Should College Be Free? These Protesters Think So
Yesterday morning, 50 students at Cooper Union in New York, took over their university president’s office. They promise to remain until he resigns.
The occupation is the latest battle in a war to keep Cooper Union free. Cooper Union is one of the only colleges in America that doesn’t charge tuition. But on April 23, Chairman of the Board Mark Epstein announced that, starting in 2014, the college would cost students $20,000 a year. That’s a 2 zillion percent increase. It was, according to protesters and students, a betrayal of the principles on which Cooper Union was built.
“Education should be as free as air or water,” the school’s founder, industrialist Peter Cooper, once procliamed. Cooper was the most progressive of the robber barons, a simple-living abolitionist Unitarian who invented Jell-O. He founded his university to provide an education to cash-strapped geniuses of both sexes. He positioned it where Bowery meets Broadway, as a geographic nod to class transcendence—where the upper and lower classes collide.
Since 1859, Cooper Union has been free. Cooper’s original endowment is supplemented by donors, alumni, and, most crucially, rent from the land under the Chrysler Building, located 39 blocks away.
Growing up in New York, I viewed Cooper Union through the filter of legend. Because it was free, it took only the best.
My friend Zak Smith, a Cooper art graduate who went on to exhibit in the Whitney Biennial, told me via text: “The great schools in the US are all too often just places that make rich families richer. Cooper Union was the exception.” Smith comes from a working-class family, but thanks to a free education at Cooper, he landed a Yale scholarship for his master’s degree and later became a world-renowned contemporary painter. “Not anymore. If it wasn’t for Cooper, people like me wouldn’t get to be artists.”
Los Angeles Is for Sale… Dirt Cheap!
Los Angeles has a budget shortfall of $216 million. We literally crowdsourced budget-cut ideas. We, with our car culture, have the worst roads in America according to AASHTO, and we can’t scrounge up enough money to even start fixing them. Among US cities, we’re the ones in the neighborhood with the dead lawn and the broken Power Wheels in the driveway.
In other words, time for a garage sale.
You don’t tend to get judgmental when your neighbor has a garage sale once (gated-community douchebags aside), but the guy down the street who has been carting out the same items every Saturday morning for a year? That’s LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa trying to privatize his zoo and convention center before the end of his term in July.
But what else was I doing with my Saturday morning? I woke up early and scoped it out. If your pockets are jingling, you should check out these bargains, too!
The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens
“The sellers say you don’t need any special knowledge to run a zoo. What you need is a lot of heart.” - Ben Mee (Matt Damon), We Bought a Zoo (2011)
I asked an employee named Nick a lot of questions about gorillas, and he was pretty sharp, which makes me feel like Matt Damon was wrong. Nick also told me his job didn’t have benefits. Good sign, potential buyers. But then he said it was a part-time job. As city employees, the full-time staff have the kind of cushy benefits packages bargain shoppers like you and me can’t afford.
The VICE Guide to Business School
Justin Dett is the pseudonym of a graduate of a top-tier business school who wants to remain anonymous because he’d like to work again at some point in his life.
The people who make up your typical business school class come in all shapes and sizes and colors, but the one thing they have in common is their attraction to money. They fucking love it, and they love making it. They’re also probably quite a bit further along in terms of tangible life developments than the stereotypical aimless 20-something who is still struggling to hold down an apartment, a job, and a relationship at the same time. I’m not here to judge anyone’s chosen career path, and if making artisanal mayonnaise in Brooklyn is how you’d like to eke out the rest of your existence, more power to you. I will eat the shit out of it. But if you want to actually afford that fancy mayo, along with a host of other fun luxury goods that will—I don’t care what anyone says—make you happy, you need to get your ass to business school and get a Master’s in Business Administration.
It should come as no surprise that an MBA is way more financially valuable than the degree you have in gender theory or media studies or whatever piece of paper you get after writing long essays on Deleuze. Forty of the 100 best-paid American CEOs have MBAs, and believe me, those guys are some rich assholes.
The MBA is the biggest loophole in corporate America. The hardest part is getting into business school, but once you’re in, you can pretty much do whatever the fuck you want: It’s virtually impossible to fail, and employers don’t ask for your grades. When you graduate, and find a job—it’s pretty much inevitable that someone will hire you—you’re guaranteed to make boatloads of money; and remember, that’s what this whole thing is about. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, the median salary of a newly minted MBA was $90,000 in 2012, and MBAs made, on average, $40,000 more than lowly peons with mere bachelor’s degrees.
