Tag Archives: campus

Should University Flagships Go It Alone?

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Overshadowed by the big political confrontation in Wisconsin is a higher-education story of note: The highly regarded “flagship” Madison campus of the University of Wisconsin seeks permission to secede from the rest of the state public higher education system (yet remain under the state’s oversight and subsidization).  While this is being justified now by the state’s budgetary problems, it is an aspiration long held by Madison and some of its sister “flagships” in other states. Is flagship independence a good idea?  Probably not, but in each state it depends on how its public higher education institutions are currently managed, and what any new-found autonomy might permit or restrict.

Two quite distinct issues are embroiled in this debate. One –the more important, I think–is the degree of financial and managerial autonomy that any state campus is allowed.  The other is the coherence and consistency with which state campuses are managed and financially supported as a group.  My views are colored by my ten-year experience as the chief academic officer of the State University of New York System, the largest in the nation, and one that manages, under one administrative roof,  64 diverse institutions, from community colleges to research universities.

I learned soon after I began as a SUNY system official how desirable it was to give the state’s public campuses enough administrative freedom to effectively meet their local responsibilities and balance their budgets.  After all, there was no way that a small staff in Albany could possibly micro-manage 64 widely dispersed campuses with different missions, thousands of faculty and staff and more than 450,000 students.  Thus, after 1997, every SUNY campus, not Albany, was given the last word on how its budgetary resources were spent, how its faculty and staff were deployed, and how it delivered education in the classroom.  But, giving campuses a greater measure of administrative freedom only worked because we also held campuses accountable to clear-cut, mutually agreed upon, operational academic and financial goals and metrics. 

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NYU’s Perilous Adventure in Abu Dhabi

New York University will open its vaunted campus in Abu Dhabi this fall, and so far it does seem to be the best campus that money can buy—Gulf oil money, that is. The story of the NYU-Abu Dhabi linkup, the brainchild of John Sexton, NYU’s strategically ebullient and relentlessly donor-courting and expansion-minded president, is a story of many paradoxes. The greatest paradox of all is that this first step toward creating what Sexton calls a “global network university” of NYU campuses all over the world is being entirely bankrolled by the government of oil-rich Abu Dhabi, which is a good thing for NYU because the university’s $2.2 billion endowment (shrunken by nearly one-third in the recent financial crisis) is by far the smallest of any private U.S. university with the world-class ambitions that Sexton claims for NYU.
In fact, because NYU enrolls more than 50,000 at its various schools, its endowment works out to about a mere $50,000 per student, according to figures calculated in a recent Business Week article. (Harvard’s $26 billion endowment, by contrast, amounts to $1.3 million per student, while Yale has $1.4 million per student and Princeton $1.7 million). The Abu Dhabi campus is a feat of Sextonian sleight-of-hand in which other people’s petrodollars pay for what NYU hopes will be a boost in academic prestige without spending a cent of its own scarce money. NYU was happy to publicize Abu Dhabi’s initial contribution of $50 million to the joint venture—a down payment on which NYU insisted as a condition of lending its name to the new university—but now neither the university nor the Gulf city-state will reveal how many more millions Abu Dhabi has sunk into the venture, but it must be plenty. Abu Dhabi has not only committed itself to a glitzy brand-new campus for NYU on Saadiyat Island about 500 yards offshore, but is bankrolling some of NYU’s expansion in New York.
Back home at NYU’s flagship campus at Washington Square, students complain about stingy financial aid packages that often leave them heavily in loan debt and more heavily reliant on poorly paid part-time faculty than any of the top-tier universities with which NYU hopes to compete. NYU’s efforts to grow its campus in New York—by acquiring Greenwich Village real estate and demolishing what’s there—have made enemies out of many of its neighbors, especially when NYU pulled down the historic Provincetown Playhouse, which it owned, in order to construct a new law school building (it did save some of the playhouse’s facade and replaced the theater). The Abu Dhabi campus has also sparked protests among NYU professors over government policies in Abu Dhabi and other United Arab Emirates states that discriminate against gays (homosexual acts are crimes in the Emirates), Israelis (none of the Emirates has formal diplomatic relations with Israel and all frequently deny entry to citizens of the Jewish state), and the foreign guest-workers who form 80 percent of the Emirates’ 4.5 million population but have little practical recourse against employers who confiscate their passports, house them in squalid camps, charge huge fees for their job, and pay them less than promised.

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If I Ran The Campus

If I ran the campus
I’d start out anew
I’d make a few changes
That’s just what I’d do
Here’s a simple suggestion
(Avoiding all fads)
I’d have some professors
Who teach undergrads
I hear you all snicker
I hear you all scoff
But I’ve got to believe
That many a prof
Would thrill to be meeting
A freshman or soph
TAs are beloved
They’re always the rage
Because they all work
For a minimum wage
(But do students want teachers
Who are just their own age?)
Remedial classes
I’m sure is a must
For teachers who give
Only A or A-plus
They really must practice
At home, if they please,
Traumatically giving
Some Bs and some Cs
There’s another idea
I can bring to fruition
I know how to cut
The cost of tuition
I really don’t care
Whose waters this muddies
But I’d cancel all courses
Whose names end in “studies.”
This could irritate
The fuddies and duddies
That’s just a start
I’ll do better than that
My curriculum changes
Will cut out the fat
No courses on Buffy
The Vampire Slayer
Or Batman and Robin
Who cares which is gayer?
No bongo or bingo
(Remember I said it)
No study of Yoda
No sex acts for credit
No Star Trek theology
No Matrix psychology
No queer musicology
I give no apology
If I ran the campus
I’d start out anew
I’d make a few changes
That’s just what I’d do
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This originally appeared as part of the National Association of Scholars’ “If I Ran The Zoo” series

The Adversarial Campus

Against repeated accusations of leftwing bias on campus, professors have mounted many rejoinders disputing one or another item in the indictment. They claim that the disproportion isn’t as high as reports say. Or that reports focus on small pockets (women’s studies, etc.). Or that party registration is a crude indicator. Or that conservatives are too greedy and obtuse to undergo academic training.

The denials go on, and sometimes it’s hard to tell whether professors really believe in their own neutrality or whether they just hope to brazen out the attacks. One response, however, stands apart, precisely because it doesn’t deny a darn thing in the bias charge. Indeed, it concedes every empirical point – “Yes, left-wing people, left-wing ideas, and left-wing texts dominate,” but it adds, “And that’s exactly as it should be.”

It’s a refreshingly straightforward assertion. I heard it at an MLA Convention session awhile back when a young man in the audience talked about getting shot down by his professor when he voiced in class a conservative opinion. One of the panelists replied by telling him to quit complaining, then enlarged the rebuke to all conservative critics. “Look,” he grumbled, “conservatives have taken over every where else [this was before the 2006 election], and now they want the campus, too, the one place where liberal values can still prevail.”

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