By Richard Vedder
Universities have been complaining for years about what they perceive to be inadequate public support. State universities complain that legislative appropriations are showing no growth in real per student terms. The private research universities lament sluggish growth in federal research funds. We are told the universities are creating the next generation of our nation's leaders and extending the frontiers of science, but paltry public support is jeopardizing our future quality of life. University presidents shake their heads in sorrowful wonderment at the shortsightedness of our political leaders.
One reason why governmental support is increasingly hard to come by is that universities and their coordinating bodies often behave irresponsibly, taking actions that most Americans view as inappropriate or unwise. Three examples that have surfaced over the past couple of weeks make this point.
In Ohio, there is a ballot initiative pushed by gambling interests that would allow more gambling at race tracks and other venues, with the state's take of the proceeds to be earmarked for higher education scholarships. The State's Board of Regents has publicly said it was taking no stand on the issue, yet weekend revelations show that emails from the Regents office reveal that its staff has been working hand-in-glove with the proponents. Moreover, one member of the Board of Regents is a paid lobbyist for the gambling interests. I think the proposal itself can be attacked on a variety of grounds, but what is particularly disturbing is the lying -- saying "we are neutral" and simultaneously working behind the scene for the amendment's passage.
I read in this morning's Inside Higher Ed that the nation's college admissions officers are continuing to do their bit to weaken American higher education. A few days ago, it was reported that several schools are dropping the SAT exam, an instrument with proven value as a forecaster of likely college success. Now, however, we learn that some schools are considering extending the already highly dubious affirmative action concept to incorporate special treatment for gays. At Middlebury College, other things equal, I learn that you are more likely to be admitted if you profess you are homosexual than if you profess that you are heterosexual or, are silent as to sexual preferences. Choosing students for colleges partially on the basis of who they want to sleep with is a bad idea, in my judgment, and my guess is that most Americans would not like this either. Middlebury is a private school, and can do what it wishes, but I suspect actions like these have negative spillover effects that hurt all of higher education in terms of building public support.
Finally, at Ohio University (where I teach), the Columbus Dispatch revealed a week ago that 17 football players (14 percent of the total) have been arrested for various crimes in 2006. Bad enough. But the story also showed that NONE of them had missed one minute of football play for legal transgressions, even a player who beat up another person (and former football player) after being kicked out of a bar for disorderly conduct. The University's first response was to say the coach's punishment (that the players had to STUDY for a few days in his office) was severe enough. Fortunately, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees (Greg Browning) was furious enough that he roused an usually somnolent board into action, forcing the Administration to finally crack down and suspend a few players.
While these incidents mainly hurt the affected schools (e.g., Middlebury and Ohio) the most, they reflect poorly on higher education in general and make legislators and Members of Congress ask: why do we want to subsidize this type of behavior?