The editorial pages of The New York Times seem to have become the destination of choice for people who want to say uninformed things about American higher education. Let me rephrase that slightly: They have become the destination of choice for people who want to say uninformed things that are designed to get readers angry at American higher education, which I presume is why The Times keeps them coming. In today’s America, anger sells.
Though this receptivity to misleading opinion pieces has been around at The Times for a while, it seems in recent months to be building to some sort of crescendo. On April 4 of this year, the paper published “The Real Reason College Tuition Costs So Much” by Paul Campos. According to Campos, the “real reason” boils down to generous government subsidies and bloated administrations. These are longstanding talking points that are unsubstantiated by any evidence. Believe it or not, there are people who actually study this stuff, and there is evidence compiled by economists and others that explains the rise in college costs. None of that is in Campos’s opinion piece, and none of it confirms his conclusions. (I would recommend Why Does College Cost So Much? by Robert Archibald and David Feldman to those who want a thoughtful answer to the question.)
On May 20 the paper published “Platinum Pay in Ivory Towers” by Frank Bruni. I am a fan of Bruni’s work, but he seems to have lost some of his usual good judgment when it comes to the subject of colleges and universities. This particular piece expressed ire at the $8.5 million payout by Yale University to its recently retired president, Richard Levin.
It is fair to find such a sum outrageous. It is less fair to move to Bruni’s conclusion that “the lofty pay of college presidents is part of higher education’s increasingly corporate bent, of the blurred lines between the campus and the marketplace.” Using the example of how a university with many billions of dollars chooses to spend several million as the basis of generalizations about American higher education is like using Warren Buffett as an example of the typical American investor. The latest data from the College and University Association for Human Resources show that the median salary for research university presidents is about $450,000, with most other sectors not coming close to that, and community college presidents having a median salary of $188,000. By comparison, a 2012 study showed the average salary of a partner in a large American law firm to be $681,000. There are far more law partners than college presidents in America.
The nadir of this trend was reached on June 6, with the publication of “Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans,” by the journalist Lee Siegel. Siegel is the author of four books and a contributor to publications including Harper’s, The New Republic and The New Yorker. I assume he makes a living. He is proud of having defaulted on his loans, which he took out, he says, in order to attend “a small private liberal arts college.” If his online biography is correct, Siegel went on to receive three degrees from Columbia University.
It is hard to know how properly to describe Siegel’s piece. One might begin with self-centered, condescending and poorly reasoned. He accepts no responsibility for having chosen a private college over a less expensive public option in the first place; he finds offensive the notion that he might have had to take a job that he found less than true to his “particular usefulness to society” -- which was to write smart things -- in order to pay off his debts. He finds the entire notion of repaying a debt for the receipt of a benefit a “social arrangement that is legal, but not moral.” He encourages others to follow his sterling example.
All this would be easy to dismiss as a colossal display of arrogance and irresponsibility were it not for the imprimatur of respectability bestowed by The Times. I understand the fact that the views expressed on an opinion page do not reflect those of the paper or its editors. But I also believe that those editors have a responsibility to act as, well, editors, and to publish pieces that meet a certain standard of thoughtfulness and stand at least within spitting distance of the facts. It saddens me that the newspaper that is ostensibly the gold standard of American journalism seems to be taking its lead from angry blogs.
I’m thinking of submitting an opinion piece to The Times entitled “College Causes Cancer.” I don’t have any facts to support the claim, but apparently that doesn’t matter, and the title is catchy as hell.
Brian Rosenberg is president of Macalester College.
Most people agree that faculty performance evaluations should be based on more than student feedback, grants and publication counts. But what does a more complete evaluation process look like? And how would a more progressive department function? The New American Colleges and Universities’ answer is Redefining the Paradigm: Faculty Models to Support Student Learning. The new monograph is based on new faculty evaluation models at NAC&U member institutions, and pushes other colleges and universities to rethink traditional department structures and processes to better support student learning. The monograph promotes the development of “holistic departments” that reject the arguably outdated scholarship-teaching-service faculty evaluation model in favor of processes that are more fluid and responsive to the changing faculty role and departmentwide needs. It also promotes active learning, in which professors are not “sages on the stage” but rather guides in research and other experiential learning.
