December 30, 2011

Regarding the Dec. 27 front-page article “Investment in public’s ivory towers is eroding”:

Those mobilizing to oppose cutbacks and tuition increases at public universities continue to misdirect their anger toward administrators and regents rather than toward state and national politicians. Although activists are right to point out that administrators and board members at some public institutions are sitting on large endowments, a substantial portion — about 70 percent at the University of Virginia — of those funds is restricted to specific purposes. Using endowment money to prevent tuition hikes or academic cutbacks is not a long-term solution.

Instead, it is necessary to attack the root causes of the growing expense of higher education and the so-called “privatization” of public universities. In Virginia, this means asking state politicians how they can justify reducing higher education funding when the state income tax has not been raised since 1972.

More broadly, a solution should entail pushing national politicians to do more to assist states with the rising cost of mandatory programs, such as Medicaid, that are diverting resources from other priorities, such as higher education. Although these battles mean more than simply demanding tuition caps, they will also be more likely to prevent the erosion of the nation’s network of public higher education.

Matthew Cameron, Fredericksburg

The writer is executive editor of the Cavalier Daily at the University of Virginia. The views expressed are his own.

● 

The plight of the University of California at Berkeley serves as an example of the dilemma faced by the United States in a time of economic distress: Do we cut spending or invest for a better future? In the case of Berkeley, I would bet on investing. Berkeley plays a leading role among public and private universities in creating and growing knowledge and industries — think semiconductors, software, biotech and green tech. As an alumnus, I believe it is essential that California’s spending priorities better recognize the many benefits that Berkeley will bring in the coming years if its world-class status can be maintained and enhanced.

I also believe that individuals who were empowered by Berkeley’s excellence to create great wealth should consider, in their giving strategies, the enormous benefits that Berkeley-generated knowledge has brought to society and the new opportunities they could invest in to build a better future for Berkeley.

Steve Deggendorf, Washington

● 

When I attended the University of California in the early 1970s, my tuition quadrupled between my freshman and senior years — from $50 a quarter to $200 a quarter.

Higher education in California has propelled that state’s greatness, and I just want to cry about what is being lost and may never be reclaimed.

Kathryn Hope, Silver Spring

● 

The article about eroding investment in public ivory towers laid too much blame at the feet of state appropriations while giving a pass to the universities and their role in inflation of educational costs and the serious reduction in the quality of education offered.

The article pointed out that public universities have lost 20 percent of their funding per student since 2000, yet in many cases they have increased their tuition by much more. It pointed out that the University of California at Berkeley’s revenue increased from $1.7 billion to $2 billion in three years but described this rise as modest. This amounts to a 6 percent increase each year. The story also pointed out that class sizes have increased 13 percent over that same period. How can greater-than-inflation budget increases not at least maintain the same level of instruction?

Public universities are paying more to attract top-level faculty members who teach fewer students. They are dedicating more of their budgets to construction projects that have nothing to do with education, to athletic departments that often don’t graduate their most highly recruited students, and to administrators who care more about improving image than educating students.

It is essential that states properly fund their public institutions, but it is just as essential that administrators of those institutions maintain their focus on their publicly chartered mission.

Clifton R. Hamilton, Philadelphia