*Sigh* Something Else I Will Have to Subsidize


It took decades and, at times, antagonistic battles, but Harvard's gay community says it has finally cemented its academic legitimacy at the nation's oldest university. College officials will announce today that they will establish an endowed chair in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies, in what is believed to be the first professorship of its kind in the country.

Can the adults among us agree that a degree in LGBT studies has about zero economic value?  Even a history degree has more economic value, as history studies tend to still be accompanied by some academic rigor.  But the pathetic scholarship standards and non-existant statistical rigor with which most social sciences, and various [fill in the blank with oppressed group] studies departments in particular, are taught make the economic value of such a degree at best zero and at worst a negative.

I have no problem with anyone studying whatever they wish using their own resources.  This is one place I diverge with Ayn Rand -- she might say that pursuing non-productive activity is inherently immoral.  I would say that pursuing your own goals, whatever they be and however valuable or valueless they might be to others, is just fine as long as you don't demand that everyone else to support you.

The problem is that a degree at Harvard probably requires a $200,000 investment to complete.  Given that, beyond a few career spots in academia, a LGBT studies degree is unlikely to ever recover enough (versus having no degree)  to pay for such an investment, problems are inevitable.  Either someone (read: taxpayers) will likely foot the bill, or else some student is going to find herself with tens of thousands of dollars of student debt and no realistic way to pay it back.

In fact, this latter situation is a common leitmotif of recent media stories, the college grad unable to handle his or her shocking debt load.  Somehow, stories all seem to blame the capitalist system as a failure point.  Michelle Obama, who similarly pursued [historically oppressed group] studies at Princeton, has expressed just this point of view.

Despite their Ivy League pedigrees and good salaries, Michelle Obama often says the fact that she and her husband are out of debt is due to sheer luck, because they could not have predicted that his two books would become bestsellers. "It was like, 'Let's put all our money on red!' " she told a crowd at Ohio State University on Friday. "It wasn't a financial plan! We were lucky! And it shouldn't have been based on luck, because we worked hard."

Is this problem really so hard to diagnose, or have we gotten so politically correct we cannot state a fact out loud that everyone understands -- that is, some degrees have more economic power than others.  LGBT studies degrees likely have very little economic utility.  So it is fine to pursue such a degree, but don't be surprised when you are not offered a six-figure income at graduation, and don't come to me expecting that I pay for your choice.


  1. Eric:

    Now you have done it. Prepare to be bombarded with accusations of being a hate monger/intolerant/discriminatory.

  2. morganovich:

    isn't harvard one of the schools that now essentially pays all the tuition for students w/ family income under 60k and very limited tuition for those making up to $250k? this would seem to make loans less of an issue for many (though it does hammer the endowment and drive up prices radically for those that do have to pay)

    scholarship driven price increases have become a real issue at most private schools. my high scholl was $15k/year when i was there (graduated 1990)it is now more like $35k. nearly all of this rise has been due to increases in scholarships. am i the only one who thinks it's nuts to raise prices to make school affordable? this policy has the effect of balkanizing the student body. the upper and lower classes can go, but the middle class gets shut out. they can;t get aid, but can't afford the price either. this seems both unfair and damaging to the student body as it divides them starkly into "the rich kids and the poor kids". it's creating some real issues w/ campus cohesiveness according to some of my former teachers...

  3. Roy:

    Worse. A LGBT degree will have (at least in the case of society a whole) *negative* economic utility (even if economic utility to some gaining the degree). The degree will get used as a lever to legitimize (*sigh* bigger than Coyote's orignal sigh) gov't offices and subsequent expenditures and subsequent use of force to impose agendas.

  4. Dr. T:

    "...some degrees have more economic power than others..."

    I remember college colleagues griping because chemistry, physics, and engineering majors landed better paying jobs than biology majors (and much better paying jobs than sociology and psychology majors). These griping students ignored the fact that courses were far more difficult in engineering and the hard sciences (where two-thirds of the students flunked or changed majors) than in their majors. We used to call biologists "dime-a-dozen" job applicants. (I guess sociologists and psychologists are "nickel-a-dozen.")

  5. james:

    Wait wait wait, Dr. T... You're saying that the number of people who can perform a certain job dictates how much that job pays? Preposterous!

