The Not-So-Hidden Purpose of the University of AustinRoundup
tags: higher education, capitalism, University of Austin
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a regular contributor to PostEverything.
A signal virtue of the University of Austin’s “Founding Trustees” is that they are not a silent bunch. Since I wrote about UATX last week, two of the trustees have written explanatory op-eds: Niall Ferguson in Bloomberg News and Joe Lonsdale in the New York Post. Once you get past their long, occasionally accurate indictments of the ivory tower, they provide additional information about how this proposed university will work and why. The latter makes a lot more sense than the former.
Let’s start with the “how.” Both op-eds offer up some detail of how this university will operate. Ferguson mentions a strong core curriculum and “Oxbridge-style instruction, with small tutorials and college-wide lectures.” Lonsdale stresses the need for interdisciplinarity.
So far, so good. But then we get to the comedy gold — how the university will be governed. Here is Ferguson’s description:
The founders will form a corporation or board of trustees that will be sovereign. Not only will the corporation appoint the president of the college; it will also have a final say over all appointments or promotions. There will be one unusual obligation on faculty members, besides the standard ones to teach and carry out research: to conduct the admissions process by means of an examination that they will set and grade. Admission will be based primarily on performance on the exam. That will avoid the corrupt rackets run by so many elite admissions offices today.
If the University of Austin’s goal is to attract top-notch faculty, this is a recipe for disaster. The worst aspect of a professor’s job is grading, particularly large-scale grading. Ferguson proposes to add an order-of-magnitude-increase to that obligation.
The deeper problem, however, is a corporation with final sovereign say over any promotion or hiring decision. In theory, most universities have a board of trustees with similar nominal powers. In practice, trustees rarely if ever reverse faculty recommendations — and they usually look foolish when they do so.
Ferguson clearly wants a more powerful corporation — run by, among others, Ferguson — to exert independent authority. This raises the specific issue for any faculty member of trying to appease the likes of Lonsdale and Ferguson. Lonsdale has … let’s say “traditional” views of masculinity. Ferguson had to resign from a Stanford University governance position over email correspondence he had with conservative undergraduate students coordinating opposition research and intimidation tactics against more liberal student leaders. What a couple of characters!
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