Disinvitations Go International

by George Leef

American colleges do not have a monopoly on disinvitations. As we read in this [email protected] post by John Samples, it just happened in South Africa. Free speech advocate and publisher of cartoons critical of Islam Flemming Rose has been disinvited from speaking at Cape Town University for the usual reason: his talk could be too provocative.

Professor Unhappy Over His Daughter’s Summer Book Assignment

by George Leef

Back in June, the Pope Center ran a piece by David Randall on the phenomenon of summer book assignments by colleges for their incoming students. Randall argued that most schools waste this opportunity by selecting a book that’s too political, too esoteric, and usually too simplistic.

Today, we publish a commentary by Appalachian State political science professor George Ehrhardt that goes a step further. Ehrhardt’s daughter is about to start her college career at a liberal arts college (unnamed, for obvious reasons) and the school’s summer reading choice was typically lefty — Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi, which explores the alleged problem of stereotype threat. What was of greater interest to Ehrhardt than the choice of book however, was the set of questions that were also sent to the students.

The questions never suggest to the students that they should question Steele’s thesis that stereotype threat exists and is a serious problem in America. Instead, they push “progressive” notions that probably only a few of the faculty at the school would subscribe to. One question, for example, assumes that, Ehrhardt writes, “The possession of a social identity — whether as African-American, WASP, LGBT, Good ol’ Boy, or anything else — is presumptively bad. It leads to things ‘you have to deal with.’”

Another question posed to the students: “How does stereotype threat interfere with cross-cultural understanding and relationships?” Ehrhardt finds that off-putting, writing “Ironically, for a college that talks so much about diversity, students aren’t asked to consider how misunderstandings might arise because diverse individuals genuinely see things differently.”

Not just the chosen book but the discussion questions “push a progressive narrative about how race divides the country.”

Here is what’s going on at this school and many, many others. Zealous faculty “progressives” have seized the commanding heights so they can select books and direct the discussion thereof so as to implant leftist tropes about how bad our society is and how much it needs endless social engineering.

Ehrhardt concludes that he thinks his daughter is probably inoculated against the corrosive effects of college, but he fears for her peers.

College Leaders Out of Step with Most Americans on Preferences

by George Leef

Progressives have been doing a little victory dance following the Supreme Court’s feeble decision to uphold the University of Texas in its racially preferential admissions policy. But they might stop dancing if they looked at a recent Gallup poll on that subject. Shockingly, about 70 percent of the public thinks that race should not be an important factor and that schools should instead focus on academic merit. That was true for blacks and Hispanics as well, although to a lesser degree.

I comment on this in my latest SeeThru article.

One bit of spin the Gallup people try to put on this inconvenient finding is to say that perhaps the public just doesn’t understand the importance of “diversity” as much as college leaders do. My rejoinder is that most of the public simply doesn’t believe the excuse that “diversity” is crucial to education. Another possibility is that most of the population has truly “moved on past race” and the obsession with it lingers in certain quarters such as college presidencies.




Humanity Loses

by Jane S. Shaw

Political correctness doesn’t get sadder than this. Dean Jodi Kelly of  Matteo Ricci College, a small humanities-focused college within Seattle University, has resigned.

The resignation is a victory for students who held a three-week sit-in at the college’s main administration building in May. The students demanded the departure of Dean Kelly and, indeed, she was placed on leave during the protest. The president of Seattle University said that eight out of the school’s 17 faculty also wanted the dean’s resignation and that there were charges of discrimination that had to be investigated along with other issues. 

“Our number-one value is we listen to students first,” the president told the Seattle Times.

Ostensibly, the sit-in was because the humanities college’s curriculum isn’t sufficiently diverse. But fueling the passion was the claim that Dean Kelly had used a slur in front of students. As a matter of fact, however, she was recommending comedian Dick Gregory’s book Nigger.

The MRC Coalition published its demands on a petition website, with an introduction pointing out:

The Humanities program as it exists today ignores and erases the humanity of its students and of peoples around the globe. Humanity is defined as the human race, and as such studies in humanity must be about human beings collectively. We are diverse, with many different life experiences, also shaped by colonization, U.S. and Western imperialism, neo-liberal politics, and oppression under racist, sexist, classist, heteronormative and homophobic, trans*phobic, queerphobic, ableist, nationalistic, xenophobic systems, which perpetuate conquest, genocide of indigenous peoples, and pervasive systemic inequities.

The demands ranged from revision of the “Eurocentric” curriculum to requiring faculty training by a “non-racist network from Seattle such as the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond.”

