Open Letter to Cornel West  

Photograph Source: PAUL GAVINGER – CC BY 2.0

Dear Dr. West,

I was just sitting here thinking about your presidential campaign and started wondering whether you have any plans to launch a national university system. As you may know, John Quincy Adams had such an idea, two centuries ago, so it has that old pedigree (important to some people). And maybe its time has finally arrived. Such a complex of colleges could allow us to meaningfully address many of today’s most pressing social, economic, and ecological problems.

If we built just one campus in every federal congressional district, that would amount to 435 campuses. But there could be many more. Even 435, though, would yield millions of jobs, and careers: jobs designing and building the campuses, maintaining them, teaching in them, researching in them.

These free, public colleges (they could even be funded via defense spending, as they would certainly defend society from many harms) could have agricultural departments that could grow nutritious food for their respective communities, fighting food insecurity. Ecology departments could allow ecosystems damaged by exploitation and pollution to regenerate.

Engineering departments, in coordination and cooperation with others, could develop clean water systems, providing healthy, necessary water to their communities. These could also develop public transportation systems, communication systems, clean energy systems, and other infrastructure, helping to transition society to one that can flourish in the changing, volatile climate of the 21st century.

Health and medical departments could train members of the community to staff clinics that could provide free health care to the community. And because it’s free it would be free of the conflict of interests between providing care and raking in profits (between caring for lives and making a killing), that plagues our current medical system.

These colleges would, of course, also include child care centers, libraries, theaters, music departments, sports complexes, art galleries and studios, allowing every member of the community to develop their potential. Dispute resolution centers could help communities resolve problems equitably. Film departments would produce and screen movies. Fashion departments could help people to design and produce their own clothes.

In short, everything an actually democratic society needs could be fit into what in effect would be a federation of convivial villages. And, of course, since everyone could be a student, everyone could enjoy free student housing. What do you think?

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at and on twitter @elliot_sperber