As the trial of Jerry Sandusky -- the former Penn State coach accused of sexual abuse of many boys -- started Monday, reports surfaced of new scrutiny on the former president of Penn State, Graham Spanier. NBC News reported that -- according to newly discovered documents -- Spanier discussed with other top officials whether to report Sandusky in 2001, when they heard an allegation about Sandusky's apparent abuse of a boy. Spanier and the other officials agreed it would be "humane" to Sandusky not to report the allegation to authorities. Lawyers for Spanier did not return calls seeking comment.
The Faculty Senate Executive Council on Monday issued a statement questioning the decision of the university's board to seek the resignation of Teresa A. Sullivan as president -- the announcement of which stunned the campus on Sunday. The faculty statement said that "we are shocked and dismayed" by the news. "The Faculty Senate Executive Council has worked closely and effectively with President Sullivan during her two-year term. She has impressed us with her intelligence, leadership, and commitment to transparent administration and open, honest communication. We witnessed her renowned dedication to higher education," the faculty statement said. It added: "We find the board's statement inadequate and unsatisfactory.... As elected representatives of the faculty, we are entitled to a full and candid explanation of this sudden and drastic change in university leadership. We intend to investigate this matter thoroughly and expeditiously, and will meet with the board as soon as possible."
A request to the university for a response from the board chair was not answered.
The University of Virginia announced Sunday that President Teresa A. Sullivan, in office for just under two years, will resign on August 15. The announcement shocked many at the university, with faculty leaders and prominent campus officials reporting that they had seen no sign of any imminent change in the works, and several said on background that they believed Sullivan had been doing an excellent job.
In a statement, Sullivan cited an unspecified "philosophical difference of opinion" with the board.
A statement from Helen Dragas, the rector (U.Va.'s title for board chair), praised Sullivan, but also suggested a board view that she was insufficiently bold. "[T]he board feels strongly and overwhelmingly that we need bold and proactive leadership on tackling the difficult issues that we face. The pace of change in higher education and in health care has accelerated greatly in the last two years. We have calls internally for resolution of tough financial issues that require hard decisions on resource allocation. The compensation of our valued faculty and staff has continued to decline in real terms, and we acknowledge the tremendous task ahead of making star hires to fill the many spots that will be vacated over the next few years as our eminent faculty members retire in great numbers. These challenges are truly an existential threat to the greatness of UVA," the statement said.
The statement continued by outlining the goal of being in "the top echelon" of universities. "To achieve these aspirations, the board feels the need for a bold leader who can help develop, articulate, and implement a concrete and achievable strategic plan to re-elevate the University to its highest potential. We need a leader with a great willingness to adapt the way we deliver our teaching, research, and patient care to the realities of the external environment. We need a leader who is able to passionately convey a vision to our community, and effectively obtain gifts and buy-in towards our collective goals."
Inside Higher Ed will have a full article on Sullivan's departure tomorrow morning.
The University of Iowa is raising money for its hospitals in part by sharing information about patients with fund raisers for the university foundation, who in turn solicit gifts with letters signed by physicians, The Des Moines Register reported. Further, the foundation is letting physicians know when patients are donors, and the foundation and hospitals are working together on "wealth screenings" of patients. University officials said that these activities are legal and necessary, but some patient advocates expressed dismay.
Pasadena City College announced Thursday that it has placed two senior officials -- Richard Van Pelt, vice president of administrative services, and Alfred Hutchings, facilities services supervisor -- on administrative leave, pending the results of a bribery-related investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, The Los Angeles Times reported. The D.A.'s office executed search warrants at the officials' homes and offices Thursday, in an investigations of alleged solicitation of bribes involving a contract from the college. No charges have been filed and the officials could not be reached for comment.
Angela Laird Brenton, dean of the College of Professional Studies at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, has been appointed provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Western Carolina University.
Dorothy Escribano, senior vice president for academic affairs at the College of New Rochelle, in New York, has been promoted to provost there.
The board of Florida A&M University voted 8-4 Thursday that it lacks confidence in James Ammons, the university's president, The Orlando Sentinelreported. Ammons has faced much criticism for failing to deal with widespread hazing by the university's band -- hazing that has received considerable attention since the death of a student last year. But questions have also been raised about other issues, including the university's fragile finances and audits suggesting inadequate management controls. Ammons vowed at the board meeting that he would improve. "I hear you loudly and clearly," Ammons said before the vote. " I understand there are some measures I have to take as president of this university to fix things and I'm going to fix them. This is very serious. This is very serious for the future of this university and you have my commitment to fix them and get this job done." The board did not vote to suspend or fire him.
"This is the first stride towards making SUNY the economic engine that it can be and should be for this state. SUNY is poised to be a great economic engine." That was New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo last August, signing a bill that gave the four SUNY centers $140 million to drive regional economic development.
Since I work there, it’s the case I’m most familiar with, but SUNY is hardly the only school to label itself an economic engine in recent years. Indiana University, the University of Iowa, Rutgers University, Ohio State University: there’s hardly a public university out there that hasn’t let legislators know that investing in it will pay off economically.