Kelly has been dean since 2012. Before that she was a popular professor who was named Seattle University’s Outstanding Faculty of the Year in 2011.

One can’t help but doubt that the students at Matteo Ricci understand what to expect at a humanities college with a strong Jesuit tradition.

Economic Driver or Boondoggle?

by Jesse Saffron

University officials and politicians often claim that targeted government subsidization of industry research is a win-win for campus communities and regional economies. Such are the claims being made by supporters of the Department of Energy’s new Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute (SMII), an $800 million project intended to help high-tech manufacturers reduce energy costs.

In today’s Pope Center feature, Amy Morris, a senior at NC State University, home to one of SMII’s five regional hubs, says her fellow students and taxpayers should be skeptical. She argues that the track record of related public-private partnerships is not very good, and that hundreds of millions of tax dollars have been wasted over the years.

Besides, Morris says, the Department of Energy, which is leading this project, hasn’t been very successful when taking on the role of venture capitalist. Its failed foray into the solar panel manufacturing industry, which has cost taxpayers more than $535 million, should give pause to SMII’s cheerleaders.

And why should the government subsidize corporate research and development? Private sector R&D expenditures, including those made by companies involved in the SMII project, vastly outstrip those made by federal and state governments. The private sector seems to be doing well without subsidies.

But that brings up another important point: “The reason why private enterprise spends so much on research in the first place is that the vast majority of new products and advancements fail, regardless of how enthusiastic researchers or government officials may be about them,” writes Morris.

“As a soon-to-be NC State graduate and taxpayer, I would hope that in the future my school seriously considers the potential negative ramifications of such projects, and avoids devoting resources to them for the sake of prestige,” she writes.

Read the full article here.

NCAA Throws Rocks From Inside Glass House

by John S. Rosenberg

In April, USA Today reports, the NCAA Board of Governors adopted a policy requiring cities hosting or bidding on NCAA championships, meetings, or conferences to ”demonstrate how they will provide an environment that is safe, healthy, and free of discrimination, plus safeguards the dignity of everyone involved in the event.” Last week a questionnaire on discrimination has been sent to cities named to host NCAA events, a move that followed by a day the National Basketball Association’s decision to move its 2017 All Star game from Charlotte “because of the controversial anti-LGBT law North Carolina enacted in March.”

Of course one of the sources of the controversy is that most of the law’s advocates do not regard it as “anti-LGBT.” Similarly, the Chronicle of Higher Education’s article on the NCAA’s action asserts that the North Carolina law “is widely seen as discriminatory against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people,” but the source for that assertion turns out to be merely another Chronicle of Higher Education article asserting that the law ”is widely seen as discriminating against transgender people.”

Leaving aside the question of whether the North Carolina law is in fact discriminatory, as well as how “widely” it is seen to be discriminatory, an unnoticed irony here is that the NCAA’s own rules and regulations governing the student athletes involved in its events appear to be in violation of the new Title IX “guidance” the Obama administration recently sent to schools and the colleges where those athletes are enrolled.

As I discussed recently in two essays on Minding The Campus (here and here), the central diktat in the May 13 “Dear Colleague” Letter from the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education is the requirement that schools and colleges ”treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of Title IX and its implementing regulations. This means that a school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity.” The “Dear Colleague” letter also states unequivocally that there can be ”no medical diagnosis or treatment requirement that students must meet as a prerequisite to being treated consistent with their gender identity.”

The NCAA, however, does have various medical treatment requirements. As I pointed out in the second of my essays linked above, 

the NCAA Inclusion of Transgender Student Athletes policy states that “A trans female (MTF) transgender student-athlete who is not taking hormone treatments related to gender transition may not compete on a women’s team.” MTFs and FTMs, however, are not treated the same, since “A trans male (FTM) student-athlete who is not taking testosterone related to gender transition may participate on a men’s or women’s team.”

As if this were not confusing enough, the NCAA inclusion policy also states that “A trans male (FTM) student-athlete who has received a medical exception for treatment with testosterone … may compete on a men’s team, but is no longer eligible to compete on a women’s team without changing that team status to a mixed team.” But by contrast, “A trans female (MTF) student-athlete being treated with testosterone suppression medication … may continue to compete on a men’s team but may not compete on a women’s team without changing it to a mixed team status until completing one calendar year of testosterone suppression treatment.”

Thus the NCAA does what the Obama administration says schools and colleges must not do: “treat transgender students differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity,” and it even makes trans males and trans females jump through different hoops.

