Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Wall Street Journal Exposes U of Minnesota

Gopher Nation made the front page of the Wall Street Journal's weekend edition of Dec. 29 with an in-depth analysis of the incredible growth of administrative positions, and subsequent expenses, at the land grant institution that's now portraying itself as an engine of research.  Included is a video that describes what this trend is doing not just to US higher education, but to its consumers.  Never explained in the article, however, is the machinery behind this expansion of desk-bound apparatchiks.  Who decides to create a new position in any bureaucracy and how is it approved?  If, for instance, a person in charge of parking feels the need for another meter mechanic, they request this new position from whom?  And this whom, to whom are they responsible?  How is the need for another administrator determined?  Once the new administrator is in place, how does anyone know if that individual has accomplished what the original intent may have been?  As the article points out, the increase in administrative positions and costs have increased dramatically faster than the student body itself.  Where's the famed "economy of scale"?  Or are new administrators just lightening the load on  the hopelessly overworked existing staff?  How does this relate to education or research?


Tangentially, the on-line Spiked publishes a review of Joanna Williams' Consuming Higher Education:  Why Learning Can't Be Bought by Mick Hume.  Although the book itself attempts to describe the changed concept of higher education in Great Britain, the same change is apparent in the US.  The desire for knowledge or learning has been superseded by the intent of the consumer/student to realize a return on his tuition investment in higher life-time earnings.  Of course, there's always the possibility that higher education will result in an occupation that's not only more lucrative but also less physically demanding and cleaner as well.

 At this point, the development of the 19th century German educational paradigm so adored by John Dewey and others has morphed into a gigantic money-eating machine whose value to both society in general and individuals in particular is declining, especially when that society and those individuals are paying rent to that machine, just as they are to the US political, legal and financial systems.  On-line education has a chance to arrest, at least in part, the explosion of educational expense but the entrenched present educational establishment is no mood to see its income diminish.  Interesting times loom for the schools and their graduates, many saddled with unforgiveable debt.