Time to attack the deadbeat culture

I’m not surprised that some students staged a sit-in to protest possible expulsion from Thomas Jefferson University for failure to pay their tuition bills on time.

Philadelphia Free Library. (Photo: Philadelphia Free Library)

Students complained it was, like, so harsh, that the administration demanded they pay their bills. The Inquirer story notes many students face financial hurdles.

I know the feeling. I went to college at night and worked during the day because I faced financial “hurdles.” I was taught by my parents I had to be able to pay for things I wanted.

Crazy, I know. 

I’m not surprised that the university made a U-turn and told the students they would not be kicked out for not paying their bills this term, but they would not be allowed to return next term if they were in arrears. Cruel, I know. 

We’ll find out later if the administrators — trigger warning — stick to their guns. 

Is it a generational gap — or a cultural chasm — for me to observe that if I didn’t pay my tuition bill I would have been barred from class? That was in the ‘60s, when there was all kinds of social and political turmoil on college campuses, but the idea that students had to pay for classes, and books, and cafeteria meals, went unchallenged. 

When I taught at Temple in the ‘70s and ‘80s the same rules applied. If you didn’t pay, you didn’t play. That was understood by both sides. 

When did the rules change and who changed them? When did the idea that you can be a deadbeat take hold? When did the concept of personal responsibility become obsolete? 

Nonpayment of another type, for student lunches, was a problem in New Jersey. Several stories broke at the beginning of the school year, with one district saying it might report the deadbeat parents for child abuse. That seemed harsh.

But lesser attempts to cut down on the freeloading were opposed. School districts that served tuna fish or cheese sandwiches to students in arrears also were criticized, along with districts that threatened to withhold food, period. 

On Tuesday, Cherry Hill said it would not withhold food, but would punish the students in other ways, such as loss of extracurricular activities.

Let’s unpack this picnic basket.

Let’s agree that children should not be punished because their parents didn’t pay a bill. I don’t see a tuna fish sandwich as “punishment,” even though some parents claim tuna fish is a sort of Scarlet Letter.

Let’s also agree that the school lunches must be paid for by parents, assuming they are able to pay. If they are unable to pay, I’m certain there’s a government program to help them.

That leaves us with the parents who are able to pay, and choose not to, shifting the cost of the meals to other parents. Is that fair?

I’d recommend the school district go after them the way any creditor goes after money owed — through the courts, by garnishing wages.

Finally we get to this: The Free Library is thinking about eliminating late fees.

Although City Council doesn’t have a say in this, you know you can’t keep the clowns in the car, and Councilwoman Cherelle Parker thinks we ought to end late fees because they are regressive (she was for the regressive soda tax) and they penalize poor people. 

No, they penalize deadbeats. The poor are no more likely to be tardy than the rich. 

The Free Library collects about $400,000 a year in late fees, which are 25 cents a day for hardcover books, up to a maximum of $10. Fees for DVDs and CDs are similar and borrowers can take up to 40 books and 10 DVDs at one time, which is wildly permissive. Children under 12 are already exempt from the late fees, which is another mistake. I’ll tell you why in a moment. 

The Inquirer editorialized in favor of dropping the fees, and imagined (getting it wrong) those opposed to dropping the fees would use words like “coddling” and “handouts.” 

No, the operative word is “responsibility.” The library is free, but there is an expectation borrowers will play by the rules.

Returning borrowed materials on time should be simple courtesy, but we know some people need to be prodded. 

No one should be discouraged from using the library, the editorial says. But the fine doesn’t discourage use of the library, it discourages abuse of the library. Someone waiting for a book or a video can’t get it while some selfish SOB is hogging it.

If you behave responsibly and return the material on time, there is no fine, so the poverty argument is fallacious, seeking to stir class warfare. Late fines encourage responsibility.

And when responsibility is learned, in the future the borrower will be less likely to be kicked out of college for failure to pay tuition on time.

24 thoughts on “Time to attack the deadbeat culture”

  1. Solid reasoning. I’m not sure exactly when it happened but I seem to recall somewhere around 2008 that society’s values began to shift. It became normal to want government to handle your own responsibilities. I’m teaching my kids that the things they want must be worked for and paid for. Maybe that makes me a bad parent but oh well I’m not concerned about others opinions on that matter.

  2. The story of Woody Guthrie’s early life was told in the excellent Bound For Glory (1976). In the Depression-era film, Guthrie’s character encountered a another hobo who had a sandwich. Guthrie demanded half of the sandwich. Guthrie had no sandwich so he explained why he was entitled to half of the other man’s sandwich.
    Nothing has changed. The same mentality continues to exist and it seems to be flourishing. After working 10 to 12 hours on the third shift, I could always count on encountering freeloaders with their hands out.

    to (very loosely) paraphrase Will Rogers. give a hand up, not a hand out
    I’m pretty sure all of Stu’s followers remember Will

    1. You are talking to the recipient of the Will Rogers Humanitarian Awatd from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. I have visited his home in Oklahoma and his later home in L.A.

      1. I knew that, pallie. I also know that you’re not just another pretty face. (neither am I) While we don’t always agree on what we say, we know that because of our history, we’ll keep being pals.

