When universities, and university systems, become very rich and very byzantine, it's both hard to run them and easy to fleece them. "Spending 17 years in a laboratory doesn't exactly set you up for running what is in effect a multibillion-dollar corporation," sniffed one California state official when asked to comment on the dismissal of Robert Dynes, president of the University of California system, who was fired over dinner the other day at Trader Vic's.
Dynes was also UC San Diego's chancellor, so the official isn't being fair. But his comment points us toward the future of some major American universities: They will be run by CEO's who find having seventy lawyers on staff, as the California system does, a source of joy rather than despair.
There's so much money around! And universities - even public ones - operate with little scrutiny. Look at the two campus scandals in the news lately -- the loan industry thing, and now the study abroad thing. They're about what happens when you figure no one's looking, and no one's going to look. Similarly, the scandal that brought down Dynes -- he oversaw an elaborate procedure rewarding high-level administrators with all sorts of monetary goodies -- was about practices that evolve when you figure no one's looking.
The next president is "certain to face endless scrutiny and a lot less autonomy," notes the San Francisco Chronicle, which broke not only the goodies story, but the related, equally damaging, UC Santa Cruz's chancellor Denice Denton's story, in which the UC system paid her $30,000 so that she could have a dog run at her residence. Denton's dramatic suicide from the roof of San Francisco's Paramount building, mysterious as such events usually are, but no doubt in part motivated by the ugly protracted attention which that absurdity drew, added a sense of symbolic disaster to Dyne's fiscal disaster.
Note in particular: a lot less autonomy. Public universities compromise their autonomy in all sorts of idiotic ways, and students considering attending heavily compromised universities should be aware that whether they lose their independence from state control via financial scandal or via athletic scandal (a current athletic case in point is the University of Minnesota), these schools suffer serious academic harm when legislators -- who can be both know-nothing and hostile -- get a foot in the lecture hall doorway.