Let’s not blame the professors first. Let’s blame the true cause: government subsidies.
There has been quite a bit of fuss around an article written by Jessica Murphy at the MacIver Institute (and Subversive Liberty). She researched and published syllabi of classes within the UW System that she considered to be wasteful. It was a simple article in a “Buzzfeed” style meant to highlight anti-market bias in higher education. Predictably, she received an enormous amount of backlash for speaking out against courses with a Marxist bias.
It seems that much of this outrage is centered around an idea that floats around not only leftist circles, but also in the general population. The idea seems to be that all courses – irrespective of their content – are worth the money students (and taxpayers) pay.
Not all ideas and therefore not all classes are marketable in the job market. It is well established that the accumulation of all of the products and services in the market have given signals showing that it is much more valuable to study engineering or physics than it is to study sociology. We see this because the engineer receives far greater compensation compared to the sociologist. This is not to say that sociology studies can’t be useful, but it is to say that our society, through market forces, have already given their opinion on the “return on investment” of these classes.
This is why we run into problems when we discuss the subsidization of courses.
In a free market, where people’s opinions are expressed through what they consume, it might be that we find very few of the classes, like the ones listed in Jessica’s article. They just aren’t marketable to a capitalistic audience (anyone who consumes a product or service).
If we were to end FAFSA and other student entitlement programs, we would also see a collapse of many of these courses as private loan companies, with no government to bail them out, would want to invest in students who have the highest chance of repaying the loan (i.e. STEM students).
The problems we find in these courses have a direct link to government subsidies. The government, often, isn’t interested in what is best for the market. It is usually focused on what it can achieve for equality and fairness, at the expense of the taxpayers. Subsidized classes are just one outlet for this commonplace behavior.
Professors of sociology and other humanities love this government interventionism. Why? It allows their career to exist when it otherwise wouldn’t. They receive money and benefits for their classes even if in a free market situation it would be untenable. Murray Rothbard expounds upon this phenomenon in his seminal essay Anatomy of the State writing, “It is evident that the State needs the intellectuals; it is not so evident why intellectuals need the State. Put simply, we may state that the intellectual’s livelihood in the free market is never too secure; for the intellectual must depend on the values and choices of the masses of his fellow men, and it is precisely characteristic of the masses that they are generally uninterested in intellectual matters.”
Basicially, these “intellectuals” let the state rob you so they can teach why capitalism is evil, while profiting off of these unmarketable courses.
The departments that houses these courses also receive a boost in their budget. In any government bureaucracy, if you don’t use your budget, or have a need to get more, you will see a cut in the next year. So if you are already guaranteed money on the taxpayer dime, why not offer more classes, no matter how ridiculous or dishonest the content is? It can only grow the department’s budget and professors’ wallet.
Besides the illegitimate nature of many of these courses, many people don’t realize that these courses, as well as the trend towards predatory Marxism on college campuses, is primarily a result of government subsidies. Jessica was brave enough to put her name on a piece that sparked the conversation, and she was met with threats of violence.
How appropriate it is for supporters of the armchair intellectuals to focus on categories of the oppressor and oppressed, while disregarding what the true meaning of the individual: success based on merit and virtue.