Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The cracks in the Ivory Tower

I've refrained from airing my dirty laundry about academia, but have hinted I some day may do just that. Suffice to say I support higher education and the need for it but I have no illusions about its current state and the reasons for it. Although buffeted and attacked by outside factors many of the problems in the Ivory Tower, much like my house, are the result of decades of poor planning and self-serving decisions by administration, terrible ethics and outright corruption.

A number of stories before and after the new year caught my attentionbecause they shien a narrow spotlight on some of the compromised structure of American Higher Ed.

In California it has been found that the Los Angeles Community Colleges building program is a mess because of poor management:
“An independent panel looking into the Los Angeles Community College District's troubled rebuilding program found that the nearly $6-billion effort was hampered by a lack of leadership and accountability and that lax controls allowed large numbers of costly changes midway through projects.
The district, for example, spent $39 million to design and start construction on four major buildings at West Los Angeles College, only to cancel the projects for lack of sufficient funds to finish them, The Times found.”
Doug Lederman on InsideHigherEd explores why reform on college athletics is unlikely:
“In a set of interviews with nearly a dozen longtime observers and leaders of big-time college athletics, consensus emerged that given the political, financial and other forces that support and benefit from the current system of big-time college sports, it would take an external “asteroid” of major proportions to bring about truly transformative change (though it was difficult to find consensus on the likelihood of any one such thunderbolt actually happening).
But does anything differentiate the current spate of rule breaking and scandal from previous ones, in a way that might prompt a more dramatic response or suggest that more transformative change might result this time around?
No, argues Murray Sperber, a visiting professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California at Berkeley and author of such books at Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports Is Crippling Undergraduate Education. While the rash of recent scandals may seem more widespread or serious than others, “what’s really changed is the Internet, which gives the illusion that there are more scandals,” he says. “The spotlight has gotten a lot more intense. Schools can’t turn it off like they could for generations and generations.”
A report (albeit from another academic institution-UPenn) has found that the State of Washington’s system is “adrift” due to management failures at the top:
In the second installment of a five-state, two-year study, the researchers determined that Washington lags behind most other states in the total number of bachelor’s degrees produced per capita; only 40 of every 100 students who start ninth grade enter college on time; and one-fourth of adults ages 18-64 range have not earned even a high school diploma.
“Performance and Policy in Washington Higher Education” reports that college is becoming less affordable in Washington. From 1999 to 2009, median family incomes declined by 1.9 percent, but tuition increased by 42 percent at public two- year colleges and by 39.5 percent at public four-year colleges and universities.
The University of Illinois System presidential chief of staff has resigned amid an inquiry into whether she sent anonymous e-mails to faculty members with the goal of influencing  them  on policy matters.  The Chicago Tribune reported:
“The university's ethics and information technology offices are looking into whether Troyer, one of the president's chief advisers, was behind two anonymous emails sent in December by "About UIIntegrity." The emails — with the subject line "call for reason and honesty" — tried to influence the University Senates Conference, the primary faculty advisory group to the president, which was debating the contentious issue of enrollment management changes.
The incident comes as the university's leadership has been emphasizing the importance of ethics and positioning itself as the reform administration following an admissions scandal that rocked the state's flagship campus.”
 I tweeted about this, they’re building a new mansion for the UMd president amdist massive budget slashing:
Construction crews are poised to demolish the president’s house at the University of Maryland this week and to pour the foundation for a new 14,000-square-foot on-campus mansion that carries a $7.2 million price tag.
But some question why the school would build such an elaborate house at a time when the flagship university is asking donors to support students who might drop out because they can’t afford tuition. And construction will begin just weeks after President Wallace D. Loh announced that he will cut eight varsity sports teams in June to save an estimated $29 million over the next eight years.” 
The standard line of defense form career academics is that this happens in all institutions.  I call this the GOP defense, because just like the current Republican Party that holds itself out as the protector of "family values" many academics (particularly boomers) crow about how they are above profits and politics and are involved in a nobler pursuit than the rest of society.  In both cases when the truth is revealed we see rank hypocrisy and self-righteousness instead.

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