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June 26, 2012

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: University of Virginia: Only The Beginning.

As the NYT article points out, universities all over the country are facing a world of rapid change. This is going to be hard to face. Universities are structured to adapt slowly—if at all. Typically, university presidents have only limited controls, while faculties have a lot of power to resist. Management is usually decentralized, with different schools and departments governed under different rules and accountable to different constituencies. The fiscal arrangements of most universities are both byzantine and opaque; it can be very hard for administrators to understand or properly and fairly value the true cost and contributions of different parts of the institution.

The structural problem our universities face is this: confronted with the need for sweeping, rapid changes, administrators and boards have two options — and they are both bad. One option is to press ahead to make rapid changes. This risks — and in many (perhaps most) cases will cause — enormous upheavals; star professors will flounce off. Alumni will be offended. Waves of horrible publicity will besmirch the university’s name.

Option two: you can try to make your reforms consensual — watering down, delaying, carefully respecting existing interests and pecking orders. If you do this, you will have a peaceful, happy campus . . . until the money runs out.

Say, did I mention that The Higher Education Bubble is out on Kindle today?

UPDATE: An interesting colloquy on for-profits, non-profits, and gainful employment. “Why would you exclude gainful employment from the evaluation of not-for-profit institutions, which is what the President did?”

ANOTHER UPDATE: From Mead’s comments: “The irony of all this is that Helen Dragas was appointed by Democratic Governor Tim Kaine. She is, or was, a highly respected business woman who many felt had a shot at being Virginia’s first female governor. Another Dem tripped up by the slaves of the blue model.”

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