Waking the Board

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

One answer you get from the defenders of the status quo in higher education is that no reforms are necessary because institutions already exist to handle complaints, such as university boards of trustees. On its face, this seems like a fair response, particularly on questions of academic bias.

After all, trustees are more likely to be Republicans than professors are. Unfortunately, trustees tend to be more comatose than confrontational.

“The fiduciaries of our campuses, public and private trustees, alone have the broad administrative, fiscal and yes—academic—power to resolve this situation, to restore the necessary checks and balances, and to alter university policies,” Candace de Russy points out in a report published by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF). “Yet some trustees do not appear to be fully aware of the breadth and comprehensiveness of the powers invested in them by law, and some are in any case unwilling to enforce its mandates.”

The lady knows whereof she speaks. She spent 12 tumultuous years on the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York.

“For instance, the New York State Education Law charges State University of New York (SUNY) Trustees with providing ‘standards and regulations covering the organization and operation of [campuses’] programs, courses and curricula and with fostering ‘responsible and cost effective use of…academic…resources…,’” Dr. de Russy writes. “Yet the SUNY Board, and its counterparts in other states, have not led the way in eliminating poorly performing or redundant programs and then transferring their resources to more vital, high-performing entities.”

“Such lack of leadership has greatly contributed to the financial and educational entropy pervasive throughout much of higher education.” Dr. de Russy herself, who is a senior research fellow at TPPF, is blameless on this score.

While on SUNY’s Board, she tried to exercise such leadership, virtually alone, and endured insults and vilification from campus liberals and their journalistic supplicants as a result. “Reform-minded trustees may have to challenge those among their peers who shy away from the discussions of controversial change,” Dr. de Russy advises. “Trustees committed to reform should work to enlist their fellow members support and, when necessary, use the media to draw attention to the problems that they face in securing needed change.” And challenge she did.

Whether exposing the carnal conferences sponsored on SUNY campuses, the terrorist tilt of Middle East Studies departments or drawing attention to the growing illiteracy among college graduates, Dr. de Russy followed this very strategy. As a result, she went to the media a lot, following her “in case of torpor among trustees, break glass” guideline.

When the current governor of New York, not too surprisingly, let her appointment to the board lapse, taxpayers in the Empire State lost a determined and brilliant advocate. Fortunately, Dr. de Russy is devoting her considerable energy and skill to highlighting the cancerous state of higher education in America today in every forum available to this remarkable woman.

We need her now more than ever. As she points out:

• “Professors at liberal arts colleges often teach a mere six hours, that is, two three-our courses per semester, while those at research universities have even less demanding teaching duties.”

• “According to findings by the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, the percentage of college students judged proficient in prose literacy has dipped from 40 to 31 percent in the past 10 years.”

• “Another study, by the American Institutes for Research, shows that more than half of recent students at four-year colleges lack the skills necessary to find a location on a map or comprehend credit card advertisements.”

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