Submitted by John Thelin on September 13, 2012 - 3:00am
Higher education of the 1960s usually brings to mind student rebellion and campus unrest. Berkeley and Mario Savio are often invoked to symbolize the era of colleges and the counterculture. But this is distorted because it is incomplete. Why not have a collective student memory that includes Mitt as well as Mario?
This seems counterintuitive to the counterculture -- but only because we have overlooked all the innovations that were taking place on American campuses in these tumultuous years. I want to make the case to add seats on the historical stage of higher education – especially with the upcoming November presidential election.
To truly understand the long-term legacy of the 1960s, we need to include Harvard’s Joint M.B.A. and J.D. program as the institution -- and its famous alumnus, Mitt Romney, as the individual – that also are part of the higher education lyrics when boomers are “Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation.”
Scott McKenzie attracted a lot of listeners in 1967 when he sang, “If you come to San Francisco, be sure to wear a flower in your hair....” Mitt Romney, however, was not listening and went in a different direction – politically and geographically. In 1969 he left San Francisco (well, Stanford and Palo Alto) and -- after a detour to France -- headed east to graduate school at Harvard for its brand-new joint M.B.A./ J.D. program, which was founded that year. The rest is history -- and no less than the higher education of perhaps our next president.
Put aside such artifacts as Steven Kelman’s memoir about student protest at Harvard in 1969-70 in his book, Push Comes to Shove. Forget James Simon Kunen’s The Strawberry Statement and its provocative subtitle, “Notes of a College Revolutionary.” Above all, suspend from memory the images of Harvard first-year law students as depicted in Hollywood’s The Paper Chase. It’s time to reconstruct the early years of Harvard’s joint M.B.A./J.D. program and its students, which were a powerful, albeit low-profile counter to the counterculture.
Harvard’s joint program brings to mind the academic equivalent of epoxy cement -- two ingredients (law school and business school) each of which is rigorous in its own right, and when mixed, create an incredibly hard bond -- probably impervious to broad humane or societal considerations. Two articles over the past six months in the New York Times provide some insights into both the joint program and into Romney as a graduate student: Jodi Kantor’s “At Harvard, A Master’s in Problem Solving,” and Peter Lattmann and Richard Perez-Pena's “Romney, at Harvard, Merged Two Worlds.”
As Lattmann and Perez-Pena wrote: “One of the most exclusive clubs in academe is a Harvard University dual-degree program allowing graduate students to attend its law and business schools simultaneously, cramming five years of education into four. On average, about 12 people per year have completed the program — the overachievers of the overachievers — including a striking number of big names in finance, industry, law and government. ...In addition to Mr. Romney, founder of Bain Capital, the roughly 500 graduates include Bruce Wasserstein, who led the investment bank Lazard until he died in 2009; leaders of multibillion-dollar hedge fund and private equity firms like Canyon Capital Advisors, Silver Lake Partners and Crestview Partners; high-ranking executives at banks like Citigroup and Credit Suisse; C. James Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Company; and Theodore V. Wells Jr., one of the nation’s top trial lawyers.”
No doubt these graduate students were smart and worked hard. Beyond that, it’s important to note some characteristics that accompanied this program and its work ethic. First, the formal curriculum pulled inward rather than outward.
Second, Romney as a student in the joint program tended to screen out external events as distractions. According to Kantor, “And unlike Barack Obama, who attended Harvard Law School more than a decade later, Mr. Romney was not someone who fundamentally questioned how the world worked or talked much about social or policy topics. Though the campus pulsed with emotionally charged political issues, none more urgent than the Vietnam War, Mr. Romney somehow managed to avoid them.” Kantor reinforces this depiction by quoting one of Romney’s law school study partners, who recalled, “Mitt’s attitude was to work very hard in mastering the materials and not to be diverted by political or social issues that were not relevant to what we were doing.”
The program pushed toward intensive insularity using the case study pedagogy that relied on no books or contextual sources – all at a time when genuine interdisciplinary, broad perspectives were finding some breathing space in prestigious professional schools elsewhere. It’s too bad for the education of future business (and political) leaders that the joint program that started in 1969 did not consider the very different perspective offered by Earl Cheit, professor (and later, dean) of the business school at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1964, with support from the Ford Foundation, Cheit invited five scholars outside the field of business to join him in conducting a workshop that for the first time brought together business school professors with others to explore and preserve “the connection between the intellectual adventure and the business adventure.”
What a contrast to the Harvard Business School’s case study approach! Cheit’s Ford Foundation program at Berkeley featured, first as talks and later as readings, a cornucopia of ideas and issues, led off by the economist Robert L. Heilbroner’s “View From the Top: Reflections on a changing business ideology.” John William Ward, historian and president of Amherst College, spoke about “The Ideal of Individualism and the Reality of Organization.”
