ROI Commentary Grievously Misplaces Valuation

Max Coleman, College fourth-year

To the Editor:

Last week’s Review article, “Oberlin College Ranked U.S.’s Worst Return on Investment,” [The Oberlin Review. March 7. 2014] likely succeeded in alienating a majority of the Oberlin community. In the article, which criticizes Oberlin’s social justice focus, Aidan Apel writes:

“Students should not be demanding the expansion of departments that make Oberlin even less competitive: CAST, ethnic studies, GSF/queer studies, sociology, etc. These courses are irrelevant to adding value to the modern world. The future of the economy is STEM-based, and value is derived from what you can dream up and what you can technologically execute.”

Of course, Apel is quite right that these departments have no value. Who could make use of such fruitless, unproductive claims as:

• Women earn 77 cents for every man’s dollar

• Queer teens are four times as likely to commit suicide as straight teens

• African-Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites

Shoot, none of this information is useful! We might as well throw in the towel now. In the meantime, Apel tells us, we can pursue such enterprises as “advanced oil” and “powerful computer analytics.”

In all seriousness, Apel’s narrow conception of “value” is deeply troubling. I would remind him, in the immortal words of economist John Maynard Keynes, that “selfdestructive financial calculation governs every walk of life. We destroy the beauty of the countryside because the unappropriated splendors of nature have no economic value. We are capable of shutting off the sun and the stars because they do not pay a dividend.”

Perhaps instead of increasing the “prestige” of Oberlin College by maximizing profit, we might work on creating real value — not only for ourselves but for our community. And a special note for Aidan: As we like to say in my obsolescing department, check your privilege.


–Max Coleman

Sociology Honors Candidate College fourth-year