Perhaps at its next meeting the unelected NCAA Board of Governors could pause a moment in its passing judgment on whether the city councils, mayors, legislators, and governors in localities where it would like to play its games have provided “an environment” that is “free of discrimination” and consider whether its own rules and regulations pass Obama administration muster. As it stands now, it would appear that colleges complying with those rules would be found to be in violation of Title IX. Indeed, perhaps it may even want to consider allying itself with some of those who are challenging the new Title IX policy.

ADDENDUM [29 July]

I’ve just noticed that Ed Whelan, over on Bench Memos, posted similar thoughts about the NCAA’s political correctness about 45 minutes before my post. I would like to think that great minds work alike, but don’t presume to….

The Root of Human Progress and the History We Make Today

by David Clemens

Exactly one hundred years ago, Henry Ford said, “I don’t know much about history, and I wouldn’t give a nickel for all the history in the world. It means nothing to me. History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s dam is the history we make today.” Poor Henry was born too soon. Today, hardly anybody cares about history unless it’s as a useful stone on which to grind an axe.

Now this:  Colleen Flaherty of Inside Higher Ed reports that Lincoln University, a historically black college, founded by African-American Civil War veterans in 1866, is shutting down its history department. Pause for a moment and reflect on that bit of news. If it makes your head spin, welcome to the club. Flaherty quotes Kevin D. Rome, university president, as explaining that “Our students deserve academic offerings that allow them to be competitive with their peers as they move from our campus into a career.”

Calling his decision “difficult,” he explains that “we can better use the resources … to strengthen those degrees with a higher demand from the student and global standpoint. … We must make decisions like these as we look toward the future and the needs of the changing workforce.”

What a frothy meringue of management edu-babble; Henry Ford expressed the same philistine thinking in 1916 with much greater clarity.

Certainly, the academic left weaponized history a long time ago as an ideological delivery system (one bank officer of my acquaintance complained of having to read communist Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States in six different classes at the local state college). As George Orwell said, “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” To that end, it was Marx and Engels (and Zinn) who reduced all of history to an endless conga line of class struggle, oppressors vs. oppressed, the creation myth of today’s multiculturalist gripe-a-palooza.

But President Rome takes it one step further. Why not just eliminate history altogether! Tabula rasa! One recalls the Maoist desire to slaughter the past and start over. Goodbye Confucius, goodbye scrolls and paintings, goodbye Ming vase, goodbye all unbearable historical baggage. 

Today the same impulse rides under the flag of CTE and STEM. The global standpoint! The future! The workforce! The … career! Art, music, drama, literature, history—bunk. Useless, time-wasting impediments.

What a mistake.

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal last week, progressive bête noire Charles Koch nailed it, concluding that “Education in America, and particularly higher education, has become increasingly hostile to the free exchange of ideas. On many campuses, a climate of intellectual conformity has replaced open debate and inquiry, stifling discussion on a host of topics ranging from history to science to economics. Dissenters are demonized, ostracized or otherwise treated with scorn and derision. This disrupts the process of discovery and challenge that is at the root of human progress.”

U-M Donor Retracts $3M Gift: Multicult Naming Guilt

by John S. Rosenberg

In a multicultural man-bites-dog story, Mark Bernstein, the chairman of the University of Michigan Board of Regents, and his wife, Rachel Bendit, are withdrawing their previously announced gift of $3 million because their names would go on the building to be built with those funds.

Inside Higher Ed, quoting an article in the Detroit Free Press, reports this morning that the gift was intended to go toward the creation of a new, modernized multicultural center on campus whose construction was one of the demands of black students during protests in 2014. The problem? 

University of Michigan protocols called for the building to be renamed Bernstein-Bendit Hall. But the university’s current multicultural center, named for newspaper founder and equal rights activist William Monroe Trotter, is the only building on Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus named for an African-American. The center would still have been called the Trotter Center, but many objected to having the name taken off of the building.

After hearing these concerns, the Free Press reports, Bernstein and his wife withdrew their gift, which means the Trotter name will remain. “We spent time with faculty, students, staff and alumni who shared with us their sense of loss,” Bernstein stated, “and who expressed their fear that the only African-American name on a building at U-M would be diminished or erased.” This is wrong, he continued. “We did not want to silence Trotter — this one, lonely African-American voice on our campus. This was, of course, not our intention, but it could have been the result.”