  6. Evil Red Scandi:

    Is this problem really so hard to diagnose, or have we gotten so politically correct we cannot state a fact out loud that everyone understands — that is, some degrees have more economic power than others[?]

    Ummmmmm... the second one.

  7. Ian Random:

    They aren't worthless if you can convince people for the need for sensitivity training that only a holder of that degree can provide. Just like any useless product you have to convince people they need it.

  8. Craig Howard:

    Why bring Ayn Rand into it? I don't recall that she ever criticized what people wish to do -- productive or unproductive -- as long as someone else wasn't coerced into paying for it.

  9. rxc:

    They have this program because there are a lot of people "who want it", and it is very important for those people to be able to do what they really want to do. See


  10. DrTorch:

    Amen and amen.

    I agree w/ you Coyote, study what you want...but don't expect everyone else to pay for it. That's one of the costs that is pushing public school tuitions so high.

    Miami University (Oxford, OH) recently went to a system where tuition was based on course of study. Although I'm not sure what the algorithm is for determining costs, I say KUDOS!

    However, I fully expect an eventual lawsuit claiming it's discriminatory to require "Oppressed Minority Group" Studies majors to pay more than physics or chemistry, despite the fact that the latter would do more for Ohio's taxpayers than the former.

  11. Eric Hammer:

    Craig, she did actually. I think it was in one of her essays in "The Virtue of Selfishness" where she talks of the guy who makes a fortune in business then retires to play golf for the rest of his life at 40 or so. While I don't recall her saying he was a bad man per se, she did make the point that his activities were less morally correct than the fellow who keeps working and producing wealth. The idea seemed to be that he was not maximizing his acheivement potential by playing a game (he is assumed to not be good enough to go pro.)
    Personally I found it to be a fairly weak argument considering that he had already paid for himself for the rest of his life (apparently, since she didn't make mention of collecting state benefits or anything) and so he doesn't have an obligation to do a particular activity if another is more appealing to him. But then not every thought to make it from a philosopher's mind to paper is necessarily a great one. This thought seems to suggest that lesiure is only ok if you are going back to productive activities the next day, which doesn't make sense if one is able to produce enough to live on for the rest of their lives beforehand.

  12. Piper:

    Notice that Michelle Obama is stuck on the Labor Theory of Value. She thinks that she must be valuable because she "worked hard." I'm sure your implication is correct: so long as the LGBT major "worked hard" (at what? producing a photo album for his master's thesis on transgressive sexual behaviour?) he deserves high pay, and if the "private sector" won't give it to him, we should give him a cushy GS-15 job-- after all, he's a hard-working Ivy League graduate, for goodness sake!

  13. Methinks:

    Watch out Asia! Your math programs are no match for our womens' and gay and lesbian studies!

  14. steep:

    My son just got an application package from Harvard. If you get in, the tuition is completely dependent on family income. I think its: up to $80k - free, $80-120k up to 10% of income, 120-180k 10% of income and full tuition above $180. Room and board is also included.

  15. Bob Smith:

    More likely, a LGBT major won't be a per-se government employee, but rather an employee of one of the numerous NGOs that exist for the sole purpose of employing otherwise worthless (in the sense of possessing valuable skills) people. It's no secret that most NGOs, no matter how virtuous their original mission, eventually come to be run for the benefit of their employees rather than their clients. The death or retirement of the founder(s) accelerates this trend.

  16. Bill:

    I think you may have jumped the gun on this one by claiming you will have to subsidize this with tax money. I also think you are showing an irrational bias on what subjects you deem interesting. How is studing the history of LGBT issues any less or more useful than studying ancient history? A degree in finance from Harvard quite frankly did not seem to be worth all that much either, especially if it is applied to transactions that simply move money around uselessly and dangerously, like day trading, rather than facilitating the sort of capital investment that gets counted in GDP.

    A new endowed chair in LGBT studies at what is probably the richest private school in the country is not the best place to look around for a waste of tax money. Besides, can you imagine what it would be like to be a homosexual minority in the 1800s? That would be crazy. I would read a book about that sort of experience, I bet it would be interesting. I bet society could learn from that.