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Faulty Towers: The Crisis in Higher Education | The Nation

Email Address: 
darinzimmerman@mchsi.com

Sports funding isn't the problem...

I found the article very interesting. I also found the comments of letter-writer Ira Lewin spot on.

I dropped out of grad school in math after one year because I got engaged (really—my GPA was 3.33 my first year). I got a “real” job in the insurance industry and spent the next six years studying and achieving my professional designation (Fellow in the Society of Actuaries) while working full time. Today I am very generously compensated (higher than what the author thinks university presidents should earn) and I don’t have to endure the insufferable, sanctimonious politics of 90 percent of academics.

The comment the author made that struck me as dead wrong was this one: “Coaching staffs and salaries have grown without limit; athletic departments are virtually separate colleges within universities now, competing (successfully) with academics.” Competing? They sure as hell aren’t competing for the same students/athletes. So perhaps the author believes they are competing for resources, but nothing could be further from the truth. Generally, a school’s football, and sometimes basketball team, pays for all the other sports, and contributes positive cash flow to the school. If one considers the impact of alumni donations, this is doubly true. Professor may like to wallow in self-pity decrying the resources athletics rob them of, but the economic truth doesn’t support this fantasy. (Ask Sasha Waters Freyer how much of the $75 million U of IA spent on their new stadium/press box came from the University’s budget. Answer, zero.)

Speaking of economics, the author didn’t mention this area of academic scholarship once in his article. For that matter, he didn’t mention the economically curious fact that college tuition inflation has grown at double-digit rates for a couple of decades now. This is not economically sustainable. The efficiency of offering courses makes this statement all the more true. And the only solution the author can offer is the need to subsidize instructor pay so as to drive out the adjunct professors who will teach for a lot less. (I know several former actuaries who became adjunct professors in business around the time of retirement. It pays about $20 an hour, for guys who were making $200 at the end of their career, because it’s fun and they don’t need the money.)

Maybe I’m too cynical, but it seems to me that the academics who run higher education have… enjoyed? having the qualification for entry into the academy resemble the qualification rituals for entry into the priesthood. This (temporary) vow of poverty makes sure only the most ideologically pure ever gain admittance to the ivory towers. For all the talk of celebrating diversity, the ideological homogeneity of the academy is appallingly strict. It is this blinkered view of the world that will be higher education’s undoing.