Barack Obama at Rutgers University

While I normally make a point of missing speeches by President Obama — I find him patronizing and superficial — I forced myself to sit through his commencement address at the 250th anniversary of Rutgers University. I not only graduated from Rutgers twenty-eight years ago, I thought that maybe Obama, like John F. Kennedy at American University, would use the opportunity to deliver a thoughtful critique of the military industrial complex. Would you be surprised if I told you he didn’t? It’s not that his speech at High Point Solutions Stadium was without its merits. President Obama did his homework. He made enough references to the local student culture at Rutgers — he even mentioned the “grease trucks” on College Avenue — to make it obvious that he had at least read the talking points the University Public Relations Department had given him. He attacked Donald Trump’s racism and Islamophobia. He mocked global warming deniers.

Alas, however, Barack Obama is no John F. Kennedy.

It would have been entirely fitting for Obama, the first African American President of the United States, to mention Paul Robeson, the third African American graduate of Rutgers, and by far the greatest football player in the university’s history. Robeson, a member of the Communist Party and a victim of the McCarthyite witch hunts in the 1950s, has already gotten an apology of sorts from Rutgers. They named a student center after him. He deserves an apology from the United States government. He didn’t get one from President Obama. At American University, Kennedy praised the heroism of the Soviet Army soldiers who defeated Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. At Rutgers, Obama did just the opposite. Two years ago, when Rutgers President Barchi — a client of New Jersey’s loathsome Governor Chris Christie — invited Condoleezza Rice to give the 2014 commencement address, a courageous group of students and faculty occupied Old Queens, the central administration building, until the invitation was rescinded. Instead of congratulating the protesters for risking their careers and reputation to shut down a lying, blood-drenched war criminal, Obama attacked them as an example of the fragile and politically correct culture of the current generation of American undergraduates, whitewashing the invasion of Iraq and the Bush Administration in the process.

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Obama also pandered to the university’s pretensions of being a “Public Ivy,” correctly pointing out that Rutgers, which was founded in 1766, is older than the United States, but missing the forest through the trees. Rutgers University, which would be much more appropriately named The University of New Jersey, is no Ivy. It’s a serious university with a diverse student body, an extensive curriculum, several Nobel Prize winners, and an elite faculty, but it competes with SUNY, Penn State and the University of Maryland, not Harvard and Yale. If Rutgers played the first college football game back in 1869 against Princeton, there’s also a reason it never made it into the Ivy League. Until Rutgers became the land-grant college of New Jersey in 1864 under the Morrill Act of 1862, it was a failure as an institution of high learning, constantly broke, and constantly in danger of shutting down. It only became the official State University of New Jersey in 1956, ten years after a massive influx of new students, largely veterans of the Second World War, who funded their college education though the GI Bill. Rutgers is a public university, built on public land, that survived only because of taxpayer money. It has a very different mission from its neighbor Princeton. Where Princeton is an elite university designed to train future bankers, corporate lawyers, and war criminals, Rutgers is a democratic university designed to serve the people of New Jersey.

The current cost of tuition at Rutgers is $14,131 dollars a year for in -state students and $29,521 dollars a year for out of state students. Total cost of attendance is $31,286 dollars a year for in-state students and $46,676 dollars a year for out of state students. Compared to many American colleges and universities, this is a bargain. It’s also too much for the typical 18-year-old. President Bernie Sanders would make public universities like Rutgers free. Since New Jersey is a small, compact, state and since Rutgers has satellite campuses in Newark and Camden, the vast majority of public high school graduates could live at home and commute. Free tuition would open Rutgers up to an even more diverse body of students than the one Obama praised at Highpoint Solutions Stadium. You could be unemployed and flat broke, and still get a university education. Free tuition, not spending millions of dollars on Big Ten Football, or trying to brand itself as a “Public Ivy,” would move Rutgers to the next level as an institution of higher learning. This Sunday, on its 250th anniversary, President Obama had the opportunity to use Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, as a great stage to endorse a visionary plan to make higher education more available to working-class Americans, and to free the next generation from the massive student debt burdening the Millennials. He missed it.

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8 comments

  1. […] via Barack Obama at Rutgers University — Writers Without Money […]

  2. Hello,

    I have a few comments.

    1. Regarding Ivy league schools: It is the individual that counts, not the name of the school. As long as we place importance on the name of the school, there is no hope in defeating elitism. Elitism is what kills a society.

    2. Regarding the military-industrial complex: It should me more appropriately named the military-industrial-information complex or, if you like, The Fourth Reich. Here is a ticket on the clue train for all who care: Barack Obama is the apotheosis of the military-industrial-information complex. That is why he went to Harvard. Harvard trained him to be that. That’s why Ivy League schools exist – to train the officers of big business, big government, big media, big education and big associations. That some students choose to not go down that path does not take away from their mission. Or do you believe that Harvard and the Ivy League exist to train salesmen at Best Buy?