Henry Nash Smith of Berkeley’s English Department discussed businessmen in American fiction in the “Search for a Capitalist Hero.” Historian Richard Hofstadter asked, “What happened to the Anti-Trust Movement?” The economists Paul Samuelson and Cheit himself analyzed changing roles of business in how managers cultivate social responsibility – and how American society balanced personal freedoms and economic freedoms in a mixed economy.” Guest speakers from France and Belgium provided American businessmen with perspectives on business in Europe.
Cheit’s knowledgeable involvement in exploring the past and future of higher education did not stop with this Ford Foundation business program. In 1974-75 he sought (and received) permission to teach a graduate course in the School of Education – one in which he explored how it was that professional schools of business, agriculture, forestry, and engineering came to have a place in the American university. The course content and topic were so novel that it led to publication of a book by the Carnegie Commission, The Useful Arts and the Liberal Tradition.
Once again, it showed that an intellectual and administrative leader in the business school could look outward within the multi-versity and reach outward to the larger society and the economy by complicating the questions rather than doggedly seeking to solve business problems. Cheit also was one of the leading economists to sound an alert to the deteriorating financial condition of the nation’s colleges and universities in his 1971 book on higher education’s “new depression.”
In contrast, what were the aims and goals of the Harvard joint program? One observation provided by NYT reporters is revealing: “But former students and professors say it makes sense that a group of overachievers would be drawn to financial markets, a hypercompetitive field with the promise of immense riches.”
Really? Why were these overachievers necessarily confined to these goals? What if the teaching and discussion had included some consideration of ethics, public good, and social responsibility – along with pursuit of individual prosperity? It’s important to remember that there were good alternatives. For example, Cheit’s Berkeley approach with the Ford Foundation project was to create curiosity, exploration and reasonable doubt about our national obsession with business.
The Harvard joint program, especially its business school component, emphasized the sharpening of decision-making tools, especially in finance. Each, of course, has their place. But if a concern of a university is to ask, “Knowledge for what?,” it is Cheit’s Berkeley model more than Harvard’s joint program that is sorely needed for the thoughtful leadership, whether in business or politics, required for the early 21st century. I’ll be thinking about that on my way to the polls on Election Day in November.
John R. Thelin is a professor at the University of Kentucky. He was a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley from 1969 to 1974. He is author of A History of American Higher Education (2011).
How universities are organized can confuse not only the sympathetic, casual observer of higher education but students and staff members as well.
One campus has a college of arts and sciences, another has separate colleges of sciences, humanities and social science. Microbiology can be in the college of natural resources and environment at one place, and in the school of sciences or the medical school somewhere else. Modern foreign languages appear organized in departments that encompass all of the modern foreign languages and their literatures, in departments devoted to Spanish and Portuguese, French and Italian, or other combinations.
Insiders know, however, that all of these organizational permutations reflect not only significant changes in the universe of knowledge but also internal structures of personality, politics, money and power as well as the external pressures of fad, fashion or funding. Academic reorganization is a frequent exercise on university campuses, and often generates tremendous controversy because each effort signifies a potential for gain or loss in academic positioning for money, power and prestige.
Although, to outsiders, the warfare that these reorganizations frequently provoke can often appear out of proportion to the stakes involved, insiders know that organizational structure can influence internal distributions of resources. Even more importantly for many faculty and students, the organizational structure serves as a prestige map.
Reorganizations that adjust the boundaries of campus subunits are among the most complicated of issues because often reorganization is a good and effective thing while in other cases that look almost the same, it is a scam. Reorganization as an internal political exercise occurs frequently, but so too do readjustments to reflect the expansion and redefinition of knowledge. Separating the substantive from the political requires some careful observation.
For example, the development of a subdiscipline into a major field of study is a complex and fascinating process that produces new departments such as computer science or biomedical engineering. The emergence of new departments or academic guilds follows the development of specific intellectual domains with their own methodology, journals, research agenda, and definition of the particular intellectual skills required to advance knowledge in that area.
The academic guilds eventually determine what new fields have reached sufficient maturity of methodology and intellectual focus to warrant separate status as departments, with the attendant definition of a specific set of requirements for the Ph.D. and often a particular pattern of courses for an undergraduate major. Often national funding agencies and research foundations help advance these changes by supporting research based in defined departments that can give the new research direction and continuity.
Although these intellectual advances often produce some controversy about the point at which a subfield deserves to recognition as a major discipline with its own department, much of the controversy turns on legitimate intellectual issues of methodology and academic substance. These represent significant efforts to readjust the academic world to match advances in knowledge and the organization of scholarship.
Other reorganizations represent mostly varieties of academic game playing. They reflect much less academic substance and instead turn on issues of politics, power, prestige and money.
