The Corner


College Presidents Fear Competition

(michaeljung/Getty Images)

It is remarkable just how much anxiety the proposal to start a new private college in Austin has caused among academics and university administrators.

This anxiety is instructive. You would think that creating additional opportunities and choices for students and faculty would be celebrated rather than feared. But it isn’t.

Universities are a little like social-media companies: The leaders talk a great deal about their commitment to diversity and openness and such, but they make it clear by their actions that they value diversity and openness only in a limited way, only in the context of institutions they control, and only under rules that they create and enforce. The prospect of competition from a new institution run by people who are not members of the club is, obviously, terrifying to them.

Michael S. Roth, president of Wesleyan, sniffs in the New York Times that the proposed University of Austin is not yet accredited. Of course it isn’t; the project has only just been launched. But the prominence of the word “accreditation” in the sometimes hysterical denunciations of the proposed school suggests the line of attack we can expect from rival institutions, which will no doubt try to lean on accrediting bodies to prevent the entry of a new competitor into the market.

There wasn’t anybody around to accredit Harvard when it was started back in 1636. Amazing what can be accomplished with a little start-up capital and a few hundred books.


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