Monday, August 11, 2014
I can certainly imagine worse ideas...
And yes, grad students do work as TAs, extending our instructional workforce for a fairly low price, but based on my experience as graduate program director, trying to balance the TA budget, it doesn't make up for the high cost of running small graduate seminars and advising grad student research, especially since we don't have our grad students teach independent courses to the resident undergrads except in extraordinary circumstances.
Of course, raising this issue opens many cans of worms, from basic equity and social justice, to differential tuition based on the cost of education, to differential tuition based on the marketability of a degree. I'd be interested in trying your experiment as long as apples are compared with apples, e.g. a different subsidy for M.A. and Ph.D. students, and perhaps even for B.A. and B.S. students depending on the field.
I can't guarantee this is the argument—and indeed it may not be, since I think the system evolved by accident rather than being planned by design—but one possible answer is that the current system evolved primarily to subsidize conduct research. If the attempt to maximize research rather than social justice, then it may make sense to spend the most money on universities and programs that produce a lot of it.
The idea that universities are primarily about social justice seems to have come along later; your third paragraph starts with "From a social-justice perspective," and that may not be the dominant perspective among legislators. Certainly during much of the Cold War period from 1945 – 1975, when money poured into universities per Louis Menand's The Marketplace of Ideas it wasn't.
My dissertation is on academic novels and I've now read a huge amount of material related to the conception of universities from 1945 – the present. One persistent theme is that intelligent people in every era disagree both what universities as a whole are for and quite often on the discipline or department level what each discipline or department is for. In this respect your post is a continuation of this discussion.
But there was a social justice perspective during at least half of the time period you singled out, because many of those students were there on the GI Bill and most were first-in-family at college. After universal K-12, that might have been the most radical thing ever tried. The CC movement during the latter part of that period was also a push for social justice and a bigger middle class.
And I think it is an open question as to what legislators think they are funding with the general budget for a large state R1. For many, it is probably whatever the leadership of the home of their favorite football team and alma mater wants, up to some budget constraint due to political priorities. I don't think they know how little actually goes to teach their kids.
Those novels are unlikely to be written by those paying the bills. A comparison of budgets over the past 70 years, broadened to include CCs in the past 50 years, is where the secrets are buried.