Ivory Tower Inanities

, Kinga Krisko, Leave a comment

The move towards distance education leaves many professors feeling left out and their resistance typifies their attitude towards educational progress, according to the authors of a new book entitled Faulty Towers: Tenure and the Structure of Higher Education.

The authors cite a particularly provocative example of a University of Maine chancellor who was forced to resign after attempting to introduce interactive television education—“Faculty were concerned that distance education could reduce the demand for their services, so there was strong opposition to increased service to citizens of the state,” according to Ryan C. Amacher (pictured and Roger E. Meiners, the authors of Faulty Towers.

Amacher is a professor of economics and public affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington. Meiners serves as a professor of economics and law at that same institution. Amacher and Meiners draw a comparison between bloated university administrations and the former steel giants that “were strangled by union work rules; ‘the union workers were like professors who resist increases in productivity and will not accept the fact that the glory days, when Ph.D.s were in hot demand in many disciplines, are over’.”

The problem is generally worse at public institutions, where “approximately 40 percent of faculty nationwide are unionized.” The authors lament that “if this figure rises, college education will become even more stultified and bureaucratized, and public colleges will be little more than years thirteen through sixteen in a state-run K-16 education system.” One recent empirical study found that public colleges “employ roughly 40% more labor than the private colleges for the same capital stock.” Such tax-funded excesses deserve considerably more attention (from policymakers and taxpayers alike) than they presently receive, so one is left wishing that Amacher and Meiners had lingered more on it.

The two economists repeatedly compare higher education to all other businesses, prompting the reader to:

Imagine a company that has no profit measure to compare performance from year to year or against competitors. The head of the organization is dominated by employees. If the employees become unhappy with the head of the organization, they can demand that he or she be fired—but employees are rarely fired, In essence, that is the world of university governance.

The authors specify several reasons for such flawed university governance:

1. “There is a conflict of interests between faculty’s personal interests and the college’s long-term interests.”

2. “Because administrators do not own stock in colleges, they do not have strong reasons to anger employees by insisting on implementing new and more efficient methods of operation.”

University professors, administrators, and trustees simply have too little incentive to strive for excellence, when it may jeopardize their own standing, Amacher and Meiners conclude. Such loyalty to and defense of the status quo is often linked to the “democratic” decision-making processes on campuses, including faculty committee decision-making, the authors note.

A recent graduate of Boston College, Kinga Krisko is an intern at Accuracy in Media.