The significance of the disinvestment in American baccalaureate, Ph.D. and community college institutions in recent years can hardly be exaggerated. The quandary posed by the attendant reduced funding goes beyond issues of crowded classrooms and dilapidated facilities; ultimately it questions whether our higher education will continue to be a gateway to equality and guarantor of opportunity, a path to broader horizons for citizens—or if it will be transformed into a bulwark of social inequality and vehicle for narrow vocational instruction.

Determining how to successfully grapple with this decline in funding is hindered, however, by the ways in which policy-makers and pundits pose the problem. They reify the forces involved, obscuring the fact that the fiscal problem of the American university is at root a political problem whose resolution requires a political response.