Weekend Reading

A short list this week, as school comes to a close:

It’s probably true that better facilities and resources aid performance.  But shouldn’t we be applying that principle first to the 99% of Berkeley students who are not intercollegiate athletes, and to the object of academic performance?  Instead, a valuable public resource (the land granted to the university to educate California’s citizens) would be diverted to serve the interests of only a few.  Even if the construction costs of the proposed Aquatics Center are entirely covered by private donations, the plans for the building effectively monopolize that space, excluding 99% of the Berkeley community from its usufruct.

Wherever we turn today, we read that the “bricks and mortar” university is no longer viable; that it’s too costly and denies access to high-quality education.  At Berkeley we’re all too familiar with the crumbling of bricks and mortar; after nearly every winter rainstorm one can find pieces of mortar or peeling paint, along with puddles, in some of the campus’ most historic buildings, including the hallways and locker rooms of Hearst Gymnasium, the poor but beautiful elder sister of the Spieker complex.  Faculty try to teach and conduct research in deteriorating classrooms and laboratories. Donors, we are told, have no interest in funding the repair of existing facilities, in upgrading and greening the heating and plumbing systems.  And the state’s declining support for the UC system makes even everyday maintenance a financial challenge.  To respond to these challenges, the administration tries to find ways to cut costs—diminished library hours, fewer books bought, class enrollments capped to accommodate available classroom space and diminished numbers of ladder-rank faculty.

The $8.25 man, Bloomberg News wrote in December, has worked at McDonald’s for twenty years. Still, he can’t get forty hours a week or anything more than minimum wage. He can’t make rent payments, can’t afford a computer, and has to go to the Apple store to update his Facebook. After picking cigarette butts out of a bathroom drain, he has to clean off before his next job—at another McDonald’s. The $8.25 man is cheap goods compared to the $8.75 million man. The $8.25 man would have to work roughly a million hours to make what McDonald’s’ CEO made in 2011. The $8.75 million man stands atop an industry that added jobs at double the U.S. average post-recession. Between 2008 and 2011, McDonald’s profits alone rose from $4.3 billion to $5.5 billion. If the $8.25 man became a $15 man, a report from theEconomic Policy Institute suggests, the labor market wouldn’t lose any jobs. In downtown Chicago’s retail and food service sectors, raising the minimum wage to $15 would cost $103 million, small change compared to the $14.2 billion in revenue accrued by these sectors in 2011. Even if the aggregate raise were passed on directly to consumers, prices would go up only 2.6%.

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