How satisfying it must be for Michigan’s faculty, students, staff, and alumni to have their “sense of loss” restored, and at the cost of only $3 million lost to the University. And how multiculturally sensitive and virtuous it must make Mr. and Mrs. Bernstein feel not to give that money. And how dumb University of Michigan officials must, or should, feel about their “protocols” that require donors names to go on buildings against their wishes. These people all deserve each other.

How Hamilton College’s Diversity Requirement Came About

by George Leef

Many colleges and universities now have a “diversity” requirement — even if they don’t require students to take anything else. The whole curriculum could be a hodge-podge of dubious, disconnected courses, but students absolutely, positively must be exposed to DIVERSITY. As if young Americans would otherwise have no clue that people aren’t all the same and they ought to get along with everyone.

Often, school officials justify these courses by saying that the students want them. But as we learn in today’s Pope Center piece, at one school, Hamilton College, the “student demand” was ginned up by a few faculty leftists who used a small number of SJW type students to push for its diversity requirement. The author, Professor Mary Grabar, has been at Hamilton for a year as a resident fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute and in the piece she explains how a few faculty members managed to get college administrators to institute the only curricular requirement it has.

“Due to their efforts,” she writes, “starting in the 2017-18 academic year, every concentration will require a dedicated course or combination of courses to teach about ’structural and institutional hierarchies based on one or more of the social categories of race, class, gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexuality, age, and abilities/disabilities.’” In other words, students must be exposed to the leftist obsession with groups. Whatever else they might study, the faculty leftists will shove this stuff down their throats. Doing so, they hope, will plant the seeds of numerous progressive tropes about society in young minds.

The faculty member most responsible for this, Grabar writes, is Women’s Studies chair Margo Okazawa-Rey, who was allowed to spend a considerable (but unknown) amount of college funds to take a number of students to a “social justice leadership training school” in Tennessee. For the students, the experience was “transformative” according to Okazawa-Rey. More likely, it reinforced their existing leftist ideas and helped radicalize them for campus protests.

Those protests led in turn to a series of demands, including, of course, more diversity!

Grabar concludes, “It’s apparent that such professors, armed with boundless funds, go to incredible lengths to radicalize students. Then they capitalize on their ‘heartfelt’ emotions to create demands for still more emphasis on their favorite project — ‘diversity.’”

No wonder that Hillary wants to keep the higher education bubble going as long as possible (as I discussed in this recent Pope Center article) because it helps support and expand her base of Americans who want to accelerate our plunge into statism.

More Evidence that the Feds Are Pushing Up Tuition

by Jane S. Shaw

Even the New York Times is now recognizing that federal funding of colleges and universities raises tuition. In a column last week discussing Hillary Clinton’s plan to provide free college for families earning less than $125,000, Binyamin Applebaum gathered some of the evidence that has been building over the past decade.

The strongest case was made in 2015 by the New York Federal Reserve. Looking at a wide range of schools, it found that as the federal government raised the per-student maximums on subsidized loans, those colleges and universities raised their tuition on average by 60 percent. For Pell grants, the figure was 40 percent and for unsubsidized loans, 15 percent.

Applebaum, quoting Andrew Gillen, has now found “another piece of evidence”:

The government limits the total amount undergraduates can borrow, but for the last decade it has allowed graduate students to borrow unlimited sums. Before the change, undergraduate tuition was rising more quickly than graduate school tuition. Since the change, the pattern has reversed, according to Andrew Gillen, an independent education analyst based in Washington.

So far, that’s anecdotal, but the mounting findings should poke a hole in “free college” promises. It would help some students but would wreak havoc on the taxpayer. (For other reasons why the “free college” proposal is a bad idea, see George Leef’s recent column.)

What Hillary Clinton and Colby College Have in Common

by George Leef

Colby College has the dubious distinction of winning FIRE’s “Speech Code of the Month” award. Why?

Samantha Harris, one of FIRE’s stalwart attorneys, explains on The Torch that Colby has decided that its Bias Incident Report Log, formerly open to public view, will henceforth be password protected. She writes, “When a college takes measures to hide information from the public, it usually means the school is doing something privately that it knows would not stand up to the glare of public scrutiny.”

The whole business of “bias incident reporting” and administrative responses is Orwellian and at a few schools, the publicity has been bad when people find out what’s going on. Best keep it hush-hush.

University Raises Adjunct Pay, Is Attacked Because It’s Not “Livable”

by George Leef

Adjunct are about to get a substantial increase in pay at the University of Memphis, going from $1,500 per course to $2,100 per course. Naturally, many are pooh-poohing that because it still is far short of a “living wage.” According to the Marxian thinking that holds sway, workers should be paid according to their needs and some adjuncts need much more if they’re to live decently.

