, , ,

So, Aaron Bellow, an English professor at CUNY and editor at the Academe Blog made an attempt to slap me down over his half-baked whinge-fest blaming the collapse of standards at American universities on “corporations.” His response made a couple of university administrators and financial officers laugh when I gave them the run down. Here it is, in all of its glory:

I will address your comments more concretely in a future blog post but I think I should start here.

First, yes, it is possible to be an autodidact. There are plenty. But that does not mean it should be necessary or that it is even a good way to go. For most, learning on one’s own does not work well. Second, there was no “mad rush,” as you call it. Third, you are creating a false dichotomy between vocational training and the liberal arts. Pursuing one does not mean giving up the other. Fourth, there has been no “reduced utility” of a college degree–and such degrees are certainly in great demand. Fifth, the diversity of thought in our institutions of higher education is staggering. The only people who think not are those who find that their own narrow beliefs cannot stand up to scrutiny or who haven’t the guts to argue forcefully for their beliefs in an academic setting. Sixth, I have heard no one frame everything in terms of “victimology” (whatever that means). Seventh, it is the for-profit colleges who are really riding the “government funding gravy train,” not the traditional colleges and universities.

When I post a fuller response, I will give the link here.

Let’s take his points one by one, just to keep the same structure.

1) Okay, you got me. But considering most of the truly successful inventors and entrepreneurs of the 19th and 20th Century bagged college after a year or two makes me suspect that my point isn’t entirely invalid.

2) Here he’s talking about the very demonstrable push by government, the academy, businesses, and parents in the 1980s to get thee to a college, because you’ll get a good job. If you are older than, say, 40, you’ll remember it well. You might also remember how

3) Vocational training was seen as a “lesser” course for people to take (especially if you were on the college prep track.) The idea that vocational training and liberal arts education are mutually exclusive is a good point, and they don’t have to be, so point scored, sir. However, outside of the chancel of academia, you’ll find quickly from managers and employers that Wordsworth and Heidegger don’t do you in good stead as a keyboard jockey, a welder, a oil rig worker, a mason…

4) Again, for those of us who have been in the job market in the last 15 years — this statement is immediately, demonstrably wrong. Hey, what’s the unemployment for revent graduates with liberal arts and humanities degrees? Oh, that’s about 33% (Dept. of Labor — look it up yourself.)

5 and 6) This one will make anyone not a Progressive laugh. I’ll do the anecdotal thing, even those that’s not really evidence. In six years at University of New Mexico, no conservative or libertarian scholar, despite at least two of them doing truly novel work, received teaching or graduate assistantships. Three were run out of the department (of course, they couldn’t handle the “rigor”, but they did just find at other institutions.) We had two different law suits sprung on the campus over what the Right would call “reverse discrimination”, but there’s no such thing…there’s only discrimination. One case involved an English teacher who graded all the male students less than female ones; another was a case where two male students were run out of an American Studies class (literally) by the female professor for challenging statements characterizing men as rapists, violent, and which used the feminist victimology to frame every single statement in the class. I had a Comanche (that was white than my lily Scottish ass) physically threaten me for making an observation regarding “recovered” practices of the Plains Indians. a Progressive lost his shit on me for a point regarding Richard Dawkins (who I find an excellent biologist and his toss off idea of the meme to be brilliant…but he’s not a poster child for inclusion of thought.) We had a former soldier pop a lawsuit that was quickly made to go away over the shouting down of dissenting opinion in an English class. This isn’t diversity, nor was it an inability of the students to defend their opinions. It was rank bullying by professors. Now, to be fair, this could be a reflection of the terrible status of things at UNM, but I saw — in one year at New Mexico State University I saw my thesis chair pushed out by continual harassment by other professors in the shape of hostile, anonymous notes on his door an mailbox. I had a professor try to browbeat me on Islam, despite having (at that time) 12 years of familiarity with the religion and the Middle East — that didn’t work so well as I don’t buckle in the face of bullies.

7) This is a polite suggestion — when you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, don’t bring attention to it. Since i happen to have one of UNM’s financial officers in shouting range and one for University of Phoenix in the contacts list, I had a quick work-up for both colleges on their income streams. (Oops! And the first got a big laugh from this assertion…)

University of New Mexico, if you carve out the hospital revenue which mostly stays in that institution, brings in about $2.5 billion a year for about 35,000 students. Apollo Group, which owns the University of Phoenix and four other educational organizations, brought in about $840 million in the 2014 year (that includes the VA benefits that don’t come from the Department of Education; this comes directly from the investors’ annual report for the year)…for 113 full university campi worldwide, with a student population of about 400,000. Do the math. Even if you grant the “95% of their money comes from federal grants and aid”, they still make less for a great many more students, than a typical state school…and in the case of the Albuquerque Campus of UofP, they have better accreditation than UNM on many of their programs.

Of that $2.5b for UNM, 46% comes from the federal government, and about 35% from state and local appropriations. They rest comes from tuition and outside contracts and grants (those evil corporations.) Most sports departments are self-sustaining, or very near, from merchandising and ticket sales. Sorry, academics, “all that money” to the jocks? They earned it. So the idea that there’s no “federal gravy train” isn’t just wrong, it’s laughably ignorant. I would assume Mr. Bellow has been to the faculty retreats where you complain about how much money your program isn’t getting, while tuning out all the stuff about how your profs aren’t pulling enough bums in seats to get that grant to go hang out in Spain for a year to study Goya paintings.

But to address his “for-profit colleges who are really riding the ‘government funding gravy train’…” comment — yes, most do get a sizable portion on their budget from Title II aid, student loans, and the GI Bill: between 70 and 90% (Apollo Group is the higher end), but “these guys are worse” argument does not diminish the critique — universities are getting far too much money from the federal government, and students have too much debt for the return on investment.

While I’m sure Bellow would trot out the 44% of UofP graduates default on their loans (now he doesn’t have to), I would point out the non-traditional student body of most for-profit colleges — working adults, adults with overwhelming family obligations, military members present and former, and not the traditional just out of high school kid — presents those students with challenges that make them much more likely to fail to finish or utilize their degrees. This isn’t a matter of worse education, as evidenced by Apollo Group’s influence right now in national educational policy (just for one example), but a reflection of the type of student that attends. Similarly, the failure and default rate on student loans for UNM’s satellite campi is about the same as UofP.

More importantly, the investors’ report showed a contraction of enrollment over the last three years or so that parallels that of most universities across the United States I haven’t looked at enrollment in Europe, but if someone has figures on this, please drop a comment and enlighten us!) Universities have seen a steady drop in enrollment. I don’t have the stats for the last three years from UNM, but my contact there says about 20-25% per annum; UofP showed a 17.8 up to 22% drop in enrollment over all the campi (Albuquerque was particularly hard hit, but for a number of other reasons unrelated to demand.)

The facts…well, they’re the facts. Public universities make about 80% of their money from state and federal government; for profit 75-90% from the feds exclusively, but they are also usually multi-state entities and not entitled to state funds. Universities are suffering just like the National Lab system, just like the VA and the military, or any other section of the government not related to tax collection and law enforcement…the money is spent. It’s gone and the belt is going to have to get tightened. That means less dollars for universities at a time when their utility and quality (right or wrong — I’ll give Bellow his due; maybe the students are not fairly evaluating the use of Comp 101) is seen as diminished. People vote with their feet; 20% per year drops in admission speak a whole lot louder than some coddled academic safely parked in his comfy chair during office hours.