What is going wrong with American higher education?

Yes, yes all the Woke and PC stuff, but let us also look into the matter more deeply, as in my latest Bloomberg column.  There is a serious talent drain due to excess bureaucratization, among other issues:

Another problem is the ongoing  mental health crisis among America’s youth. This is not the fault of universities, to be clear, but a lot of unhappy students make for a less enjoyable college experience. The warm glow that so many baby boomers associate with their college years may not be reproduced by the current generation. They might instead look back on a quite troubled time, and in turn have less school loyalty.

I have also observed (as have many of my colleagues) that students seem to have more absences, excuses and missed assignments. No matter what the causes of those developments, they make it harder to run an effective university.

In fact, many of the smartest young people I know are deciding against a career in academia, even if that was their initial intent. They see too much bureaucracy and not enough time for the academic work itself. Students in the biosciences, at least the ones I talk to, seem to be an exception, perhaps because the opportunities to change the world are so obvious.

In my own field, economics, the prospect of having to do a “pre-doc” and then six years for a Ph.D. is driving away creative talent. On the research side, there is an obsession with finding the correct empirical techniques for causal inference. Initially a merited and beneficial development, this approach is becoming an intellectual straitjacket. There are too many papers focusing on a suitably narrow topic to make the causal inference defensible, rather than trying to answer broader, more useful but also more difficult questions.

…As committee obligations, paperwork and referee reports accumulate, the idea that academia allows you to be in charge of your own time seems ever more distant. Bureaucratization is eating away at the free time of professors. Much of the glamour of the job is gone, and my fear is that the system increasingly attracts conformists.

And don’t forget this disaggregation:

There are also big differences within universities. I have been a professor for more than three decades and speak often at other campuses. My impression is that presidents, provosts and deans are relatively sane, if only because they face real trade-offs as they draw up budgets, raise money and make payroll. University staff or student groups, on the other hand, often have no sense of the underlying constraints, and so advocate for ideas and practices that lead to some ridiculous stories. The actual decision makers are frequently not strong enough to push back, so they accept the demands as a way to survive or even advance.




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