In my latest piece for SeeThruEdu, I argue that there’s nothing wrong with universities saving money by hiring people at market prices. The low market rate for adjunct profs is a signal that the field is glutted and it would be a mistake to override that signal out of compassion for the few adjuncts who struggle to live just on that pay. They ought to find more remunerative work.

A Closer Look at Hillary’s Higher Ed Proposals

by Jesse Saffron

Hillary Clinton recently announced that she wants to make college “free” for students from low-income and middle-class families (those earning less than $125,000 per year) by 2021. In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, George Leef analyzes that proposal and concludes that it would escalate Education Department micromanagement, lower academic standards, and harm small private colleges.

Leef also analyzes Clinton’s proposal to have a three-month moratorium on student loan repayment, as well as her plan to create a special loan forgiveness program for young entrepreneurs.

“There’s never been any doubt that a Clinton administration would mean more federal intervention in higher education,” writes Leef. “These new campaign proposals show how much further the Democratic nominee will go to keep the higher education bubble inflated.”

Read the full article here.

A Worthwhile Essay Competition

by George Leef

The University of Texas at Arlington has announced its annual Webb/Smith Essay Competition and the topic this year is an excellent one: the financial crisis in higher education. Read all about it here.

Hat tip: Lenore Ealy

President Fires Provost; Board Fires President; Who’s in Charge?

by Vic Brown

Back in April, I posted a commentary on how the boards of trustees at LaSalle University and Dickinson College had apparently done a less than stellar job in vetting their presidential candidates.

We might think that larger universities would do a better job, since the stakes are high at larger enterprises that serve thousands more students.

But we would think wrong. It seems that Temple University’s Board is on the verge of terminating its president after only three years on the job, unanimously expressing a lack of confidence in him after he recently terminated his own provost for reasons purportedly related to financial aid cost overruns.

The point remains that any board has no more important duty than to thoroughly vet presidential candidates, and to closely monitor their performance once selected. The cost of mistakes in this area is high indeed, and I continue to wonder how deeply these boards dig into the actual workings of the universities that they are charged with guiding.

Better Food, Worse Low-income Aid

by Jane S. Shaw

Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker writer and author of The Outliers and The Tipping Point, among other books, always has something original to say. This time it’s a critique of expensive food. Or, rather, a critique of colleges – and he singles out Bowdoin – that spend so much on food that they don’t have enough money for aid to low-income students.

Inside Higher Ed reports that a podcast by Gladwell accused Bowdoin of wasting money on food and comparing the school unfavorably to Vassar, which has mediocre dining but more low-income students. That outraged Bowdoin students and administrators, and the “food fight” began.

The administration said Gladwell was “disingenuous” because a reporter who worked for him got to see the kitchen by telling administrators that he had heard how good the food at Bowdoin was and he wanted to visit the kitchen. No reference to the planned critique, and no follow-up discussion about low-income students. On the other hand, this story may be an early manifestation of the “dog days” of summer in higher education when nothing too important is happening.

As Stephen Burd of New America commented to IHE: “I think that Gladwell made some very valid points, and a very entertaining program. He just should have done some more reporting.

Are Campus Bureaucrats Incapable of Respecting Free Speech?

by Jesse Saffron

That often seems to be the case. As administrative bloat on campuses has increased in recent decades, so has encroachment by university busybodies. After all, such bureaucrats need to justify their paychecks. So they create diversity offices, multicultural awareness initiatives, freshman indoctrination “orientation” programs, and so forth, which often are hostile to free speech. They also craft student conduct regulations, many of which violate students’ First Amendment rights.

In today’s Pope Center feature, Stephanie Keaveney reports on a case at NC State University involving the school’s overly broad regulation of student “solicitation,” defined by administrators as “distribution of leaflets, brochures or other written material, or oral speech to a passerby, conducted without intent to obtain commercial or private pecuniary gain.” Want to, for instance, pass out copies of the U.S. Constitution? Not so fast. You’ll need prior university approval.

A Christian student group at NC State, aided by the Alliance Defending Freedom, has brought suit against the university in federal court, and the court has issued a preliminary injunction against the “solicitation” policy.

“Despite the judge finding that the student group…is likely to succeed in overturning the campus policy, and that it is likely to suffer irreparable harm if the policy were to remain in place, NCSU has stood by its policy,” writes Keaveney. NCSU, with its less than stellar free speech record, will likely settle or lose this case. And to what end? It is spending taxpayer money defending a policy that, in practice, deprives students of their free speech rights.”

