Sunday, August 18, 2013

Universities and Money

Specifically, the possible effects of the source of money on universities' priorities.

In the Indian context, Dr. E.A.S. Sarma expressed his deep concern in a 2011 letter to the Prime Minister: "if our scientific institutions "are forced to function as consulting institutions [to industry] in order to raise resources, their independence and credibility are adversely affected," and "... their professional objectivity will continue to get eroded."

On the other hand, dependence on government as the lone source of money has its own problems. See this scathing ToI op-ed by Ashis Nandy (2004) for a discussion of higher ed dystopia made possible by political meddling.

On possible solution is to diversify one's source of funds, as argued by Ram Guha (in a 2007 EPW essay on the state of Indian universities):

Fifth, a university must encourage a pluralism of funding sources. It must not rely only on state patronage, but raise money from fees, from its alumni, and from private corporations. By diversifying its portfolio, so to speak, the university reduces its dependence on a single source of patronage, while also engaging with (and making itself relevant to) a wider swathe of society.

* * *

All that is just a preamble for a couple of links from the US in recent weeks:

  1. The first one is from Derek Bok, former President of Harvard: The Ambiguous Role of Money in Higher Education.

    n view of these multiple influences, one may again ask whether having to raise so much money from multiple sources, with all its attendant temptations and costs, is the best way to finance higher education. Yet what other system can one suggest? For all its disadvantages, the current modus operandi seems much like democracy—the worst possible system ... except for all the known alternatives. After all, American universities, especially selective colleges and research universities, are much more amply supported than their counterparts abroad. They are better protected from disruptive fluctuations in government financing, not to mention the vagaries of politics that often affect how public funds are distributed. It is doubtful that higher education as a whole would do better by having all its funds provided by a federal government that is subject to the pressure of powerful interest groups and prone to earmarking appropriations for projects of questionable value that are dear to the hearts of individual lawmakers.

    Could American higher education have achieved the level of financial support it has enjoyed under any other system? Policy makers in other advanced nations do not seem to think so. Instead, they are trying to wean their universities from an exclusive dependence on government support and encouraging them to follow our example by seeking funds from a variety of sources.

    That said, it is still important that there be some limits to the influence of money. [...]

  2. The second link is about the possibility of chilling-muzzling effect imposed by donor preferences. Alice Walker, the author of Color Purple, seems to be the latest victim of this effect, along with the Center for Education of Women at the University of Michigan. Go read her post: In Case You’ve Ever Wondered How It Is Done: Censorship by Purse String: "An Invitation to speak at the 50th Anniversary for the Center for Education of Women at the University of Michigan has been withdrawn."