U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders discussed his stance on education and promoted his new book at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Friday evening as part of Cap Times Idea Fest.
The seventh-annual Cap Times Idea Fest runs from Sept. 17-23 and features panels on topics including politics, artificial intelligence and climate change.
Sanders, of Vermont, is the chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. He’s the longest-serving independent in congressional history, having previously served as a U.S. representative for 16 years prior to winning a seat in the Senate in 2007.
The progressive politician spoke to over 1,150 people in Memorial Union’s Shannon Hall with Cap Times associate editor John Nichols, who co-authored Sanders’ recent book "It’s OK to be Angry About Capitalism.”
“Public universities and colleges should be tuition free,” Sanders said during the keynote speaker event. “Fifty years ago, we did have public colleges, universities, tuition free. Now it is unaffordable for so many of our young people.”
Nichols said he was struck by the senator’s “huge passion” for education while they were writing "It’s OK to be Angry About Capitalism.” Sanders early on said the book needed to communicate that “education shouldn't just be about how to get a job” but rather “about how to be a human being and how to live a good life.”
Sanders highlighted the millions of Americans in student debt and said being a teacher “is perhaps the most important profession in America.”
The average student loan debt in Wisconsin is $30,777, according to The Institute for College Access and Success. More than half – 55% – of students nationwide from public four-year institutions graduate with student loans.
The UW System Board of Regents in March approved a 4% resident undergraduate tuition increase – $372 – for the 2023-24 academic year to $9,646, the first increase since 2012. Tuition for nonresident undergraduates increased by 3%, or $1,137, up to $39,041.
Sanders also focused on growing income and wealth inequality during the event, criticizing concentration of ownership and expressing his support for unions.
Three Wall Street firms — BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street — are the largest shareholders in more than 95% of S&P 500 companies, according to Sanders.
Discussing the decision to use “capitalism” in his book title, Sanders said that people are giving up on the U.S. government amid skyrocketing prices for prescription drugs and unaffordable health care. Americans pay roughly 240% more for brand-name drug prescriptions than other countries.
“We're the only country on Earth that doesn't guarantee health care to all people. We pay by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs,” Sanders said. “It's not a housing crisis, a child care crisis, a health care crisis and climate crisis, it is a systemic crisis of a system based on greed.”
Sanders finished second to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary for president in 2016 and had a short-lived presidential bid in 2020. During his campaigns, he pushed for free universal preschool and tuition at public colleges, cutting carbon emissions, banning assault weapons, dividing large banks, protecting reproductive rights and launching universal health care.
The senator said Democrats would win “landslide victories” if they stood with the country’s working class, and that they have a choice between remaining “heavily dependent on the corporate world” or deciding to “take on the big money interests who have so much power.”
Sanders last visited Madison ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when he spoke with left-leaning activist groups NextGen America and MoveOn at the Orpheum Theater to encourage youth voting.
Rachel Hale is a senior staff writer who covers state politics and campus events. Before getting involved with The Daily Cardinal, she was a culture editor at Moda Magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @rachelleighhale.