The powerless "student governments," or assemblies, of
Michigan’s 15 state universities are well known playgrounds for the left. This
week they’re serving a different role, playing handmaiden to a state government
establishment desperate for a tax hike that will allow it to keep its perks and
On Wednesday, these university assemblies are planning to haul students to
Lansing on chartered buses to demonstrate and lobby in the Capitol against
budget cuts which, in the context of the current budget debate, is a code phrase
for "support tax hikes."
Faculty and college administrators are being asked to turn
a blind eye to students who skip class to participate. Apparently some are
cooperating or even planning to join the rally themselves. The plan is
reminiscent of the actions of By Any Means Necessary, a group that opposed the
2006 Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. During its campaign, BAMN pulled Detroit
high school students from class and bused them to Lansing to disrupt state Board
of Canvassers hearings. (The college students don’t plan to disrupt anything,
The sad part is that many of the students who will participate in this political
theater have no idea that they’re being used by the privileged class of
government, school and university employees who need a $1.5 billion tax hike to
prop up their own unsustainable compensation and benefits packages. Instead,
these students sincerely believe they are striking a blow for "lower tuition."
Here’s the dirty little secret about higher education appropriations and tuition
rates: There’s very little relationship between them, as documented by the
nation’s leading chronicler of university dysfunction, Professor Richard Vedder
of Ohio University, also a Mackinac Center adjunct scholar. In a recent Mackinac
Center study Vedder wrote: "Empirical evidence we have gathered shows that a
large majority of new state appropriations go to increase total university
expenditures — not to lowering the rate of tuition increases."
Dr. Vedder explained in a related Op-Ed, "Instead of mainly
lowering tuition, increased state higher education subsidies have funded vast
university bureaucracies, higher faculty salaries and luxury amenities."
So students getting bused to Lansing to (realize it or not) lobby for tax hikes
are barking up the wrong tree. What they should protest is the abject failure of
the political establishment to impose any measure of cost containment or
accountability on universities.
No law of nature requires college tuition and university budgets to rise at
twice or three times the inflation rate. They do so because they are insulated
from market incentives and unconstrained by any political accountability. Why
contain costs when Lansing and Washington will just send more money — and
through college loan programs, allow you to extract more from students and their
In consequence, to sustain their own fat salaries, gold-plated facilities and
bloated bureaucracies, the Baby Boomers in charge of university establishments
have imposed crushing debt burdens on the young members of the Millennial
generation. Frankly, what’s been perpetrated on these hardworking, creative and
talented young people is immoral.
Now these young people are being manipulated by their exploiters into lobbying
for policies that will benefit the exploiters but not the students. That too is
immoral, and if students protest anything next week it should be the way they've
been used and abused by their privileged elders.
Jack McHugh is a legislative analyst for the
Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute
headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is
hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.