Friday, February 1, 2008

Presidents of Claremont Colleges Try To Save the World

I often chuckle at how college and university presidents feel as if they need to save the world.
From Pomona's President David Oxtoby's fear of climate change to Claremont McKenna's Pamela Gann's love of "social entrepreneurship," it is often instructive to see how those who are entrusted with our tuition dollars love spending them on fads and phony issues.

Oxtoby wants to tackle global climate change by passing tough college rules on emissions, even though he isn't convinced its the right approach. How colleges are contributing to the scourge of global warming is anyone's guess. One thing is for sure, it's going to cost Pomona students more money.

But the latest efforts to save the world come from CGU President Robert Klitgaard who wrote an article in today's The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled "Universities Have the Responsibility to Tackle the World's Toughest Problems."

I happen to agree with Klitgaard that corruption is a serious issue, but why should colleges be addressing it? Klitgaard has the answer right here:

Most important, universities should be willing to take on seemingly intractable problems. If we don't, who will? Who else will provide the hard analysis, the breakthrough thinking, and the long-run perspective? Not government, subject as it is to political agendas and election cycles. Not business, as shareholders will not tend to value CEOs who direct significant company resources to immigration, terrorism, or failing schools. Nongovernmental organizations have the ideals and often the vision, but they often lack the intellectual and financial resources to do it alone.
Does he forget that colleges are often unaccountable to their donors and that their research tends to skew to one side of the political spectrum? Maybe he is aware or maybe he just wants to establish himself as the go to guy on corruption.


Candace said...

Since the creation of the classic German university system in Medieval times, universities/colleges have been institutions entrusted with the responsibility of educating people to solve problems. At first, these problems were theological, mathematical, and philosophical in nature. As we've progressed into modern times, universities have become institutions that use immense stockpiles of social, human, and financial capital to solve practical problems. We see this in academic research, ties that schools have to decision-making bodies (professors are often consultants to the government and media), and the fact that many schools promote student entrepreneurship and the development of communities (from church groups, to issue groups and sports teams).

How accountable schools are to donors depends on the school and the type of donation. You cannot say that the UCs and other public institutions are not responsible to tax-payers and other donors - we often see that these schools shake up their leadership, cut and create programs, and take other tough actions when donors are not happy. Also, think about the Day grant at CMC - the reason why our school is struggling to create a masters program, hire many new faculty members, redesign certain elements of the school, etc. is because the money will get taken away if it is not used the way Robert A. Day stipulates in his agreement. Other grants have freer terms - most of the grant money alumni give to the college go to broad areas - they donate to majors, specific dorms, scholarships, etc.

If you're saying that most research tends to skew to the liberal side of the spectrum - I disagree. Small schools are polarized because students choose schools that reflect their ideologies. Larger schools have a healthy mix of research from both sides of the spectrum. You can find schools on the left and right that publish research - the big story of higher education over the past few years is that private religious schools are becoming quite popular.

Each school takes on a different mission. If you look at the charter of each of the Claremont Colleges, most of them make some reference to leadership and solving social problems. There are schools that want nothing to do with these missions and donors/students can choose these schools if they do not want to take on these social responsibilities. I think that many CMCers and college students around the country are empowered when they encounter and environment that encourages them to look at the problems of the world, rise to positions of leadership, and try to solve those problems.

ConfusedMinority said...

The Robert Day comment is plain wrong.

The agreement allows CMC to keep the money even if the program fails. And broad areas? Majors? Yes, that's exactly what Day did.

Candace said...

That comment is untrue - if CMC does not set out to create the programs that Day presented and does not meet certain benchmarks over time, they have to give up the money. If they didn't make that kind of agreement, there would be no incentive for super-donors to give large amounts of money to the college. In the words of Day himself - he wants to create a school, he doesn't want to just leave his name on a building.

My comments talked about two kinds of donations - those with major strings attached and those without strings attached. The Day grant has strings attached - it cannot be spent on a new philosophy head, a literature wing, etc. It has to go to the 'Robert A. Day School of Economics' and other side projects that he designated.

If CMC takes all of the steps that the agreement designates and the program fails, it's a different story than if they subverted the whole agreement all together and spent the money on something completely different (like a 50 foot bouncy castle or new classroom spaces...).

ConfusedMinority said...

First of: No Grant Money (specially as large as the Day Gift) comes in one go. It is delivered over time through various mediums including securities and bonds.

Robert Day is a Trustee and the Day Gift has to go towards the Day Scholars Program. True. However, if the Trustees, and voting Faculty members (just the way they voted the Day Gift in) decide to scrap the project then they can keep the money. Obviously they can't spend the money on anything they want to. The Board and voting committee made a decision on expenditure and the school has to stick by that budget. Its not being imposed on us and we can always vote it out. Its the same thing as the Econ Department getting money for a new online database or access to journals, and they go and buy a jacuzzi for Bauer Center Instead. If you want a 50 foot bouncy castle, you can bring it up in ASCMC and they can put it through to President Gann. If they like it, we can have a 50 foot bouncy castle.