University, Incorporated

It won’t be until 40 years out that a Harvard economist will collect enough data to prove the damage the corporate nature of universities has done to the overall livelihoods of students today. The four decades won’t be for lack of reasoning, but rather because the mentality that drives colleges today won’t subside anytime soon.

Colleges are run as corporations. To any half-literate person, that’s not a shocking statement. Indeed, the Financial Times has been reporting on how bonds have been manipulated by university foundations for years.

In short, the constant selling of bonds creates a ratcheting effect on public debts, just as the astute MIT economist Amir Khandani said happened with refinance borrowing and the housing crisis. For universities, that effect is desirable because it’s an ostensible sign of growth.

Growth is the name of the game for universities. ASU is not alone in creating a willful and unethical class system among workers, and indeed is somewhat better than more prestigious schools.

A lowly instructor at Stanford, for instance, can go to a low tier and heavily advertised state school as a full professor. That transfer helps both schools: the more prestigious one cuts costs, while the more pathetic one advertises the leftovers as a sign of rising academic rigor.

Regular readers of my column (hi Dad) will note I’ve deviated from coming out with claws against ASU directly and am instead taking what I hope is a more sophisticated opinion column position.

This change comes from an evolving journalistic temperament. Several Email responders have asked me how is it there’s never any news stories on what I write about.

I’m part to blame for the absence, because any original data I collect I keep. I’ll be taking a different tone, then, and sharing some juicy data so I can grow.

Growth is indeed important, but just as important is how growth occurs. If the wrong path is taken the path won’t identify as the wrong choice until perhaps decades later, when it’s too late to change.

Being comfortable as a lecturer in Phoenix might be convenient. But would it be better to take a professorship at a university in The-Middle-of-Nowhere, Arkansas that offers more potential for growth?

The answer to that depends on what’s valued. If it’s the life of a metropolitan area, including schools, then the answer is no; If it’s high salary and prominent title, then the answer is yes.

That fork will create two, potentially, wildly diverging lives.

Similarly, it has to be asked whether having corporations so engrained in university is the proper way for universities to grow. ASU seems to think so, which is why the notoriously gimmicky bank MidFirst is here and also why our unwise Arizona Board of Regents hired the Chairman of the Board of a CIA funded and governed technology venture as the president of ASU.

Value is determined by other people and when it comes to growth, what’s valued is what brings in money.

But because profit generated from corporate inclusion is what’s valued, the university will have to continue to appear richer and richer to attract further donations. That rich image, then, will ratchet with bond sales and tuition hikes.

It doesn’t take a Harvard economist to see that greed is trouble.

 

Reach the columnist at whamilt@asu.edu