University Becomes Ever More Like a Business

RECEIVED Fri., Feb. 5, 2010

Dear Editor,
    If Andy Smith and Bill Powers were truly concerned about returning to the university's core mission of providing higher education to enrolled students, they would resign immediately [“'A' Is for Axed: UT Chops Cactus, Cuts Classes,” News, Feb. 5; “Off the Record,” Music, Feb. 5]. Petty administrators, overpaid presidents, and dictating regents have absolutely nothing to do with quality education. Universities need administrators like a fish needs a bicycle.
    Administrators do have a function, of course, which is to make sure the university runs like a business and is subject to the same cost-benefit logic that guides corporations. Just as axing the Cactus and informal programs has nothing to do with returning to the university's mission, it also has nothing to do with fiscal constraints, at least not in the way Smith and Powers claim. The university has plenty of money to pay for those programs. What cutting them succeeds in, though, is sending a clear message to their overlords in the bond markets and at bond-rating agencies, which the university needs to keep happy in order to continue financing its massive increase in building and infrastructure spending (an expansion that by magnitudes outstrips the growth in the number of students the university serves). Bond traders love nothing more than an institution's demonstrated resolve to eschew sentimentality and ruthlessly cut programs that don't make money. Smith and Powers are assuring them of the university's ruthlessness.
    In an almost cruel way, the protests that Smith's decision has sparked play right into the administration's hands. Now, when they don't relent on the cutting of the programs – and they won't, even if the money is found somewhere – they are sending an even more favorable message to the bond markets: Look at the way we implemented our program of fiscal austerity even in the face of immense popular protest. Bond traders will squeal with delight, and the university becomes even more like a business.
Eric Beck
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