Saturday, October 29, 2011

Why is college so expensive? Graft, Greed, Corruption, the usual suspects.

Why is college so expensive?  Graft, Greed, Corruption, the usual suspects.

I recently came across this article while researching online.  It is a startling article, as it shows how a college chancellor can spend millions of dollars on absolutely nothing - and not be held accountable for it.  From what I can find out online, it doesn't sound like the Chancellor had any serious blow-back, and the people who sued him for wrongful termination are, well, doing other things now.

Spending $2.5 million in a no-bid contract for "labor relations services" is, to say the least, troubling.  To begin with, it illustrates how bad the labor cost problem is with colleges and universities - as professors with tenure are paid handsomely, and the blue-collar ranks are padded and paid well, thanks to the Unions.  Unions might not be able to push around Wal-Mart, but they can intimidate Dean Wormer.

$2.5 million is a lot of money - enough to hire twenty-five $100,000 a year janitors, or to give 250 people $10,000 raises - or to give 2500 people $1,000 a year bonuses.  It is, to say the least, a lot of money, and a lot of money for a chancellor to hand out with "no questions asked."

Of course, when people did ask, they got fired.  And the only answers given as to where the money went was:

Payments made under the contract include consulting fees of $4,000-$5,000 per day, first-class travel, valet laundry service, limousine service, and expensive dinners for up to four guests, and entertainment expenses - at times without any notation of who was being entertained or the purported business purpose.

And you wonder why college tuition is $40,000 a year at some schools.

As I noted before, colleges like to build, then abandon, huge buildings.  Alumni donate money to get their names on buildings.  And before you know it, the college quad is crammed with buildings of all shapes and sizes, most of them empty most of the time.

In a recent visit to Syracuse University, I was shocked to see new buildings had gone up, crowding the quad.  And when wandering through the buildings, I was struck by the fact that during the day, while school was in session, during class time, how less than 1/4 of the classrooms were in use.  A lot of empty space to heat and cool.

Cornell University is the same way.  Beautiful, majestic old stone buildings that are empty most of the time, or underutilized.  An alumni donates money for a new building, and the old one sits half-used.

These white elephants are a constant drain on university resources over time, as they must be kept heated, cooled, and maintained - the latter by highly paid (compared to local wage base) union employees.

So where does the chancellor cut costs?  In the education part, of course.  Tenure is rarely offered these days at a lot of schools, and most have non-tenure teaching tracks.  The professors have yet to unionize, it seems.  So instead of having a full-tenure professor teaching your course, you will have a grad-school teaching assistant, or a non-tenure track visiting professor or "adjunct professor".

But never fear, you are getting bang-for-your-buck.  The guy cleaning the toilet in the dorm is a certified Union-card-carrying $100,000 a year janitor.  Put the quality in where it counts, right?

What is so sad about this situation is that students are ready to protest any half-assed cause at the drop of a hat.  Against "Fracking?"  Come out to the quad!  The Coal industry has already pre-printed the protest signs for us AND notified the media!

But no one thinks to protest the school itself - and the staggering cost of an education.  If the students put their foot down and said "No more amateur professors and professional janitors!  No more empty buildings with some rich guy's name on it!  No more raising tuition at 2-3 times the rate of inflation!" maybe something would get done.

But alas, these students are the product of their educational system - i.e., the television.  So they protest for trendy, attractive and well-advertised causes, but fail to figure out what really is going on in their lives and who the real villains are.