According to Forbes, there
were 313 billionaires in the United States last year. It’s no longer
such an accomplishment. Thus, to distinguish yourself as a billionaire,
it becomes increasingly necessary to either own a sports team or be a
The sports team-owning billionaire usually seeks funds from a city or state and tries to over-charge and generally rip-off average working stiffs. The more thoughtful billionaire takes the second course and gives to charity.
Most of that money goes for schools, hospitals and medical research. In the case of giving towards colleges and universities one must ask the question though of how much does the greater share of this giving accomplish. Does another billion added to the $20 billion Harvard already has make much difference? Will these funds be used to better the world – or will they just go to endowing another chair held by a lazy jackass serving up nonsense? Do we need another Noam Chomsky in an endowed chair at MIT? Or another Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado?
For all the billions given for higher education, the cost of tuition only seems to go up year by year as the tenured faculty at our leading universities continue to teach less and to provide fewer words of wisdom when they do make their occasional pit-stops in the lecture halls. The money given to the schools is mostly being hoarded in endowments or turned over to finance the lifestyles of false prophets.
Is there an answer? Maybe.
What if Paul Allen of Microsoft were to offer a billion dollars to a leading university to pay every undergraduate’s tuition — if the school’s faculty would in return agree to tenure reform? Compelling a vote by the school’s faculty on such a proposition would focus the attention of students on what their professors really are. It would undisguise to the undergrads that the professors’ claims to idealism and concern for the student body are mostly fraudulent. A vote against such a proposition would flatly demonstrate the professors’ selfishness and their obsessive need for TIAA/CREF-guided financial security, a preoccupation with avoiding poverty which far exceeds that of typical business executives – or many billionaires for that matter.
Better still would be a (highly, highly improbable) vote for such a proposition.
Why not eliminate blanket job guarantees but limit firings by the University President to not more than, say, 2% of the faculty in any given year? A school which implemented such a policy would have less turnover, attract better young professors, have less dead wood and fewer academic frauds like Ward Churchill.
Tenure was never meant to be an absolute assurance that teachers wouldn’t be let go. Nor should it be. The evolution of faculty recruitment is now such that academia doesn’t have a low rate of job dismissal. As many economists point out, in academia the pattern of firing is simply different than in the private sector with most ousters taking place when candidates have reached the point at which tenure is considered. The rate of professors being forced out of jobs is, in fact, quite high. Moreover, colleges and universities increasingly must rely on adjunct teaching fellow to do the actual teaching, and these professors are already without tenure. A more sane approach to faculty hiring and firing would be to do away with tenure and instead hire professors and give them the job security that they deserve after their struggles getting doctorates from the very first day that they arrive on campus – unless their performance in the classroom, as advisors and as scholars manifestly warrants their dismissal.
In as much as this change would put a little more power back in the hands of university presidents it would also let them begin a reform of the current problem of abusive treatment of doctoral candidates by senior faculty. Right now doctoral candidates can be prevented – often for years – from getting a proper hearing from a committee for their theses. Further, their research is not infrequently co-opted or stolen outright by their tenured faculty advisors. Reforming tenure is a step towards improving the treatment of graduate student assistants and bettering the quality of those entering grad school. Might American Math professors who actually speak English be a by-product of tenure reform?
All that’s needed to make this happen is a billionaire with a small sense of mischief.