Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

US State Bureaucracy 'Impairing Mission' of Public Universities

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

US State Bureaucracy 'Impairing Mission' of Public Universities

Article excerpt

Johns Hopkins president points to 'poisonous politics' directed at sector. Ellie Bothwell writes

State governments in the US are "fundamentally impairing the mission" of public universities through "crushing bureaucracy" that constitutes a "tax on creativity", according to the leader of a private university in the country.

Ronald Daniels (pictured right), president of Johns Hopkins University, said that his counterparts at US public universities spend a lot of time "fending off highly interventionist initiatives by state governments" and "worrying about the pernicious effect of regulation". He said this can include dealing with codes around building "large capital projects" or waiting for approval before launching "innovations" in their institutions.

In an exclusive interview with Times Higher Education, he said: "There's just a level of really crushing bureaucracy that I think is fundamentally impairing the mission of these institutions."

When asked whether the level of interference constituted just unhelpful bureaucracy or has started to impact academic freedom, he added: "It's more. At one level, having your senior leadership team at the university focused on issues which are arguably extraneous to the academic mission is bad in itself. That's a tax on creativity, it's a tax on the core mission.

"But you see in a number of ways it is truly limiting the ability of the institution to focus on research and teaching and I think it is very corrosive."

He said that the simultaneous decline in government funding for public universities means that there is now a "very significant mismatch between the structure of regulation and governance for the publics and the amount of state funding coming in".

"There are now public universities in the US where you have a level of state support that is less than 10 per cent of the total budget and yet you still have the same apparatus in place to regulate those entities that goes back to a time when they were funding more than 50 per cent of the university's budget," he said.

Another issue, he continued, is the "very significant churn" of executive leaders at public universities.

"If you combine relatively short executive leadership and couple that with a very significant vicissitude in state funding, you create a degree of instability within the system that I think again is really pernicious," he said. …

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