Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chronic Obliviousness

By Richard Vedder

Dan Thomasson is a writer for the Scripps Howard News Service who very often has some common sense type columns that are food for thought. His most recent one was on higher education, and it was brutal --but a good indication of an increasing attitude amongst the American public.

Thomasson opines "academia always had had a tin ear when it comes to reality. Perhaps a better way of describing the condition is chronic obliviousness. At a time when the nation and the world are reeling from unemployment, frozen salaries...the message being sent by the nation's institutions of higher learning seems not only insensitive but devoid of common sense."

Amen. My thoughts exactly, as any reader of this blog will know. But why? Why are businessmen, many government officials, and families highly sensitive to economic hardships being inflicted by economic downturn, but academics are not? More generally, why do academics live in "an Ivory Tower" where they are clueless or insensitive about the real world?

I think the answer lies in the third party payments that subsidize university operations, along with the independence granted universities by the broader community. In the real world, markets discipline human behavior. If sales and profits fall at XYZ Corp., stock prices fall, stockholders get angry, vultures circle to make an offer to buy the company, bonuses are reduced, etc. The Board of Directors might fire the CEO. Consequences are real and painful.

In higher ed, there are no "profits" or other good bottom line measures of performance. There are seldom bonuses to be cut, no stock options that could become worthless, and no board hounding the CEO (President) to improve performance. Faculty has tenure, an employment arrangement that prompts chronic obliviousness like none other I know. To shield the universities from political interference, we give them remarkable freedom with only a minimum of outside scrutiny or accountability. There is a price for this --increasing insensitivity of universities to real world problems, an arrogance that comes from a lack of checks and balances brought on by competition, etc. For this reason, I think true university reform only will come when there is a radical restructuring on the way universities operate.


capeman said...

"In the real world, markets discipline human behavior."

Yes, yes, we've had a marvelous demonstration of the wonders of the market the past six months.

The Doc and his pals seem to be lusting after a Great Depression for higher education, so great is their hatred.

Whilst the Great Depression that their kind have brought on seems to be engulfing the whole world economy.

maxheadroom said...

Democrats want socialism again

During the Great Depression, people were demanding change, so the rise of socialism took root. It was called technocracy, which was a theory or movement advocating management and control of the economy, government and social system by technological experts.

Technocracy became very popular but, fortunately, sanity prevailed and it was defeated.

Today we face a similar threat. I am sorry to say it is from the Democratic Party.

Be careful what you wish for. I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said something to this effect: A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take it away.

It is not hard to understand that higher ed and it's sycophants (see above comment) are leading the charge from liberalism to socialism.

maxheadroom said...

New York Times Stock Now Costs Less Than Sunday Paper

Shares of NYT dropped 20 cents today to close at $3.51. The Sunday paper goes for $4 at the newsstand.

Maybe they could save costs by printing the paper on their stock certificates.

Or Paul Krugman can convince the ownership to spend itself into prosperity.

Lenny said...

"In higher ed, there are no "profits" or other good bottom line measures of performance. There are seldom bonuses to be cut, no stock options that could become worthless, and no board hounding the CEO (President) to improve performance."

And the last twenty years has most definitely been a shining example of these principles put to practice in the private sector.

The mind reels at the thought that Vedder could seriously be so blinded by his political polemics/hatred of higher education/feeble minded incompetence that he truly believes that these are the hallmarks of modern corporate America.

capeman said...

Lenny, you are right, the Doc and his pals have poisoned their brains with their venomous hatred.

While the economic system they espouse is perhaps in process of collapse, they are urging on the rest of society to drink more of the kool-aid.

It's as if Bush had been urging social security privatization in the last month of his term.