Lee Siegel was 17 when he took out his first student loan some 40 years ago to attend a small private liberal arts college. He later transferred to a state college in New Jersey and eventually went on to graduate school, taking out additional loans along the way. Siegel says he found it "absurd" that he was forced to amass debt to go to college "simply because I had the misfortune of coming from modest origins," and "years later, I found myself confronted with a choice," he writes at the New York Times. He could take a meaningless job to repay his debt, at the expense of his dream of becoming a writer, "or I could take what I had been led to believe was both the morally and legally reprehensible step of defaulting on my student loans," he says. "I chose life. That is to say, I defaulted on my student loans."
Siegel, now the author of five books, says collection agencies—or as he calls them, "greedy vultures"—used by the Department of Education are still chasing down the unpaid balance of his loans, which, with interest and fees, is now "several times the principal." But "I've never looked back," he writes. "The millions of young people today, who collectively owe over $1 trillion in loans, may want to consider my example." At Slate, Jordan Weissmann pulls no punches in his response. In a piece titled "The New York Times Should Apologize for the Awful Op-Ed It Just Ran on Student Loans," he notes that the Times piece never specifies that Siegel has three degrees from the pricey Columbia and points out that it is possible to write with "merely one Ivy League diploma on your wall." But his main issue with the piece is that Siegel "spends about a third of the column dispatching criminally negligent financial advice." Weissmann explains the issue here.