The Big U. Empire

I was surprised to read a Wilmington StarNews “Perspectives” column by former professor Gary Faulkner critical of out-of-control university empire-building. At first I thought that when the Editorial Board saw the word “education” they automatically published Prof. Faulkner’s submission, assuming it was supportive of the favorite charity promoted by the Board without question. It’s possible that over the years I missed an editorial critical of Big U. It’s also likely that it has become too embarrassing to ignore the blatant, unchecked corruption of higher education any longer. (link)

Prof. Faulkner notes that the university “has become a sort of welfare institution for the middle class.” Strong words for an American Sacred Cow. But not surprising—pay particular attention to the list in his 2nd paragraph. This welfare program for the elite has been pumped up for decades by supporters of virtually unlimited federal and State funding—and allowed to expand beyond reason by opportunistic legislators. Education is up there with Social Security as a “Third Rail” of politics—touch it and die.

Faulkner, retired from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, hits the rail a hard whack. He cites a recent study by The New England Center for Investigative Reporting at Boston University describing how nonacademic positions (with “obscene salaries”) have expanded beyond all proportion to students and faculty. They don’t teach or do research, but they take up lots of space and hugely increase costs to taxpayers and students. (link)

In fact, I would argue that this explosion of administration with “scores of offices and jobs” has short-changed students and others expecting the university’s mission to be quality education. It’s time for major reforms. Faulkner points that much instruction is done by part-time and temporary people, there is a decline in instructional quality and fewer faculty do research. Further, status pressures have pushed Big U into “extravagant and expensive big-time sports.”

Faulkner describes this expansion of university mission as “in essence now a community with many of the typical urban services.” He lists some, including police forces, gift shops, cafes, health centers, recreation facilities, business and finance offices and suites, “student affairs empire,” and athletics in a “complex bureaucratic array.” We could add community “outreach” facilities and staff. All the “fancy trappings,” Faulkner writes, has little to do with academic excellence—“we have lost sight of our traditions.”

Prof. Faulkner concludes that talk by the North Carolina State legislature to rein-in funding for this “bloated system… should have been expected.” But Big U won’t give up its empire-building without a fight—the vested interests will defend it. Fortunately, we have people at the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Raleigh working on reforms. (link)

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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