You can’t fight the rich, so why not join them? Here’s how:
Getting admitted to business school is the hardest part. If you can’t get into a “top” school, you’re wasting your time. For obvious reasons, more and more people want to get an MBA, and more and more shitty schools have started offering shitty MBA programs, so MBAs are a dime a dozen in the US. You have to focus on one of the 25 or so best schools and ignore the other ones, because your prospects of getting a top job on Wall St. diminish rapidly when you graduate from Northern Eastern Southern Cocksucker State. Only 10 to 20 percent of applicants get into the worthwhile institutions, so you’ve got your work cut out for you.
Business schools are obsessed with statistics—namely GPAs and GMAT scores—because that’s how they convince saps like you to spend $100,000 on tuition. The higher the average GPA and GMAT score for an admitted student, the “smarter” the student, and therefore, the more exclusive the school. That means that if you fucked off in college, or if you suck at standardized tests, I can’t help ya pal. Sorry. Time to go back to mopping floors and playing scratch cards.
The next thing schools look at is your work experience and extracurricular activities, which are difficult to quantify, but almost more important than grades and GMAT scores. The good news is that business schools pride themselves on the diversity of their student bodies, and most of the bros and hos who apply to Business School are investment bankers and consultants—so your experience interning for a digital fashion start-up and “helping” with your friend’s music video will be a breath of fresh air for the admissions committee, as will your recommendation letters from people who aren’t your fraternity brothers.
Paying for It
Uh-oh. You got into a dope business school and have enjoyed a hazy week of showing up to experimental music shows and drunkenly telling people you’re getting an MBA to watch their facial expressions, but now you face the challenge of coming up with the $75,000 per year required to cover tuition and living expenses, and you aren’t rich just yet.
Unfortunately, most scholarships are probably off the table for you. If you’re a white male who hasn’t invented a perpetual motion machine and volunteered in several African countries, you’re completely screwed, and though there are typically more scholarships available for women, minorities, and the foreign-born, at most elite institutions, these will be taken by super-achievers who have already accomplished more with their lives than you ever will. Even if you luck out and get one, very few will cover all of your tuition, not to mention the money you will continue to spend on rent, deli salads, partying, and, as you go through business school, actual clothes a grown-up wears to work.
Some of you will have the luxury of hitting up the Bank of Mom, Dad, Stepmom, Stepdad, Rich Uncle, or Wealthy Suitor, etc., but if that isn’t an option either, don’t fret. Just getting into business school means that you’re already part of the 1 percent in the eyes of our nation’s financial institutions. That means you’re eligible for loans so large and uncollateralized that they would make even the most spendthrift subprime Floridian homebuyer splooge his pants. With only an admissions letter, yours truly was able to borrow almost six figures, even without providing a Social Security Number.
I remember hearing this word a lot when I was at b-school, so I though I’d include it as a section. Upon further reflection, I have no fucking idea what it means, so let’s move on.
Occupy’s Rolling Jubilee Wants to Give Americans Money for Nothing
Walking the streets of New York City this spring, you would have been hard-pressed not to come across posters promoting the Occupy Wall Street-led May Day general strike. “A day without the 99 percent,” is how it was billed. With the strike, the group was attempting to light a fire that might bring down capitalism and launch the US into an American Spring. However, Occupy’s rallying cry fell on deaf ears, as the rally had poor attendance and limited impact. Looking back, it seems like that was the moment that the pied pipers of political and economic discontent’s critical mass finally dissipated. The group’s momentum seemed to have run its course, and the fickle media’s attention turned to the sideshow that was the 2012 presidential election.
After May Day, Occupy had to find itself all over again. Call it an identity crisis. But in an organization as decentralized as OWS, where individual efforts and actions are constantly emerging as branches and nodes of a shape-shifting whole, identity is a fluid concept anyway. The post-May Day breakdown was a chance for rebirth—a function of Occupy Wall Street’s built-in eternal recurrence mechanism. It was in this ferment that Occupy forged its next project: Rolling Jubilee, a plan to buy anonymous medical debt, thus offering relief to Americans burdened by exorbitant healthcare costs.
“From the very beginning of Occupy Wall Street, the question of crippling debt that people are forced to carry has always been part of the agenda,” says Yates McKee, a member of Occupy’s Strike Debt team, which is leading the Rolling Jubilee project. “Student debt, mortgage debt, medical debt, and municipal debt—all of that has been a part of Occupy from the very beginning.”
Activists within Occupy Student Debt, an early sub-group of Occupy focused on the debt crisis, had the idea of using Occupy’s I Am The 99 Percent Tumblr to present real people who were debtors and break the silence around debt. It was a issue that was close to their hearts, as many of the original Occupy campers were debtors of all stripes.
