Employment rates for college graduates are dismal. Aggregate student debt is staggering. But university administrative salaries are soaring. The campus climate of tolerance has utterly disappeared. Only the hard sciences and graduate schools have salvaged American universities' international reputations.
For over two centuries, our superb system of American public and private higher education kept pace with radically changing times and so ensured our prosperity and reinforced democratic pluralism.
But a funny thing has happened on the way to the 21st century. Colleges that were once our most enlightened and tolerant institutions became America's dinosaurs.
Start with ossified institutions. Tenure may have been a good idea in the last century to ensure faculty members free expression. But such a spoils system now encourages the opposite result of protecting monotonies of thought.
In a globalized world where jobs disappear in an eye blink and professionals must be attuned to the slightest changes in the global marketplace, academics insist that after six years they still deserve lifetime guarantees of employment.
In the age of the Internet and global readerships, faculty promotion is still based largely on narrow publication in little-read, peer-reviewed journals. Many are often incestuous and have no bearing on enhancing faculty teaching skills.
Post-tenure review and peer evaluations have become pro forma quid pro quos among guild members. The result is a calcified professoriate that demands it alone can still live in the protected world of the 1950s.
Part-time teachers and graduate students are not so lucky. They are often paid less than half for the same work done by full-time faculty, in illiberal fashion that would be unacceptable at Walmart or Target.
Universities are the least transparent of U.S. institutions, defending protocols more secretive than those of the Swiss banking system. Few colleges publish the profile of those students who were favored in the admission process through legacies, athletic prowess, or race and gender preferences. The result is that almost no one knows why one student gets into Yale or Stanford and another with a far more impressive academic record does not.