The Teagle Foundation supported the project. Judith Shapiro, Teagle Foundation president and former president of Barnard College, recently wrote about the benefits of a redefined faculty paradigm here. Representatives from the Sage Colleges and Valparaiso University talked about their involvement with the project at the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. “One of the big issues here is to relook at teaching, scholarship and service and the collapsing boundaries between the three,” David Salomon, co-editor of the monograph and a professor of English and director of undergraduate research at the Sage Colleges, said at the time. “In a holistic department, someone might pick up more service, and we want to make sure we account for that in the evaluation, as well.”
The New York Legislature, winding down its session, has yet to approve legislation proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, to require public and private colleges to adopt “affirmative consent policies” -- in which students must explicitly consent to sexual activities. Seeking to build support for the bill, Cuomo wrote an essay on it, with Lady Gaga as the co-author. The piece, which has just been published in Billboard, makes a case for why the legislation, which also includes other protections for those who report that they have been sexually assaulted, is needed. “Last year, the governor’s office asked the state’s public university system to step up on this issue. They did,” write the governor and Lady Gaga. “Now, every public college student in New York is protected by a strong policy against sexual assault. But without changing New York’s laws, private colleges don’t have to live up to the same standard. That’s why the state legislature must pass the proposed bill. Without it, students at private institutions are more likely to be left at risk.”
National poll gives low marks to the college selection process, with parents saying institutions aren't doing enough to place graduates in jobs and the value of degrees has dropped sharply over the past decade.
Assuming “Bothered” is still interested, Science Careers is offering new advice to the postdoc who asked what to do about a professor who tries to look down her shirt. The original advice offered by Science Careers columnist Alice Huang, a senior faculty associate in biology at California Institute of Technology and former president of Science’s publisher, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, attracted widespread criticism last week for being “sexist.” Huang wrote, “As long as your adviser does not move on to other advances, I suggest you put up with it, with good humor if you can,” and many readers accused her of treating possible sexual harassment casually.
Science pulled the column and later offered an apologetic editor’s note. Late last week, editors published another post called “Better Advice for ‘Bothered,’” referencing the pseudonym the postdoc used to asked her question. The advice -- ranging from a simple “Hey, I’m up here” comment to developing relationships with other faculty mentors and advocates -- is mostly crowdsourced from online commentary and social media posts about the original column. You can read it here.
A regional National Labor Relations Board office decided late last week that adjuncts at Duquesne University may form a union affiliated with the United Steelworkers. Adjuncts teaching at Duquesne’s McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts voted to form a union in 2012, but the Roman Catholic university argued that its religious identity put it outside NLRB jurisdiction. The university’s appeal was pending before the national NLRB for some time, but earlier this year that board sent back several similar adjunct union cases to their local NLRB offices for further consideration in light of the recent Pacific Lutheran University decision.
In that case, the national board determined that Pacific Lutheran adjuncts could form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, since their duties were not of a religious nature. The landmark decision also included new guidelines for evaluating such cases, and those guidelines were used to re-evaluate the Duquesne case. The local board office found there was “no evidence” that adjunct faculty are told they have religious duties, or that religion is a consideration in hiring, performance evaluation or course content.
In an open letter, Duquesne President Charles J. Dougherty said federal courts maintain that the NLRB “should not be determining whether we are religious enough by their own standards, and we intend to appeal the local NLRB’s decision” to the national board and federal courts, if necessary. In a news release, the United Steelworkers said the university’s interest in blocking the union appeared to be financially, not religiously, motivated.
For many institutions, a significant gift that advances the mission is an aspirational achievement, one that can impact many lives for the good, both on the campus and far beyond.