The game often takes place in shadow form, with highly evolved intellectual arguments that underneath speak to the issues of prestige and money. If one department consolidates with another, the loss in academic status for the members of this consolidated unit can be devastating. Similarly, if a field gains separate bureaucratic status as an independent department, a substantial status gain results. It is much better to be a department of Spanish than a field within a department of Romance languages. It is much better to be a school of journalism than a department of the College of Arts and Sciences. The goal of these organizational transformations is for subgroups of like-minded faculty to have a seat at the institutional table for the distribution of resources, rather than to suffer the risk of having someone less sympathetic to their particular subdiscipline speak for them.
Other organizational anomalies reflect historical, accidental or opportunistic events. Some institutions, concerned that the traditional arts and sciences reflected a domain too large for effective administration, divided the disciplines into subgroups: humanities, social sciences, and sciences or some variation. In such cases, departments like history reside within either the humanities or the social sciences, depending on the intellectual fashion of historians at the time of reorganization.
Business schools can acquire business-like units, and a management school at one institution may include such programs as sports and hospitality management while in another these programs reside in colleges of human performance or continuing education or in separate freestanding schools of hospitality management. Music departments live within colleges of humanities and fine arts or exist as separate schools of their own depending on their size, their focus on performance as opposed to theory or history, and the accidents of their original founding.
Many campus leaders take on reorganization projects to try to align the bureaucratic structure of units with a clear sense of the institution’s academic mission. These efforts can provide a major focus of engagement for the campus, occupy faculty task forces and councils in heady debate, and then, after an extended period, produce a new organizational matrix.
The value of such reorganization varies. Sometimes reorganization can reduce the fragmentation of the campus produced by prior political warfare, consolidate micro-administrative units, and achieve some economies of scale in staff and management. In other cases, the reorganization simply serves to distract the campus from the need to work harder, better and more competitively. Reorganization changes take much time and energy and often substitute for the real work of requiring performance from the units. Reorganization is also a highly visible form of executive leadership that places senior administrators in publicity rewarding, take-charge roles.
The beauty of a reorganization initiative in this context is that it has no measurable outcome. No one has an obligation to demonstrate that the new organization is more effective than the old one, and even if it is more effective, the results will not appear for several years. Reorganization achieves the appearance of significant administrative leadership without an obligation to deliver any improvement in the quality or productivity of teaching or research. And refocuses everyone inward on the internal competition for position, place and money, diverting attention from the necessity of competing against the outside marketplaces of higher education.
Other reorganizations, however, follow the money. In cases where a particular subunit of a campus becomes remarkably successful at attracting external funding, a frequent result is a reorganization that gives the highly successful unit separate bureaucratic identity. Sometimes this occurs through the invention of institutes and centers, which are holding places for academic entrepreneurial success. In other cases, subunits of traditional departments or programs become independent departments, such as polymer sciences or legal studies. A music department can acquire external resources, hire nationally preeminent faculty, and emerge as a freestanding music school. A journalism department can expand its scale through grants, external programs, and fund raising and break free from a college of arts and sciences to become its own school.
For those conversant in the internal political dynamics of universities, the organizational chart of departments, schools, and colleges, and the list of centers and institutes, serve as a guide to the political history of the campus’s intellectual enterprise. By reviewing this chart, a newcomer acquires a sense of the relative political power and intellectual and financial muscle of the various campus units.
University systems also have their own particular and peculiar organizational structures that they revise and reorder frequently, also in response to political and fiscal pressures of various kinds, but that is a topic for another day.
President-elect Barack Obama has proposed replacing the Bowl Championship Series games with an eight-team playoff to determine the national college football champion in Division I-A. If his administration really has the time and inclination to deal with crises other than the national economic picture and our health care system, we would encourage him to focus on something more important than football: how American institutions of higher education are faring in the international education bowl.
Our national education game plan is in fact linked to our economic future. One crucial factor is how our colleges and universities raise and spend their money, for academics and for sports.
As two concerned members of the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, a consortium of university faculty senates concerned about sports issues, we offer here our opinions drawn from our long up-close and personal perspectives on how big-time sports has affected the academic missions at our two universities: the University of Oregon and the University of Texas at Austin. U.T.'s athletics director is (in)famous for declaring its program the "Joneses" of NCAA athletics, with which all others must keep up. Longhorns Inc, as Texas Monthly called Texas athletics in its November issue, outspends all but a few competitors. It is one of the few college sports programs to make a profit. The University of Oregon has also moved into the top 25 in Division I-A football. We discuss the costs to both institutions below.
In September 2006, the U.S. Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education painted a jumbotron-scale picture of the failings and needs of our colleges and universities in math, science, engineering and even reading and writing. The final report, ironically entitled A Test of Leadership, highlighted a serious decline in U.S. student academic performance compared to other countries. Undeterred by these alarming data, university leaders have increased athletic spending, while academic programs suffer.
