring and well-documented by writers on both the right and the left 
of the political spectrum, who mostly point out society and colleges 
fail to distinguish between wealth and merit. There are a number of 
reasons for this, including outdated admissions tests that reflect 
socio-economic class and the fact that most qualified potential 
applicants do not apply to top-notch schools because of their 
astronomical cost.

So we have a situation in which higher education fails its ousiai. 
Society is not transformed by our higher education system; even 
willing minds are turned away by high costs and a host of other 
"unfair" pressures. Rather, there is a growing gap, a conspicuous 
deficit, between the formally educated and the not. There is no 
mechanism to correct this contradiction and certainly no mechanism to 
reach out and begin bridging the gap. This is at least partially the 
result of well thought-out initiatives by politicians, particularly 
those on the right who seek decreases in federal expenditures, at 
least for public works and services. Strict conditionality for 
financial aid is among the factors that lessen the money doled out 
for higher education. The drug provision contained in the HEA is 
clearly another effort to restrict this funding.

The difference here is the drug provision makes the university system 
function as a punitive component of the justice system. Whereas the 
actual public interest lies in the "rehabilitation" and societal 
productivity of criminals (even the non-violent criminals that 
consume or deal insignificant amounts of drugs), the HEA does just 
the opposite: it refuses public assistance to so-called criminals who 
are actively seeking reform. The problems of crime and poor education 
in this country are therefore not only perpetuated, but exacerbated.

It is also important to note since the lower classes are more 
susceptible to drug convictions, whether because they are more highly 
policed or because economic deprivation creates need for clandestine 
economics, they are disproportionately affected by the HEA. This is a 
strong yet doubly unjust reaffirmation of the economic meritocracy 
that corrupts higher education today. It deprives not only the 
affected individuals, but society as a whole, of any sort of desirable future.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman