Researchers determine that sustainability is now a science; Occupy Wall Street's sustainability committee plays house; Harvard looks to hire someone who can "cultivate an understanding of food"; and a debate asks whether the campus sustainability movement detracts from the better purposes of higher education.
In today's Pope Center Clarion Call, I write about the recent study released by the Goldwater Institute on administrative bloat in higher education. Almost everyone laments the increasing cost of going to college, but they usually ask next, "How can we help students afford it" when the question should be, "Are resources being spent wisely?" Is the profusion of new administrators (generally paid quite nicely to boot) doing much to better educate students? Or is it more the case that they're hired because non-profit institutions must spend all the revenue that comes in and the decision-makers are inclined to spend it in ways that makes life better for them? The Goldwater study introduces a "public choice" element into the analysis of higher education and that's welcome.
Today NAS received a copy of this speech by UNC-Greensboro Chancellor Linda P. Brady. The speech was given on August 18, 2010 as a "State of the Campus" address. Brady bows to politically correct idols in a fashion typical at today's colleges and universities: Diversity
Writing in the Wall Street Journal (June 18), Timothy Knowles, “a former teacher, principal and district leader” laments the difficulty of eliminating “low-performing teachers.” Granted, there are abundant reasons for tenure reform at the K-12 level. College, however, is a different matter. Marketing his new book, Cary Nelson, spear point of the AAUP, says
I’m a dyed-in-the-wool, devout believer that you only have academic freedom and free speech if you have job security. If you don’t have job security, you can’t speak out forcefully, and I think that means academic freedom will be diminished.
I rarely agree with Dr. Nelson, a fellow I find usually animated by left-wing, social constructivist, and Sixties sentiments, but in this case he is right. Mr. Knowles paints administrators as ex-teachers called to a higher mission. However, in college, many administrators have little or no classroom experience, and Mr. Knowles seems oblivious to just how political, punitive, and self-serving careerist administrators can be (just look at how many of the cases at FIRE originate from administrative excesses). Without tenure, my campus would have no discernible conservative voice at all. I would have been fired by at least three different college presidents for a variety of transgressions: organizing the faculty union, suing the college, publically criticizing multiculturalism, openly opposing “student learning outcomes.” Students can survive a poor teacher (how many great teachers are there?), but they can’t survive a university monoculture that is an ideological echo chamber. Tenure may sometimes protect incompetent knaves but, where it still exists, tenure also protects vital intellectual pluralism.
In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, I write about an enlightening lawsuit involving a demoted dean's allegation that his school deliberately trashed its academic standards to help retain weak students. My argument is that colleges and universities have been doing this for decades, but have usually been subtle enough not to get caught (or sued, at least). The case also highlights the need to employ what economists call "Public Choice" theory -- i.e., the assumption that public officials will generally make decisions that are in their own interest rather than for "the public good"--when we think about the actions of college officials.
In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, Carey Stronach, president of the Virginia Association of Scholars, explains why the crusade for "diversity" by the administration at Virginia Tech is unacceptable to scholars. Academic promotion should no more depend on "diversity accomplishments" than on "religious accomplishments" or "chess accomplishments" or "gardening accomplishments." If the administrators can't see that by "privileging" (to use a favorite leftist term) the diversity mindset over everything else they're undermining real academic work, they should be summarily dismissed.
This week the Chronicle of Higher Education has a special section on “Diversity in Academe.” One article featured there, “Diversity Takes a Hit During Tough Times,” (subscription required) examines how the economic downturn has forced colleges to evaluate their priorities. Colleges are asking, “Is a large diversity program really necessary for our institution?” Richard Vedder, of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, doesn’t think so:
Richard K. Vedder, an economist at Ohio University who also directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, says it has become "faddish" for universities to boast about their commitment to minority students by pointing to the size of their diversity offices. "The question is, at a university with 20,000 students, can you do the job with three to five people, or do you really need 25 to 35?" he asks. Mr. Vedder sees most diversity jobs as a bull-market luxury—and believes they should be scaled back, along with intercollegiate athletics, to protect core teaching and research operations during hard times.
Nevertheless, universities are scrambling to salvage their diversity departments, however superfluous, and one professor says this is a time of testing: “The next few years will show whether a university's commitment to diversity is real or whether it's something that is done just for the rhetoric.” Clearly this is the upside of the recession, giving colleges an opportunity to examine what’s really important in higher education – not race, identity groups, or political correctness brownie points, but simply, higher education. As the dean of St. Lawrence U puts it, “If you don't have the basic curriculum, and you don't have the faculty and you're not paying them, then all of the other programs in the world don't matter one bit.”
By now, most Americans have watched the newscast on the brutal killing of Chicago honors student Derrion Albert. FDR made "freedom from fear" one of his Four Freedoms. Many Chicago students flee to my rural university to secure "freedom from fear." They escape gang violence and the prospect of ending up in jail. They are the Derrion Alberts of the world--kids who want to start over. Alas, college administrators--in the name of "diversity"--promote gang magnet events such as our Player's Ball: a fraternity-sponsored event with "pimps," "hoes," and "bitches." Guilty white administrators cave to demands for "urban culture." After all, "it's a black thing." Diversity officials remain silent (privately, they do not approve but "what are we going to do?"). The same administrators ban credit card vendors on campus, squelch "hate speech" (a term never applied in this context) but will not lift a finger to "do the right thing." At the very least, campus officials could use their bully pulpit to criticize these events. One of my former students escaped his gang, became an honors student and attended the "Ball" in his second year. At the Ball, gang members searched him out and put a "hit" on his head for leaving them. Several of us found a way to relocate him but ultimately this student left for another university. That is not education, it is exodus. Since administrators and diversity deans do nothing, say nothing, hear nothing, I call them out: "Shame on you!" Derrion Albert could have been one of my students, if he lived to attend college. For the Derrions of the world, those of us who teach or lead need to speak up. R.I.P. Derrion Albert
We've reached the tipping point in human resources where administrators now outnumber teaching faculty. Things have been sliding quietly in that direction, aided by the addition of new positions such as Chief Diversity Officer and Dean of Multicultural Life. Although the trend has gone largely unbeknownst to the larger university community, NAS has been on task to end such disregard. To that end, we are organizing a core of academy watchers, who will penetrate the obscurity that veils such questionable practices. Keep the tipping point in mind as you hear of newly created positions at your institution, and please consider becoming one of those who will be "eyes" for us as the NAS tracks trends and events in higher education.