Read the full article here.

Retired Prof Sees Things Clearly

by George Leef

On July 14, the Wall Street Journal ran a letter from a retired college professor who scoffs at the idea of making college free and avers that college is now more about entertainment than education. Here’s the letter:

 With regard to Daniel Henninger’s July 7 Wonder Land column, “The Trumpen Proletariat”: I particularly appreciate Mr. Henninger’s observation that the Clinton campaign should be “laughed and mocked off the map” for suggesting that children of most families should receive free education at public universities.
As a retired professor, I feel comfortable in saying that many public universities have become more entertainment venues than institutions of higher learning. The organizational structure of these institutions suggest that academics is more and more an afterthought. At the top of the organizational chart is a president whose main concern is fundraising or some form of external interfacing. Below the president is a usually a provost who divides his or her attention among vice presidents of academic affairs, business, student affairs, diversity and inclusion, development and research. Gone is the day when the vice president of academic affairs was the most important internal interface on a campus. One can argue that individuals with sufficient wealth are free to confer status on their families by conspicuously consuming the services provided by public universities so that their children can learn political correctness. However, the idea that the taxpayer should pay for boarding schools where children can be richly entertained while they grow up truly deserves scorn and ridicule.
 Gregory O. Ginn, Ph.D.
 Austin, Texas

A $2.2 Billion Non-Endowment at Virginia

by Jane S. Shaw

In a remarkably understated display of wealth, the University of Virginia has set aside $2.2 billion in a fund for “strategic” investments, Nick Anderson of the Washington Post reports. This fund will be sort of a “non-endowment endowment” that can be used as the board and administrators wish — and is in addition to the school’s “regular” endowment of $6.1 billion. A former board member calls it a “slush fund.”

Where did the money come from? Apparently it was lying around in little slush funds – I mean “reserves” – throughout the university, and the administration brought it all together. The Post says that, according to the university’s executive vice president, it “was assembled from reserves built up over years that have ensured the university’s stability in running its academic and medical programs.”

A member of the state legislature called the amount “mind-boggling” and the Post suggests that the legislature may be concerned about the lack of transparency that made this fund such a surprise. The state government funds $150 million or 10 percent of the university’s operating costs each year, plus substantial capital investment.

But no, according to Executive V.P. Paul Hogan, the process of accumulation has been “very transparent”; $2.2 billion is not that much for a university of Virginia’s size (with a medical center), and the school has been “out in the open with the board.”

For those of us who, like the Virginia senator, find this fund “mind-boggling,” it raises a number of broader questions. What does transparency actually mean at a university? How much “fat” is there in university budgets? And why do schools with such large amounts of liquid assets keep raising tuition? (Virginia’s is going up by nearly 10 percent this fall.)

The Higher Ed Industry’s Big Market in Dubious Degrees

by George Leef

Among the causes of America’s higher education bubble is the artificial demand for master’s degrees for K-12 teachers. The education industry has managed to cook up a neat little game whereby public school teachers automatically get pay raises after they have obtained an MA. It doesn’t matter whether the MA is in a real academic discipline such as math or chemistry and in fact they’re mostly in fluffy subjects like education or even “education administration.” Nor does it matter if the teacher is in fact no better at teaching than before, something few schools try to measure. Get the degree and you get the raise.

In today’s Pope Center article, professor Erik Gilbert examines the perverse incentives created by this system.

First, it leads teachers to look for the cheapest, easiest program possible. “Thus, for most teachers, the master’s has become a commodity, like soybeans or RAM. They all work equally well, so why pay more for the fancy one that requires a lot of effort?”

Second, it leads universities to turn their MA programs aimed at teachers into cash cows. (Remember, just because a college or university is nominally non-profit doesn’t mean that the people who run it aren’t avaricious.) Universities, Gilbert writes, “are in the business of selling cheap credentials.”

To sell those credentials in a very competitive market, many schools turn to private firms — Online Program Managers — that get a hefty cut of the proceeds. At Gilbert’s institution, Arkansas State, half of the revenue from these dubious programs goes to a Dallas company, Academic Partnerships.

Only two states, North Carolina and Louisiana, have done away with the foolish policy of automatic raises for teachers just on account of getting an MA. Gilbert argues that all should. As a result, he says, “Programs that don’t deliver value to teachers hoping to advance their careers would wither and disappear, as they should.”

I couldn’t agree more. Let’s get rid of this part of the artificial demand for college credentials and then move on to others.