The timing, from my perspective, couldn’t have been better. After weeks of Occupy Wall Street protests have highlighted the economic miseries in this country, the felonious activities of a number of the major players and the huge disparity among the poor, middle class and wealthy; after wave after wave of these protests have spread across the nation, with commentary from so many of the latter mirroring their “let them eat cake” attitude, there emerges from the cornfields and soybeans of north central Indiana, in a county of slightly over one hundred thousand souls, a large addition to a land-grant university.
Now, it is important to keep in mind that this is a state-supported/funded public university, whose employees, from president down to filing clerk, are state employees. It is important, too, to consider that year after year, the tuition rates for in-and out- of- state students continue to rise, despite a long-standing stagnant income growth among the population. It is also important to bear in mind that this university, Purdue, for years has pleaded with the state for increased funding, in addition to those tuition increases and a new tuition “surcharge,” added on top of everything else.
There are not too many scholarly claims to fame here. It is the “birthplace of astronauts,” but beyond that it represents a large difference from such places as the Universities of Wisconsin, Michigan, Northwestern University from Purdue. It does have a very good basketball program, and although it has never won a NCAA championship, it has come close. The predominant building material on campus is red brick, despite the famous limestone quarries in the state that have been used across the nation. Red brick surrounds the Birck Athletic Center, which houses, among other things, the university’s basketball courts(known as Mackey Arena), offices, training and locker rooms
The facility has just undergone a massive expansion and renovation. And it is the final outcome of all this refurbishing that makes it such a topical study in contrasts. At a cost of $100 million, this has become an expensive piece of real estate. $100 million, mind you, at a university that has pleaded being so cash-strapped that it annually has to increase tuition costs in an economy where parents and students are trying to make ends meet. Now, if you are so lucky as to be a member of the John Purdue Club, an organization of athletic boosters who have several-tiered donation categories and you are giving at a high level, your perks in this new facility can be quite comfortable. Naturally, there is the matter of a basketball season ticket, which costs $506. Then, exactly where you want that seat located, will cost you extra, anywhere from $2500 to $8500. (Remember, you must join the John Purdue Club with a sizable donation prior to all this).
As reported in the Lafayette and West Lafayette Journal & Courier(Nov. 6, 2011), the perks of large donations range from full cash bars to “traditional and upscale food.” And, in addition to this, there is an alcohol “cover charge.” Beer is offered with donations starting at $3006. However, if your taste goes beyond that blue-collar beverage and you desire real booze, that will cost you a donation of about $9000. So, within these elite clubs with their flatscreen TVs, food and drinks, there is a class division of exactly who is allowed whiskey and who must settle for beer. Of course, those who cannot afford the costly price of exclusivity and only are able to cough up the price of a season ticket($506 per person) are not able to enjoy their favorite alcoholic beverage and must settle for the usual fare of coffee or soft drinks.
The egalitarian notion of a state land grant institution, whose primary mission is agriculture and engineering, is missing in the sports area. The university that annually pleads budget deficits and that must resort to incessant tuition increases and increases in state funding betrays a gross hypocrisy in other facets of its realm. To segregate the citizens of the state whose taxes help fund it by reason of their ability or inability to afford country-club-type perks at the very institution they are pouring their money into is beyond shoddy. This is elitism at his worse. Let them eat cake. Let them drink alcohol. The one percent attitude seems to manifest itself in various ways in our society. But class distinction, while almost pro forma in our more private checking accounts, has no place in a publicly supported institution of higher education that continues to exist because of the labor of the 99 percent.