Paying for guinea pigs

By Andrew Ross

Unlike many other students, I fully support the idea of differential tuition. Why am I in favour of such a seemingly unpopular policy? Perhaps this would be best explained by my background as a student.

I am a philosophy major. Philosophy classes are generally taught in small, poorly-lit rooms by professors without TAs, with chalk and chalkboards being the only materials used-save for the occasional photocopied handout. In their offices, many philosophy professors have antiquated computers reminiscent of the one my father bought second-hand in 1992. Some have no computer at all. Most of the furniture in the philosophy department looks as though it was acquired from the Salvation Army. Essentially, the department runs on a shoestring budget. In spite of this, the philosophy department at the U of C is among the best in the country.

So why does my tuition go up?

Apart from inflation (which I imagine has little impact on the cost of chalk) and wage increases for my professors, what am I paying for?

I am paying for specimens for a biology lab I will never visit; equipment for a chemistry lab I have never seen; film projectors, VCRs, high-end computers, and microscopes by the dozen; even a $300,000 driving simulator for the Department of Psychology. Thanks to the current tuition scheme-whereby all courses are the same price-I am paying for all these things, even though I will never see most of them, let alone use them. So I fully support differential tuition.

While saying that the price of a course should be somehow related to its cost seems non-controversial to me, there is a more problematic argument in support of differential tuition. Some say tuition should be based on potential future earnings of the students.

This, of course, is a bad idea.

If you were to base my tuition solely on the money my BA in philosophy will bring in, I could go to school for the actual price of the shirt on my back (instead of metaphorically giving said shirt). Clearly, though, delivering my courses costs more than my shirt did. Furthermore, determining future earning potential is not as simple as it sounds. What of the many philosophy students who go on to law school after graduating?

It would be nice if all courses cost the same per student, but the reality is that they don’t. Realizing this, university administrators are looking at differential tuition. Bully for them.

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