Open Letter to President of my Alma Mater (Truth about student loans and other issues))

Subject: Open Letter to President of my Alma Mater (Truth about student loans and other issues))
Date: 5 Aug 2018

This is an open letter addressed to the President of the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM). Attention those considering college: buyer beware! Most public university systems, especially in poor southern states where public funding has been cut, are designed to maximize profits at the expense of students. They will misinform you about the severity of taking out massive student loans in order to keep their overpaid positions and sports programs afloat. This letter addresses the moral and ethical concerns that I have regarding my personal experiences with higher education, as well as the economic implications of promoting degree programs that are not supported by one's local economy and, as such, no realistic way to repay the student loans. Sadly, to date I have received no word from the President of ULM; only a message a few months ago from one of his cronies that said simply that Dr. Bruno was preparing a draft response. This letter was mailed in late April and has subsequently been sent as an emailed attachment to him, the president of the university system, and the head of the psychology department from which I graduated. My aim with putting this letter in the public domain is to help galvanize both students and graduates of higher education to take more effective action to eliminate student loan debt and to promote tuition-free higher education. This can be done by writing letters to your local and state political leaders, placing phone calls to their offices, and yes, by staging mass protests. Protests are taking place right now by those promoting common sense gun laws as well as the outright child abuse that is taking place at our nation's border with Mexico. The student loan debt crisis (the profiting of universities and the U.S. government) is no less an emergent issue and those in power need to hear from you! My original letter is provided below:

April 21, 2018
ULM Office of the President
Library 632
700 University Ave
Monroe, LA 71209

President Nick Bruno,

I wish to bring to your attention some ethical issues that need to be addressed by ULM, the university system as a whole, and in universities across this country. After over a decade of suffering since graduating from ULM, I can no longer remain silent on these issues.

At the time of completing my B.A. in psychology from ULM in 2005, I was approached by the ULM psychology faculty to apply for the M.S. program in psychology. I was convinced by the faculty that the Psychometrics option would offer opportunities to practice in clinical settings performing psychological assessments. Little did I know, I was being led down the primrose path. Much to my chagrin, there were no jobs in psychological assessment to be found in Louisiana upon graduation.

I was misinformed or outright neglected to be informed on multiple levels: The psychology department at ULM DOES NOT PREPARE students for life post-graduation in ways that other states' programs do. Other legitimate psychology programs provide statistical data on where graduates from their programs are employed after earning their degrees. Even Louisiana Tech has an APA accredited doctoral program which prepares students for the real world, including opportunities for earning internship credit - ULM does not even provide a doctoral program. That should have been a red flag. Further, nobody at ULM informed me that there is NO LICENSURE option in this state for psychology M.S. degree-holders, and that obtaining licensure in neighboring states, such as Arkansas and Texas, are time-consuming, require multiple references, paying massive fees, including application for licensure and the completion of the EPPP test, which is a doctoral-level test for the licensure of clinical psychologists. This is a painful and arduous task that I have been through more than once - again no preparation or advice from the ULM faculty was forthcoming. In fact, when I approached Dr. Jean Cottingham for a reference for the Arkansas Psychology Board, I was met with resistance and a less than positive attitude.

When I was offered the "maximum amount" from your student loan officer to finance this so-called degree program, and encouraged to do so because I'm going to "get that good job and pay it back with ease" - instead of being fed a crock of lies, you had (AND STILL HAVE) a moral imperative to inform students, like me, that they are investing in a "high-risk" degree program with little opportunity for sound, consistent employment, much less the opportunity to realistically pay back the loans. I went back and spoke with Dr. Bill McCown after graduating in 2007 and told him about the lack of employment opportunities for psychological testing and he replied as if he was surprised and said "there used to be." This is unacceptable - pleading ignorance is not an excuse. Ongoing assessment of the relevancy of your degree programs within the context of the current economic environment should be a top priority.

