By Richard Vedder
In a so far successful ploy to stay ahead of my creditors, I have been traveling a lot as of late; last month I was in Kazakhstan, Mexico, and many places in between. Over the weekend, I was therefore reading the Providence, Rhode Island newspaper, and the headlines proclaimed the probable death of 11 academic programs at a couple of schools in that postage stamp sized state.
The Rhode Island higher education coordinating board was poised to decree that programs graduating fewer than 10 or so students annually would be eliminated. Thus the University of Rhode Island would lose its program in Latin American Studies. Horrors!! Citizens of Rhode Island wanting intensive study of Latin America might have to travel the better part of 100 miles to any number of Massachusetts universities offering study in that subject. Big whoop.
To be sure, the number of majors in a study may not always be the perfect metric to use in deciding what programs to eliminate. I gather that the physics department at the University of Rhode Island would be in trouble if the number of graduates rule cited above were strictly followed, and a university without physics is, well, not a university. That said, however, on balance I think it is great that colleges, so over-subsidized in the past, are being forced to make hard choices, the type of choices that both businesses and individuals make regularly.
While they are at it, why don't regents and trustees push universities to use facilities more intensively, for example, by forcing faculty to teach classes on Fridays, in the summer, and in evenings. No one wants to take a Thursday evening class --it cuts into an early start of a weekend of binge drinking. But it is time we start insisting on higher levels of work effort and academic performance from students, more studying, serious academic discourse and class attendance and less partying, texting and fornicating.
Plato had some authoritarian qualities that makes him less than my ideal amongst our classical thinkers, but he was right when he allegedly said necessity is the mother of invention. The pain and suffering most universities are allegedly going through now should have happened years ago. It is time to trim administrative bureaucracies, end vast intercollegiate athletic subsidies, reevaluate the liberal awarding of tenure, consider more use of on-line technology, reduce reliance on expensive four year residential universities, etc. These things are starting to happen, and that is to the good. I suspect, however, that things will revert to normal in a few years. Let us see what happens to Latin American Studies at the University of Rhode Island, for example.