Income inequality and private schooling lecture wows Dodd Center

(Jon Sammis/The Daily Campus)

Thursday afternoon saw the return of the annual Philip E. Austin Chair Lecture on Economics & Public Policy at the Dodd Center’s Konover Auditorium. The speaker was Harvard Graduate School professor Richard Murnane, whose studies focus on the role that income inequality plays in our educational system.

The Harvard scholar split his time between an explanation of the growing effect of the income gap on our educational system and the role private schools play in this dynamic.

With the heavy use of visual aids such charts and graphs, Murnane summarized each of his points clearly and quickly. The man looked like he had given this lecture a million times as he walked the room through this complex topic. The lecturer further engaged the room by allowing time for the audience to talk amongst themselves to predict what the next graph would tell.

One example of this, and the afternoon’s most interesting fact, came when Murnane asked the room whether private school participation had gone up or down since 1960. Most believed that private schooling has increased over the last 50 years and there were audible gasps when Murnane displayed a contrasting graph. This man had the room by his finger, with a batting average of 1.00 on every interesting fact or joke he put forth.

The base assumption of Murnane’s lecture was a specifically interesting one. His thoughts on income inequality were founded on the fact that schools operate better when they are economically diverse. For Murnane, an economically uniform school is very challenging to run when the students are all from low income families.

Audience member Ria Bhattacharya, a fourth year Ph.D student in economics, agreed saying, “A more diverse classroom achieves the American dream and allows for more culture and various perspectives.”

Murnane closed on how the income gap affects the private school landscape. The speaker tried to shape the audience’s perspective of the situation in a counterintuitive way. He told the group to look at private schools not as a whole, but as separate types of private schools, because this view is more enlightening in regards to income inequality.

The three types of private schools he focused on were Catholic, other religious and nonsectarian schools. He described how middle class families are pulling their kids out of Catholic schools at a far higher rate than wealthier families, and this is leading to a disproportionately wealthy population of students at Catholic schools. This change is especially felt in cities, and it violates his key assumption of schools remaining economically diverse.

The lecture and the speaker were a truly enlightening and entertaining experience on a topic that has been a growing rapidly in national attention in recent years. The next event at the Dodd Center will be a miscarriage of justice documentary, “Breathin: The Eddy Zheng Story,” which screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday Oct. 3.   


Teddy Craven is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.craven_jr@uconn.edu.