I want to be clear, that the education received from courses in psychology are valuable in terms of how they teach you to think for yourself and about the inherent nature of problem solving of real human issues. There is definitely something to be said for having obtained a universal education - this is a value in and of itself. The problem I have is finding out, after the fact, how there is a major disconnect between the universal education and the so-called promises of full employment that one is supposedly afforded upon graduation (a.k.a., "high paying jobs," the "ticket to the middle class," "living your dreams" and so on).

Enter the next plight: Shortly after graduating in 2007, Bobby Jindal was elected governor in 2008. During his tenure, he proceeded to cut vital state programs and closed several state facilities, including those providing mental health services to the mentally ill and for citizens with developmental disabilities. Those with the most severe disabilities have virtually no options, as his goal of privatization of these services has proved disastrous. Private providers want to pick and choose who they can tolerate until they have bilked whatever insurance they have to the fullest extent, and then pass them along to the next facility that may or may not take them. These people sometimes end up in shelters, on the streets, or in the criminal justice system. Most do not even get a chance for treatment in private settings - due to the severity of their psychiatric and behavioral issues most private providers will not take them as patients. Further, the astronomical cost of mental health treatment within the private setting simply puts treatment out of reach for those most in need. These people ultimately end up in the hands of the state. However, facility after facility, and job after potential job, for someone with an M.S. in psychology, was cut during Jindal's tenure. Why is this important?

The state government is virtually the ONLY EMPLOYER that someone with a psychology degree (B.A. or M.S.) can find employment in Louisiana. Due to Jindal's reckless policies, including reversing Governors Blanco and Foster era state-funding for Louisiana's universities, ULM seems to think it has a license to keep hiking tuition rates because you can fool university students into signing onto (mostly federal) student loan programs for high risk degree programs to pay for your fancy new buildings, your overrated sports programs, and your, quite frankly, overpaid salary.

Since I've graduated from ULM, the university moved the School Psychology program to another university, LSU Shreveport - great move, state of Louisiana! This was the ONLY LEGITIMATE PROGRAM in the ULM psychology department, because it had a virtual 100% employment rate post-graduation, whereas your other phony degree programs, including an online forensic psychology, a general psychology, and the psychometrics Masters degrees are almost completely useless in terms finding and maintaining consistent, suitable, professional employment post-graduation.

How is it good for Louisiana, when the majority of graduates from the school psychology program, now located at LSU Shreveport, are moving with ease across the state line into Texas where they can make an actual living? And by the way, I am well aware of the decision to fire the university's only philosophy professor, Dr. Holly Wilson, thereby gutting philosophy completely from your course offerings. How, sir, do you promote a "universal education" without philosophy? She was in a tenured-track position, this should not have happened, and I do hope that she filed suit against ULM and the University System. I digress, but I am going to tell you why you gut pertinent programs, sell false hope with phony ones, and continue to float your precious big money programs, such as pharmacy.

Pandering to Big Pharma is a nice boot-licking tactic for ULM, for it's no secret that the pharmaceutical industry is gaining more traction in our nation’s capital, playing a huge role in bending federal policies in their favor and contributing to the deregulation of the markets with massive amounts of money, and is the single largest campaign contributor in the nation. Thanks for participating in the further erosion of our democracy, ULM! Thanks. When you pander to corporate interests at the expense of gutting philosophy, it is apparent where your priorities are: why educate your students to think for themselves,
be independent innovators and entrepreneurs, when you can have a chance to ride the gravy train to the top 1% of income earners in this country? By doing so, you are contributing to the massive wealth inequality problem in this country.

I ask you, sir: Have you ever gone hungry since graduating from college? I'm sure your six figure salary keeps you well-fed and away from the food stamp applications and the unemployment line - unfortunately, I would know more about that than you do, because I've been there - it's humiliating, and this is in addition to working minimum wage jobs to survive and to help pay for my own child's expenses since graduating from your so-called Master’s program due to the lack of professional job opportunities available in Louisiana. I now have chronic medical conditions, which I'm almost certain have been exacerbated by the stress from the ongoing employment crises that I have endured. I now definitely require consistent professional employment just so I can have medical coverage. Do you know what it's like to be unable to go to the doctor to receive medical care when you have no health insurance? Does the term "Social Darwinism" ring a bell? Perhaps somewhere in your educational career, you encountered this idea - if you can't recall the definition, I encourage you to look it up.

