Why Not Manage Universities, Mr. President?

Editor’s Note: A longer version of this article first appeared in American Thinker.

I hear it repeatedly, even from pro-business conservatives:

Hey, I have no sympathy for AIG and the automakers and banks. When you take government money, you can expect the government to tell you what to do. Besides, these companies are wasteful, charge too much, and their salaries are too high.

Well, if that’s so, then why doesn’t the government intervene to run our universities? Even though thousands of federal regulations apply to nearly every college and university, why don’t President Obama and the Democratic Congress take the next step and dictate marching orders to university presidents, or fire bad ones?

Think about it: Few things are as costly as a college education. From the moment parents look into their newborn’s eyes, they start saving for college. Even then, that’s not enough; student loans, with interest, are necessary. The cost of a degree is obscene.

And what about the product—assuming it graduates? Economically speaking, few graduates will achieve the hourly salary of their professors or yearly salary of college administrators. Educationally speaking, these degreed citizens perform miserably in basic civic and economic literacy. (Check out the recent survey by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.)

And yet, consider the salaries of those running universities, particularly those accepting the most government funding. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 59 public-university presidents received salaries exceeding $500,000 in 2007-8, up from 43 the previous year—a healthy salary jack when many parents grapple with job losses.

At President Obama’s alma mater, Columbia University, President Lee Bollinger made $1,411,894 last year. John Sexton at NYU collected $1,324,874. Northwestern’s Henry S. Bienen scraped by with $1,742,560. And Amy Gutmann of Penn raked in $1,088,786—a 40 percent hike from the previous year, enough to make a Big Oil CEO green with envy.

And what about the Keynesian advising President Obama to deficit-spend our tax dollars to “prime the pump” during the recession? When Lawrence Summers recently left Harvard, he received a $2-million severance—on top of his $714,005 salary, not to mention his wife’s salary (as a literature professor) of $179,056. Did I mention that Harvard provided the couple with a home?

Here’s a question for Senator Chuck Schumer: Have you compared these folks’ wages to those of the custodians who clean their offices? How about professors at Columbia Teachers College vs. the workers who prepare their food in the cafeteria? The typical tenured professor spends under 10 hours per week in the classroom, and gets at least four full months of paid vacation. No GM fat-cat enjoys those perks.

Talk about “Two Americas.” If the boys on Capitol Hill want to fan the flames of class warfare, this is a tinderbox.

And somehow, after all that, after taking tens of thousands of dollars per year from debt-ridden students and parents, on top of boatloads of government money, these colleges claim they are broke. How can this be? Why isn’t Barney Frank demanding hearings?

And I ask liberals: What could be as un-progressive as an Iowa mom and dad, with income under $60,000, sending their daughter to an elite Northeast university—with life savings not enough—to help subsidize large staffs of PhDs who’ve accumulated more cash in 10 years than “mom and dad” in a lifetime?

So, why isn’t President Obama reining in our colleges?

Here’s one reason: Liberal Democrats see no reason to investigate universities—because universities serve as the popular front for their agenda.

Here are a few figures:

A 2007 study by Neil Gross of Harvard and Solon Simmons of George Mason found that liberal faculty members outnumber conservatives by 11-1 among social scientists and 13-1 among humanities professors. That’s consistent with a long line of surveys, which tend to find self-identified liberals around 80-90 percent and conservatives around 10 percent.

It has been that way for decades. An early 1990s poll found 88 percent of “public affairs” faculty identifying themselves as liberal, 12 percent claiming to be “middle of the road,” and, remarkably, 0 percent opting for the conservative label.

A 2003 survey by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture found these ratios of Democrats to Republicans: Swarthmore College: 21-1. Bowdoin College: 23-1. Wellesley College: 23-1. Brown University: 30-1.

Analyses of Cornell found 166 liberals compared to six conservatives; at UCLA, 141 liberals vs. nine conservatives.

I could go on and on. I have a folder jammed with studies.

Remember that academia champions “diversity.” Well, certainly not ideological diversity. Surely not diversity of ideas—the kind of diversity that ought to matter most at a university.

Keep in mind that these figures are fully out-of-sync with the public and parents who send their children to these colleges. For at least two decades now, the number of self-indentified conservatives among the overall population has ranged near 40 percent, whereas self-identified liberals hover around 20 percent, holding steady even in the last election that elected Barack Obama.

Thus, the liberal Democrats running the federal government have no complaint about our universities. They share the same worldview. Moreover, the universities produce the political products that liberal Democrats desire.

Consider the results of the November 2008 election, in which college-aged voters came out in droves—nearly one in five voters, or about 25 million ballots—and went for Obama by more than two to one. Those voters alone well exceeded Obama’s overall vote advantage. It was truly the college crowd that elected Obama.

So, this is perfect for Obama and his fellow Democrats. Why change a thing?

But actually, it’s even more direct than that. These professors funnel more than students to the Democratic Party. In 2004, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics found that the top two institutions in the country, in terms of employee per-capita contributions to presidential candidates, were Harvard and the University of California system—both of which gave 19 times more money to John Kerry than to George W. Bush.

Another 2004 analysis, by Andrew Sullivan, found that of the nearly 800 donations made to the Kerry and Bush campaigns by Ivy League professors, 92 percent went to Kerry.

I haven’t seen an analysis of 2008, but I’m sure it’s worse.

Maybe I’m being unfair. Perhaps these institutions don’t get enough money from the life-savings and bank borrowing of students and parents, not to mention endowments, and really do need a lifeline from Uncle Sam, plus a second lifeline from their states?

Well, I teach at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania, which takes no government money, the result of standing for its principles of faith and freedom before the U.S. Supreme Court. The college is not subject to federal regulation that follows federal money and it is not wasteful; our students graduate in four years at a rate substantially beyond the national average with extraordinary placement in jobs and grad schools; our students get aid through a private loan program; the college is listed as one of the “best buys” in higher education; and its students score exceptionally well in surveys and tests. (Grove City College scored second in the nation in the aforementioned ISI survey.) Sadly, though, Grove City College is the exception.

The rule is what our rulers in Washington desire.

So, don’t expect any AIG-like show trials of college presidents, nor a push to cap salaries, return “bonuses,” freeze tuition, or regulate rising costs. Nope, there will be no demonization of rampant “greed” in this sector of the American workplace.