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Oct 16, 2004 12:24 am


Higher Education and Politics



This week's Chronicle has a couple of interesting stories on some of the lesser-known political aspects of higher education. In light of only the second occasion in which all four presidential/VP debates were held at college campuses, this piece examines what colleges get (and do not get) out of such arrangements. Former HHS secretary Donna Shalala, now president of the University of Miami, is clearly a big believer in the benefits of sponsorship, but to me, it's hard to see how these events work to a university's advantage. I can't imagine anyone thinking that UMiami or Arizona State are more serious academic institutions because a presidential debate occurred on campus.

The other article explores the practice of state elections for university regents/trustees. Currently, four states (Colorado, Nevada, Michigan, and Nebraska) have elections for regents. In theory, this seems like a good idea, as a way of reinforcing the idea that trustees should serve as the people's representatives in higher education, and should feel empowered to act when colleges and universities depart substantially from their states missions. In practice, however, as the article makes clear, electing trustees doesn't seem to work very well--it's very hard to get people to pay attention to the issues, and it seems more likely to produce trustees who are seeking to build future political careers (as in one NV trustee who opposed any proposal to increase any aspect of university funding, as a way of building a record as a low-spending politician) or have ties to parts of the university most removed from the academic side of things (as in the Colorado trustees who are openly supportive of the university's beleaguered football program).

Finally, Ralph Luker, below, linked to an important student free speech case at UMass. The general issue of speech codes is treated in broader perspective in this month's Reason in an article that college administrators would do well to peruse.

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