By Stephen Smoot

Last week’s Chronicle of Higher Education featured a
protest typical of the ivory tower.  It
pines for what it thinks ought to be, ignoring the reality of what the next
year shall bring.

Professor Christopher Newfield teaches English at
the University of California at Santa Barbara and also wrote Unmaking the Public University: The
Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class
bemoaned the possibility that state
budget cuts will force public universities to live within stricter means.

In his blog post, Dr. Newfield expressed his
gratitude for the retention of the current presidential administration.  He wrote:

The best news about Obama’s victory is that we will
avoid repeating some major policy mistakes of the past. He won’t bring back
private lenders to make the student-debt crisis worse. He won’t cut Pell Grants
for low-income students. He won’t slash federal funds for research. He won’t
further deregulate the for-profit sector. He won’t eliminate tuition tax
credits. He won’t systematically deepen the austerity policies that have been
wrecking state-college budgets and forcing tuition up. 

Tuition has been driven up by easy credit on
government student loans and Pell Grant subsidies. Easy access to credit or
grants encourages colleges to raise tuition. As any economics professor will
explain, inflation is too many dollars chasing too few goods.  When the price of those goods rises well
beyond the value, a bubble forms.

Colleges must look at more realistic options than
tuition hikes and spending increases.

First, spend less. 
Colleges and universities waste resources on over bureaucratization,
misplaced priorities, and other issues. Last year, Bain and Company found that
the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill suffered from too much
“complexity” and “inefficiency” in its administration. In 2010, The Oregonian discovered that the
University of Oregon’s athletic department had spent $8.5 million over the
previous decade out of the general fund. 
In the same period, athletic department spending skyrocketed 65
percent.  Many universities have a lot of
fat to cut.

The very austerity that Dr. Newfield attacks can
serve as a blessing to a university.  The
University of Maryland’s recent switch to the Big Ten from the Atlantic Coast
Conference ended six decades of tradition. It also gave Maryland access to a
much deeper revenue stream that will, with proper management, help it to fully
fund its sports programs.

University budgets benefit from generosity of
donors, which shows why Dr. Newfield’s glee over the continued regulation of
the for-profit sector is misplaced. Stifling regulation that discourages
investment and entrepreneurship will not bring back the economy.  Also, Barack Obama has promised tax hikes on
the very individuals whose gifts can help to balance campus budgets.  As a result, major individual and corporate
donations will continue to drop.  Duke
University saw its major gifts plummet by 22 percent between 2008 and 2010.

Universities do have an opportunity to attract
disaffected donors by offering programs that match their values.  BB&T supports free market research and
teaching at over 30 different colleges and universities.

Dr. Newfield might be considered an expert by some
on the financial challenges facing today’s universities.  But an idea is often most dangerous when it
is the only one considered.  By failing
to examine the full picture, Dr. Newfield offers a very unrealistic view of how
public universities can meet their challenges both now and in the future.

Stephen Smoot is the Director of Academic Programs at the National Journalism Center

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