04 January 2010

Another call for federal support

In an opinion piece in the Chronicle, Courant,  Duderstadt, and Goldenberg (all University of Michigan faculty or former administrators) again make the case for renewed federal support for public research universities. The plan they outline is not too different from the one put forward in October by UCB Chancellor Birgeneau and Vice Chancellor Yeary. Both call for a federal effort comparable to the 1862 Morrill Land Grant Act based on the strategic importance of public research universities for the prosperity of the country.

Nothing new so far. But  Courant,  Duderstadt, and Goldenberg go a bit further in articulating how exactly the federal government would enter into a partnership with the states where "flagship research universities" are located. According to their plan, the states would take primary responsibility for undergraduate education, including partial support for the humanities (the rest being left up to philanthropy), while the federal government would take primary responsibility for graduate education (mostly in the sciences, it would seem). Courant,  Duderstadt, and Goldenberg anticipate a commitment from the federal government on the scale of the other efforts in support of research ($30B) or Pell grants ($26B).

We like this proposal a bit better than the Birgeneau-Yaery in that it does not presuppose that state support is pretty much gone for good, but rather tries to hold the state's feet to the fire in an effort to have states pay for that portion of higher education that most directly benefits them. But just like the Birgeneau-Yeary proposal, this one would also inevitably lead to a break-up of the UC system as such, in that not all ten UC campuses could aspire to the role of flagship research university.

As an aside, one wonders whether, in a newly federally-supported UC,  the recent senior management explosion (or $800K presidential compensation packages, for that matter) would be tolerated. Chuck Grassley would have a field day with that.

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