The Talking Lion

Thursday, May 26, 2005

We're rich, biatches!

The New York Times has been running a multi-part series entitled "Class Matters" which, according to nytimes.com aims to explore "ways that class - defined as a combination of income, education, wealth and occupation - influences destiny in a society that likes to think of itself as a land of unbounded opportunity." In Part 5, which ran in Tuesday's paper (nytimes), some disheartening facts were revealed about the University that I attend:

"'The system makes a false promise to students," said John T. Casteen III, the president of the University of Virginia, himself the son of a Virginia shipyard worker.
Colleges, Mr. Casteen said, present themselves as meritocracies in which academic ability and hard work are always rewarded. In fact, he said, many working-class students face obstacles they cannot overcome on their own.
For much of his 15 years as Virginia's president, Mr. Casteen has focused on raising money and expanding the university, the most prestigious in the state. In the meantime, students with backgrounds like his have become ever scarcer on campus. The university's genteel nickname, the Cavaliers, and its aristocratic sword-crossed coat of arms seem appropriate today. No flagship state university has a smaller proportion of low-income students than Virginia. Just 8 percent of undergraduates last year came from families in the bottom half of the income distribution, down from 11 percent a decade ago.
That change sneaked up on him, Mr. Casteen said, and he has spent a good part of the last year trying to prevent it from becoming part of his legacy. Starting with next fall's freshman class, the university will charge no tuition and require no loans for students whose parents make less than twice the poverty level, or about $37,700 a year for a family of four. The university has also increased financial aid to middle-income students. "

Unfortunately, the article made no mention of the recent Charter initiative, which will mean that every student that is not desperately poor will have tutition raised for at least the next decade, and likely long after (see: Critical Mass for more). This means that in-state students who are merely hovering around the poverty line won't get to attend U. Va. at the standard public school rate.

I admire the fact that Casteen has risen to his position growing up in a working-class family, but the fact that he is touting Access UVA (the name of the program granting free tuition to these desperately poor students) as the program that will alter our status as the the top public university with the smallest percentage of low-income students is frustrating.

As expected, members of the Board of Visitors expressed "surprise" and said they felt "embarrassed" (Daily Progress) but they don't seem to be interested in doing much about it.

It came as no surprise to me that so few people from blue-collar background want to come to U. Va. Just walking around Grounds you find yourself overwhelmed by the elitism and snobbery emanating from the student body. The school is large enough that there are plenty of different types of people with different interests and different styles, but with the dominating presence of popped collars, frilly skirts and pearls, it has the air of a country club more than a place of learning.

Casteen has done a lot in terms of making the University of Virginia more diverse culturally and intellectually. But economic diversity is important too and I hope he, the Dean of Admissions and the BOV will recognize this are as a place where they need to improve.

Edit: I reformated Sean's links so that they would fit without messing with my window. --Arun

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