I AM HONORED to have been invited to comment on Bill Bowen’s first Tanner Lecture. The lecture is witty, insightful, authoritative. I had the privilege of reading the lecture in draft form and I can assure you that it contains an entire education about the financing of universities. In fact there is an additional education in the endnotes alone, more than seventy-five of them.
During the 2012 presidential election, Big Bird was in the news. Whether or not you were a regular viewer of Sesame Street, you probably know the game featured there: “One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong.” As I read through Bill’s learned lecture, I kept hearing this musical refrain.
I heard this lingering melody because, unlike Bill Bowen and John Hennessy, I have not been a respected president of a major university. Truth to tell, except for my own small research group, I’ve never run anything! In fact, come to think of it, I’ve never even been asked to run anything—let alone a flagship university like Princeton or Stanford.
To add insult to injury, I am not in any sense an expert on the financing of universities, on cost and productivity. What I