Saturday, August 4, 2018

Enema U, Inc.

The new Chancellor has, on schedule, announced he will run the university as a business and that the university will focus its efforts on promoting the degrees that will most benefit the state. 

The fact that the Board of Regents has just split the old job of chancellor into two positions—chancellor and president, with each position's being paid more than the salary of the previous chancellor, alone—seemed to be an irony lost on the new guy.  (Yeah, that’s the way businesses do it!)

Every new university head starts his administration by announcing that he will run the university as a business—which, of course, is what all of the previous heads of Bedlam Hall have also proclaimed.  You would be forgiven for believing that these statements are made in jest—or primarily to annoy the faculty in the Sociology Department—but at least when our new leaders say it….They think they mean it.

I’ve lost track of how many different presidents and chancellors have been hired over the years.  For whatever reason, the Board of Regents prefers to use large, out-of-state head-hunting companies to find the latest temporary leaders.  Recently, these have come in two flavors:  the ones who were so clearly incompetent that they were fired and they left for greener pastures, to live happily on their golden parachutes, and those who immediately began ambitious programs to build unwanted and unnecessary buildings, so they would be hired away by larger universities—usually through the assistance of the same high-dollar head-hunting firms that had brought them here.

Actually, there was one temporary, acting president whom no one in administration wants to talk about.  She was a young Puerto-Rican woman who had the temerity to do a great job, to be popular with both students and faculty—a near impossibility—and to stand up to the absurd political demands of an idiotic governor.  (His initials were Bill Richardson.)  So, of course, she was let go and she immediately went to a Western state university where she has increased enrollment 27% and she has just announced the addition of ninety academic lines.  Thank God we got rid of her!  (Or as one of the Board of remarked, “She was the wrong kind of Hispanic.”)

But, what of the business experience of other administration leaders?

The previous Chancellor was an advisor in animal husbandry...until he was caught at it.  Then he opened a pet cemetery called Gone But Not Fur-Gotten that might have been successful had it not been for the popularity of a local veterinarian whose hobby was taxidermy.  People found it so comforting to know that, no matter what happened, they were gonna get their beloved companion animals back (And looking so lifelike, too!).

Then there was the provost who had inherited so much money that he couldn’t comprehend the salary needs of the faculty because his family had made its money by franchising a chain of tattoo removal shops called Rethink The Ink.  And we once had a Dean of the Business College who had lost a small family fortune by opening a drive through sushi restaurant called Jap In The Box.  A similar fate befell a former Athletic Director who had invested the lump sum check he had received in lieu of finishing his contract, investing it in a London athletic club called Downtown Flabbey. 

None of the presidents—past or present—has had any idea how to run a business (at  least, not a successful one!).  This is actually, probably for the best, since if we were to literally change the university so that it runs like a successful business, a lot of things would change.

For example, this state runs a medical school, out of which the vast majority of each year's graduates promptly leave the state.  It wouldn’t take much of a businessman to realize that the state could save millions of dollars by simply selecting the top four pre-med students in the state and paying for them to attend an Ivy League medical school in exchange for a contract to stay and practice in the state for a minimum of ten years. 

We could do the same thing for the state law school, but the contract would stipulate that the graduates would promise to permanently stay out of the state.

Real businessmen don’t believe that a work day consists of half a day of email mixed liberally with half a day of meetings with other lightweights who couldn’t land a real job more important than being the Assistant Towel Boy in a Turkish bathhouse.  No real businessman would continue to back an Athletic program that couldn’t make money if every seat in the football stadium contained two ticket-holding fans, so...  (If you don’t believe me, do the math.)

Every incoming Chancellor promises to focus on STEM classes (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) as those degrees represent the industries the state currently lacks.  But, the plan has a few flaws.  First, any businessman worth his salt would recognize that there are no jobs for such graduates within the state—New Mexico being the most business un-friendly state in the union.  Graduating more STEM students in the belief they would somehow create careers in an industrial wasteland would be as ludicrous as Walmart's building a megastore at the bottom of Death Valley and expecting a community to spring up around it.

Second, the Chancellor is forgetting just what pays for those STEM classes.  Besides the poor taxpayer, actual funding for those expensive labs comes from the Humanities.  The state has a rather complicated formula for reimbursing a university for each student attending a class.  My history classes, for example, annually generated close to a million dollars in formula funding.  In return, the state gave me a rather meager paycheck and a greasy blackboard.

To put it more succinctly, it takes a large auditorium full of students learning about the French Revolution to pay for an electron microscope. 

This is why major television networks continue to schedule day-time soap operas.  You may not like them, but it is the profit from those low-budget shows that pays for the news departments that put on the shows you claim to watch but never actually do.  Movie theaters make their profit on overpriced salty popcorn that forces you to buy the overpriced sugary drink, while they lose money on the movie.

If a university chancellor really understood business, he would shut down most of the athletic department since (at best) it devalues the product he is selling (education).  He would also quit demoralizing the faculty whose work provides for his huge salary, his housing allowance, and his luxury "company" car.

Or to put this in words even a chancellor might understand:  it takes a lecture hall full of students studying German Baroque Poetry to support a basketball team of illiterates. 


  1. Well said, as learning goes the way of the health clinic and there are no more enemas for those who need them the most . . .

  2. I blame Kevin Costner. Ever since that wildly unrealistic fantasy, "Field of Dreams" I can't tell you how many ostensibly not for profit organization board meetings have featured a board member standing up and intoning that deliciously ignorant mantra, "If you build it they will come!" And tens of thousands of schools, universities and organizations offering services to people "falling between the cracks" of the government's social services system have built expensive buildings that ultimately cost more than they are worth in maintenance, but boy howdy to do board members, regents and/or executive directors and chancellors have very nice offices and jacuzzis.

    There's nothing more likely to make miserable decisions than the board of an organization that is working for the "greater good". I know. I've helped start five such institutions and seen boards kill them. And if they weren't state supported, nobody is there to pick them up when they fall and bulldoze those ballparks in corn fields they leave behind.

    Tom King

  3. Just so you know...I read this blog while waiting for my tires to be replaced at Discount Tires.