Event Cancelled – World Affairs Discussion about the Condition of America’s Public Universities

Please Note – This Event Is Cancelled to Be Rescheduled at a Latter Date

Subject:  Can America’s Great Public Universities be Saved?

Speaker: James Garland

Location:  Santa Fe Preparatory School, 1101 Camino de la Cruz Blanca

Cost:  $15 CIR Members

         $20 Non-members & Guests

America’s public universities educate 80% of the nation’s college students. But in the wake of rising demands on state treasuries, changing demographics, growing income inequality, and legislative indifference, most of these institutions have fallen into chronic decline. Tuition costs have skyrocketed, class sizes have gone up, and the quality of education has decreased.  Garland believes the era is long past when state appropriations can enable public universities to keep their fees low and affordable. He calls for the deregulation of public universities and a redirection of their state appropriations. Garland would tie university revenues to their performance and exploit the competitive pressures of the academic marketplace to control costs, rein in tuition, and make schools more responsive to student needs. He argues that an inefficient and defensive academic culture wastes resources, inhibits needed change, and undermines the rigor of academic programs.

A resident of Santa Fe, James Garland spent twenty-six years at Ohio State University, where he was a professor, department chairman and dean. In 1996, he was appointed president of Miami University of Ohio, a position he held for ten years.  A physicist by training, Garland received his bachelors from Princeton University and doctorate from Cornell University.   A National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, Garland also studied at the University of Cambridge.  The author of Saving Alma Mater: a Rescue Plan for America’s Public Universities (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2009), Garland is an outspoken advocate for public higher education and its value to American democracy.

Suggested Readings:

Duderstadt, James J.  The View from the Helm: Leading the American University during an Era of Change. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007.

For those who have wondered how university presidents (“people who live in big mansions but beg for a living”) spend their days (and nights and weekends and holidays), then this book lays it all out in detail. The University of Michigan is one of those “nearly ungovernable” public behemoths, and the author is one of the rare individuals able to keep them on course.

Fish, Stanley. Save the World on your Own Time. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

In this little book, Stanley Fish, academe’s answer to Andy Rooney, takes up that most fundamental of questions: “What is it that universities should do?”  He finds that what they should do is often very different from what they do do. What distinguishes Fish from other higher education pundits is not that he holds strong opinions; everybody has strong opinions. It is that Fish’s views are grounded in guiding principles and concepts, elegantly articulated.

Tuchman, Gaye: Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University. Chicago, Univ. of Chicago Press, 2009.

A liberal sociologist at the University of Connecticut, Tuchman is an angry critic of the “corporatization” of the American University, with its emphasis on efficiency, cost control, accountability, and modern business practices. She sees the growth of corporate-like values in the academy as a threat to academic freedom, and a diminution of  humanistic campus values.

Vedder, Richard. Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs So Much. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute Press, 2004. 

The author is an opinionated and colorful conservative critic of the contemporary university. Unlike most such critics, however, Vedder backs up his opinions with the careful hand of a serious, data-driven economist. Filled with charts and graphs, this book spares no mercy in taking on some of higher education’s sacred cows.

Questions for Discussion:

1. The American Dream is based on equal opportunity for all citizens to better their lives. If rising costs make a college education unaffordable for lower and middle-income Americans, then what are the implications for the long-term stability of American democracy?

2. If states cannot support public universities adequately, then what is the next best option for preserving America’s public campuses, and what are the social costs of this option?

3. Tenure is the Holy Grail for aspiring professors, who argue that it is indispensible for academic freedom and the ability to pursue knowledge for its own sake. Critics argue that tenure is an obsolete concept that protects the incompetent, raises costs, and makes universities unable to respond appropriately to changing circumstances.  On balance, which point of view has the most merit?

4. Some argue that K-12 education in America should be replaced by the notion of K-16 education, and that a college degree for all should be a national goal. Opponents of the idea argue that the average IQ of Americans is 100 and that the bottom half of the pool lacks the intellectual capacity to benefit from a college curriculum. What are the pros and cons of each viewpoint?

5. Some have argued that public universities should emphasize a pragmatic curriculum that equips graduates to find employment, stimulates economic growth, and serves state needs for skilled workers. Others worry that this practical focus inevitably comes at the expense of the arts and humanities, which they believe are essential for developing critical thinking skills, lifelong learning habits, and good citizenship. In an era of declining sources, in which public universities have little choice but to cut back their curricular offerings, where should those cuts be made?