Last week I saw an article about a proposal, currently part of the tax bill, to levy a 1.4% tax on investment income earned by private colleges with endowments of more than $500,000 per student. Thirty-two colleges currently have such enormous endowments, including Harvard, whose endowment is an astonishing $38 billion. One might think that colleges that have promoted progressive politics for decades, including raising taxes on Americans not comfortably ensconced in the academy, would welcome the chance to help finance the big government policies they favor, but that is not the case. Instead, these phenomenally wealthy institutions are trying to kill this small tax, and the article darkly notes that "it is widely suspected that the legislation was put forth . . . as punishment for perceived political bias in higher education."
If true, that is a small sign that some Republicans are beginning to understand that politics involves rewarding friends and punishing enemies. There is little doubt that higher education as a whole is inimical to conservatives. The presidents of many of the colleges boasting endowments of more than $500,000 per student recently protested the Trump Administration's temporary ban on travel from countries sponsoring terrorism. The vast majority of professors and academic bureaucrats are liberal Democrats, and many professors use their classes to promote leftism. Indeed, many colleges now chill, or even suppress, conservative speech. Too many academic leftists have become bullies.
Even apart from the question of leftist bias in the academy, many Americans are fed up with the burgeoning costs of higher education and the way going to college now leaves many students with enormous debts. In 1954, my father, who was then in high school, received a booklet about going to college in Ohio. At the time, the tuition for some state colleges in Ohio was as low as $181.50 (Miami of Ohio) or $187.00 (Kent State). My Dad ended up going to the most expensive school in Ohio, Case Institute of Technology, which charged $770.00 for tuition. My father had saved $500.00 in high school, and then contributed $500.00 each year from summer earnings. He was able to pay 2/3 of the tuition of the most expensive school in the state out of his own pocket. He then earned back the entire amount he paid for college in his first four months of employment and almost all of the tuition charged by Case in the first six months of his employment. Case now charges $46,333 in tuition. To do what my father did, then, a student would need to earn roughly $30,000 over the summer and roughly $92,000 in the first six months of employment.
Republican congressmen might wish to consider inviting university presidents to come to Capitol Hill to justify what their colleges charge students and what their institutions pay them. (The president of Case, who signed an open letter from college presidents criticizing the Trump travel ban, made total compensation of $1.154 million in 2015). Those university presidents would be hard pressed to argue that they are doing a better job educating students than their far more modestly paid predecessors did back in the dark days of the '50s and early '60s. But their justifications for milking parents and students and lavishing money on themselves might be revealing.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.