And in today’s high-stakes higher education funding model, advancement professionals are expected to find and secure these substantial and transformational gifts, working in partnership with their academic colleagues, institutional leadership and potential donors to help our institutions fulfill their missions, at least, and change the world, at best.
In 2009, the number of institutions in the United States with active fund-raising campaigns of $1 billion or more was 38. That number increased to 45 by 2015, with an additional 4 outside the U.S. To achieve these outcomes, institutions will need to secure more and more gifts of at least $1 million. In 2013 alone, 531 donations of at least $1 million and 147 contributions equal to or greater than $10 million were given to American colleges and universities, which means that yesteryear’s $1 million gift is tomorrow’s $400 million donation.
There is nothing wrong with institutions -- even those that are well endowed -- seeking the resources they need to provide world-class educations and experiences to their students today and well into the future. And now the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is a significant step closer to achieving that goal based on John A. Paulson’s remarkable $400 million gift.
That success should be celebrated alongside the fund-raising successes of many institutions across the country. But I’ve read critiques that state Paulson should have given his gift elsewhere -- somewhere more “worthy” or more “needy.” But the reality is that donors support the causes for which they are passionate. And in that way, all gifts are worthy.
This criticism, if left unanswered, could create an environment in which donors are more reticent with their philanthropic investments or prefer to make anonymous gifts. Were that to be the case, our institutions would be the poorer -- impacting students and life-changing research.
Most major gifts are tied to a long and carefully built relationship where the donor’s vision and institution’s priorities overlap in areas in which they can, together, make a transformational impact. And I believe Paulson’s gift to the engineering college is such an investment. A successful hedge fund manager, he clearly has a strong business acumen and the ability to invest smartly.
Harvard successfully made the case for the impact his gift can make for future students and for American innovation writ large. Paulson affirmed his appreciation for his alma mater by saying, “There is no question that the support and education I received at Harvard was critical in helping me achieve success in my career. Now I feel it is important for me to do something impactful and meaningful for Harvard.”
That type of enthusiasm for advancing education should unite, not divide us. Donors are often motivated by gratitude combined with a passion for philanthropy and investing in education -- whether they be five-dollar annual contributors or alumni with greater means.
Higher education and the general public’s celebration of a $400 million gift (the ninth largest to higher education) would seem to me appropriate because we know that the impact, visibility and scale of a gift of this significance has the ability to inspire further philanthropy to academe, including at many of the institutions that have more modest endowments or level of private support. Harvard’s success does not impede the ability of other institutions to approach their alumni and potential supporters for similarly transformational gifts. In fact, it encourages it.
I challenge all of us to laud Paulson’s record-breaking contribution and then get back out there, make the case for our institutions’ experience and outcomes and ask for others to be similarly inspired to make a profound difference.
Sue Cunningham is president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
I have been a college president for over a decade now. During my career I’ve not shied away from using the bully pulpit to address a number of issues. This includes questioning obscene gifts wealthy individuals have given to obscenely wealthy universities that primarily serve an obscenely wealthy student body.
Eight years later, Harvard University is in the news as alumnus John Paulson donated $400 million, the largest single gift to the oldest university in the United States and richest university on the planet.
But something is different today. A chorus of people from diverse backgrounds publicly expressed consternation about this gift. Some argued that gifts to the wealthy are not charity. Some lamented that the taxpayers pay for the tax breaks for the wealthy. Others still, notably Malcolm Gladwell, highlighted pressing issues we see across the globe and questioned how anyone could make this kind of gift today.
This is good. Diverse voices are now beginning to think critically about issues of equality and wealth. Whenever I’ve raised the issues, predictable criticisms come in. They tell me I’m just a hater because my institution is a poor performer (as they compare underresourced colleges against overly resourced ones as if they are equal).
