Warned Gently

From Inside Higher Ed:

Sen. Lamar Alexander at times has seemed like one of the few friends higher education has on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue. He has opposed attempts by the U.S. Education Department to draft regulations on higher education accreditation, pushed hard for additional funds for science research, and consistently complained about federal overregulation of postsecondary institutions.

Doug Lederman said that like it’s good thing. Considering the state of institutions of higher learned as academic centers of learning, is there really a complaint about their being overregulated? Try to find a teneured professor (or anyone not named “professor staff”) teaching an undergraduate course these days. When Harvard is able to kick ROTC off campus, I have to ask, is there any regulation at all?

Anyway, former education secretary Alexander seems to be convinced that the Senate in general and the Senate Finance Committee in particular is about to take a much closer look at the way our universities are financed. We saw the beginnings of this when the Finance Committee questioned how Harvard and Yale spend (or don’t spend) thier endowment funds.

Harvard, Yale and 134 other schools were asked to provide information about their endowment spending to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, whose leaders say the funds should be used to make college more affordable.Democrat Max Baucus, the chairman, and Republican Charles Grassley, ranking member of the panel, asked the schools in a letter released yesterday for data on student aid, the cost of attendance, tuition increases and endowment spending over the past 10 years. The committee has jurisdiction over tax law.

That’s a pretty big club they’re waving around there.

Anyway, you may have noticed how I went slightly off the deep end the other day, when in the process of lambasting Brandeis and William and Mary for their frivolity, I called for the examination of, not only the accredication, but of the accreditors themselves. It is, after all, their tune that is being played. But this is Alexander’s proposed solution.

[H]e reiterated his opposition to what he characterized as the Education Department’s attempt to “federalize” accreditation, and did not hide his disdain for proposals by Senate colleagues to require colleges to spend a mimimum proportion of their endowments each year, to help make college more affordable.”If the [Senate] Finance Committee really wants tuition not to rise so fast, they should spend time reforming Medicaid,” since states are having to spend money on health care that they should be spending on educating their residents, Alexander said.

Examine Medicaid? Medicaid may be intimately involved with the health care crisis (that it’s current form may have contributed to the problem is a question that’s worthy of debate, and it’s reform may be part of the solution, maybe). But what does that have to do with education spending?

Oh, I know. “Government” money spent on Medicaid isn’t spent on education. Neither is money spend on roads and on dairy price supports in any state I’ve ever lived in. I would suggest that the county I live in first not fund the shelter for “migrant workers” that they established down the road. But hey, I’m like that. I’m mean and evil.

It’s still not a zero-sum game and it never was. But back to Alexander:

College leaders need to do a better job explaining to members of Congress some of the ways they are working to “be more efficient and spend money wisely,” and how they are rewarding innovation and educating students. “You should also talk about the importance of autonomy in higher education. Say, ‘Mr. Congressman, we shouldn’t have to fill out five boxes of regulations in order to qualify for federal loans.'”

Spend money wisely, indeed. They will have a difficult time doing that when course curriculae like that at Berkeley actually publish their nonsense for all to see. I have another idea. Why not mandate that professors (especially tenured professors) actually teach? From Berkeley’s course catelog:

C23AC. Foundations of American Cyber-Culture. (4) Six hours of lecture/studio per week. This course will enable students to think critically about, and engage in practical experiments in, the complex interactions between new media and perceptions and performances of embodiment, agency, citizenship, collective action, individual identity, time, and spatiality. We will pay particular attention to the categories of personhood that make up the UC Berkeley American cultures rubric (race and ethnicity), as well as to gender, nation, and disability. The argument threading through the course will be the ways in which new media both reinforce preexisting social hierarchies and yet offer possibilities for the transcendence of those very categories. The new media–and we will leave the precise definition of the new media as something to be argued about over the course of the semester–can be yet another means for dividing and disenfranchising, and can be the conduit of violence and transnational dominance. Also listed as Art Practice C23AC. This course satisfies the American cultures requirement. (F,SP) Staff

Okay then. I actually have a constructive suggestion.

I believe we can all agree that education acts as the seed corn of the economy. Monies spent educating youth to become productive citizens pays back more dividends than any other investment that you can come up with. Then communities, cities, regions, states, should put more of their scarce tax dollars into institutions of higher learning that educate youth to become productive. At the moment that would be the community colleges, the two-year institutions and the trade schools that are so looked down upon by the academe. Those smaller schools, whose work directly benefit the communities in which they are located have been cash starved for generations. Harvard, with its $25.9 Billion endowment is not. My suggestion is for those who assign the budget priorties of local communities and states to consider moving major universities down on the priority list in favor of smaller schools, who are more responsive to community needs.

You may well say that universities aren’t high enough on the priority list now. If so, consider this. In 1977 when I matriculated in Michigan, the highest paid person in the Michigan State government was not the Governor. It was Bo Schembeckler.

H/T to Instapundit, of course.

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