Misplaced Priorities: Universities Pony Up for PR

by Jesse Saffron

“Recent studies reveal a disturbing trend in higher education: colleges, both private and public, are increasingly devoting a significant amount of time and money to public relations,” writes Alex Contarino in today’s Pope Center feature.

In the University of North Carolina system alone, $10.1 million is spent each year on salaries for administrators working in campus marketing offices. That’s in addition to those offices’ budgets, which often go toward questionable projects, such as ones marketing campus “diversity” initiatives to prospective students.

At some universities, reputation management can be a big ticket item. In the wake of UNC-Chapel Hill’s academic fraud scandal, $1.7 million was paid out to a high-profile PR firm. In recent years, schools such as Penn State and UC-Davis also have spent millions to protect their images.

But what about the day-to-day spending on things such as university magazines, newspaper ads, and TV spots? Contarino says universities are stuck in the past, and would save a lot of time and money – and actually reach their target audience – if they instead used social media.

“Unfortunately, administrators find it easy to justify these wasteful marketing expenses by claiming they will improve their school’s image or increase enrollment. But as state-run institutions, public universities should work to be better stewards of taxpayer money. Trimming bloated PR offices and halting dubious advertising projects would help along those lines,” writes Contarino.

Read the full article here.

Alumni Donations Shrink as Campus Political Correctness Grows

by Jennifer Kabbany

College students nowadays protest with signs, sit-ins and social media campaigns. Alumni, meanwhile, have a different weapon at their disposal – their pocketbooks.

As “College Students Protest, Alumni’s Fondness Fades and Checks Shrink,” reports The New York Times.

A backlash from alumni is an unexpected aftershock of the campus disruptions of the last academic year. Although fund-raisers are still gauging the extent of the effect on philanthropy, some colleges — particularly small, elite liberal arts institutions — have reported a decline in donations, accompanied by a laundry list of complaints.

Alumni from a range of generations say they are baffled by today’s college culture. Among their laments: Students are too wrapped up in racial and identity politics. They are allowed to take too many frivolous courses. They have repudiated the heroes and traditions of the past by judging them by today’s standards rather than in the context of their times. Fraternities are being unfairly maligned, and men are being demonized by sexual assault investigations. And university administrations have been too meek in addressing protesters whose messages have seemed to fly in the face of free speech.

Underscoring the drop in donations, universities have seen other impacts from protests. This year, Harvard Business School researchers found “scandals with a high level of media coverage significantly reduce applications. … A scandal covered in a long-form news article leads to a ten percent drop in applications the following year. This is roughly the same as the impact on applications of dropping ten spots in the U.S. News and World Report college rankings,” according to the survey

Over at the University of Missouri, for example, a decline in applications has been dubbed the “Melissa Click Effect.”

If these trends continues – and hopefully they do – it might force feckless administrators to rein in the absurdities so common on campuses today.

Even student activists might be realizing hyperbole hurts their causes. According to students at a free-speech conference this summer that followed a breakout year for campus activism, “protesters face the risk that they complain so often – and about such minor issues – that their peers tune out otherwise worthwhile causes.”

What Good Is a Faculty Senate?

by George Leef

Professors often complain about how obligatory but mostly pointless committee work drains away a lot of their time. One non-obligatory committee that also drains away time is the faculty senate.

So argues University of Southern Indiana business professor Jason Fertig in today’s Pope Center piece.

He has served for more than four years on his school’s faculty senate, and chaired it for one. In the article, he shares his thoughts about the experience. Mostly, they’re negative.

“Cynics claim that faculty senates are archaic, useless bodies,” he writes. “From experience, I can’t say that I disagree.”

What did USI’s faculty senate accomplish? Fertig thinks that its most notable “achievement” was getting a lot of media coverage for its resolution against an Indiana bill defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The problem is that the legislation had nothing to do with the university and indeed the university’s handbook specifically forbids using university property for political advocacy. Fertig pointed that out, but the majority on the senate was not to be deterred from making a statement.

One potentially significant issue that was raised was strengthening the school’s core curriculum. Fertig thinks there was much to do in that regard, but the end result was nothing but a Potemkin Village kind of renaming of the categories of required courses. No substantive change, but that’s what you should expect from a bureaucratic process dominated by people who mostly love to hear themselves talk.

“Perhaps faculty senates are best kept as ceremonial relics of times-gone-by,” Fertig concludes.

When Black Is Not Enough

by John S. Rosenberg

Even before the rash of protests in the wake of the recent racial violence across the nation the volume of demands for more of what students and faculty call “diversity” — more black faculty and students — has been rising dramatically. After the unpleasantness last fall at the University of Missouri, Inside Higher Ed reported, students “called on administrators to increase the share of black faculty members to 10 percent by 2017-18.”

Another typical example comes from the Black Liberation Collective: “1) WE DEMAND at the minimum, Black students and Black faculty to be reflected by [sic] the national percentage of Black folk in the state and the country.” 

Indeed, the influential web site fivethirtyeight.com examined in detail the demands from students at 51 colleges presented on a site called (what else?) The Demands and found that the most common demand was to “increase the diversity of professors,” listed at 38 of the 51 schools. Next, at 35 schools, was to “require diversity training.”

