Friday, January 30, 2009

More on Connections between the Economic Crisis and the Crisis in Higher Education

Good for gutsy Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill. Huffington Post is reporting that she has just introduced a bill to cap compensation for CEOs of companies that have just benefited from the federal buyout ( It's beyond obscene that the big women and big men on top continue slopping at the trough while asking for handouts from the public, after their greed and malfeasance have already caused many of us to lose jobs and considerable savings.

I continue to wonder what down-the-road implications the economic downturn will have for American higher education. As my last posting on the crisis in leadership in American universities notes,

Faculty in many institutions note increasing workloads and decreasing support for their classroom work: frozen salaries, tenure on hold, imperatives from on high to teach ever-increasing numbers of students with ever dwindling resources. And as these challenges to the pursuit of academic excellence—serious, fundamental ones—face teachers in many universities, the salaries of top administrators, including presidents and CFOs, skyrocket (

This gross disparity between how we reward those who do the real work of academic life--that is, teaching and mentoring students--and how we have chosen to reward those who do the far less important work of numbers crunching (university presidents and CFOs), is why the crisis in academic leadership is there in the first place. The disparity between what we proclaim academic life should be all about, and what we actually practice with our university pay scales, is obvious, and deeply troubling. We're not fooling anyone. Those at the top raking in the big bucks are all too frequently neither academic leaders who value academic life, nor leaders of any sort at all.

Until we address that problem, we will continue to see a decline in American higher education. Until we stop allowing presidents and boards of trustees dominated by business elites whose bottom line is the dollar sign to refashion the academy along the lines of corporate life, we will continue to see our universities produce far too many soulless, woefully uneducated graduates with no commitment to building a better society.

And in many private, church-based universities--those who make the loudest claims about values education and education for civic leadership--the disparity between faculty salaries and those at the top is even more glaring. And it is often hidden, since those universities often do not disclose salaries, as they do not the lavish perks provided for many of their top "leaders."

As my last posting on this topic notes, I hope that the new president will take his cue in addressing the crisis in American higher education from that powerful educational leader of the early 20th century, Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman University. Her insistence that students learn from what they see their mentors doing, and not from what they say, is right on target, and has strong implications for university leaders. Her attempt to wed classical education with education for civic virtue deserves attention at the important new turning point in our history represented by the new administration.

There's work to do aplenty. And we need to stop rewarding those who do not do it, and start rewarding those who do.