University Follies

ThreeClownsby Steve Lancaster    3/4/14
Ah, the modern American university. Home of free speech, searchers of truth and justice. When I was younger a degree from almost any university was considered essential to join the middle class. There were expenses, and entrance requirements but for most of the “boomer” generation it was not that strenuous. I recall spending about $300 a semester during my ungraduated years. Most of the professors were raised during the depression, WWII and Korea. I recall a professor who was with 3rd Army and entered Buchenwald in 1945. No Holocaust denier and indeed a supporter of Israel. Few professors or students in the 60’s and 70’s found cause to support the quasi-nationalism of the Palestinians.

Those days are long gone and the replacement, I fear, is not for the better.

Start with the tenure system. Originally the intent was to create opportunity for professors to, profess without fear of their employment. Today the system only allows for “right thinking” professors to enter the six year tenure track and achieve the accolades of full professorship. Thus, the tenure system has created a caste system more exclusive than any guild in the Middle Ages. In pursuit of these lucrative positions instructors and graduate students are, in effect, consigned to a form of indentured servant status, with long and unattractive class schedules and pay that is significantly less. They may teach the same classes as tenured faculty but generally for a set fee that is 1/3 or less of the tenured mandarin; if Sears or Wal-Mart tried the same system they would be excoriated by EEOC.

Over the last 20 or so years, the core requirements have been lessened to the extent of the lowering of standards make it possible for almost anyone to gain admission and not worry overmuch about demonstrating some competence in use of the English language. Indeed, remedial English is commonly taught because of the low graduation standards in high schools. Additionally, universities have created a “studies” curriculum that in effect allows a student to graduate with a degree almost never facing what we used to call a liberal arts requirement. For this they will accumulate debt that can easily top six figures even at a state university. Expenses, tuition, meal plan and housing can easily top $20,000 per semester so a four year degree, itself an almost non-existent item, easily exceeds $160,000 in debt. It’s no wonder that student loan debt now exceeds 1 trillion dollars.

If you want a cushy job then the university administration is the place. No real skill at administrating of public institutions is required, all you need is to use “sustainability or diversity” in your CV and a provost position is in your future. University budgets have expanded by 7 to 9 percent over the last 20 years, most of these costs are in . . . wait for it . . . administration and fund raising. Administrators are not generally required to have the same expertise as the faculty and staff they oversee. However, if you can bring money to the campus with a phone call an undemanding job is your reward.

The university used to be the repository of the bill of rights. Today, enter a university campus and you surrender many of the basic rights you might have just 100 feet away on a public street.

1. Freedom of speech; don’t try it. University police will quickly stop you from speaking except in designated “speech areas” and only with prior permission.

2. Freedom of religion; again don’t go there, Christian and Jewish clubs that exclude non-believers regularly have their status as official campus clubs reviewed, and any funding is restricted. However, race and sex exclusive clubs receive full support.

3. Right to carry arms; yep, just try it almost every campus in the country restricts the right to self-defense.

4. Practically every amendment in the Bill of Rights is violated on a regular basis with no apologies from administrations.

My fantasy would be to have the Walton billions and offer the university several millions to build a center for the exercise of the Bill of Rights on campus, with a gun range and watch the university squirm. Alice Walton, are you listening?

If you are interested in universities that limit free speech go the FIRE website. • (829 views)

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One Response to University Follies

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Even better than a university that has an area where freedom is permitted would be either endowing a university if they had such an area covering the entire campus — or funding an alternative to the modern university (which all too often no longer serves a useful purpose).

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