Johns Hopkins Magazine -- November 1998
Johns Hopkins 
     Magazine Home


O U R    R E A D E R S    W R I T E


Send your letters via email to

Toward reducing tuition costs
The best financial aid package in history
Productivity a problem for the professoriate?
Setting the record straight

Toward reducing tuition costs

I am writing in reaction to your September article Scrambling for Dollars" on why a JHU education is so expensive. I've always wondered why universities charge such high tuition rates, then lend or grant a big percentage of the necessary money to many of their students. Why don't they just reduce the cost of tuition and then lend or grant less money? I have some thoughts on how costs might be lowered.

1. Review the teaching schedules of the faculty. I realize that many faculty members are engaged in research and/or writing in addition to teaching, but receiving a full-time salary as a teacher for teaching one or two courses a week sounds ridiculous to us laymen.

2. Consider spending a small portion of the endowment's principal each year to reduce tuition costs. We all know that endowments are sacred and untouchable; they are security for the future. But when a school like JHU has $1.2 billion as its endowment, one has to ask how secure must the school be. If it defied logic and tradition and spent, let us say, $20 million a year to reduce tuition, the remaining billion-plus would certainly earn enough through its investment to replace that money each year.

3. Hopkins, an institute of higher learning, has contracts with the U.S. government, mainly the Department of Defense, for something like $300 to 400 million. There must be a little bit of profit there. Even though those contracts have little or nothing to do with each incoming freshman class, a small amount of those profits might be used to reduce the tuition for those incoming freshmen and students in the three upper classes.

I sort of know in advance that the university (or any other university) will reject these notions out of hand as the work of perhaps a neophyte, a madman, or a trouble-maker. I don't think I'm any of those. I am a father who paid full fare for three kids at three expensive private universities (including Hopkins) when costs were high. Now that they've reached the exorbitant level I feel compelled to speak out.
Irwin Rubenstein (SAIS '54)
Plantation, FL

The best financial aid package in history

Reading the latest issue of the always fascinating Magazine, I realized (not for the first time) how financially unique was my own JHU experience. I was 16, bored with high school, and had no diploma (but high SAT scores) when I applied for admission. With my largish single-parent family, brother entering college and mother entering grad school all at the same time, I was blessed with what might have been the best financial aid package in the history of JHU. Yes, I had work-study jobs all four years, but even these (reading for the blind philosophy professor Kingsley Price, and doing office tasks for Julian Stanley's Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth) were stimulating and positive parts of my JHU experience. I peddled bagels and gourmet chocolates during summers home in D.C. to come up with the family contribution of a few thousand dollars we were expected to make each fall, and escaped JHU with concurrent BA (The Writing Seminars) and MA (Humanities Center) degrees and only $6,000 in National Direct Student Loans. Compared to today's undergraduates, I got the thing practically free.

I wanted to take this opportunity to give thanks for the gift of a true liberal arts education full of poetry and fiction workshops, philosophy courses like Pride, Shame, and Guilt, and seminars with Dick Macksey. My memory of JHU is that I got to take whatever the heck courses I wanted, and got away with having no career goals (which is probably appropriate for a 16- to 20-year-old).

The freedom from debt that I have enjoyed for 10 years has enabled me to pursue a career as a professional dancer, then as a community educator for a non-profit social service agency, and take my own sweet time settling on my brand-new profession of nurse practitioner. Graduate school in nursing, at Vanderbilt, ran a much higher pricetag, but now I will have the means to pay off the debt. I would not trade the JHU years of intellectual exploration for anything, and I hope I am not the last student to be able to "afford" four years of thinking, reading, and writing. Thanks to the financial aid wizards, the generous federal government, Professor Kingsley, Professor Stanley, countless JHU faculty, and all others who took part in these formative years for me.
Jessica Manke '88 (MA '88)
Santa Cruz, CA

Productivity a problem for the professoriate?

I could not find in [" Scrambling for Dollars"] an explanation of why the profession of education, and the structure within which that profession practices, have failed to demonstrate over time an increase in productivity. Workers in professions such as medicine and law, as well as those who are employed in service and manufacturing, have all shown a steady increase in productivity over time. But you explain, and recent writings concur, that in the university, [faculty] are rewarded more and more generously, while they contribute less and less directly to the education of the student.

Of course one major issue is research. I do not fault it. I am not a Luddite. But I believe Johns Hopkins and other elite institutions will have to separate the research function from the educational function, at least in administrative (fiscal) terms, in order to justify their costs. This would at least show for what purposes the tuition dollar is spent. Then we might also be able to look at the science of education.

Where are the studies that demonstrate that [undergraduate] involvement in research produces a superior graduate? Where are the studies of the educational process itself, which should be exploring how it might be carried out in a more dollar-efficient fashion? An analogy with the entire health care system is not inappropriate. That system is being squeezed, and more and more physicians must inspect their actions and results to determine what is it that they do which really helps the patient.

Similarly, what is it that faculty do that really helps the student and furthers her or his education?
Avrum L. Katcher, MD
Flemington, NJ

Setting the record straight

As a general rule, a professor should not comment on letters from students who have done poorly in his classes. It is a waste of time, for there is no logical response to resentment. So it is with Rakesh Sharma's denunciation of me in the Letters column of the September issue. More, the letter is so poorly reasoned, shows so erroneous a grasp of history, and such confusing syntax, that it discredits itself without comment from me. Its description of me as "a man who leans his success on the foundation of the proliferation of communism" is too absurd (and the sentence too poorly constructed) to merit response.

At risk of breaking a sensible rule, however, I would like to set the record straight on two points: First, the Partagas cigar I am holding in the cover photo is not contraband. One is allowed to bring back $100 of merchandise, including cigars, from Cuba. The cigar in question was part of such a purchase. I wish it could have been an Hoyo de Monterrey, but I can no longer afford those.

Second, I did not aid other individuals in circumventing U.S. travel restrictions. Circumvention is not my style; rather, during 1994 and 1995, I led three groups of academics on trips to Cuba designed to challenge those restrictions, which we considered, and still consider to be, outright violations of our constitutional rights. We refused to get licenses and challenged the federal authorities to take us to court. As I said to the Customs official who met us at the ramp on the first trip: "We respect the law and obey those that are constitutional. But if a citizen believes a given law to be unconstitutional, then that citizen, in an act of civic disobedience, should refuse to obey it and force the authorities to take the matter to court, where the offending statute can be overturned--or the citizen pay the consequence of having been wrong."

Significantly, in all three cases, the authorities would not risk taking us to court. Clearly, they didn't think we were wrong.
Wayne S. Smith
Latin American Studies Program