David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, the organization most representative of the nation’s higher education establishment, explains his shameless decision to be the only member of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education to vote this month against the commission’s final draft report – a decision all the more shameless because in the end the document hardly constitutes a robust blueprint for higher education reform.
Mr. Ward’s explanation, in an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, is quintessential self-indulgence, equivocation and double-speak. Here are some highlights:
- When asked if the other commission members were wrong in signing the report, he answers no, for – lo – it is only he who needs to hold himself to “such a high standard.”
- And surely not, he responds, to the query whether he is concerned that his vote just might signal to the public that the higher-education status quo is “entrenched” (read: circling the wagons against even modest campus reforms). Perish that thought: His intent, he says, in not some “sort of standing in the schoolhouse door against reform” (which, of course, is exactly his stance).
- Why, oh why, does he oppose the proposed reforms? Here the truth comes out: As the establishment’s “major player,” he fears that agreeing to the reforms would render him “politically neutered,” i.e., force him into the posture of not having “a little elbow room to negotiate…in good faith” the reforms (read: oppose any reforms that challenge the self-interest of the constituencies he represents, even though these reforms might serve a higher good).
- What of free-market solutions, such as an earlier proposed but later rejected commission recommendation urging “students to take greater advantage of private loans”? To have had such heretical ideas even raised in the commission’s first draft, snivels Mr. Ward, is to have been “blindsided.” Alas, so many “very uneven representations of detail”! How so ominously “specific”! Yet he is “very supportive” of government-based “specifics,” such as easier access for students to financial aid.
- But, worst of all, what irks this thin-skinned “major player” was the “negative” tone of some of the commission deliberations, their “rhetorical style,” the presupposition that for higher education there is “a disaster waiting” down the road. While nursing his indignation, Mr. Ward of course does not dwell on what are in fact disastrous trends, such as how bloated campus costs on campuses take the worst toll on students from low-income backgrounds and the corrosive civic effects of campus political bias.
Mr. Ward caps off this ritual of denial by high-mindedly recommending that “higher education would be smart to do something to itself” – that is, undertake “self-generated reform.” After his obstructionist performance as a commission member, you can be sure that hell will freeze over before that happens in any meaningful way.