A right-leaning public policy foundation is making waves in North Carolina’s public university system. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on how the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy is getting traction among the state’s Republican political leadership. The Center, the Chronicle tells us, aims to “[make] public colleges more accountable to the public, by holding them to their ‘chief goals of scholarly inquiry and responsible teaching'” and many believe its stances have influenced legislative proposals as well as the Board of Governors of the state’s university system, largely appointed by the GOP. More:
Jenna A. Robinson, the center’s president, calls the organization a watchdog for a university system that has become too expensive for many students because of ballooning administrative costs.
The center’s critics, however, see its influence as distorting the view of higher education in the state […]
The center promotes “a very narrow, archaic view of what a university should be,” said James C. Moeser, who served as chancellor of the flagship campus from 2000 to 2008. “They’ve strongly influenced the direction of the Republican Party in the state. Most faculty are terrified of them.”
The Center’s work and influence can be seen as part of a trend: red states are beginning to lean forward on their skis in dealing with universities—institutions that have historically been bastions of Democratic and left-wing ideas. With higher ed costs rising inexorably, many conservative state representatives are likely wondering just why the state is offering tenured professorships in Transgressive Gender Studies with lots of time for ‘research’, and they are becoming more aggressive in trying to shake-up the higher ed system.
There is a lot of anti-intellectualism mixed up in all of this, in addition to some good old fashioned score settling. But there’s also a lot that’s right. Costs really are rising unsustainably, and many administrative bureaucracies have lost touch with common sense—to say nothing of being economically useless administrative make work bailiwicks. Moreover, a number of disciplines are so dominated by one political point of view that they look more like PACs and NGOs than like assemblies of disputatious scholars.
As a few red states rise to face these failings, they pose a much greater threat to the modern American public university than many tenured radicals and cocooned administrators understand. Red states are such a serious threat to the status quo not necessarily because red politicians have great ideas about university governance—quite often, they don’t—but because American universities these days are so poorly run and so lopsidedly left in their orientation that they have lost the confidence of those who they ostensibly serve.
You don’t have to be on the right to see this. Many professors, for example, will agree with right-wing reformers that a lot of higher ed savings can come from fighting administrative bloat. Where they will differ is over power in colleges. For their part, the professors want administrations weakened so that faculty senates and tenured guild members can control the universities more securely. The reformers, on the other hand, think that the faculty structures need to be governed more effectively and wouldn’t object to stronger central administrators and presidents… if they had confidence in those officials.
The modern university is its own worst enemy, and as poor decisions and policies continue to drive higher ed prices up one thing is clear: winter is coming.