By Richard Vedder
One of the reasons for declining political (and therefore governmental financial support) for higher education is the growing disconnect between what the public expects of its universities and what they are willing to provide. Universities believe their institutional autonomy gives them the right to behave however they want -- independent of the wishes of the broader public that provide a majority of their financing, not to mention their students who provide most of the rest of the money they need to operate.
That was brought home to me again this morning as I read on INSIDE HIGHER EDUCATION that only 14 of 110 institutions bothered to reply as requested to Senator Tom Coburn's query about their lobbying activities in an attempt to get earmakred research funds. Now I am the first to admit that sometimes Congress makes ridiculous requests of the public, and that in this instance the colleges probably were not in violation of the law in ignoring the Senator's request. Nonetheless, the request in this case is reasonable, and in the interest of transparency and the right to know, the public should be informed on how much colleges spend, and with whom, to lobby Congress for research earmarks. These earmarks are a heinous interference by Congress in the allocation of research resources, based on political considerations (e.g., monies go mainly to universities in the states of appropriation committee members) rather than on merit or even a national need for the type of research performed. I am furious about this, and my sidekick Bryan O'Keefe and I are meeting with Senator Coburn's staff this Friday to see what we can do to help rectify this rapidly growing scandal.
As a member of the Spellings Commission, I saw the arrogance of institutions on several occasions, particularly those institutions wishing to oppose our efforts to impose some transparency with respect to finances and academic performance. Another example: in or around the year 2000, the U.S. Senate unanimously supported a resolution urging that our historical heritage be studied by all students pursuing college degrees -- not a single college, to my knowledge, paid the slightest bit of attention.
Last night, I enjoyed (despite the sadness and anger it evoked) ABC's extraordinary gripping presentation of "The Path to 9/11." I will watch the second part tonight. Yet a group of university historians led by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., before the show had even aired, urged ABC to not air it, because it contained numerous "falsehoods." This comes from a group of scholars that has played fast and loose with the facts for years in their interpretations of historical phenomena, a group that would howl to the heavens if there was the slightest attempt to suppress their views on the grounds that such suppression (akin to electronic book burning) violates academic freedom and their First Amendment rights to free expression. This is a case of professorial arrogance wrapped in political ideology encased in academic elitism surrounded by hypocrisy.
My last example, for today, of the arrogance of the Academy was provided by Jim Heckman of the University of Chicago, the fine economist who on the Fox News Special of August 27 (reshown September 2) demonstrated in the view of most watchers with whom I talked a contempt for teaching, for financially suffering parents of college kids, and a Divine Right to do research with public funds --he is today's poster boy for intellectual arrogance.
They just don't get it, and they will pay in the long run.