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Davis, California

Friday, June 14, 2024

Column: Life goes on

All right, I’ve bitten my tongue long enough. Usually I prefer to avoid the heaviest firefights on campus, having plenty to do teaching world history to my seventh graders and taking my own classes in the afternoons. But I am sensing a very limited array of voices on a particular subject, and I really must comment.

We cannot continue to whine like this about the UC fee increases.

I believe we are suffering from a lack of perspective. At 26, I acknowledge that I am very young with a lot to learn in life. And yet some others of my generation, who would no doubt insist that they are ever so worldly, persistently act as if they have no sense whatsoever of life outside this campus.

No one claims that tuition prices haven’t skyrocketed, nor that the increases aren’t impacting the ability of many students to afford school here. It’s mind-boggling to consider what’s happened to the fees in the past decade.

When my brother (a former Aggie columnist himself) graduated from UCD in 2000, I think a year’s tuition cost somewhere around the value of the faded blue ’89 Integra he drove back and forth to campus. Starting fall 2011 at $11,124 a year for undergrads, tuition is close to the cost of a brand-new economy car – every year.

In an ideal world, all public universities would of course be free. But what seems to be lost in all the youthful righteous indignation is a realistic view of the world we actually live in.

For years now, we have had endless marches, sit-ins, campaigns, arrests and roads blocked, expending tremendous time and effort from intelligent and energetic young people, all because we demand that other people pay more money for our college degrees. Meanwhile:

Central and South America are rocked by drug wars while wide swaths of the population continue to live in dire poverty.

Asia is wrestling with severe overpopulation even as horrible disasters can kill hundreds of thousands at a time.

Africa, likely the hardest habitable continent in the world to live in, is beset by horrifying genocide, AIDS and other diseases and leaders as corrupt as they are entrenched.

Governments throughout the Western world are facing utter financial collapse, as the house of cards we’ve built for decades with all kinds of government goodies for everyone comes crashing down.

North Korea is belligerent enough to make a drunken Irishman on St. Patty’s Day look like Gandhi. Iran sprints toward a nuclear bomb while brutally suppressing free speech and Afghanistan has spiked in violence with murderous thugs just waiting for us to leave.

Back home, left and right, there are a lot of people who fear that for the first time America’s children will have tougher lives than their parents did, in countless ways more than the simple cost of higher education.

Even that’s only surveying current events. Take another famous round of student protests for comparison to those of today: Vietnam.

Agree or disagree with the war, it was a huge event. Over 10 years, 58,000 American soldiers died (most young, many drafted), and more than three million Vietnamese from both sides perished, with major implications either way for the Cold War and the international duel between capitalism and communism. And yet some of our generation gets fired up enough about rising tuition to require law enforcement in riot gear? Please!

No matter how much we may complain about the tuition going up, the partial “privatization of our universities” just can’t be too high on the bad news for all mankind scale.

Opposition to the fee hikes is fine. But some folks carry an air about them like this is a battle of Biblical proportions between good and evil, and this is the fight of our lives, and everyone listen to me now dammit because I’ve been an adult for, like, several years now and I know how everything works.

The freedom to go to college is our right. It is not our right to have the taxpayers open their wallets for it as much as we want. The state ain’t paying what it used to and the UC system is short by, oh, I don’t know, several hundred million dollars.

Or, we could choose to forget all of the above and just have another round of protests. Your call, Aggies.

ROB OLSON is all ears for a way to solve the budget crisis without raising fees at rwolson@ucdavis.edu.


  1. SheSaysWhat: I would like to point out that whereas Rob Olson has, from what you’ve said, worked very hard to get his degree and get into grad school, a person putting in the same amount of work but hampered by discrimination based on skin color, gender, sexual orientation, etc., would not necessarily have the same success that he’s had. Obviously he’s intelligent, and if what you say is true, he’s hard-working. But hard work and intelligence are not enough for some people. I, too, have worked several jobs at a time. I, too, have to drop out, for the moment, because I can’t afford tuition. I, too, am mired in debt. And as a white woman, I consider myself extremely privileged because marginalized people (scare quotes unneeded. They really do exist, whatever you think) do have those options to a point. But an A.A. counts for nothing if you can’t afford to go to a four-year university to complete your degree. And this may be news for you, but for some people – people with a family to support, uninsured people with medical problems that cost thousands of dollars, people who face job discrimination because they are trans, or queer, or are persons of color, or disabled, people who are undocumented immigrants – *willpower is not enough*. Although I don’t know your personal history, I have a hunch that your contact with people who work their asses off and still can’t afford a degree, or to live in a fucking house, is extremely limited. And protesting is “doing something about it,” and in addition, just because we’re lucky to have what we have does not mean that we are not permitted to demand more. My criticism of Rob Olson does not diminish all that he has done and achieved in his college career: but you have to ask, if it was hard for him, how hard do you think it would be for someone without his privilege? And can you honestly tell me that you believe that every person who is homeless or degree-less or poor or what have you is deserving of their position? Do you really believe that everyone who is not successful is to blame for their own failure entirely, and that poverty is the fault of the impoverished? Diplomacy aside, if you truly believe that, you’re a fucking callous idiot capable of little more than spouting shallow conservative talking-points and blame; a person who, as I said in my first post, got theirs. How convenient.

