Feeding Biting Hands

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

The big story of 2006 may not be how the recently deposed Republican congressional majority may have rewarded its friends but rather the degree to which the no-longer-so-Grand-Old-Party actually rewarded its enemies. Outside of Hollywood, there can be no greater holdout from the Republican message than the Ivory Tower, yet the information trickling out of surveys and studies shows that it did not come up short in the controversial practice of earmarking federal funds that the congressional elephants became associated with.

The past year also saw the release of another study or two showing Democratic Party dominance of most college faculty departments, begging the question of just how small-d democratic those institutions actually are. Meanwhile, with few exceptions, institutions of higher learning were happy to take the federal money and run—off at the mouth about how Congress under GOP rule shortchanged colleges and universities.

One of the notable aforementioned collegiate opponents of earmarking is MIT. “MIT has a long-standing policy that prohibits the knowing acceptance of grants and contracts funded via Congressional action,” the school proclaims on its web site. “Such awards are known as ‘earmarks’ and funding is not generally the result of peer review.”
“Earmarked funds are often a way to secure funds for new buildings, and for major equipment needed for cutting edge research, but institutionally MIT avoids seeking or accepting earmarked funds.” Most other campuses, on the other hand, not only seek out every avenue of federal funding but do so with resounding success.

“Despite a large literature on lobbying and information transmission by interest groups, no prior study has measured returns to lobbying,” John M. de Figueirdo and Brian S. Silverman write in a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research. “In this paper, we statistically estimate the returns to lobbying by universities for educational earmarks (which now represent 10 percent of federal funding of university research).”

“The returns to lobbying approximate zero for universities not represented by a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) or House Appropriations Committee (HAC),” de Figueiredo and Silverman found. “However, the average lobbying university with representation on the SAC receives an average return to one dollar of lobbying of $11-$17; lobbying universities with representation on the HAC obtain $20-$36 for each dollar spent.”

“Moreover, we cannot reject the hypothesis that lobbying universities with SAC or HAC representation set the marginal benefit of lobbying equal to its marginal cost, although the large majority of universities with representation on the HAC and SAC do not lobby, and thus do not take advantage of their representation in Congress,” the researchers conclude. “On average, 45 percent of universities are predicted to choose the optimal level of lobbying.” That would be about half.

For its part, that other target of academic anger—the Bush Administration—gave the higher education establishment a virtual blank check. U. S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings packed her commission on the future of higher education with regulars from the faculty lounge.

That commission concluded, not too surprisingly, that what higher education really needs is a boost in federal funding. Ironically, the incoming Democratic congressional majority called for a freeze on earmarking.

Still, they claimed that they might define it differently than the Republican minority. You could make a pretty educated guess as to where higher education fits in that definition.

Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.