Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Universities Have Lost Touch With Reality: A Case Study

By Richard Vedder

Universities have erected barriers to protect themselves from excessive outside interference, yet at the same time they expect the "real world" to finance their increasingly expensive operations. Their isolation from the real world sometimes leads to bizarre behavior, as the school's behave in a manner inconsistent with a competitive market economy, but consistent with the non-competitive sheltered and subsidized environment in which universities operate.

Earlier this year, Duke University condemned several lacrosse players, trashing their reputations and throwing them out of school --they were guilty until proved innocent, in complete violation of standards of American jurisprudence and a sense of fair play. Scores of faculty led an Inquisition to hang (figuratively) these kids. Not a word of apology came from the faculty after the kids were found innocent, the fabricated charges against them dropped. There were absolutely no consequences for their despicable behavior. Political correctness trumped fairness, decency and common sense. The incident showed that universities, who supposedly help improve the character of our youth, literally do not know right from wrong (or at least, Duke University does not).

A much more benign example of stupidity and arrogance occurred recently at my alma mater, Northwestern University (NU), as revealed to me in a conversation with a major donor to that institution who also serves on its Board of Trustees. The individual wanted to prepay two years of tuition for an individual. He did not ask for scholarship assistance for the student involved, but did suggest since he was giving NU the second year's tuition a year in advance, and since Northwestern would earn a good return on the money (its endowment return being something like 13 percent a year recently), he should get a discount on the second year's tuition. He was told no -- indeed, if anything he should pay more since tuition was bound to rise next year. After appealing to the President (Henry Bienem), my friend grudgingly received a small discount for the second year. (I had a similar, but less important, encounter, fighting with NU over less than $100 in library fines for books long since returned for my daughter at a time I was contributing more than that annually to NU).

Schools tend to be insensitive to the fact that they are dependent on outside support, and instead of expressing gratitude for such assistance, they often act surly and arrogantly. They want the world to provide for them, then behave by a different, and less civilized, set of rules than the rest of us have to live by.

1 comment:

Dan Weber said...

I don't think it's accurate to say that "not a word of apology came from the faculty" after charges were dropped. Some faculty welcomed lacrosse players (along with all students), and a scant few of the Group of 88 offered some degree of mea culpa, albiet often two-faced.

I agree with the general tone of that paragraph; just not the extreme that there were no faculty ever willing to speak for the accused.