Rising tuition, Samatar, elitism: Macalester isn't all it should be

By Michael Galvin

In his article in The Mac Weekly last week, Josh Jorgensen presented an argument that could have been written by the Macalester administration itself. Not only does he muster the nerve to defend his Institute for Global Citizenship, Macalester’s financial structure, and the necessity of American involvement in the world, but he tops it off by deriding the school’s “activist tradition.”To start, I should remind everyone that we are in the midst of a disastrous war in Iraq that has gone on for 4.5 years, and in which almost 170,000 American troops are still directly involved; this is a war that even Richard Holbrooke argued is “worse than Vietnam.” Thus, Jorgensen’s statement, “American involvement is indeed necessary in the world today, for conflict prevention and resolution, for the solution of all transnational ills,” is beyond poorly timed.

Simultaneously, there exist worrying ties between the politics of this war, and the leaders and purported purposes of this Institute for Global Citizenship. This has been clear ever since pro-war demagogue Thomas Friedman was invited at a rumored – yet undisclosed – cost of $70,000, to give the Institute’s inaugural address.

The Institute not only aims to create a group of elite “global citizen-leaders,” trained in the United States to spread their “expertise” elsewhere, but it is also headed by two of the most conservative faculty members at Macalester, and with negligible student input. The “student advisory committee” description, at the bottom of the Institute’s web page on organizational structure, officially delegates this committee’s role as “a vehicle for the development of student leadership.” And yet I assume one only fully completes this training after taking director Ahmed Samatar’s course on becoming a global leader.

For me though, full realization that this student committee serves only a puppet role came about in the initial months of its formation, Fall 2006, when Samatar finally attended a student meeting and monologued on eliminating “tribalisms” at Macalester in order to achieve unity and actually “get things done.”

By “tribalisms,” Samatar was criticizing the supposed endless squabbling between interest groups on campus, related to silly things like feminism, gay activism, and African American groups. Hearing such groups derided as squabbling factions that could ideally come together under his $10,000,000 unity was enough to clarify the true agenda behind this noble “Institute.”

So while some students may support the Institute as a means for “critical thinking and engagement with the broader world necessary for a life of meaningful activism,” like Jorgensen, just looking back at Macalester’s history reminds us of this statement’s lack of depth.

The article “A community of liberal activists” in the April 28, 2006 issue of The Mac Weekly Magazine highlights this dynamic history, while emphasizing the concern that Macalester’s students are not as activist as they used to be. The article notes that the Director of Alumni Relations even ranks this decline as one of the alumni’s largest concerns.

This same Mac Weekly Magazine issue contains the article, “The Costs Keep on Mounting,” illuminating the roots of many of these concerns. This piece highlights the fact that the tuition at Macalester in 1961 used to be the equivalent of $5,500, in 2006 dollars, and that in 2017 a year’s tuition will be $80,000 if rates continue as they have in just the previous 3 years.

Justifications for this raise range from claims of a high financial aid percentage, to the need to maintain competitivity with comparable private schools; yet this doesn’t change the fact that class demographics have and will continue to change at Macalester, and that simultaneously many students are leaving thousands of dollars in debt effectively tying them to the system in their immediate post-graduate years for repayment.

Additionally, with the new division of wealth and increasing gaps between the rich and the poor caused by “tax cuts” for the rich in the last seven years of George W. Bush’s presidency, can anyone truly claim that money should be a basis for access to education?

President Brian Rosenberg does, when he argues in the same article that “It’s unsettling if you believe that everybody should have access to every college. I’m not sure that’s a defensible position. Someone’s paying the bills for this place.”

–Our school claims to educate the skeptics and the activists fighting for social justice against the interests of money and power, but more and more openly it purports to train the future powerful elites.