WSU provost appointed to study economic inequality

Monday , June 29, 2015 - 2:54 PM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

OGDEN – The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) appointed Weber State University’s Provost Michael Vaughan to study economic inequality and its effects on democracy.

Across the country the AASCU accepts 31 institutions. WSU is the only Utah school represented on the AASCU council and one of only four organizations in the western United States.

Vaughan feels the appointment couldn’t have come at a better time. “I had already decided to go back to faculty, then I saw this national initiative. I thought that’s something I would be interested in,” Vaughan said. He feels the national initiative to study economic inequality’s primary objective “is to increase knowledge and understand about the issue among college students.”

There are six other faculty members at WSU who will work on disseminating information on economic inequality. Vaughan will teach a new course starting fall semester on economic inequality in the United States.

The team at Weber State plans to work on educational videos to promote and disseminate information on the topic. “We plan to put it on YouTube for anyone to use,” Vaughan said. The national initiative has already produced one video found at

The video covers the results from a Harvard Business professor’s survey of 5,000 Americans. The results compared the perception of distribution of wealth in the United States to what Americans feel the ideal distribution should be. Finally it contrasted both perceptions to the reality of wealth distribution.

The survey showed 92 percent of people believe wealth distribution should be more equitable. In fact, the “ideal” distribution suggested the top 20 percent only receiving roughly 10 to 20 times as much as the bottom 20 percent.

The actual distribution of wealth, however, shows the top one percent have more of the wealth than what 92 percent of Americans feel the top 20 percent should have. The video also states the top one percent of the wealth distribution makes 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. In 2009 the wealth in the United States totaled $54 trillion, which means the top one percent of the nation made over $21.5 trillion. The video concludes by explaining that a CEO makes 380 times more than their average worker’s salary.

Weber plans to create a video of their own. Vaughan plans to create a 10 to 15 minute, factual video showing statistics and charts on wealth distribution. The team will complete the video in time for fall semester. Vaughan hopes he can contribute to the effort by focusing on different misconceptions on the topic. “It’s important because there is a great deal of misunderstanding on the issue,” Vaughan said. “There’s a discrepancy between people’s thoughts and the reality (on wealth distribution).”

The AASCU initiative has a three-year time frame to focus on informing university students, their primary audience, on economic inequality in the United States. “Their belief is if they set a time frame too long, people start postponing things,” Vaughan said.

He hopes, however, the project will be long term.

Vaughan does expect to collect “primary data” as a part of his contribution to the initiative. “I know where the existing gaps (in economic inequality data) are, but I’m not prepared to say, ‘We’re going to undertake that project,’” he said.

All 31 of the national selections have been made. The AASCU initiative started collecting data and distributing information in January 2015.

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