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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Right-Wing Talking Points Are Spreading

By Michael Meranze

As some of you may have seen, the Goldwater Institute has issued a new report on administrative bloat in universities.  Not surprisingly, the report points to the incredible growth of administrators (relative to faculty, students, and staff) over the last decade and a half.  But there are several things that should give us pause--especially since their way of framing the subject is gaining traction in public debates.  For one thing, as the chief author Jay Greene has admitted, the report has an extraordinarily elastic definition of administration--to include among other categories: librarians, student counselors, music directors, etc.  More importantly, the report assumes that the reason why there has been administrative growth is because of increased public funding (or "subsidies" as they prefer to call it).  No evidence is provided for such a correlation (and indeed the privates have grown administratively more quickly than the publics) and indeed it seems to have escaped the author's attention that public subsidies per student have been declining in real dollars during the last 15 years.

The report trots out the usual praise of the University of Michigan and claims that Michigan is proving more effective in cutting administrative bloat because it is less dependent on public funds.  There is no recognition that part of the reason why Michigan looks like it receives such a small percentage of its funds from the State is because of the importance of its medical complex (apparently every campus has one) or because it has raised money by dramatically increasing its out of state students.  It is all good because it has cut out an amorphous group of administrators and it has done this because its state funding has been cut.
Now clearly, the Goldwater Institute is pushing a particular ideological line (and interestingly they adopt some of the progressive talk about administration taking away funds from instruction and research in order to reach their privatization point).  But we should all recognize that the notion that the problem with universities is that they are not subject enough to market discipline has become more than a right-wing point.  Wherever you look there are writers and administrators and policy makers arguing that the real problem with the University is the persistence of things like tenure and faculty governance.

These are not arguments that we can simply ignore.  As the Goldwater Institute report shows, even the critique of administrative bloat can be used to argue for the destruction of the public basis of higher education.  It is important to figure out ways to make positive arguments for how we think higher education needs to be reformed.  If not, others will make the decisions for us.  In fact, they have already begun to do so.


cloudminder said...

Remaking the University has a piece on the right wing slant in some recent stories on higher ed.

it reminds me of this recent quick take from Inside Higher Ed

and, sure enough, just like Inside Higher Ed predicted...

today, David Horowitz was on Neil Cavuto - Faux News to discuss his new book Reforming Universities

(and it's F-A-U-X 'cause of this)

Horowitz says (paraphrase) Professors work 6-9 hours a week, 4 month paid vacations, they have salaries in the six figure range for this... they have all the power and control "it all CYA, it's CYA all the time" -its a monopoly, there needs to be an anti trust investigation of public universities, more legislative scrutiny... --it is all in the interview link above.

Anyone remember back in the day when Horowitz spoke at Cal- heckled and all with 30 armed guards? Or, his more recent visit?

On a somewhat related note, the LA Times has riled up some teachers unions in SoCal - because the LA Times wants to publish some data about PUBLIC schools-the union is telling members not to buy the paper, cancel subscriptions -Jason Song was on CNN with Ali Velshi today to discuss it. Disturbing.

Much of this discussion on Higher Ed in the public square, msm has been LONG OVERDUE.
We'll take it whether it is right wing or left wing or whatever- so long as the facts win out in developing real checks and balances.

Why don't Remaking the University and Changing Universities sponsor/participate in a debate with Horowitz and Jay Greene at one of the campuses? It would be fab!

Gerry Barnett said...

Debate would be good. The sooner any public discussion is hosted outside of the admin, the better.

There needs to be diversity in origin as well as substance. Or it's not a debate, just a showtime with a pre-determined outcome. The genius in debate is deciding what is worthy of debate. For that, it may be worth getting on with it without moralizing the participants.

The point is to draw in people who will contribute to remaking the university, not using the problem of funding as one more mallet to smash at old grudges.

Maybe some right-wing thinking at this point would be good, not to be mocked but to add energy and build a coalition to create an issue worthy of debate. I note that it is left-wing thinking that is destroying the UW's funding base, with no help at all from the "right-wing" in Washington state.

If the left wing does not know what the right wing is doing, then the university is a helpless duck.

Michael Meranze said...

Could you elaborate on what "left-wing thinking" is undermining UW? Thanks.

Gerry Barnett said...

Democrat governor, democrat controlled house and senate. Make UW take the largest % budget cut of *any* state agency. No right wing blocking this.