Simply put, in balancing the institutional priorities of athletics and academics, many university presidents are failing our country. But they are not alone. The University of Texas System Board of Regents, which oversees U.T., has authorized spending a quarter of a billion dollars on stadiums, practice fields and sports arena enhancements since 2003. Other Texas universities spent $750 million during this same time on sports facilities.
"So what?" you might say. "U.T. athletics is making money." We might say this too, if winning football games were the real business of our educational institutions and made a positive contribution to our country's future. The one competition that matters internationally is education. And big-time sports spending carries an educational cost.
It is noteworthy and undoubtedly a relief to our president-elect that college sports is one American big business not looking for a federal bailout. But this is not because NCAA programs across the country are making money. The most recent NCAA study reports that only 17 of the 1,200+ NCAA athletic programs earned a net profit in the economically healthy period between 2004 and 2006. In 2006, 99 Division 1-A programs ran deficits. The average was $8.9 M. Since most universities cannot run deficits, the money for big-time sports spending comes from institutional academic budgets.
Second, universities already get a big handout from the federal government. By making skybox rental fees and mandatory donations for ticket-purchasing privileges tax deductible, our government actually encourages universities to build stadiums and arenas laden with luxury sky-boxes and other kinds of preferred seating. That's where the big "tax-deductible" money is.
Wealthy sports boosters like Phil Knight (the University of Oregon) and T. Boone Pickens (Oklahoma State University) can write off their gifts of $100 million or more to sports programs as donations to higher education.
Congressional committees have examined these loopholes recently and not made any moves towards changing them. However, in fall 2007, the daughter of the late U.S. Rep J.J. (Jake) Pickle, who authored the original Pickle Amendment that created the loopholes, was appalled to learn of the extravagant spending of the University of Texas athletics department. She wrote the Austin American-Statesman that her father never intended that "our sports programs" would "eclipse the purpose of the University of Texas."
There are also other hidden educational costs to sports spending. U.T.'s sprawling sports facilities take up precious building space on campus, even as the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has told the university that it needs an additional 1.4 million square feet of classroom and laboratory facilities to give its 50,000 students a satisfactory education. At the University of Oregon, 60 percent of all campus building projects in the past 10 years have been for intercollegiate athletics, including a new, palatial $200 million basketball arena financed by state bonds.
Then there is the effect on "wannabe" institutions. The UT Board of Regents on December 18 approved a plan for the University of Texas at San Antonio to start a big-time football program by 2016. The plan involves doubling student athletics fees at the 28,000-student institution to $480 annually in order to generate about 70 percent of the conservatively estimated $18 million yearly budget the football program will require. Meanwhile the Texas-San Antonio library reports that it is still occupying the same space it did when the campus opened in 1973 and has inadequate room for its print collection, computers, and student study areas.
Some university leaders have taken salary cuts in response to the fiscal crisis enveloping our universities. But they have not touched the compensation of big-time sports coaches. In November, UT's head baseball coach received a 25 percent raise, to $1 million, and an assistant football coach was designated heir apparent to the head coach's $3 million position. His salary will be raised in January 112 percent -- that's not a typo -- to $900,000, 50 percent more than UT's president makes. Remember, that's for an assistant coach.
Outdoing the Joneses for once, the University of Oregon anointed one of its assistant football coaches a head-coach-in-waiting, too, at $7 million over 5 years. Meanwhile Oregon, like many other universities, cut its academic budget this fall, resulting in fewer courses, larger class sizes and decreased student services.
Oregon and UT played in bowl games this year. What was the cost of getting there? One cost is that the football players on their teams are "bottom-feeders" in the annual Higher Ed Watch's Academic BCS Rankings, based on their abysmal graduation rates and their poor graduation ratio between black and white players. The second cost is in dollars that could be going to academic needs. UT's athletics budget works out to $244,684 per year for each of its 511 athlete-students, but its official student-related expenditures are $11,344 for each student. Oregon spends $108,000 per year for each athlete-student and $9,222 for each enrolled student. The stats are similar at other Division 1 NCAA institutions.
Other countries are beating us in education by wisely using their financial resources not for sports entertainment, but on classrooms, libraries and laboratories. American children are less well educated and have fewer career opportunities than their parents. They have less hope.
Creating more hope is what Barack Obama is all about. Let us hope he uses his influence to get Congress to close the loopholes that have perverted our higher educational priorities, and that he directs our new secretary of education to work seriously on getting university leaders across the country to focus on the one bowl game that truly matters: education.
Tom Palaima and Nathan Tublitz
Tom Palaima is the Raymond F. Dickson Centennial Professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin, and Nathan Tublitz is a professor of biology at the University of Oregon.