Phi Beta Cons

More on the Academy’s Potential for Reform

My post, “Is the Academy Really Reformable?”, stirred a debate between Professors Mitchell Langbert and Ron Trowbridge. Here is Trowbridge’s most recent rebuttal to Langbert’s earlier rebuttal: 

The sad thing is that I agree with Professor Langbert: I, too, would like “to end state subsidies to higher education.” I was a Vice President at Hillsdale College for 14 years, where we did not permit students to use federal grants or loans. Professor Langbert teaches at Brooklyn College, where students can use federal grants and loans. There’s a strange irony here: he’s a recipient of that federal largesse. 
Still, I agree with him on terminating state subsidies to higher education. But parents will never in a zillion years accept this termination for their kids, and politicians will never in two zillion years accept it. So what do we do in face of this reality? We try to resolve the predicament the best that we can. “Laissez faire,” as Professor Langbert uses the term here, means throwing in the towel completely, but that’s the easy way out. It’s tougher to fight the battle than to be defeatist. 

And it’s a tough battle that might be won. For the paradox of university spending is this:  the more money universities get, the more they spend and the more they expand–ergo, the more money they will need to sustain this expansion and to pay for unfunded liabilities. Ergo, the best way to reduce the cost of higher education would be to reduce, not increase, their revenues. Third party payments, e.g., from federal and state governments and donors, should be reduced. This argument will not fly well with politicians who always want to throw more money at the problem, but it’s worth a concerted effort, and I invite Professor Langbert to join in this battle. 


Nonetheless, let me reiterate that  his solution is the ideal with which I agree, I respect the argument. As Robert Browning said, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp/Or what’s a heaven for?”

Ron Trowbridge
Higher Education Policy Analyst            
Texas Public Policy Foundation

Candace de Russy — Candace de Russy is a nationally recognized expert on education and cultural issues.

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