From an e-mail from Roy M. Poses, M.D., of Brown University:
I read with interest your recent post about rising costs in higher education vs. those in health care.
Your point that the latter has sparked much more outrage than the former is of course correct.
Yet even in health care, the outrage has not lead to a clear investigation of why costs have gone up, particularly not into the effects of conflicts of interest, corruption, etc., as discussed on our Health Care Renewal blog.
Furthermore, I suspect (but cannot prove) that some costs of higher education have been shifted to health care. In nearly all medical schools, faculty are under extreme pressure to be “taxpayers,” that is, to bring in external funding to more than offset their salaries. There may be some similar pressure on physical and biological sciences faculty too. As best as I can tell, there is absolutely no comparable pressure on most social sciences and humanities faculty (or faculty in other professional schools, e.g., education.)
Admittedly, it is easier to get external funding in medicine than in education. But the relentless pursuit of such funding ahead of any other priorities opens the door to conflicts of interest and outright corruption. (When faculty are forced to beg for research funds from, for example, pharmaceutical companies, they then can hardly refuse offers from these companies of speaking fees and consulting fees paid to them personally, even when acceptance entails doing marketing for the company in the guise of scholarship.)
My guess is that some of the salary money saved, and some of the “overhead” generated by grants pays in part for the post-modern English professors and the “thought police” who enforce the speech codes. But no university ever makes enough budget information public to prove or disprove this hypothesis.