Preying on and exploiting vulnerable generations of young, idealistic, hopeful, and (what you perceive as) naïve college students with no professional experience, without giving them the tools to make an informed decision about making one of the most crucial decisions they will make in life - that of a college major - and the ramifications of taking on student loan debt - is inhumane. Those decisions affect the course of the rest of their entire lives. In a corrupt system that puts the profit motive ahead of the well-being of its college students and the future employers of this nation, the actions of your university programming are simply immoral at best and, at worst, borders on criminal. How shameful that you are still promoting psychometrics and other virtually useless programs -useless not in terms of what they teach, but in terms of the reality that our local state economies simply DO NOT SUPPORT them. The student loan debt that I accrued in order to finance your phony psychometrics degree program has been deferred and forbeared, and deferred again, due to the dismal earnings and lack of consistent professional-level employment I have endured since graduation. With the interest compounded for over a decade, my total student loan debt now stands at a staggering amount - in excess of $80,000 - most of which was accrued as a student at ULM. What a waste of time, money, and intellectual talent. Pursuing home ownership, an integral component of the so-call "American Dream," is now out of my reach.

It is morally repugnant and intolerable that you are contributing to the horror of putting our nation's young people into utter debt slavery before they have a real chance to build their lives. In contrast to the 2008 federal government bailout that gave big banks and corporations who committed, frankly, illegal acts, a bailout in excess of $700 billion dollars, we now have the next bubble of the $1.3 trillion dollar student loan debt that is expanding. This is immoral and unsustainable. These are the factors that are contributing to the gutting of the middle class and the eroding of the once very real American Dream. Future generations, not to mention mine (I am now 40 years of age), are now set up to be in worse economic shape than the ones that came before us. You have no idea how fed-up, disappointed, and disillusioned I am with this current system.

Oligarchs like you are making higher education less accessible to real, everyday Americans by allowing the gutting of public college funding in favor of taking more federal student loan dollars, forever raising tuition as long as those federal dollars keep coming. If you think you can continue on this path by selling
the "American Dream" to unsuspecting college students, you are underestimating the strength of our democracy and our nation's young people. You can only ride the gravy train of student loans for so long. People like me will fight to put an end to this student loan disaster once and for all. Plutocracy will ultimately fall and, together, we the people will restore true democracy in this country. Mark my words, yours is a dying system. It is unsustainable and intolerable to many, not only in Louisiana, but all across this country. Those that support it will be voted out.

I am making my voice heard, and it will not stop here. I am making sure that the truth about the practices of ULM and our nation's universities is getting out there. I am actively cautioning and deterring potential college students from entering your university, and plan to be in touch with local and independent media outlets and various political leaders about these issues. Perhaps a successful class action suit consisting of the massive numbers of disenfranchised, unemployed, and underemployed ULM graduates to make you repay every dime in student loans for all the broken dreams you have left in your wake with your phony degree programs would be incentive for people like you to change.

But no - for now, I think a better alternative is to continue to vote, fight for, and support those who promote the values of the progressive movement, including making public colleges and universities tuition free, that must take place across this nation so that future generations will have a fighting chance. This is by far the best way to empower those who do not have the financial resources to fight the big-money interests, including the business mockery that people like you have made out of the university system.

In summary, perhaps you were simply out of touch with the realities of real-world Americans - I hope that I have enlightened you with this letter. The choice is yours: You can continue to be part of the problem in which people like me will find ways to fight against, or rise to the occasion and be part of the solution. What will your legacy be? I hope that you will choose to be on the right side of justice and equality for all citizens, future professionals, and laborers of Louisiana and this country as a whole.


(name deleted for privacy), M.S.

cc: Dr. James Henderson, University of Louisiana System President
cc: Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana
cc: U.S. Representative Ralph Abraham, M.D. of Louisiana, District 5
cc: U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont
cc: U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts
cc: U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana
cc: U.S. Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana