Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

September 27, 2010


Host: Ted Simons

Higher Education


  • New York Times writer Claudia Dreifus discusses Higher Education?, a new book she co-authored about the rising costs of higher education and the value students receive in return.
Guests:
  • Claudia Dreifus - New York Times
Category: Education

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
We have all seen the cost of higher education rise in recent year a "The New York Times" writer has co¬authored a book about the rising cost of college. It is titled "Higher education?" How colleges are wasting our money and failing our kids and what we can do about it. Here joining us is Claudia Dreifus.

Claudia Dreifus:
Thank you for inviting me.

Ted Simons:
Colleges are wasting our money and failing our kids, huh?

Claudia Dreifus:
Not all colleges. I think the public universities like ASU use their money efficiently, far more efficiently than many of the private, elite universities.

Ted Simons:
Talk about some of the inefficiencies.

Claudia Dreifus:
Well, as we say in our book, many of the schools are wasting huge amounts of money on arcane sports, on business enterprises, on unsupervised investments. Harvard has lost as much as a third of its endowment on unwise speculation and nobody is really watching it. The University of Texas spends as much as 53,000 per volleyball player. We say that all schools education should come forward to graduates and everything else should be justified.

Ted Simons:
I want to get to other aspects, but you mentioned athletics. Many folks will say at many universities, especially the big ones, the athletic budget is separate from the university; is that true?

Claudia Dreifus:
It is and it isn't. But certainly the athletic budget takes away from other sources that might be contributing to the university, and the funding is also bizarre and difficult to trace. But you can't fully say what’s what. But very few of these athletic programs make any money. Just a handful of them. And lot of it comes out of tuition.

Ted Simons:
The idea, the primary mission for colleges should be teaching undergrads. That seems to be a focus of what you’re saying.

Claudia Dreifus:
Absolutely. We only look at undergraduate education.

Ted Simons:
What happened to that primary mission? What is going on out there?

Claudia Dreifus:
It has gotten lost in a variety of functions that have often nothing to do with teaching our kids. And let me say that I think ASU does a really good job, compared to a lot of places. It does an excellent job. One of the things we did was travel around the country and look at schools throughout the country. We must have looked at 100 schools. Came to ASU and we were surprised because something like the Barrett Honors College is as good as any Ivey league school, and if you're in state, it is bargain. So the idea that schools should be dedicated to teaching them, those students in those four years, we think that should be job one, but instead, a lot of universities, are much more focused on the graduate schools, on the careers that their professors -- on just growing the empire. I've been very impressed with what goes on here.

Ted Simons:
I know that research is a major topic and a major bone to pick as far as what you were looking at in your book. Talk about what you mean by maybe too much research. Because a lot of folks say research is related to knowledge, researching can be very stimulating for students, it is part of an academic education.

Claudia Dreifus:
Well, it is, particularly if you want to be a scientist, but what we're talking about is the way research at most universities has become the central theme. And we're not just talking about science research. The science research can be justified; you never know what’s going to be important. But in the humanities and the social sciences, this is how professors get promoted. You do papers, you do books, and after a while, we don't need 3,000 papers on Virginia Wolf, or I love William Faulkner but 3,000 papers, there just isn't that much new to say about it, but you can't become tenured unless you do that.

Ted Simons:
We had Jonathen Cole here who wrote a wonderful book about Universities, he mentioned what is going on at the University of California a lot.

Claudia Dreifus:
That is tragic.

Ted Simons: Talk about, why do you see that as tragic?

Claudia Dreifus:
Well Because they're spinning off the actual education function of the undergraduate colleges and just leaving the schools as a bunch of research centers. And that is really sad. I mean, one of the reasons why California has prospered is because they did have mass education of their young people, and I think also from what I can see Michael crow has tried to do here is extend, let's say, the educational franchise and make it available to most people possible. That's how a region develops, that is how this state could develop. It's very important.

Ted Simons:
And yet, you mentioned ASU and you see ASU doing things right.

Claudia Dreifus:
Some things.

Ted Simons:
Yeah.

Claudia Dreifus:
Many things right.

Ted Simons:
The idea that too much research, too much arcane research, too much dependency on arcane sport, too much emphasis on grad study. We have people in the state who think ASU is at fault in those areas.

Claudia Dreifus:
They haven't seen the rest of the country.

Ted Simons:
So you're saying in comparison, ASU is doing well.

Claudia Dreifus:
Well, Yes, I'm sure ASU are things critics could find wrong with it, but I think the idea that Dr. Crowe has had was Arizona is a state without a lot of resources, maybe you could turn this place into Singapore because it has been just endlessly dependent on building booms and there aren't a lot of resources to do anything else so build up the brain power.

Ted Simons:
Reaction to your book; what are you hearing?

Claudia Dreifus:
Well, it's done very well as a book. We've been to three printings, but we've been vilified by our fellow professors. My co-author is Andrew Hackard, a political scientist and also my life partner, and we've been called anti-intellectual, neo-conservatives, which we actually are not. And in New York, that's a sin. And there are parts of -- I had, for my work for the times, I had to be up at Harvard a couple of weeks ago, and I thought I should go with an armed guard. We don't say nice things about Harvard.

Ted Simons:
the last question here, the perception is that higher education in America is the envy of the world. Cole seems to believe that.

Claudia Dreifus:
Some ways it is.

Ted Simons:
A lot of folks seem to believe that. Are you saying maybe not? Maybe it is not as rosy as some would paint?

Claudia Dreifus:
The Oldsmobile used to be the envy of the world and Detroit had a change, you can't make the huge gas guzzlers with the big fins, and Detroit didn't listen and people who run education could be less self-satisfied and look at what works and what doesn't work in the system.

Ted Simons:
Thank you for being here.

Claudia Dreifus:
Thank you for asking me.

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