Monday, May 30, 2016

CUNY and the End of An Era

There is an interesting story today in the New York Times about the budget woes at CUNY, the once-famous college for New Yorkers, who come from less-wealthy backgrounds. CUNY, originially known as CCNY, produced some brilliant scholars and many successful business entrepreneurs over its rich history.  Now, it is becoming a delapidated relic of itself.


The story, like most stories about the modern university system, looks at the "decline" in state funding.  There is, of course, no decline in state spending -- at CUNY or anywhere else.  What is declining is the percentage of school costs paid by the state.  And why is that declining?  Because the denominator -- spending -- is racing off to infinity.

Administrative budgets have ballooned in the last decade or so and spending on non-educational parts of these schools has mushroomed.  Spending on what you and I would think of as education has actually declined in real terms.  Chalk and classroom space are actually pretty cheap and have not been increasing in cost.

But take a look at administrative expenses at any of these places.  They are completely out of control.  Not only do the university presidents and deans have compensation packages that would make Wall Streeters blush, but there are a host of new centers, multi-cultural deans and staff, gender equality operations, and micro-aggression police forces on campuses.  These costs are enormous and contribute little or nothing to the education process.  These are mostly political centers, meant to influence student opinion on political matters.

The system of tenure makes sure that competent faculty are kept from competing for spots in the modern university.  What tenure means is pretty simple.  If someone else can do the job better than you can for less pay, so what?  You have tenure, so you can pretty much do what you want.  Notice who wins in this system.  Certainly not the education process.

Tenure was supposed to protect the political freedom of faculty.  Since almost 100 percent of the modern faculty have the same political identity -- moderate left to far left -- there is no protection afforded for those that don't share this monolithic view of the world.  Tenure, in fact, serves to keep diverse views from being represented at the modern university.  It also protects incompetence.

So, CUNY is going down the drain.  They will eventually have a lot of company as wealthy donors and unwitting taxpayers lose interest in supporting a modern club med for one-percenter administrators, tenure-protected faculty, and the plethora of university centers designed to separate one student from another.

With the rise of the internet, gaining knowledge has actually become ridiculously cheap.  It is only in the modern university, that education, what's left of it, has become so extraordinarily expensive.  That's because the modern university is less and less about education and more and more about social experience and the promotion of political ideology.

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