Therapeutic Rant of the Day: The Ayatollahs of Academic Privatization
Like anyone concerned about higher education, I am disgusted by the disappearance of public support for universities, as well as by the wretched performance of their CEOs, who have the responsibility of looking out for the welfare of their institutions.
The latest wrinkle concerns the CEOs’ soundings about the potential for privatization. The idea would be that the state would be relieved of certain degree of responsibility for funding, while the executives would be free to secure other sources of money without any public oversight. Of course, oversight today is minimal.
This move by the higher executives echoes, in part, the disastrous fate of the Soviet Union. One of the major forces behind the breakup of the Communist Party was the apparatchiks’ hope that they could claim great chunks of the public property for their own. They were correct, although some of the robber barons were not close to the center of power. The result was a horrendous economic collapse, from which the country only recently recovered largely because of an oil boom, which has since languished.
Perhaps, a better analogy comes from Iran. My knowledge of the country is sketchy at best, but here is my understanding. Large parts of the economy are under the control of various ayatollahs’ “charitable organizations.” Again, freed from oversight, one might not be surprised to learn that some of these religious “leaders” have done quite well for themselves, while the economy suffered.
Robert Meister of the University of California, Santa Cruz has done remarkable work explaining the intricacies of the financing of the University of California. His well-circulated “They Pledged Your Tuition (An Open Letter to UC Students)” shows how tuition pays for building projects as well as education. The university system has also engaged in a half billion dollar deal with BP, as well as an earlier deal with Novartis (now Syngenta), which gave corporate interests us significant influence over what should be academic matters.
A report by the state auditor described performance of an employee of my own university system was earning more than $200,000 year. He built the university for expensive hotel stays, world travel, meals that cost nearly $167 a head, as well as $43,000 for commuting between his home in northern California and the Chancellor’s office in Long Beach. His “punishment” was to transfer to the University of California where he earns $230,000 a year as chief information officer. Both university systems have lobbied hard to prevent transparency from interfering with the ayatollahs’ questionable moves.
Just as the ayatollahs are intolerant of the slightest hint of dissent, so too will the CEOs of the privatized universities, which already have a spotty record of toleration.
If the corporate CEOs had a clue about the way economy works, about how the states’ excellent educational system attracted talented people from around the world who then contributed to the state’s economy, they would move quickly to protect what is left of the fast disintegrating system of higher education.