College and the Big Evil Corporation Model

Here’s an idea to keep in mind when thinking about our wonderful universities and colleges: these ivy-infested institutions are, when you get right down to it, rich, evil corporations.

Image result for j p morgan
Super rich titan of industry, or major university president? Why not both?

Now, this notion, like most things this simple, doesn’t explain everything about ‘higher education,’ but, if judiciously applied, should serve to weed-whack some really stupid ideas and clear the ground for some actual thought. Plus, it’s factually true, at least about the name-brand institutions. Harvard, the big dog, has a $38.3 billion endowment, $44.6B in net assets, and an annual operating budget of $4.5B. For comparison, General Motors has net assets of $55.2B.

So, here goes:

Giant heartless corporations try to convince everyone they simply must have their products. You’ll never get ahead if you don’t have a college degree. You want to be a failure, like George Washington, Lincoln, or heck, Harry Truman? You want to live like that poor trade-school educated welder down the street, who owns his home, is debt-free and can get another job in about 15 minutes if he needs to? That’s what will happen to you if you don’t get a degree! Even though it’s patently nonsensical, doesn’t just about everyone you know think a college degree is all but essential to the good life?

To keep costs down and control high, evil corporations sow uncertainty and insecurity among their workers, You’ve all heard the stories about how evil corporations use the threat of replacing workers with a fresh-off-the-boat immigrants, to keep them in line and keep them from demanding more pay and better working conditions? Talk to a college professor lately? They all know that there are hundreds of people willing and able to take their job if anyone on campus finds anything at all lacking in them. Colleges used to offer tenure; now, it’s rare, as most classes are taught by adjuncts and grad students in most colleges in most fields. Not only are those non-tenure track people cheaper, they send a message to the tenured profs as well: we got backup plans if you screw up.

Giant, evil corporations willingly sell cheap, inferior products whenever they can, to maximize profits. To be admitted to Harvard 150 years ago, back when profs got tenure and under 10% of people went to college, you needed to pass a Greek and a Latin exam – and a calculus test. A college education *started* from a baseline that far exceeds the intellectual achievement of most PhDs today. (FYI: Most PhDs today are in education and social sciences.) Since only a tiny fraction of any population is likely to have the inclination and talent to learn Latin, Greek and calculus merely to get in to a good college, for the last century or so, colleges have been dumbing down their offerings to make sure they sell as much product as possible.

The first step was education schools, which generally date back to the second half of the 1800’s. For the last 150 years, inferior students (of course, there are exceptions. I assume.) who could not make it in a traditional college (think: Liberal Arts/Great Books + math, science, music, art, where that Latin, Greek and Calc would be put to use) could major in education, even get a PhD by doing ‘original’ research, and then get faculty positions teaching the next round of unqualified students. Over time – I’m estimating the other shoe fell around 1990 – the unqualified/dumb people with PhDs in participation trophy fields outnumber professors who might have a real education in something, and begin to call the shots and simply quash any opposition. You get stuff like this, for example (H/T to Rotten Chestnuts).

As a business strategy, as a way to maximize profits, this ‘create majors unqualified/dumb people can do’ has been a big winner! All studies fields, plus the non-RAD fields like English, History, Sociology, Psychology and so on, exist primarily to take the money from people who would not otherwise be able to hack college. Comparing such degrees to what a university degree used to be (and still is, in a few Great Books schools and the more RAD disciplines in some major schools) is like comparing finger painting to a Raphael portrait. Which is why the super-well-educated college grad is likely to say the finger paining is just as artistic as the Raphael…

Evil, rich corporations use their political influence to get the government to act in their best interests, despite what is good for or desired by people in general. It would be just like an evil corporation to get the government to all but require their product, create an elaborate tax-payer subsidized finance scheme to put people into debt to buy their product, and then try to get the government/tax-payers to take the bullet when the product doesn’t perform as advertised.

Student loans, anyone?

Enough. I’ve got an Academic VORP follow-up essay I’m working on, but it required real thought. Plus, there were some very good comments I didn’t answer because I wanted to expand on them. Sorry about that. Anyway, it’s now 3 days since I’ve written about bricks. Count your blessings! I mean, um, thanks for reading this humble blog.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

4 thoughts on “College and the Big Evil Corporation Model”

  1. Thanks as always for the linkage, and can confirm on everything you say. E.g. here:

    “most classes are taught by adjuncts and grad students in most colleges in most fields.”

    Worse, it’s truer the higher up the academic food chain you go. At a “bad” college, you’ll actually see a real professor teaching a class. At a “good” school, you might get one every now and again, and at an “elite” school sighting an actual, tenured professor is as rare as seeing a yeti. Academia’s backasswards incentives demand this — since “research” brings in the $$, all the admin cares about is research; ergo a “good” professor (from the admin’s point of view, which is the only one that matters) is one who is constantly on sabbatical, on a gov’t grant. You pay $70K a year to get taught by Academic Superstar, but your actual teacher is some 23-year-old kid who has maybe five more semesters of college than you do.

    A college education *started* from a baseline that far exceeds the intellectual achievement of most PhDs today.

    I’ve said many times that the decent-but-not-great program that granted me a PhD wouldn’t even have admitted me as an undergrad as late as 1960. In my experience, unless you absolutely need it for your research, you’re not required to master any other language these days. I myself have neither Latin nor Greek. I used to be embarrassed by this — a PhD with no Latin! — until I realized that nobody knows it ever was a requirement in the first place.

    As a business strategy, as a way to maximize profits, this ‘create majors unqualified/dumb people can do’ has been a big winner!

    Kind of a chicken-and-egg problem here. Which came first, the revenue maximization or the collection of Diversity Pokémon? I think it started a bit earlier, but your proposal of 1990 as the annus mirabilis (hey, Latin!!) works. Before that, the Diversity Pokémon mainly played football. But since the ESPN-ification of America really got rolling in the late 1980s, football became a huge revenue generator (though largely passive revenue), so now it’s a win-win.

    1. Thanks. I’ve made a lot of progress on the bricks – solid, indeed – but I am waiting to post pictures of a finished something or other, rather than all these intermediate things.

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