The "economic engine" model implies a certain story about why the university matters. Universities do the research that drives technological innovation, the story goes. The inventions of faculty are spun off into start-ups, or transferred to existing companies, where they create new products, jobs, industries, and economic growth.
In some ways this is true, of course. Google was started at Stanford University, Genentech at the University of California at San Francisco. But lately, selling the university as an economic engine seems to be the only way to gain legislators’ support in a climate of scarcity.
Metaphors matter. If we think of universities as economic engines, we’re going to encourage some activities — like technology transfer and public-private partnerships. And these may indeed be things we want to
encourage. Choosing some priorities, though, means not choosing others. Some implications of the economic engine model, like the defunding of the humanities, are fairly obvious. Others, though, get less attention. Here are five reasons we should think twice about what we lose, as well as gain, when we turn our universities into economic engines.
The short-term beats out the long-term. The private sector, reasonably enough, wants to collaborate on research that will impact the bottom line within a few years. But sometimes it’s the research that will take a decade or more to bear fruit that matters most.
Take public plant breeding, for example. Big agricultural companies have huge programs that support research in plant breeding. But they only focus on a handful of commercially viable crops, and while they fund some academic science, they’re mostly interested in research that will have short-term results.
But plant breeding is slow work — after all, generations of crops have to grow. Though genomics is speeding things up, developing a new crop variety can easily take 10 years. And it’s the ambitious, long-shot research — on perennial grains that could make better use of marginal lands, or minor crops, like millet and tef, that are important to the developing world — that won’t get done unless academics do it.
Yet public plant breeders are rapidly becoming an endangered species. Plant breeders attract six-figure salaries in industry, but face declining budgets in academe, even though they’re probably among our most important scientists. By valuing short-term priorities that work for industry over longer-term investment, the current model pushes them closer to extinction.
Profitable products are favored over more diffuse benefits. The economic engine model focuses on discrete inventions that can be transferred to the private sector for development. What it deprioritizes is research whose economic benefits are not so easily captured.
Universities are very fond of research on pharmaceuticals and medical devices, for example. A blockbuster drug, while a long shot, can result in payoffs in the hundreds of millions of dollars from licensing revenues.
But the payoffs from public health interventions, which often keep people from getting sick in the first place, can be just as large. Yet public health research is chronically underfunded in relation to medical science. Improvements in workplace safety, disease prevention, infectious disease control, and food safety transformed life in the twentieth century. But no one will ever launch a campaign for universities to drive economic
development by studying how to prevent heart disease. There’s just no money in it.
Not all economic growth is created equal. The purpose of an economic engine is to drive economic development. But development is good because it creates human benefits, not for its own sake. Making
economic development the mission of the university doesn’t distinguish between the kind of growth we want, and the kind that deserves our skepticism.
The American Economic Review, for example, recently published an article on the environmental externalities created by different industries. Nicholas Muller, Robert Mendelsohn, and William Nordhaus estimate
that the air pollution produced by some industries, notably oil- and coal-fired power plants, costs more than the economic value they create.
Universities, then, might want to think twice about the real benefits of the growth they hope to create. Hydraulic fracturing, for instance, creates opportunities for public-private partnerships that many universities would like to take advantage of. But using the university to drive the expansion of fracking before its environmental costs are clear is not a winning strategy.
Innovation is prioritized over education. In the economic engine model, universities’ impact comes from their scientific inventions. But research is only one part of what universities, even research universities, do. And in a zero-sum budget climate, sinking support into scientific research can come at the expense of education.
To pick an example close to (my) home, the State University of New York at Albany is very proud of its College for Nanoscale Science and Engineering. It has attracted many billions of dollars in investment from
companies like IBM, Intel, and Samsung, and has world-class facilities. President Obama stopped by recently to hold it up as an example of what the U.S. should be doing more of.
But the CNSE is almost purely a research operation. The $1.2 billion contributed by the state of New York over the last 11 years has produced only 135 graduates to date.
Now, education is clearly not CNSE’s main purpose. But while it expanded, the rest of the university — whose budget is separate from CNSE — lost 30 percent of its state support, some $30 million, over three years. Notoriously, this resulted in plans to close three language departments, classics, and theater.
There are lots of reasons CNSE has received so much money from the state, not least that it’s attracted even more from the private sector. And it’s not like someone stole the funds from French and gave them to CNSE. Yet at some level these tradeoffs are real — we’re choosing to fund innovation, but not education.
Non-economic benefits are discounted entirely. All the tradeoffs above are, in some sense, economic. But there is one more tradeoff that is at least as important. By focusing on universities’ roles as economic engines, we devalue their noneconomic contributions.
Universities produce not only workers, or technology, but citizens— ideally, ones who can think clearly, critically, and independently. Having more such citizens is vital to our democracy, not just our economy. And at their best, universities transform people’s lives through the love of learning and the pursuit of knowledge, not just by improving their job prospects.
When the economy is stagnating and university budgets are being cut, it may make sense, strategically, for universities to declare themselves economic engines. It may even be inevitable. But if we do, we should be
very aware of what is lost, as well as gained, when we make this call.