Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Auditing the Course of Academia

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Auditing the Course of Academia

Article excerpt

The application of economics and management principles to higher-education administration in response to the recent recession comes with equal parts good news and bad news. When enacted to die extreme, the resulting policies overtake academics, leading institutions to lose track of their mission. When implemented judiciously, however, fiscal reprioritizing helps campuses make better use of resources without sacrificing core values. With rising healthcare and retirement costs, volatile endowments, and reduced state support, pressure for austerity mounts at colleges and universities, magnifying the risks and opportunities of their business decisions.

List summer brought perhaps the clearest flash-point yet. University of Virginia's Board of Visitors compelled President Teresa Sullivan to step down over philosophical differences about die pare of administrative reform, strategies for addressing financial challenges, and the adoption of technology lo deliver instruction. The board's rector. Helen Dragas, a graduate of the university's business school and a real estate developer, advocated for rapid changes. Sullivan. a Phi Kappa Phi member and former steward at other universities, pursued a more measured, consensus-building approach and urged the protection of threatened fields of study; A campus uproar in defense of Sullivan prompted her reinstatement shortly afterwards. Her temporary ouster, however, appeared lo represent an encroachment of money matters and competitive pressures over academic purposes.

Research recently presented to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics exemplifies another bureaucratic dilemma. Though successful athletic programs may attract national exposure, donor interest, and tuition income, smaller counterparts that do not achieve the same level of success subsidize with student fees and other funds diverted from academic ends, document scholars John J. Cheslock and David B. Knight in "Following a Problematic. Yet Predictable. Path: The Unsustainable Nature of die Intercollegiate Athletics System." A handful of operations are financially self-sustaining, the authors demonstrate, but most aren't, yet still must invest heavily in facilities and personnel to try to keep pace.

In fact, the "positional arms race" that Ches-lock and Knight reference in athletics. borrowing a term from economics professor Gordon Winston, and the corresponding "expenditure cascades" permeate higher education. Last fall in The Atlantic. Julia Edwards portrayed former George Washington University president Stephen Trachtenberg as the "high priest of runaway college inflation." His institution, along with many others, competed for students by raising the price of attendance to bolster campus amenities, not "to shift the professor-to-student ratio or overhaul the curriculum." she explained. Worse students struggle to repay the loans required to matriculate. Indeed, Trachtenbcrg more than doubled tuition, room, and board during his 1988-2007 watch, and "the freshmen who borrowed to enroll--46 percent of the class--during his final year graduated with an average of $28,000 of debt."

The good news is that such exigencies can prove motivational. Robert Zemsky, Gregory R. Wegner, and William P. …

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