Money America’s leaders are harming the future, OU professor says By Kat Tenbarge Posted on October 5, 2015 9 min read 2 0 731 Photo courtesy House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats via Flickr. Richard Vedder, an economics professor at Ohio University, doesn’t give a damn about how his students “feel.” That was his opening statement in a very lively, hour-long discussion he facilitated last Wednesday on student debt and what he called a failing K-12 education system. Students and faculty members sipped coffee at Front Room while Vedder, who had just returned from presenting to the Senate that very day, deconstructed the merits of modern education and what he termed “America’s most selfish generation.” “The adults of today and of the last 30 years have left the younger generation an enormous financial burden,” Vedder said. He believes that the problem facing the modern economy is the way money is created through debt. The $2 trillion being held in excess reserves by the banking system lets them go on a debt spree, according to Vedder. He cited the law of diminishing returns, or the idea that an excess of production will eventually hit a wall where output begins to decrease. These pessimistic views have been contested by various economists and experts, such as Paul Krugman, an opinion writer for The New York Times who has delved extensively into issues of debt, particularly in the academic sphere. Krugman wrote in his column “Debt Is Good” that “this is a very good time to be borrowing and investing in the future, and a very bad time for what has actually happened: an unprecedented decline in public construction spending adjusted for population growth and inflation.” Krugman has also attacked Vedder by name. “Republicans … they hope that other academics will henceforth feel intimidated. And somehow, we can be sure that people like, say, Richard Vedder of Ohio University wouldn’t be subject to equivalent scrutiny,” Krugman said in his column “Academic Intimidation” for The New York Times. In response, Vedder claims that while debt can serve a legitimate function when businesses want to expand, the concept didn’t work for France, Spain or particularly ancient Greece. “I do ultimately disagree with the idea that looking at the state of economic growth is the only way to measure the progression of society, a narrow focus on statistics such as economic growth, the idea that we measure college success by job placement or earnings,” said Joe McLaughlin, chair of the Ohio University Faculty Senate and an OU English professor, after the event. Vedder said repeatedly that he was not referring to Ohio University directly, but he did note that the new dorms on South Green were allegedly paid for with a 100-year bond. He claimed that by the time the university needed to pay for the dorms, they would already be torn down. According to the Ohio University Housing Master Plan Frequently Asked Questions, the renovations were financed through a combination of housing reserves and bonds. Two of those bonds are expected to retire in the next five years: New South, with a yearly payment of approximately $2.2 million, and Bromley with a yearly payment of approximately $700,000. The new dorms are not the only aspect of university life Vedder is concerned about. He expressed his disillusion with the American education system as a whole. “With the exception of prostitution, there is no other establishment that does so little to advance the community,” Vedder said. “Schools aren’t run for students. They’re run for the adults.” Turning to his experiences as a member of a local school board, Vedder recounted “never talking about test scores” and instead facing a legal fiasco after being sued by a girl cut from her cheerleading squad. Consequently, he believes students in all academic pathways, ranging from middle school to undergraduates, should be challenged more. Vedder cited a recent statistic on math testing for eighth graders. He claimed that the U.S. test was designed to screen for a high level of proficiency; 30 percent of test takers passed. Russian students had a 47 percent passing rate on a comparable test, andJapanese students scored 61 percent passing. But in comparison to eighth graders, Vedder believes college students have it easy. Specifically, he said eighth graders study 40 percent more than undergraduates. “The amount of time I spend outside of class writing papers and reading is probably more time than I ever spent in my high school career. I would say specifically for my tutorials I spend at least ten hours per tutorial doing extra homework outside of it, and that’s one class,” said Maddie Sloat, a freshman studying communications in the Honors Tutorial College. McLaughlin said he thinks schools should also be teaching students about more than skills. “I think about the class gateway and that we have very much drifted from talk of values rather than skills, and it’s a more difficult question to ask whether we’re educating students to lead good lives. But that’s just as important if not more,” said McLaughlin. EDITOR’S NOTE: In the original article, one of Krugman’s quotes was attributed to Vedder. Also, the original article stated that $2 million were being held in excess reserved, not $2 trillion. Those mistakes have since been changed.