Inasmuch as the demand for black professors threatens to far outrun the supply, there are obvious logistic problems with meeting these student commands. But there is another, under-appreciated problem that will pose a difficult challenge to administrators, hiring committees, diversity trainers, and even black candidates vying to be new “diversity” hires: Who, exactly, is black?

Simply being black is quite obviously not sufficient to satisfy the increasingly shrill “diversity” demands. In its July 11 survey of campus responses to the recent week of racial violence, Inside Higher Ed discusses a petition circulated by Vanderbilt students to suspend Carol Swain, a controversial (because she is both black and conservative) professor of law and political science. (I have discussed her work several times, including here, here, and here.) 

Swain’s current offense: calling the Black Lives Matter movement a “very destructive force” in an interview with CNN. 

The petition calling for Prof. Swain’s dismissal also demands the creation of a mandatory “diversity training program for all Vanderbilt faculty — including Professor Carol Swain — to increase their cultural awareness, foster inclusion of various identity groups, prevent discrimination in the classroom, and to protect the University against inadvertent civil rights violations.”

It would be interesting to see what the curriculum of Vanderbilt’s  mandatory diversity training program would include on how to instruct a black woman professor to be more “inclusive” and “culturally aware,” as well as who would presume to teach her. And it would also be interesting to see how the student “diversity” demanders at any of the 38 colleges listed on The Demand site would react if Prof. Swain were to be considered for a position at any of them.

Pointless Griping from The Education Trust

by George Leef

The Education Trust has just released a new study that amounts to griping that the wealthiest colleges and universities don’t do enough to make it affordable for students from poor families to attend. It has the sorts of people who are tasked with defending the high-endowment schools in a tizzy, arguing that it isn’t fair, overlooks stuff, and so on.

Sadly, what those people can’t or won’t say is that the premise that students from poor families really need to attend these very expensive schools is wrong. Graduating from a high-cost and supposedly elite college is neither necessary nor sufficient for those students (or any others for that matter) to get a good education and have a prosperous life. A good student from a rather impecunious family in North Carolina, for instance, doesn’t have to go to Duke, but will do fine (perhaps even better) by going to one of the UNC institutions or a reasonably priced private college.

Too bad that the Ed Trust folks have fallen for the Chivas Regal effect — the notion that the more you spend on tuition, the better the education you get. That just ain’t so.

Thank Goodness For Financial Experts

by John S. Rosenberg

According to an article on Inside Higher Ed this morning: “High levels of student debt are contributing to negative wealth — when a household’s debt is greater than its total assets — and inequality, according to an analysis of household finance data by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.”

Let me see if I’ve got this right. The analysts at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York have determined that increased “inequality” results from students taking on more debt than they have assets.

Well, no wonder Democrats want to hand out “free college” to everyone! If that prevents debt, it reduces inequality! But why stop there? Just as a country that gets paid to release hostages will, if it is a rational economic actor, seize more hostages, why shouldn’t we all run up our credit card debt? Think of all the “inequality” that could be reduced if all the things we borrow to buy were provided free!


How to Conduct Fraud and Avoid Punishment

by Jane S. Shaw

Signs are building that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is going to get away with 18 years of allowing one of its academic departments to conduct academic fraud.

From 1993 to 2011, courses in the African and Afro-American Studies Department of UNC-Chapel Hill allowed weak students, about half of whom were athletes, to boost their grades by taking what an investigator called a “shadow curriculum.” These were courses that held no classes, had no professor, and required only an easily-graded paper.

The latest news is that UNC-Chapel Hill has replied to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s notice of allegations by saying that the NCAA has no jurisdiction over academic matters, since the classes were offered to all students. (The Raleigh News & Observer offers an excellent discussion of the school’s response, which includes what seems to be throwing one professor under the bus.)

The UNC response concedes there were “serious institutional issues” as a result of the no-show classes but they should be dealt with by the school’s accreditor, not the NCAA.

And the school’s accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) has already released UNC-Chapel Hill from a year-long period of probation, which hardly anyone paid attention to, anyway. SACS was persuaded that the university has procedures in place to stop that particular kind of fraud.

So if UNC-Chapel Hill can convince the NCAA that it lacks jurisdiction over academic matters – and thus it can’t punish the school — everything will go back to normal and the school will have escaped any punishment at all.

Trump’s Higher Education Platform

by Jesse Saffron

Donald Trump’s higher education plans, as well as those outlined in the Republican Platform, are analyzed by George Leef in this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call

Several smart proposals are aimed at curbing the Education Department’s Title IX excesses, increasing competition in accreditation and credentialing, and making colleges pay down a portion of graduates’ student loan debt in the event that they face default or dismal job prospects (such a “skin in the game” policy would improve academic quality and reduce debt burdens).

Other proposals, however, are vaguely worded or based on a misunderstanding of higher education’s nuts and bolts. Still, says Leef, “[The] Republican Platform and Trump’s advisors have some policy ideas that would move the nation away from the federal government’s harmful dominance of higher education.”

Read the full article here.