Academia Adrift

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Those who think that critics of higher education seek to use classrooms for conservative training camps rather than ideological laboratories of the left should hear what economist Roger Meiners has to say.

“Do you know your dentist’s political views?,” Dr. Meiners asks. “I don’t care if my daughter’s English teacher is a Marxist, as long as he teaches her English.”

Unfortunately, even in grade and high school, English instruction is, like the teaching of math, science and history, less than adequate, Dr. Meiners points out. Dr. Meiners is a professor of law and economics at the University of Texas (UT) at Arlington.

“We deal with what we’ve got,” Dr. Meiners said at a conference in Raleigh, North Carolina last month. “Public schools are doing an awful job and we get their graduates.”

“One quarter of ACT takers are not ready for college.” The ACT is a college entrance exam.

Once in college, students become supporting characters in a power play where administrators and faculty jockey to achieve their real goals. Administrators seek to enlarge their schools and faculty members to pursue their own research interests.

“The University of North Carolina (UNC) at Wilmington wants to be UNC Chapel Hill,” Dr. Meiners explains. “The University of Texas (UT) at Arlington wants to be UT Austin.”

“In most states, the flagship school has standards but the satellites are adrift.”

As for the faculty, most prefer teaching graduate school, if they have to teach at all. Many more would rather pursue the niche research that America does not await with baited breath.

“Research is at its best in disciplines with clear standards, for example, physics,” notes Dr. Meiners. “We are paying faculty a lot of money to do research on topics that there is not much interest in.”

“English, for example is a teaching, not a research, discipline. The research of English professors is too heavily subsidized by the universities because no one wants to read them but themselves and their friends.”

What checks and balances do universities have to guard against grandiose schemes and a dearth of intellectual productivity? There are precious few, according to Dr. Meiners.

“Boards of trustees and boards of regents are not doing their job,” Dr. Meiners said at the conference that was sponsored by the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Raleigh. The Pope Center is based at NC State.

“Montana, 48th in the nation, has two Ph.D. Programs that the board of regents went along with,” Dr. Meiners points out. “The president told the board that the program would cost nothing.”

“They are all businessmen on the board.”

The problems in higher education stem from the government at all levels¡–federal, state and local–subsidizing colleges and universities. The solution to the woes prevalent in institutions of higher learning must then require public policy changes, Dr. Meiners argues.

“Higher education is a multi-billion dollar enterprise dominated by government so change will not happen without political action,” Dr. Meiners concludes. “The hard left dominates higher education but academia is very conservative in that it is resistant to change.”

Dr. Meiners co-authored the book Faulty Towers: Tenure and the Structure of Higher Education with Ryan C. Amacher, also an economist at UT-Arlington. Among the reforms Dr. Meiners recommends:

=Get rid of Central Coordinating Boards

=Deregulate Tuition

=Introduce Value-Added Education.

Of the last, he notes, “We know that Duke gets bright kids but what do they do with them?” “They are bright when they come in,” Dr. Meiners points out. “They are bright when they go out, even if they listen to a bunch of left-wing propaganda for four years.”