Bi-Weekly Notebook

RALEIGH – University of North Carolina President Erskine Bowles maintained his image of business-like efficiency when he spoke before the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee on Nov. 15. Although his chief purpose was to describe the details of the 6.5 percent tuition cap, he made other points about the university administration’s commitment to efficiency, transparency, and accountability. For one, he said that the university has clarified its priorities. Budget requests for the upcoming year take up 32 pages, compared with 347 or 348 last year. Financial aid and faculty salaries top the priorities list.

Spellings makes recommendations for higher education’s future

WASHINGTON – Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced Tuesday proposals to reform higher education that would increase need-based financial aid and create a national database to provide more information to families.

The speech, delivered at the National Press Club, was the most anticipated in Spellings’ tenure and comes at the culmination of a year-long process examining the future of higher education in the nation. The process began in Charlotte last year when Spellings announced the formation of a national committee to look at how higher education can improve. Last week, commissioners, including former Gov. James Hunt, submitted their final report, titled, “A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education.”

Even though Spellings stated that she did not “envision or want a national system of higher education,” it’s clear that many of the programs that she desires would ultimately increase the federal government’s role in higher education.

Higher Education Conference at UNC Promotes “Inclusion”

CHAPEL HILL – Last week, 150 higher education and business leaders converged on UNC-Chapel Hill for a conference on two favorite topics of the higher education establishment – access and affordability.

In a conference dubbed as “Politics of Inclusion: Higher Education at a Crossroads,” one thing was obvious – the event was highly scripted. Attendance at the conference was by invitation only and mostly included people who agreed with the premise of the conference, that the U.S. needs to improve access to college so as to include a wider cross-section of America’s youth. Rather than an examination of that view, it was essentially a pep rally for that view.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor James Moeser delivered the keynote address to open the conference. Moeser’s speech sounded much like the stump speeches of former Senator John Edwards in that he said that there are “two North Carolinas” – one wealthy and well connected, the other poor and desperate – and how higher education can help to improve the lives of low-income families. To reach that goal, Moeser advocated an increase in need-based financial aid and said leaders must push an agenda of access and affordability to political leaders.

Two Studies Agree – UNC Governance Should be Changed

In one of his earliest political speeches in 1964, Ronald Reagan said, “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.”

Reagan’s point was that governmental structures hardly ever are abolished. And it’s almost as rare for them to be reduced in size. That is pertinent when considering the University of North Carolina Board of Governors (BOG). At 32 members, it is the largest state university governing board in the nation.

Last year, the Pope Center, in conjunction with the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) released a study written by Phyllis Palmiero, an expert in the administration of higher education. That paper, “Governance in the Public Interest,” concluded among other things that the UNC BOG is too large and ought to be selected by the governor rather than through an arcane legislative process.

The Intellectual Monoculture of Higher Education

“It just won’t do to have an all-white university,” Harvard’s president Derek Bok said several years ago, attempting to justify the policy of favoring non-white applicants. The rallying cry for “diversity” proponents has long been that our institutions should “look like America” – that is, to mirror the composition of society with regard to racial, ethnic, and other classifications of individuals. Taking them at their word, what about diversity of philosophy? What about intellectual diversity?

In education, you would think that diversity of ideas would be at least as, if not more important than skin color or sexual preferences. But when it has been pointed out that college faculties tend to be very homogeneous when it comes to their beliefs on socio-economic questions, the response from the higher education establishment has mostly been that it’s a threat to academic freedom even to discuss the matter. No need for “all colors of the rainbow” when it comes to points of view on the proper relationship between state and society. Many academic departments are intellectual monocultures, with hiring preferences by those in authority filtering out any new professors whose opinions are much different from the norm. They think that is perfectly fine.

Bowles makes cuts to streamline UNC administration

CHAPEL HILL – When Erskine Bowles, the business executive who had served as President Clinton’s chief of staff, took over the UNC system in January, he proposed a visionary agenda that would dictate his activities. Among the top priorities was running the organization more effectively and through the prism of his business experiences.

In the past week, we’ve seen some of the results of that agenda. Bowles announced last week that he plans to cut 10 percent, or $1.3 million, from the UNC General Administration budget. The move would eliminate 15.5 positions, half of which are currently filled, including four vice presidents and six associate vice presidents. However, when taking into account three new positions created by Bowles earlier this year, the net reduction of the cut is 12.5 positions.

Higher education is very high in labor cost and approximately 80 percent of the UNC General Administration budget in the past has gone towards personnel.

NCAA should leave academic requirements to schools

It must be getting close to college football season, because my mind keeps wondering to all things college football, the NCAA, and the Fiesta Bowl.

Yet, when I think of the NCAA today there are more important things that come to mind besides if West Virginia University have a shot a national championship. With recent actions to declare some high schools as ineligible to receive accreditation from the NCAA because of weak academics, making it harder for their students to participate in college sports, we are left scratching our heads. Where do concerns about academic quality fit into the realm of the NCAA?

Drafts give glimpses into higher education report

Higher education institutions in the United States must improve in “a drastic way,” according to a draft version of the commission that has been given the task of assessing American higher education and its future. The final version of the report is expected sometime in August, but even the draft has sparked great interest.

The draft has been circulating since the end of June and is seen as a glimpse into the recommendations that will be included in the final version. The report is being produced by a national committee initiated by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. Among the members of the commission is former North Carolina governor Jim Hunt.

A second draft has begun to circulate. Missing from the second draft are some of the more hard-hitting criticisms of the current higher education system.

From the home office in Chapel Hill, the top 15 pork barrel higher education projects

At some point today, legislators will give final approval to the budget compromise that was hatched out before the Fourth of July weekend. It marks the end of the budget process that began in May and extended just days past the start of the 2007 fiscal year.

Like any governmental budget, this one has enough pork to make a pig farmer smile. This year’s higher education budget contains many generous helpings.

In honor of the passage of the state budget, the Pope Center unveils its list of the top 15 pork barrel projects. We determined projects for the list based on two questions. Is the project really needed? Should it be privately funded? While some of the projects in the list seem worthwhile, it would be better if they were funded through voluntary contributions.

So without further adoo and in true David Letterman style, from the home office on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, here is this year’s “Top 15 Higher Education Pork Barrel Projects.”

Does UNC need to expand?

When I first saw the email heading – “Could NC Wesleyan become a UNC school?” – I thought it was going to be a joke.

But as I read through the news item, I found out that several members of the General Assembly are quite serious about wanting to have North Carolina Wesleyan College be taken over by the University of North Carolina system. The idea is laughable, but they’re serious.

A provision was included in the Senate budget bill to study (at a cost to the taxpayers of $50,000) the feasibility of bringing this liberal arts college that is affiliated with the United Methodist Church into the big UNC congregation. Why on earth would we want to start ladling public money into a school that has managed quite well for half a century on funds raised from willing donors and students?