      2. A very nice award for you, Stu.

        Will Rogers famously said “I never met a man I didn’t like.” Dale Carnegie said “I never met a man I didn’t like, until I met Will Rogers.”

  4. Thank you for this article, and all you write!
    Last night, I finally read about a dozen of your latest posts. The common theme was that this city needs moderates.
    Personally, I’m so happy you get to do what you want on your schedule, and I agree with you at least 99 percent of the time. I really can’t think of anybody else who puts so much out there, and comes close to that number.

  5. I hate to dump all over Democrats (again), but when ‘feelings’ and ‘compassion’ replaced personal responsibility and common sense, that’s when the problem began. A typical example: today the streets are full of borderline (or worse full-blown) psychopaths because ‘compassionate’ liberals many years ago demanded their release from asylums where they were protected — as were we — from their craziness. Suggestion: plan ahead for the new United States, with no borders, no requirements for citizenship other than to simply be here, and with your and my taxes to pay for ‘undocumented visitors’ who demand free health care, food, and shelter. Remember: to deny such to them would be lacking in compassion.

  6. I’m so in agreement with your blog and most of the comments here. I remember a time when being progressive was different than being what is close to promoting anarchy. It’s a free for all out there with anyone doing what they want in the absence of consequences and enforcement of what underpins harmony for all. People don’t pay their bills, it’s ok; shoot up, give them a safe space, run red lights, stop signs and bock the box, ride bikes on the sidewalk – no enforcement; come into the country illegally – it’s commendable. I’m also sad that your voice of reason is gone from the inquirer – but not at all surprised.

    1. I describe myself as a “JFK liberal.” I have not changed my beliefs, but the Democratic Party has moved far left. Republicans have moved far right, which is why “independents” are larger than either party. I am glad you found me here. Please invite your like-minded friends, who believe in traditional values, to join us here.

  7. I pretty much agree with Stu. We should teach our children/ grandchildren about being responsible. I don’t know much about Will. I do know about Leon Sullivan who created skills programs for poor people, as a “Hand Up.”
    Unfortunately, When I got divorced, I was in that weird place like many women. During that time, getting Child Support wasn’t worth the damages to the children. I didn’t qualify for help, but no one cared. It was a terrible struggle. Yes, I made it through, and it was very stressful. I hope there is a cushion for people caught between not being “Poor or Middle Class.
    Pretty great article!

  8. Well, for once no one referred to the present occupant of the WH (paraphrasing), as a narcissist self-centered ego maniac stupid bungling jerk or whatever. Having said that, I agree with all of your comments. Many hate the Messenger Trump, but the message he brings knowingly or unwittingly is working! He has disturbed the Hornets nest of this freaking crazy PC society, which in my opinion, is why this topic is necessary. Thanks Stu!

  9. One of greatest problems we have in this country is parenting. It’s seems that the government wants take over that role. And they are doing a poor job of it. Instead of making the children of this country responsible they give them a way out(the shame of this situation is the good children pay the price). We have lowered our standards(social and educational) that they don’t even know which end is up. After they finished the watered down high school system we send them to for a year of remedial math and English courses(paid for with student loans) only to see them drop out because they can’t handle it. Should haven’t been there to begin with but the were entitled to the eduction. What happens after not paying for their car. What happens is a dose of reality. Which we learn on the first week of collection on our paper route and no one was home. I want know do we get reimbursed for our student loans too.

  10. Point of order- today’s students can’t work a job to pay for college- the tuition is too expensive. I worked my way through college, and grad school (and now, again, through grad school.) I’m still paying the loans for a masters degree 12 years later.

    I agree- pay your bills. But don’t price poorer kids out of the market.

    Oh, that school lunch program you were sure the government has? Cut by the current administration. Because cruelty is the point.


    1. Everything is Trump’s fault. Three years in office and he’s responsible for all the ills in the nation. Yeah, right.

      1. Rutgers University women’s and gender studies professor Brittney Cooper suggested that Trump is to be blamed for obesity in women.

    2. College is expensive and I did a column a few weeks back how to make them affordable. Alas, I can’t access when I am in my own blog. Check it out at your leisure.

      How about state or board of ed programs for the poor? NJ is generous.

  11. When I read that article in the Inky I just shook my head. Then my 90-y-o mom read it and laughed. Imagine, she went back to work after years as a stay-at-home mom to help fund my college education. I still took a few loans and had the audacity to repay them on time.

    What’s next? PECO insisting I pay my bill if I want power? Walton actually wants me to pay for my oil? Verizon insists I pay or they’ll cut off my TV and internet access? Sheesh, I even have to pay for water??? Yeah kids, you want a service then you have to pay for it (someone has to pay for the overhead costs, salaries, benefits, etc.).

    1. Oh, about lunch shaming . . . Children should not be punished for their parents’ failures: kids need food to succeed. But why is barring them from proms or senior trips–both of which cost students/parents hundreds of dollars–wrong? If they can afford prom tickets, gowns/tuxes, etc., they can certainly afford a $75 lunch debt.

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