Critic puts fee money where mouth is

March 27, 1998

Philip Greenspun has complained publicly about the cost of tuition almost since the day he graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1982, writes Jon Marcus.

Now an Internet publisher and Web designer who lectures part-time at his alma mater, Mr Greenspun can afford to put his money where his mouth is.

To the amazement of his unsuspecting students, Mr Greenspun opened a seminar by refunding what he estimated was the cost of the class in $100 bills each.

"I'm not going to participate in the MIT tuition collection system," Mr Greenspun said to gasps from his students. "I'll be happy to teach you, and I'll do my best, but I'm not going to take your money."

Mr Greenspun's gesture has become an instant rallying point for Americans fed up with paying university and college costs that far outstrip inflation.

"He's a pretty passionate guy. He's willing to act on what he believes," said one of the students, 21-year-old computer science major Patrick McCormick.

Another, Novice Johnson, said she half-expected Mr Greenspun to ask for the $100 back. "But he's making a stand, and I appreciate that," she said.

Mr Greenspun earned the money for the refunds from some of the five high-technology companies he founded and a book he wrote, he said. He posts the book on the Internet for anyone to copy, free.

"It's not that I'm a fanatical idealist," he said. "If IBM wants to hire me to work for them for a week, I wouldn't turn them down. But I won't ask people who come to my class to pay for my knowledge."

Like many elite private institutions, MIT costs about $30,000 annually to attend. Spokesman Ken Campbell said the cost of educating each student is actually more than twice the tuition price, and 59 per cent of students get financial aid.

He accepted tuition fees were high. "You have to figure out what that education will get you at the end of four years, which is generally a very, very good job."

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