Tuesday, October 07, 2003


Thanks to Anne, from the Univ. of IL, for the heads up on an article in the Chronicle from Dean Fish. Fish continues his defense of tuition costs, which started in the Times a couple of weeks ago.

He takes issue with a Republican report that finds that university costs are skyrocketing. First, he says that costs haven't risen disproportionately to other expenses (housing, food, travel.) Second, he says that costs have risen because of unavoidable expenses -- new technology, increased security, equipment, salaries of science, business, and technology faculty. Third, universities should not make decisions based on consumer demands, which undermine the pursuit of knowledge and truth.

I am sure that universities have a very high overhead. And perhaps public university costs have not risen disproportionately. (Private university costs are another story.) But I do have a big problem with Fish's unwillingness to be accountable to parents or elected representatives. He writes,

Should we settle curricular matters -- questions of what subjects should be studied, what courses should be required, how large classes should be -- by surveying student preferences or polling their parents or asking Representatives Boehner and McKeon? No, again.

If colleges and universities are to be "accountable" to anyone or anything, it should be to the academic values -- dedicated and responsible teaching, rigorous and honest research -- without which higher education would be little different from the bottom-line enterprise its critics would have it become.

By the evidence of this report -- not the evidence in the report; there's precious little of that -- Boehner and McKeon wouldn't recognize an academic value if it ran over them.

Fish's elitism undermines his argument. If you work for a public university and you receive public funds, the public has a right to know where the money is going. We call that democracy. Elected representatives (even if you didn't vote for them) have the right and the duty to ask questions about how public money is used. You can't expect a blank check from the government.

Perhaps there has to be a different mission in public and private universities. Private universities can set tuition rates as they please, have a serious research agenda, and provide jacuzzis for the students. But public universities have to be responsible to others. If the public doesn't want the faculty to take year long sabbaticals or teach classes of five students, then so be it.

(Despite my differences with Dean Fish on this matter, I have a great respect for him. I saw him debate the issue of free speech at City College several years ago, and he has a first class mind.)

UPDATE: Cold Spring Shops disagrees.

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