When Money Speaks Louder than Work

Dov Liberman

Universities have become increasingly dependent upon government money. The primary mission of university administrations seems to be chasing after government funds. Research agendas have been distorted by this frantic pursuit of money. The typical university is far less concerned with ideas and the quality of research than it is with spurring faculty members to pursue research that will receive government grants.

This dependency corrupts research in many ways. Research is changed in order to be more responsive to government grant requirements—particularly those that divert a high proportion of indirect costs (IDC) from the researcher to the university administration. Research efforts in promising areas that are not supported by government grants are actively discouraged. Incredibly, universities are ranked by how much government money they bring in rather than by the quality of research, its contribution to society, etc. College administrators’ pressure on faculty to secure government grants thus leads to the government’s setting the research agendas in many fields, not just in the social sciences.

Government bribery and constant administrative pressure steadily erode professors’ academic freedom.

The diversion of IDC to central administrations allows university administrators to hire ever more colleagues and subordinates, which results in bloated university administrations. The number of administrators has greatly increased over the last several decades, while the growth in the number of tenure line faculty members has been slight or nonexistent. It would seem that the main purpose of university bureaucracies is chasing after money is in order to increase their own size.

Meanwhile, concern for students’ education and for their futures is near the bottom of most universities’ priority list. Faculty members receive the clear message that spending effort on teaching is a waste of time or worse. More classes are taught by graduate assistants or by visiting faculty who are given an overwhelming teaching load.

Indeed, students basically are viewed as a source of funds. Tuition and fees become ever higher, and students are burdened by enormous debt incurred by taking government-insured grants. Many students find themselves facing huge financial liabilities that cannot be reasonably paid on the salaries they receive in the jobs for which their degrees qualify them.

These problems are both exacerbated by and are organic elements of the political correctness that is devastating our campuses. If we are to bring about fundamental changes to university culture, we must address all of these issues and takes steps to mobilize the entire community to insist upon significant and meaningful change.

In order to address the problems enumerated above and to continue to combat the lack of intellectual discourse on university campuses, longitudinal studies, across both public and private universities, need to be undertaken in order to document university hiring policies and the neglect of teaching. There also needs to be continuing research into oppressive student debt and university policies that exacerbate this problem. Our goal should be nothing less than changing the values of the academic community—away from pursing grants, looking to please government bureaucrats, and downgrading the importance of students, to one in which a myriad of ideas are respected and not distorted in the pursuit of money and political correctness. In order to do this we must pursue efforts on a broad front.

We also must strive to make the general public aware of the need for fundamental reform in higher education. These efforts should be both educational and policy oriented. Work with federal and state governments to reform the cost of obtaining a degree and changing the structures of student loans needs to be undertaken. Public information is needed in order to explain the crisis in higher education and to demand reforms. Alumni organizations, individual alumni, and large donors need to be approached in order to gain support for these reforms. Ultimately, if reform-minded individuals and organizations are to have any success in returning academe to its mission of educating students, making a quality university education affordable, and rededicating itself to the pursuit of knowledge, we need to address all the issues addressed above and to undertake efforts on the social and governmental levels in order to bring about the these changes.

Dov Liberman, Professor Emeritus, University of Houston

Image: Josh Appel, Public Domain

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