  2. Wow… surprising the first to reactions to Rob’s column here are in opposition. Shocker. Seems like both Lukcas and hrdavis missed some crucial points… Let me open your eyes, Commenters.

    @Lukcas: Clearly your reading comprehension isn’t as honed as your condescension. Rob is not assuming that these fee-hike whiners don’t also care about or are active in other issues, but their complaining and action via protest and civil disturbance is much greater (and louder and more obnoxious) for the fee increases than any other of their “causes”. You then mention the UC’s “slash and burn” tactics… let’s analyze this. You do realize why the UC has to make cuts, right? Because the state of California has made cuts to UC funding. The state has cut so much from education that legally it cannot cut anymore. Last year’s state budget cut to the federal maximum, it could not cut anymore and still receive federal funding for education. And do you know why the state had to cut so much from education? Because our state is so far underwater from supporting its “causes”, i.e. social programs, welfare, (also known as health and human services, it is approximately 25% of our state budget and growing). So, because the state cuts, the UC cuts. Get it? Like you mention, it is the same in countries around the world. They too have to make cuts to education because they are paying more than they bargained for in social services. Finally, thanks for making Rob’s point crystal clear by not offering any solutions to the problems. As you state, “I’d also mention various alternatives to fee increases, but you need to learn to do your own research”. Exactly what Rob is saying, a whole lot of complaining going on, not any solutions being offered. Well done.

    @hrdavis: How easy it is for you to assume that Rob is somehow more “fortunate” than the whiney protesters. He must be, right? Because he is picking on the little guy. Man, what a bully. Instead of assuming the worst, why don’t you actually address the issue. Rob is not picking on anyone, he is offering different opinion than the campus is used to hearing and it’s this: put your grown up pants on and get over it. Knowing Rob personally, there are many things that you assume incorrectly. Rob had to work full time and save for a year before coming to UC Davis as an undergrad, as well as relying on loans to pay for his undergraduate education. He took two years off to work and save money before coming back to UC Davis as a grad student, and he still has to work and rely on even more loans to get him through. Rob is just as affected by the fee increases as every other student. Rob is a good example of the other options students have when fee hikes occur. You are right, not everyone is going to get their degrees. But I am of the opinion, where there is a will, there is a way. If you can’t afford a top-tier UC education, there are plenty of excellent CSUs available to you. Still too expensive? California has the highest rated Jr. Colleges in the country. If that doesn’t fit, maybe work a couple jobs to get to your degree. Yeah, it is hard, but it can be accomplished. Take some time off, work full time, then come back to finish your education. Not to mention all of the online degree options available now. People do it all the time, why can’t the protesters? We are lucky to have all these options available to us. All those “marginalized” people you mentioned have these options available to them as well. It’s cliché, but it is worth repeating, where there is a will, there is a way. Quit whining and do something about it.

  3. Not to mention, Rob, that whereas the world might “go on” for someone like you with a college degree and what looks like the beginning of a teaching career, others of us won’t be getting our bachelor’s, or won’t even be able to attend college, period. It’s very easy to call student protests “whining” from the secure position of someone who got theirs. We are familiar with the rhetoric of “you should be happy what you have because look how much worse it could be!” divisive and pointless as it is; and we are also no longer willing to accept that people of color, poor people, undocumented immigrants, and other marginalized communities – who just want some of the privilege that you take for granted as a white, college-educated American man – are being willfully discriminated against in terms of access to higher education. Yeah, the world will go on if fees keep increasing they way they are. For you, this means the status quo. For others, it means dropping out. I wonder what your opinion would be if you hadn’t been born in such a fortunate position.

  4. Rob, it’s less than charitable for you to assume that protesters are only concerned with supposedly local issues like student fees. No doubt many of them are also active in addressing the other issues you mention, like wars and poverty. So, while you may have bigger fish to fry (like writing condescending editorials), local opposition to fee increases will continue as long as people see themselves, their friends, their students, and their coworkers get squeezed by the UC’s slash-and-burn approach to budgeting. Finally, your characterization of this issue as local is dubious, if not downright dishonest, since similar opposition to similar fees and cuts has been going on in the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Brazil, Argentina, Bangladesh, and elsewhere. To expect a teacher of world history to know this is, I suppose, about as unreasonable as protesting endless fee hikes. I’d also mention various alternatives to fee increases, but you need to learn to do your own research.


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