The amazing thing is there appear to be *no* left wing talking points about how the dems could trash UW this way and what to do about it. It appears the dems were not persuaded about the research footprint, or bought into the public commitment to instruction. It was their deal to do.

I don't believe for an instant anyone who argues somehow the whole thing is a right-wing conspiracy, or that somehow it's bad that the "right-wing" has talking points. Where are the left-wing talking points? How about: we single-handedly trashed higher education in the State of Washington the past 2 years, what can we do next? Bah.

The local condition in CA may very well be that tax issues are stalled out by a conservative minority. But in WA the *same* nastiness for higher education came about without any such conservative minority standing in the way.

Something else is at work. It wastes energy to label it conservative or liberal. It wastes energy to worry that conservatives have opinions. Good for them. Conservatives are not the enemy. It is not us vs. them. There will be no solution in any us vs. them.

The issue is: how to build a coalition of decent ideas from everything that's floated with enough leverage that the admin and the legislature act on them.

Michael Meranze said...

The question I have with your position Gerry is that sometimes it is not a case of finding a "coalition of decent ideas" as if that has nothing to do with underlying world views. If the aim of an argument is to turn the university into simply another privatized and profit driven enterprise (which is what the upshot of the Goldwater Institute argument was) then I don't see what a coalition with that would be--unless we are prepared to sacrifice what we (or at least I) consider important.

You translated my left-right distinction into one of democratic-republican--but that was not the argument I was making and it is not the same. I don't worry about conservatives having arguments. I just don't agree with them (or at least what passes for conservative arguments now which are really more about the worship of the market)

I think that things are different in CA than in WA but part of what I was raising was that what I was calling right-wing (let's cut public support) is now reaching a dominant position in public debate. That is why the Dems are following it as well. We need to find alternative positions. Where there is overlap, then sure a coalition. But where there isn't then it is important to make distinctions. The fact that the Democratic party leadership doesn't want to anymore is an indication of the problem. It doesn't mean that political distinctions are unimportant.

Gerry Barnett said...

Well, you paint with a broad brush and therefore would alienate people who might otherwise consider working with you.

Perhaps coalition is too fluffy for this stuff. What is wanted is something harder that beats the living daylights out of folks who have a different thought.

If privatization is gaining traction, it's not because some advocate of it happens to be conservative, but because there appears to be agreement among a whole lot of people--a fluffy coalition--that the university is not nearly as important as other jobs in state government, other forms of social service, and other ways of stimulating the economy. Once that is the state of affairs, the discussion is about how to chop the university down to a size reflecting the little value it does have.

Even a conservative (or libertarian) anti-tax, limited government position could be seen as a desire to roll back government regulation and bureaucracy in favor of private efforts to provide those services. Whether those private efforts involve running like a business (in which case, what kind?), or just financial discipline (which may be something rather more bi-partisan), or perhaps even just without a bunch of wasteful ancillary requirements (travel expense reimbursements here take 5 people now to make sure air fare is properly accounted for)--the conservative might argue that the effort is a healthy one, not intending to attack the university but to put it on a stronger footing, freed from the dysfunction of the state government. The challenge then would be: could the university be free of government bureaucracy and not have to vampire its way on student debt?

I'm not arguing the position--I am just asking for some consideration of whether right-wing is so monolithic, or so anti-university, or so unholy that it deserves the broad brush to make "them" the source of the problem. My point is that in WA, the source of the problem appears non-right wing, which gives me pause.

Michael Meranze said...

Perhaps it is too broad a brush. But it seems to me that the distinction that is in play here is between identifying certain problems and the sorts of solutions proposed. As I indicated in the post, the Goldwater people were concerned with administrative bloat. Depending on how you define that (I wouldn't include librarians) then you are right we can all agree on that. The problem is their explanation and proposal for how to fix it--that there should be less public funding. Leaving aside what that says about our shared commitments as a society, I think that that has already been tried. It is like the attacks on tenure as if tenure hasn't been whittled down over the last several decades.

I also am not sure that I see the problem as being between the university and other forms of state funding. The issue at least in CA is about revenue and the way that the tax code is structured (not to mention the incredibly increased inequality). I am not going to argue for the more university funding over health care for poor kids. If it is simply a question of which government program is going to get cut then the argument is already lost.

Anonymous said...


You should post this up.

anon_staff said...

And this:


and this:


he's left a string of satisfied customers behind him.

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