A Panhandler’s World

Where the monies flow from university coffers.

by Bruce S. Thornton

Private Papers

If you have a child in college or are yourself a college graduate, university panhandlers are constantly pestering you for money. Public institutions have seen state-money diminish, and private schools are competing fiercely to offer students the frills and amenities that keep prestige — and the salaries of administrators — high. The solution for both is to hit up alumni and the parents of students for the extra money needed to fund expansionist ambitions.

Meanwhile, the universities have failed miserably at doing what presumably justifies their taxpayer subsidies: teaching future generations the knowledge of our public values, history, and culture, and inculcating the critical skills that make people fit to be free and independent citizens. Instead, the politicized university has been hijacked by a discredited political ideology and a postmodern sensibility riddled with intellectual errors any clever sophomore can spot. This unholy alliance of leftover leftism and postmodern bunkum defines the modern university’s rigid orthodoxy.

The evidence for the university’s failure to foster intellectual diversity rather than a political agenda has been documented over and over. The fate of Lawrence Summers at Harvard is merely the latest example of how much power political correctness wields. The president of the richest and supposedly best university in the country was driven from his office like a whipped dog, his public groveling apologies and fistfuls of money scattered on his enemies of no avail. Summers had blasphemed against the feminist dogma, and so he had to go.

Or consider Columbia University, in the midst of a seven-year, $4 billion fund-raising campaign. At Columbia you can find the Edward Said Chair in Middle East Studies. If there is one person who personifies the corruption of the American university it is the late Said, a documented fraud who lied about his privileged past and invented a persona as a “Palestinian refugee” the better to con guilty American academics. His 1978 Orientalism, a tissue of postmodern claptrap and outright historical lies, has shaped the perceptions of Western-Islamic relations for decades now. It established the received wisdom of Western and Israeli culpability for the Islamic world’s dysfunction, thus crippling us in our response to Islamic jihad. The Chair itself was funded by people virulently anti-Israel and supportive of the terrorist Palestinian Liberation Organization, which is why Columbia tried to keep the identities of the donors secret. Its first recipient, Rashid Khalidi, is a notorious spokesman and apologist for Palestinian terrorism. But then, so is most of Columbia’s Middle Eastern Studies Department (see Jonathan Calt Harris’ article atNational Review Online, http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-harris041503.asp).

But we know all this. We know that professors are overwhelmingly liberal-left, as evidenced by the dominance of registered Democrats among the faculty. We know that most campuses are hostile to Christianity, constantly attempting to marginalize people of faith and remind them that they are little better than superstitious primitives — unless, of course, they are radical Muslims, who get a free pass since they are oppressed “others” and victims of Western colonialism. We know that colleges regularly trample on the First Amendment with their speech codes that criminalize as “hate speech” any point of view not endorsed by the faculty. We know that anti-Americanism, hatred of Israel, fashionable guilt over presumed Western sins and crimes all are received wisdom on our campuses, the shibboleths that facilitate hiring, promotion, tenure, and the next rung up the administrative ladder.

For all their noisy assertions of their “commitment to diversity,” then, most universities are monolithic in their politics, their “diversity” an issue of skin color or an exotic surname. That’s why our campuses are filled with Caucasian Hispanics whose last names can be parlayed into preferences reserved for people “of color.”

But it’s not just ideology that explains the corruption of the university. Rank careerism, opportunism, and professional perks are also part of the story. The proliferation of administrative fiefdoms — many invented to service campus “diversity” machinery — has provided many more offices for wannabe administrators. Teaching loads at “research” universities are ridiculously low — five courses a year at the University of California, though the actual number is lower on average because of release time from the classroom. And remember, that’s for an eight-month year.

If you’re curious about what taxpayers and parents are getting for their money, peruse the latest catalogue of any university press. You’ll see book after unreadable book that will be purchased only by a library, and then never read except by a stray graduate student padding a bibliography.

But the academic on the make has other ways to get out of the classroom. It’s a curious phenomenon that the most ambitious careerists on most campuses are self-styled leftists. Their slogan is “Fight the Power!” — but as an administrator with a fat pension and a 401K. No one seems puzzled by the fact that self-styled “revolutionaries” and battlers against the “establishment” are so eager themselves to become the establishment by taking jobs where a premium is put on groupthink, deference to authority, and kowtowing to the more powerful.

Once in office, these champions of the oppressed and challengers of authority are adept at manipulating the system for their own benefit. Take Denice Denton, Chancellor of the University of California at Santa Cruz. Once appointed, she arranged for her same-sex “partner” to get a cushy six-figure job that was not announced or advertised. In addition, the couple received $120,000 in moving expenses––for people with a combined salary of half a million dollars. All while the university’s blue-collar workers hadn’t received a raise in three years.

Throw in the overwhelming dominance of left-wing speakers invited to campus conferences, forums, lecture series, and commencement ceremonies, and you have not a space for the “free play of the mind on all subjects,” as Matthew Arnold defined a liberal education, but an echo chamber in which the same tired, discredited leftist and postmodern clichés are endlessly recycled. Meanwhile grade inflation, lowered expectations, and politicized curricula insure that students graduate from most colleges knowing less of real value than a high school student did fifty years ago — while tuition costs year after year increase at roughly twice the rate of inflation.

It takes a peculiar effrontery for an enterprise doing such a bad job to raise its costs so much and then solicit even more money from its graduates and students’ parents, the very people it rips off. That’s why all of us need to respond to such demands with informed questions about what the institution wants to do with our money. Ask the fund-raisers when they call why their faculty teach so little, why they publish so much useless junk, why over-paid administrators proliferate like mushrooms on a lawn, why the campus allows one political point of view to dominate, why religion is so disrespected, why intolerance and bigotry are allowed to flourish even as the university touts its  “commitment to diversity.”

Then tell them no, hang up, and send a check instead to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, or the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, or the National Association of Scholars, or anyone else committed to restoring higher education to its true purpose: teaching young people how to be free citizens with independent minds.

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