Looking ahead at the next bubble to burst: higher education. Costs keep going up at traditional four-year colleges, in part because—with the notable exception of some Christian colleges and a few others that are student-oriented—professors do not make teaching their prime activity.
Examples are numerous. Here's one: This past year the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) released a study showing that 80 percent of the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin receive full-time pay for teaching an average of 63 students per year, the equivalent of three classes per year of 21 students each.
The joke used to be that tenured professors with too much time on their hands sold real estate on the side, but this past year a New Jersey physics professor went to extremes. Police arrested him, along with a distinguished former president of the University of New Mexico, for allegedly running an online prostitution ring.
Most professors, of course, spend time in other pursuits. The Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in North Carolina recently asked whether an English professor who teaches Shakespeare will advance his career more by (1) Closely rereading the major plays of Shakespeare and their most important critiques, reading about Elizabethan history, preparing for lectures, and correcting written grammar when grading papers, or (2) Writing the one-millionth academic article on Shakespeare, "with an emphasis on cross-dressing, food, or some other obscure topic."
The answer: Number 2. And thus taxpayers spend thousands of dollars to subsidize conference papers that perhaps half a dozen people read, out of obligation. If you have a free half hour, visit the Postmodernism Generator (elsewhere.org/pomo) and make up amusing titles of the kind that fill research journals and allow professors to pretend that they are productive. Examples include "The semiotic paradigm of context in the works of Madonna" or "The capitalist paradigm of expression in the works of Fellini."
While students write poorly, professors prattle instead of teach. Meanwhile, parents pay tuition because it's socially the thing to do—and they've also bought the talk that college graduates earn much more than non-graduates. That's true, but Richard Vedder, an education economic expert, estimates that two-thirds of superior earning comes from the intelligence and character of the earner rather than the degree itself.