Hitting ‘Em Where It Hurts – the Pocketbook



About twenty years ago, I met a remarkable man by the name of Harry Langenberg. Harry was a free market stalwart who had founded the Discussion Club in St. Louis in 1955. We met owing to the fact that we were both supporters of the Foundation for Economic Education.

In the course of conversation, I learned that Harry was a Princeton graduate – Class of 1931. I asked him what he thought of his alma mater many decades later and he replied, “Can’t stand what’s happened there and I haven’t given them a dime in years.”

If Harry Langenberg was unhappy with Princeton in 1997, many other Americans have even stronger reasons to be unhappy with their schools in 2017. The rank politicization of the curriculum, the way administrators bow to politically correct clichés like “sustainability,” the mania over diversity, the decline in academic standards, the sheer waste of money on non-educational frills, and so on—today’s alums have lots of reasons to be disappointed with the way their schools are being run.

Yet despite all the grumbling, Americans keep donating huge amounts of money to their schools. They admit that they are deeply dissatisfied, but still write hefty annual checks to help support the old (put in college colors here). It’s like smoking—a bad habit that many simply can’t break.

What might help give them the fortitude to do that is a recent article in the Washington Examiner by Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute entitled “Stop giving to your alma mater until they commit to these common-sense reforms.”

Rubin writes, “Universities have for too long looked at alumni as cash cows. While alumni should not attach political demands in the cash they contribute and should respect academic freedom, universities should at the same time not simply look at alumni as cash cows who can be milked but who will not demand the university be accountable for its choices and spending.”

That’s right. The needed change in university governance won’t happen unless the alumni say that they will stop giving until their institutions commit to the following six reforms.

First, they should insist that applicants write an essay to explain their thoughts on free speech so they will “know whether applicants are truly committed to an exchange of ideas, no matter how uncomfortable.” Yes, the students might not tell the truth, but in that case their essays would be grounds for severe discipline if they later participate in anti-speech protests.

Second, they should tell the school administrators to stop expanding their bureaucracies and devote more resources to actual education. “The goal,” Rubin writes, “should be to have teachers outnumber administrators, and until that goal is reached, alumni should realize their donations are subsidizing administrative bloat.”

Third, alumni should insist that the school stick to education and steer away from hot-button social issues. Rubin mentions the Title IX witch hunt to prevent every possible case of sexual harassment; I would add that they should avoid public support for ideological campaigns like “sustainability,” so well discussed in this NAS report.

Fourth, college officials must follow color-blind policies in admissions and hiring, and reject demands for separate housing or centers for certain races only. “If diversity and exchange of ideas are the goals,” Rubin writes, “these centers should never enable students to insulate themselves from contrary ideas.”

Fifth, schools must once again recognize that all courses aren’t necessarily appropriate at all levels of study. Courses taken earlier should concentrate on broad knowledge, not on very narrow or trendy topics. Later on, students can delve into the details of finely focused courses.

And sixth, alumni should advocate ideological diversity. “Faculty members trend liberal,” Rubin states, “not because liberals are smarter but because the tenure system and peer pressure enables universities to squeeze conservatives out for failing to bow down to the idols of certain academic theories.” Alumni could let it be known that they’ll be watching to see if, e.g., only Marxists are hired to teach in the history department.

The internet makes it rather easy now to coordinate like-minded people for group action.  Princeton alumni who are concerned about what their university is doing with their money could form an association and put forth their conditions for future giving. If they are rebuffed or ignored, they can put their money to many other fine uses.

That’s what Harry Langenberg did, putting his wealth behind an endowed professorship at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, the Friedrich A. Hayek Professor of Economic History, a position current held by Max Gillman.

Alumni have the power of the purse and should begin using it.

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