Janet Napolitano To Tuition Protesters: "We Don't Have To Listen To This Crap"

Source: AP
Source: AP

How did we once live in a world without hot mics? Without them, we wouldn't know that President Barack Obama thought Kanye was a jackass. We wouldn't know that George W. Bush felt that New York Times reporter Adam Clymer was a "major league asshole," and we wouldn't know of the Rev. Jesse Jackson's desire to cut President Obama's nuts off.

Now the hot mic has struck again, but this time the issue is far more serious.

As protesters disrupted a visibly tense meeting of the University of California Regents on Wednesday morning, Janet Napolitano, the president of the University of California system and former governor of Arizona, was overheard telling regent chairman Bruce Varner that they should leave and that they didn't "have to listen to this crap."

The "crap" she was referring to: demands by students that the UC system halt a planned tuition increase that would see costs rise by up to 5% each year for the next five years.    

Source: Jeff Chiu/AP


It's getting more expensive to go to college — and that's not "crap." Between 2004 and 2014, the in-state cost of attending a UC school rose from $5,277 to $9,173, a 73% increase in price that's part of a national trend of outsized increases in college tuition. In the ten years between 2001 and 2011, the cost of attending a four-year public school rose by 40%, according to government data.

"One big factor that made California great in the post-World War II era was the affordability of higher education," Judson True, chief of staff to California Assemblyman David Chiu, told Mic. "We need to do more to get back to that kind of affordability."

The increases have resulted in destructive ripple effects elsewhere. As Mic has previous reported, many young people could only wish to "start with nothing" after graduating from college. Today, the average debt load for American students is now close to $30,000. The debt has resulted in millennials living at home for longer periods, depressing the U.S. housing market and has been linked from everything to starting families later to reduced rates of volunteerism. The extra financial burdens have only been compounded by the worst job market in 50 years.

Universities have countered that the increases are justified in order to stay competitive. "Colleges are spending more to provide things that students and their parents want and demand," Michael O'Keefe, president of the Consortium for the Advancement of Private Higher Education, told the Chicago Tribune. For private colleges, those services apparently require the explosive growth of university president salaries.

Sorry, President Napolitano: You do have to listen. During Thursday's regent meeting, Napolitano apologized for her hot mic remarks, stating, "I'm sorry for using a word I don't usually use," the Los Angeles Times reported. But an apology doesn't address the main issue: the skyrocketing cost of college tuition. 

Though some have argued otherwise, college is still vital to future career success. Today, the wage gap between people with and without bachelor's degrees has never been higher. According to data by the Pew Research Center, a 25- to 32-year-old with a college degree today will take in a median income of $45,500, while a high school-only counterpart makes just $28,000. Part of the reason for that has to do with low-skilled labor being outsourced abroad where things can be manufactured at a fraction of the cost. It's the reason you're routed to the Philippines when you need internet support.

Source: Pew Research Center


America's determination to put higher education out of reach stands in stark contrast to how the issue is approached in other nations. In China, for example, students pay on average between $400 and $2,200 in tuition each year, and student loans are rare. In Germany, tuition was abolished for higher education across the country for both Germans and international students.

If the leader of one of the most important university systems in the country thinks concerns about rising tuition costs are "crap," and American college students are forced to take on more unforgivable debt to obtain degrees, America will not be able to compete in a marketplace that requires college diplomas. And that's a bill we'll all end up paying.

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Jon Levine

Jon Levine is a staff writer at Mic, covering politics and people. He is based in New York and can be reached at JLevine@mic.com.

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