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Fireside chat turns up the heat for Maxwell

Photo: Taylor Soule

The bandage on President David Maxwell’s hand was not the indicator that something was hurting him on Tuesday night. The tip-off was the somber look on his face as he addressed Drake University’s costs and rising tuition in front of a small crowd at his fireside chat.

A large part of Maxwell’s response to the inquiry was the amount of scholarships that Drake can issue students.

“If your scholarship is named after someone, that’s money someone is paying us for you to go to school,” Maxwell said. “Everything other than that is simply a discount.”

Maxwell went on to explain that the discount rate at Drake is 37 percent, meaning that of every dollar of tuition, the university isn’t actually collecting 37 percent of it.

But even this isn’t enough for many students.

“It’s something that keeps me awake at night, too,” Maxwell said.

He went on to talk about the many letters he receives from parents of students going something along the lines of, “My daughter’s number one choice is Drake by and far, but such-and-such University is offering us ‘x’ dollars.” These sorts of letters concern Maxwell, as he sees them as examples of students being forced to attend schools where they don’t have that “click.”

Maxwell also addressed these costs on a national level.

“Is higher education public or private?” he said. “We’re the country that, during the Civil War, issued federal lands to states to sell and to use that revenue to fund education. We’re the country that issued the G.I. Bill, not because they needed the education, but because the country needed them to have the education. And we’re the country that issued Pell Grants, but now we’re seeing a shift to where it’s your responsibility.”

He drove home the fact that Drake is doing everything it can at an administrative level to keep costs down.

“As administrators, we look around and see some administrative positions that might be duplicative,” he said. “But overall, we’re pretty lean.”

The conversation quickly jumped to a question regarding graduate students who also perform as members of staff. The student inquiring was having issues acquiring a student ticket to Relays since her Drake ID is associated as a staff member as opposed to a student, and it can only be associated to one or the other. Perhaps a small matter in itself, the question was reflective of a larger issue — one that is also a big reason Maxwell holds events like this.

“Email me about it,” Maxwell responded. “One thing I think Drake can improve upon as an institution is being agile, flexible and responsive. ‘Well you can’t get a ticket to Relays because we can’t make the computer do it’ doesn’t sound very flexible or responsive.”

Maxwell is working every day to improve situations like this.

“Yesterday, I was in the doctor’s office, and a Drake undergraduate law student emailed me. He said the deans were very busy…but that it was really hot in the law building.”

Maxwell said he called Mark Chambers, and facilities quickly repaired the air conditioner.

The final topic addressed was that of diversity and related incidents on campus. The conversation was prefaced with the standing joke that Drake, as a campus, is not diverse.

“This has been a huge challenge for us,” Maxwell said. “My ideal incoming class would be 900 young people who have absolutely nothing in common with one another other than they’re smart and they wanted to be at Drake.”

He went on to explain what he called “Maxwell’s Theory of Evolutionary Biology,” in which he explained that for roughly four-fifths of human existence, we haven’t had the rule of law. Therefore, we responded to one another the way different species of animals react to each other in the wild — we either run the other way or kill and enslave the other race.

“Fear of difference is an evolutionary advantage,” Maxwell said.

He added that it’s something we have to be taught out of, and while he’d prefer that parents or elementary schools do that, if a student has managed to get to Drake and still hasn’t been taught out of that, then Drake is really the last stop before they’re let loose into the world, so it becomes the university’s responsibility.

While many pressing topics were addressed at this fireside chat, only about 15 students were in attendance at any given time, but Maxwell wasn’t deterred. He recalled a lesson he learned while at Whitman College in which a speaker, a U.S. Ambassador to Geneva, showed up to give a lecture and a similar number of students showed up.

“He asked them all to come sit in the front row and then told them ‘My wife has told me not to take it out on the people that actually bothered to show up.’” Everyone laughed, and they went on to have a good discussion.”

A discussion likely similar to the one he had just finished on Pomerantz Stage.


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