By Richard Vedder
I have a ton of things to say about the Higher Education Summit, over several blogs, I suspect. Let me give you the bottom line: the summit was a clear success, if the criterion used to evaluate success is: "Is Higher Education likely to be better in America relative to what it would have been in the absence of the summit?"
Some, of course, would ask the follow up questions: HOW much better will higher ed be? Or, did anything come out of the summit that will profoundly and importantly change higher education for the good in the foreseeable future? Using those criteria, the results were more ambiguous. Certainly no Big Ideas (to use Charlie Reed's, czar of the Cal State University system, phrase) came up -- or at least were adopted. The proposed changes were incremental things. Neal McCluskey of Cato, for example, would no doubt think it was tinkering at the edges, rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, and, in a way, he would be right. But in dealing with government, I accept small, slight incremental improvements as better than none at all. And Spellings is to be commended for being determined to change the culture of universities for the better. She certainly has got their attention, and that is good.
I am off to breakfast with Secretary Spellings to discuss (along with, no doubt, 25 others), "where do we go from here?" I may know more after that meeting. And in future blogs I will add some specifics as to what went on.
One little incident occurred that was both unfortunate and so unnecessary. Doug Lederman, the aggressive but superb reporter/editor of INSIDE HIGHER ED, attended work sessions to discuss action items. He sat in on the session I was involved in on affordability for a good hour, then moved on to one of the four other groups --but was told to leave, that he was not permitted to attend. I don't know what the federal open meetings laws say specifically, but all of these meetings SHOULD have been open to the press. I wish the press had, in a unified fashion, demanded the right to attend. This is the people's business, and lots of $$$ were being spent on fancy receptions (including one at the White House for selected attendees, including yours truly), customized notebooks, etc., and the deliberations should have been a public forum. Period.
Speaking of the White House, I am enormously amused by the fact that it is far easier to go through security at the White House than it is at the Department of Education, where they seize your driver's license while in the building.