As Yates explains it, Occupy Student Debt went on to create the Pledge of Refusal, which many Occupy participants signed. “It wasn’t about forgiveness,” Yates emphasizes. “It didn’t say, ‘Let’s come up with a piece of legislation that forgives our debt.’ Rather, it noted that going into debt is systematic. In order to live, you have to enter into this predatory debt. So the Pledge of Refusal was non-compliant with the debt system. It was similar to a debt strike.”
Originally, the debt strike concept gained a lot of traction within the Occupy movement, but people across the country weren’t ready for such an idea and conditions across the country couldn’t support a mass default. So in the post-May Day void, where Occupy’s idealism finally gave way to reality, they knew they had to take another approach to fighting debt. Luckily, the Occupy Student Debt movement still had a great deal of enthusiasm behind it, even after May Day.
“The only campaign that still had a lot of energy was the Occupy Student Debt campaign,” observes Yates. “So over the summer, we decided to have what we call ‘thematic assemblies,’ where in one assembly we talked about the environment, and in another assembly we talked about labor. And then we did one on debt. And we made sure to invite everyone from Occupy Student Debt, Occupy Universities, Free University, and Occupy Labor.”
The larger assembly then got together and discussed what would it mean to build a political movement around debt in all its forms and not just on certain types of debt in isolation, like student loans. This ultimately lead to the transformation of Occupy Student Debt into Strike Debt, the sub-group which now healms the Rolling Jubilee.
“One phrase we started to use was ‘Debt is the tie that binds the 99 percent’” says Yates. “There is something structural about the debt economy we’re forced to go into in our lives. And this was when we flipped the idea of a debt strike to Strike Debt. What would it mean to strike debt, to attack debt from all these different angles and metaphorically cross it out?”
Occupy describes the vast swaths of America’s debtors as “an invisible army of defaulters.” What if this invisible army were to come out of the shadows and become a political force? Out of this thought experiment came debt memes like “You are not alone” and ultimately the Rolling Jubilee program.
Jubilee, as laid out in the Bible’s book of Leviticus, was a time when debts were forgiven. Strike Debt appropriated the concept in a symbolic way and used it as the namesake for its first major project, in which a fund—financed by donations—buys debt.
How to Pay Your Student Loans Without Actually Paying Them
There are two rhetorical positions commonly adopted when addressing the topic of student loans, one held by those with robust monthly incomes, the other championed by magical thinkers whose earning powers border on the anemic. Try to guess which is which:
1) “You shouldn’t have gotten into so much debt in the first place if you didn’t have a responsible plan to pay it off. Quit complaining and get to work.”
2) “Student loans exploit children by luring them with the promise of non-existent careers into borrowing inconceivable sums. The system is broken; defaulting counts as civil disobedience.”
If you’re partial to the first of these arguments, then you should stop reading this immediately and go hang out in your bathtub full of gold-plated caviar (or whatever it is you people do), but if you’re listing towards the latter position, then it only stands to reason that you should get out of your student loan debt as quickly and painlessly as possible. And there are actually ways to do that. Check it out
José Can Say So - I’m Broke and It’s the Government’s Fault
You might’ve heard that last week I filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The government has drained my bank accounts, and the way they hit you with penalties and interest makes it almost impossible to pay anything back. And it’s my duty to warn you: It can happen to anyone.
Things spiraled out of control for me due to a combination of being hit with judgments and liens and taxes and my income being cut short because my wages were garnished. When you owe the government—whether it be state or federal—they are relentless when it comes to getting their money back. They institute incredible penalties and interest that almost makes it seem like they want to enslave you.
Recovering from something like that is very difficult. It’s like swimming in the ocean. Once you get out past 100 yards, it looks like 200 yards and the farther you swim the harder it is to get back to shore; you’re just swimming around forever and you can never reach the other side. The vastness just keeps expanding and expanding and expanding, by which I mean penalties and interest. Obviously, I’ve got issues from the past, but it just becomes so overwhelming that you’re not even swimming anymore. You’re just underwater, sipping air—sipping life even—through a little straw that’s sticking through the surface. It’s the most frustrating, unnatural thing I’ve ever had to go through—constantly being suffocated, choked out, and wondering if I could survive until the next day to make more payments on whatever I could.
For the last five or six or seven years I’ve just been trying to, well… live. I’ve been evicted from homes, lived in friends’ converted garages, and bounced from house to house. Putting money into my account became a terrifying activity because there was a good chance the government would immediately confiscate it. Things got to the point where even my daughter Josie—her last name is Canseco—was drained one time. I think she said that they returned it, but anything relating to the Canseco last name became a nightmare. Let me tell you from first-hand experience, the IRS are a bunch of thirsty piranhas. They bled me dry.