This is just like saying Slovenia performed poorly in the 2014 Winter Olympics since the U.S. won 28 medals to its 8. Yet in medals per capita they were 4th (we were 21st), and in medals per GDP they were 2nd (we were 23rd). Slovenia did more with less (just like historically black colleges).
Others ask their favorite version of the “why do we need black colleges” question in this era of resegregated K-12 schools and overwhelmingly segregated neighborhoods, where all of our taxes support public, historically black elementary, middle and high schools. And yet these same folks were silent when black Harvard students through the I Too Am Harvard campaign complained about the racism they experience daily.
Hedge fund managers defended Paulson, arguing that giving resources to the brightest Americans will have a multiplier effect for the nation. The recent survey of the Harvard graduating class of 2015 indicated that a third of them are going into their top two career choices: finance and consulting. If multiplier means personal wealth, that defense of the gift is correct.
Some praised the gift because it will support research and innovation that can benefit humanity. Of course this is true, but if we don’t address key issues like K-12 education and job prospects for all, only the wealthy will benefit from these great advances.
Other argued that the gift would also be for scholarships and financial aid. In fact, when the pushback began both Paulson and Harvard reiterated this point, noting that low-income students could attend for free. It is on this point where I realize that we have much more work to do.
Here are the facts. Harvard’s total cost annually is $62,000. Yes, that’s just the sticker price, but when more than 40 percent of your student body receives no aid at all, we’re not talking about a needy population. Just 17 percent of the student body receives Pell Grants. At my institution, Dillard University, 98 percent of my students receive some form of aid, including 80 percent receiving the Pell Grant.
The Harvard Crimsonreported that in the recent freshman class, the average student comes from a family with between $125,000 and $250,000 in annual income, and 14 percent have household income above $500,000, placing them among the wealthiest in America. The median family income in New Orleans, where I work, is $35,000, and for my students is $31,000. The writers for The Crimson said it best in describing the class of 2017: “In Harvard Yard, 14 percent are the 1 percent.”
This gift increases Harvard’s endowment by a little over 1 percent. For me? It would increase it by over 500 percent. In fact, with a $400 million gift, I could use a 5 percent spending rate and pay the tuition and fees for all 1,200 Dillard students -- with money left over.
And that’s where we have to mature as a nation. Mega-gifts to the mega-rich can best be described as trendy. Everyone likes a winner and to be associated with a great brand. Harvard is so good they don’t need a tagline or branding campaign. If they did I imagine Dave Chappelle yelling, “Harvard. We’re rich, (rhyming bad word)!”
In fact, the key defense for these trendy gifts is always, “It’s his money.” I agree 100 percent. Paulson and Harvard only need to say that Harvard is his university, nurtured him, and he is blessed to do whatever he can for something he loves like family. They could simply drop the mic and move on.
This is in fact the best, most succinct and sincere answer they can and should give. Anything else is crap.
But when do the Paulsons of the nation transform the lives of people they may never meet? I tell donors when they support a Dillard student, they aren’t just supporting that student or changing their trajectory -- they have transformed generations of a family. It means a student on full scholarship doesn’t have to work two or three jobs to continue to support the family back home. It means a student can accept an unpaid Washington internship rather than cobble together summer jobs to pay tuition that is a fraction of Harvard’s.
The discussion around this new gift is encouraging. A new level of consciousness is growing. Hopefully we’ll have a new level of courage among ultrawealthy individuals, a level that allows them to share their resources with those who might not look like them or share their background or experiences.
People who, with the right investment, produce a generational multiplier effect that a gift to Harvard could never produce. This requires a transformational love, a love for those we do not know and will never meet.
Walter M. Kimbrough is the president of Dillard University.
Adjuncts at Trinity Washington University voted to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, they announced Friday. The count was 74 in favor and 54 opposed. SEIU’s Adjunct Action campaign to organize adjuncts across metro areas began in the Washington, D.C., region and the union says 90 percent of the adjuncts in the city -- at five other universities -- are now affiliated with it. A university spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.