    Now, just one more note: When Ike warned us about the military-industrial complex, honestly, Ike must have retreated to a closet in order to guffaw. Ike as President and former commander of the Allied Forces WAS the military-industrial complex. Him warning us about the military-industrial complex is like the pot calling the kettle black. Thank Jesus we had good-old, benevolent Ike who would never hurt a fly – except when he hired the Dulles brothers to tear-ass around the globe killing and murdering, ultimately creating total FUBARs in southeast Asia and the Middle East.

    Incidentally, Robert L. Barchi, the president of Rutgers graduated from Georgetown University and the University of Pennsylvania.

    1. About Eisenhower:

      His warning about the military industrial complex is indeed an afterthought. During his 8 years as President, he made no attempts to reign in the military industrial complex. Rather, he brought it underground, relying more on CIA dirty wars and the threat of nuclear annihilation than “boots on the ground.”

      About Bernie Sanders and free college tuition:

      What Sanders misses about free tuition at the University of California is exactly what you point out about Ivy League schools. Tuition was free in the 1950s largely because of the Cold War. The mission of the University of California was to train Cold Warriors like Robert MaNamera

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_McNamara

      In the early 1960s, however, the students rebelled. Mario Savio, for example, compared the University of California to a machine cranking out product. The “Free Speech” movement at Berkeley wanted a humanistic education, not one that produced slick spokesmen for the ruling class like Barack Obama.

      Free college tuition now, however, in 2016, would be very different from what it was in the 1950s. that’s partly why the ruling class is determined that it will never happen (Clinton’s lame excuse that the rich could take advantage of it as well as the working class). It would level out the playing field 100 times more than just diversifying the student body at Harvard.

      I think the students should make snubbing Paul Robeson and defending Condoleezza Rice against student protesters a political issue. That Obama attacked Trump and Inhofe and defended Rice (and by extension Bush) unmasks him as the neoconservative he is. But it’s the Summer and most of the students are gone. I also think the typical Rutgers student (sadly) aspires more to be a Condoleezza Rice or a Barack Obama than a Paul Robeson or a Mario Savio.

      I also agree with you that we have to get past the American middle-class’s coupling of education with social status. If education is a good *in and of itself* than most people would support it being free. If it’s a commodity that lends you status, then the middle class will want to maintain its scarcity through things like high tuition (which work in a way very similar to unpaid internships in keeping the working class out of high status jobs).

  3. “Alas, however, Barack Obama is no John F. Kennedy.”
    No he isn’t. He hasn’t the foresight or even that basic benevolence where you see the sacrifices of your fellow man even if you are he are on the opposite ends of the political and idealogicial spectrum. Despite the Cold War raging but Kennedy can still see humanity in the very real and painful sacrifices of the the USSR in defeating Nazism (which indirectly says the US (Eisenhower) doesn’t have that much to do with it than we think we do), this is a trait Obama or even any recent politician won’t have. Perhaps Sanders a bit – since he recognizes the plight of Palestinians and the disastrous foreign policy outcomes in the Middle East, but I don’t believe to the full extent of Kennedy.

    About education – for a long time in America, perhaps ever since its founding, education has been a commodity – and it means different things for different classes. For the elite/rich – education is to educate their minds to think freely and apply critical thinking skills to oppress the rest of the people. For the middle/upper middle class – it’s to teach them how to operate the machines without questioning it too much. For the working classes it’s to obey and if you don’t you get sent to the prison industrial complex. If you aren’t born in the right class, you better have the means to buy your way in (Neal Gabler going into debt and cashing out his inheritance to send his 2 girls to top of the education food chain).

    1. About education – for a long time in America, perhaps ever since its founding, education has been a commodity – and it means different things for different classes.

      To counteract that is precisely why the Lincoln Administration gave higher education what today would be over a trillion dollars in federal land. What was Lincoln’s vision? Free labor. Every worker could aspire to be a capitalist. Farming was a science and farmers should get a liberal education.

      without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactic, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morrill_Land-Grant_Acts

      That land Rutgers sits on in Piscataway would be worth billions if it were divided up into McMansions or condominiums. The taxpayers donated that land. So free tuition could be considered an extension of the university’s original mission. I suppose there’s more of a vocational bias at state schools than at Ivy League schools but the idea of not having student loans hanging over your head after four years would do an awful lot to free up students to pursue what education they want.

      It’s interesting that the Morrill Act in the north mainly benefited big, comprehensive universities like Rutgers and Michigan State. In the South, the Second Morrill Act funded a lot of predominantly black colleges.

    2. If you aren’t born in the right class, you better have the means to buy your way in (Neal Gabler going into debt and cashing out his inheritance to send his 2 girls to top of the education food chain).

      Neal Gabler? Didn’t he used to be on Faux Noise roundtables? Or was that with Mort Kondracke and Eleanor Clift on the McLaughlin Group?

      1. I am referring to this article he wrote in The Atlantic detailing his financial missteps: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/05/my-secret-shame/476415/
        I know he was a movie critic on TV once upon a time but I don’t know which one or when.

  4. “I have two words: predator drones.” Anyone who can joke about using them when hundreds of innocent people are killed by them has lost a little of his humanity in my opinion.

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