At ‘Minding the Campus,’ FIRE Chairman Takes on the Modern, Corporatized University

By on March 17, 2011

Heads up, campus totalitarians: FIRE Co-founder and Chairman Harvey Silverglate has got your number.

In a sweeping critique featured today on Minding the Campus, Harvey documents how the past three decades have seen colleges and universities stray from their educational missions, instead exalting student life bureaucrats and risk-averse lawyers.

Harvey first takes aim at a trend in higher education he’s long criticized: the rise of non-teaching employeesadministrators, lawyers, public relations staffat the expense of educators:

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 71,758 new non-teaching positions were added at American colleges and universities between 2006 and 2009. Taking a modest estimate of the average administrative salary ($50,000 per year), we’re left with the following picture: Over the course of the worst economic recession in some 80 years, American higher education has spent roughly $3.6 billion dollars on additional non-educational employees. Even as faculties, course offerings, and campus educational facilities were being cut back, campus life bureaucracies have managed to expand.

How this administrative bloat affects everyday campus affairs, from the stifling of student voices to the injustices doled out by student disciplinary bodies, is the core of Harvey’s article.

It’s a coda of sorts to his co-authored book, with Alan Charles Kors, The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses (The Free Press, 1998), and the themes will likely ring familiar to loyal FIRE followers. But in weaving together developments in higher education that may not immediately appear to be related, Harvey makes a newly compelling case for why FIRE’s work continues to be as important as ever.

Though readers are encouraged to peruse the piece in full, Harvey’s battle cry of a conclusion is nonetheless worth quoting:

Today’s colleges and universities are failing in their duty to provide cauldrons for ideas that break the bonds of, rather than reinforce, the tyrannies of our age. What is perhaps most disturbing is how little the administrators, and even the trustees, of these institutions recognize the extent to which they betray a sacred missionto help our young people develop the art of critical thinking to prepare them to take their rightful place in the world.