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Letter to Congress - Transience Divine
February 23rd, 2011
09:31 pm


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Letter to Congress
I got this from my graduate student association:

In the FY12 Budget released by the White House last week, two recommendations were made that directly affect graduate, medical, and professional students:

1.) Ending the in-school interest subsidy on student loans for graduate, medical, and professional students, and
2.) Consolidating the Javits Fellowship Program with Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) thus eliminating the only federally-funded fellowship program that specifically supports fields within the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

If you want to use my letter, you're welcome to. You can use Salsa's Tool to find out who your representatives are.

Dear [Senator/Representative],

I am a PhD student at Columbia, and I recently learned that the 2012 federal budget includes two significant changes that will severely affect the ability of many graduate students to pursue their education: First, the in-school interest subsidy on student loans is ending. This is a disaster for students like myself who come from middle-class families and rely on the United States student loan system. Second, the budget eliminates the only federally-funded fellowship program that specifically supports fields within the arts, humanities, and social sciences. The contributions that will be lost without this program are inestimable.

Students are huge benefit to the future of United States economy and potential. Supporting graduate education is about supporting the future, and I urge you to fight for it.

Thank you.

(3 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:February 24th, 2011 04:23 am (UTC)
Why should I pay taxes to support people who want to study art? I believe in the benefit of art to society at large and all, but I don't believe that anyone deserves money for it, much less that I should be forced to pay tax dollars so someone else can do it, when I could be spending that money on my own artistic endeavors.

Gov't subsidies for colleges and universities funnel more money into university pockets and jack up the prices for everyone. Obviously we want college to be accessible to everyone, regardless of income (or parents' income), but the state colleges and community colleges do this pretty well. It also seems like a reasonable idea to fund people studying things like science and medicine, but the arts, humanities, and most of the social sciences are the domains of self-interested navel-gazers and should be kicked out of academia and sent to hang out at the local library.

For example, I have a friend pursuing a PhD in film studies. She's a nice person, obviously very smart, and has some thoughtful things to contribute to the discourse on film. But there is no way in hell that I am willing to PAY for her to study this--heck, I wouldn't pay for my OWN children to pursue a PhD in film studies. If someone wants to sit around analyzing camera angles in 1950s mental hygiene films or whatever, that's fine and that's their own business, and as such they should not receive public dollars.

I'm not saying I want you to get kicked out of academia for lack of funding (I don't even remember what you're up to), but no one needs a PhD to do art, read books, or talk about Weber. If anything, I think the inclusion of these fields in academia leads to the devaluing of intellectual, artistic, social, and political endeavors undertaken by non-academics, which annoys me greatly.
[User Picture]
Date:February 25th, 2011 02:03 am (UTC)
First off, this isn't going to directly affect me. My funding is plenty secured, and if these changes even affect my program at all, it would only be by some trickle-down affect.

This isn't about supporting a few film studies students. The scope of programs supported by the Javits is enormous, including psychology, history, archaeology, and political science. Without a dedicated pot of money, you're absolutely right that all of the fed's grants are going to go to fields like science and medicine. That seems completely backwards to me: people who go into STEM-type fields have no problem making money.

And these aren't frivolous students-- it's very competitive: Javits is awarded to about 50 new students a year, or .0004% of the US's grad student population. Coincidentally, that's the same percentage of the federal budget which was going to the scholarship. MIT made a 1%-to-the-arts commitment, and it wasn't very well spent, but that's the kind of responsibility that I think we as a society have support humanities.

I know you don't think that you should be paying the average 3 cents a year to officially recognize in the federal government that we care about something other than the military and required programs, but I do.
[User Picture]
Date:February 25th, 2011 05:21 pm (UTC)
I do art, where's my free money? (This is particularly galling since it's actually true.) In fact, I have lots of projects which I think would benefit humanity, but no one is giving me free money for any of them.

You ought to know by now that I think the military ought to be shut down. But that doesn't excuse taking money that I could use on my art projects and giving it to other people for their art projects. Their projects aren't better or more important than mine just because they're in a university and I'm not. That's not 'supporting the humanities'. That's classism.

The world does not need more Vanishing Horizons. The gov't is having Serious Budget Issues due to overspending on stupid shit like the Iraq War and grinding the economy into the dirt, and they are trying to cut stuff that actually matters, like funding to health care providers for poor people and daycare for little kids, and I'm supposed to feel sorry for some privileged kids who want to do art?

One reason the economy is in such bad shape right now is because we have convinced millions of young people to waste their time and money on degrees they don't need (and often don't deserve) simply because employers are too lazy to come up with a better measure of competence than "did you graduate from college?" People believe that a degree--in anything--is a magic ticket to a better life. It's not. As a society, we should be extremely cautious about encouraging people to spend so much time and money on a degree that, as you note, will not benefit them.

You don't need a fancy degree to do art. You don't need funding. You don't need to be part of a fancy institution and you don't need the federal gov't to support you. All you need is a basic standard of living and the desire to do art. All society needs to do to support the arts is to do art. What we don't need is the gov't furthering the idea that some of us are Artists and deserve to be paid for what we do, and the rest of us suck.
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