I started sounding the alarm years ago: Through soaring tuition and leftist orthodoxy, higher-ed institutions would lose the support of a broad swath of the American people. At some point, parents rebel against paying small fortunes to have their kids indoctrinated to reject their values. As the latest Gallup poll shows, a steadily declining percentage of Americans express confidence in higher education.
Predictably, the decline over the past decade has been sharpest among Republicans, whose values are most reviled in academia. The decline among Democrats, who are far more likely to feel a philosophical kinship with campus progressives, has been modest. (See the Gallup numbers.) Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Earlier this month, an anonymous group distributed a pamphlet, “We’re Pissed Off: You Should Be, too,” on the University of Virginia grounds that issued a broadside against the university’s governance structure. Although Board of Visitors member Bert Ellis was the primary object of their ire, the authors criticized the Board generally as “an undemocratic institution.”
“Seventeen people who are appointed by the State, which only provides 11% of UVA’s academic division’s funds, are deciding where 100% of it goes as the BOV gets the final say over approval of the annual budget,” states the pamphlet. “The Board of Visitors (BOV) as an institution is inherently undemocratic. It does not have enough checks and balances put into place to protect students, as well as faculty, staff, and UVA’s administration.”
This is a useful conversation to have. From the student’s or graduate student’s perspective, I suppose, the Board does seem undemocratic. Board members are appointed by Virginia’s governor. Neither students nor faculty get to vote on who serves on the board. But, then, the taxpayers of Virginia don’t get a direct vote either. Neither do parents paying tuition. Neither do alumni who collectively contribute as much to UVa’s funding as the Commonwealth of Virginia does. (Philanthropy and endowment income have surpassed state contributions as a revenue source.)
UVa, like other higher-ed institutions, is a strange beast. Its rules of governance are unlike those of government, or corporations, or charitable organizations. UVa is more like a feudal institution. It has an academic division and a healthcare division. The academic division has 13 colleges and schools, each with its own dean and varying degrees of autonomy and philanthropic funding. Students have a significant role in self governance. So do faculty. Affiliated with the university is a bewildering assemblage of autonomous groups that carry out important functions, each with their own boards.
Nominally, the Board of Visitors governs this feudal kingdom. But in reality it does not exercise much power. It is easily manipulated by the administration. This is not unique to UVa or a rap on President Jim Ryan. It’s the way almost all universities work. Continue reading
A group of James Madison University alumni has organized a new group, the Madison Cabinet for Free Speech and Accountability, to promote “freedom of expression, intellectual diversity, and academic freedom on campus.”
The JMU group marks the fourth university in Virginia to organize in protest of the takeover of an institution by woke administrations and campus cultures. The others include The Jefferson Council, The General’s Redoubt (at Washington & Lee), and The Spirit of VMI PAC (at the Virginia Military Institute). Virginia can claim more dissident alumni groups than any other state.
The Jefferson Council is pleased to have played an assisting role in getting the Madison Council organized. Tom Neale and Jim Bacon, both of whom serve as Jefferson Council representatives to the Alumni Free Speech Alliance (AFSA), participated in organizational Zoom calls, provided advice based on the Jefferson Council’s experience, and made introductions to AFSA.
“The Madison Cabinet represents a huge step forward for the alumni movement in Virginia,” said Bacon, executive director of the Jefferson Council. “Three alumni groups fighting for free expression and intellectual diversity will have far more clout in the halls of state government than one alone. The addition of the Madison Cabinet adds a new dimension to our efforts: the ability to influence state legislation.” Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
When Donald J. Finley retired from the Virginia Business Higher Education Council (VBHEC) earlier this year, Virginia’s higher-ed industry lost one of its most effective advocates in Richmond. As Charles Kelley with McGuire Woods Consulting tweeted at the time: “Don is the best example of a true public servant, and he’s undoubtedly the single-most important factor in silently but masterfully making Virginia’s #highered system the powerhouse it has grown into over the last half century.”
The goal of the Council is to support “higher ed investment” in Virginia toward the goal of building a world-class workforce. Last month the organization issued a press release applauding the General Assembly for its “historic vote” that would provide “more than $1 billion in new state funding focused on college affordability and talent development.”
The higher-ed lobby is one of the most powerful in Richmond. Not only can universities mobilize the support of business organizations such as Virginia Chamber of Commerce and call upon powerful alumni for assistance, they field a small army of government relations (GR) employees. By one count, Virginia’s public universities alone account for 50 state employees who are compensated (not counting benefits) $8.6 million a year — not counting paid lobbyists. Continue reading
Graphic credit: Axios
Medical debt, which comprises 58% of all debt collections in the U.S., is the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States. Between January 2018 and July 2020, hospitals filed tens of thousands of lawsuits and other court against against patients, according to AXIOS, which drew upon Johns Hopkins University data. Until a public outcry compelled them to stop suing patients last year, the two most aggressive debt collectors in the country, by a wide margin, were the VCU Medical Center in Richmond (17,806 court actions) and the University of Virginia hospital in Charlottesville (7,197 court actions).
What do the VCU and UVa hospitals have in common? Several things. First, both enjoy nonprofit status. Second, both generate significant profits. Third, both are teaching hospitals affiliated with large research universities. Fourth, both universities are governed by self-perpetuating oligarchies accountable to no one, least of all to patients. Fifth, both are incentivized to suck every dime they can out of their customers to fund the thing that confers institutional prestige — medical research. Continue reading