Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sun deviled

ASU Research Park

Arizona State University, under president Michael Crow, aspired to become the New American University. ASU would enroll 100,000 students by 2020. It would eliminate disciplinary boundaries, spur research, fuel the economy, and serve the deserving and the underserved. Then the bottom dropped out:

[President Michael Crow] increas[ed] enrollment by nearly a third to 67,000 students, lur[ed] big-name professors and start[ed] interdisciplinary schools in areas like sustainability, projects with partners like the Mayo Clinic and Sichuan University in China, and dozens of new degree programs.

But this year, Mr. Crow’s plans have crashed into new budget realities, raising questions about how many public research universities the nation needs and whether universities like Arizona State, in their drive to become prominent research institutions, have lost focus on their public mission to provide solid undergraduate education for state residents.

These days, the headlines about Arizona State describe its enormous cuts.

The university has eliminated more than 500 jobs, including deans, department chairmen and hundreds of teaching assistants. Last month, Mr. Crow announced that the university would close 48 programs, cap enrollment and move up the freshman application deadline by five months. Every employee, from Mr. Crow down, will have 10 to 15 unpaid furlough days this spring.

Describing the $88 million hit that ASU has been asked to sustain since June 2008, the ASU Sun Devil declared, "The New American University has died; welcome to the Neutered American University."

Michael Crow and Arizona State are not alone. Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Costs, Productivity and Accountability, identifies a nationwide "trend line" in “states disinvesting in higher education.”

Read the rest of this post . . . .Prestige and the idea of the public research university may be the first victims of multilateral educational disarmament. As Tamar Lewin of the New York Times reports,
not every university can be in the top 20. And in a time of shrinking state budgets, undergraduates at public universities will most likely pay the price in higher tuition, larger classes and less interaction with tenured professors. So it is a real question how many public research universities the nation can afford, and what share of resources should go to less expensive forms of education, like community colleges.
Shoeless Joe Jackson
Say it ain't so, Joe!
Jane Wellman is even sharper in her criticism: “Universities aspire to prestige, and that is achieved by increasing selectivity, getting a research mission and having faculty do as little teaching as possible, not by teaching and learning, and taking students from Point A to Point B.”

Legal education is by no means immune to the clash between academic ambition and economic reality. Law schools over the last generation have increased selectivity, identified or sharpened their research mission, and endeavored to have faculty do as little teaching as possible. Here are some of the things we have done in the legal academy, mostly in pursuit of prestige and rankings:
  • We've slashed enrollments, to the extent that endowments or cash on hand (rarely) or our parent institutions' failure or reluctance to adopt resource-centered management (more often) has enabled us to trade forgone tuition revenues for marginally lower student-teacher ratios.

  • We've created centers, institutes, summer programs, dual-degree programs, LL.M. programs, and lecture series, often without regard to return on investment and, indeed, most typically as unfunded mandates.

  • We've doubled down on these expenditures by sending out tons of law porn to demonstrate just how conspicuously we can engage in extracurricular consumption.

  • We've dived headlong into an extremely expensive interdisciplinary movement whose benefits are uncertain but whose long-term costs (especially in tenured faculty salaries) are substantial and possibly crippling.

  • We've lowered the expected teaching load, at least at (relatively) elite institutions, from twelve to ten semester hours per year — so aggressively that some top-tier teaching candidates refuse to interview at schools that retain, for understandable economic reasons, the twelve-credit norm.
And all of this in the face of ever stronger evidence that the legal academy's current lifestyle is unsustainable. Mindful that a thousand days and a hundred thousand dollars of debt no longer buy what they used to, would-be students tarry in the wings before rushing into law school.

Nothing is irredeemable till it is past. Legal education would do well to heed the lessons that Michael Crow, one of the most visionary academic leaders of our time, has had to learn during times of extreme budgetary retrenchment in Arizona. Let us do our very best to translate dollars into concrete education results, being ever mindful that student tuition is the economic benchmark for everything we do as educators. In Sun Devil country and elsewhere, we may yet find our way out of the desert.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael Crow invites lawsuits because he is an unapologetic bigot. Since he was hired no African Americans were tenured. He fired other African Americans who came before him. Fired ASU Prof. Kathryn Milun won her case with the EEOC who found discrimination and retaliation yet Crow refused to settle. I could go on ad nauseum. ASU spends millions to defend itself despite a crushing budget deficit. Crow is a blemish on the state of Arizona.

3/17/2009 5:49 PM  

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