And now a fun Peter R. Orszag article on Scott Walker

Published 12 February 2015.

Regular readers of my stuff here at might recall that that back in January I published a diary on Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attitude toward college-level education.  Walker wants academics to “work harder,” as if the quality of academic work would somehow be miraculously improved if academic types “worked harder.”  Everyone knows that Einstein came up with the Theory of Relativity by working really really hard at it, right?

Now Bloomberg, the business news service, puts out a piece on Walker’s defunding of Wisconsin higher education.  For those of you who don’t remember, Peter R. Orszag is one of those rich guys who used to work for Obama in the first administration.  Here’s what Orszag said:

Governor Walker, however misguided his university-funding proposal, is absolutely right about the need to seek more efficiency in higher education.

Because everyone knows that Einstein discovered the Theory of Relativity by being “efficient.”  But let’s follow Orszag’s analysis some more, because analysis is fun.  Besides, analysis is what we academic types do.  Am I efficient yet?  At any rate, Orszag:

Costs pressures in education have historically been driven by “Baumol’s disease”: the rise in salaries for workers who aren’t becoming any more productive. College lectures have historically required one professor per classroom of students, limiting the potential for increasing productivity.

Once again, anyone who actually looks at what “workers” in college education actually do would be confounded by this sort of thinking.  “Productivity”?  What counts as “productivity”?  More published articles that say nothing and which nobody will read?  More students per professor?  The biggest classes are taught by teaching associates, so there’s your salary reduction for you.

As as for “rising salaries,” anyone who’s actually looked at it knows what the colleges do — they hire adjuncts and pay them next to nothing.  Duh.  Orszag continues:

The question many colleges have been asking is, can online learning defeat Baumol’s disease? After all, in a virtual classroom, one professor can teach a far larger number of students.

And in a virtual classroom, those who need the sort of help that comes with a physical classroom won’t get it.  As we’re told in my current online academic labor situation, online classes are largely for “self-directed” students.  Are all college students “self-directed”?  I don’t think so.

At any rate, Orszag does not appear to favor Walker’s budget-cutting proposal.  Here is his conclusion:

This (the growth of online education) can’t happen fast enough to save the University of Wisconsin, however, if Governor Walker’s proposals are carried out. The flagship campus at Madison was ranked 47th nationally this year by U.S. News. Anyone care to bet on where it will be in the 2017 rankings?

So that’s a good thing.

At any rate, the situation with adjuncts has apparently caught the attention of the Washington Post Online, which published this blog entry:

Adjunct professors get poverty-level wages. Should their pay quintuple?

Of course, if the states increase the pay for their poorest academic workers, they’re going to have to find the money somehow.  Maybe they can release some of those prison inmates convicted of nonviolent drug offenses or raise taxes on their richest residents or something like that.  Meanwhile in South Carolina:

House panel: Close S.C. State for 2 years

They’ve recommended closing a whole university for two years?  Really?  Already they’ve screwed up SC State alumni fundraising.  Here’s a hint for the good legislators of South Carolina: walk this one back as quickly as you can.  Raise some taxes, release some nonviolent inmates, and keep the university open.  You want a university, because a lot of us do good enough work to make your lives better.


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