In what passes for “business” these days, institutions of any sort become potential cash cows for those at the top, structures allowing extraction of wealth while providing a minimum in return. Until, say, twenty years ago, educational entities were somewhat exempt, operating on a slightly different paradigm. Their mission was not to enrich those at the top but to enable societal growth and provide a means to cultural stability.
All of that, of course, has changed. In the k-12 arena, the movement toward charter schools and vouchers has loosened up fantastic amounts of money that can now be used for profit—as has the obsessive fascination with high-stakes testing (is it any wonder that education “reformers” tend to come from the wealthiest?).
Last week, the Naked Capitalism website published “’The Art of the Gouge’: NYU as a Model for Predatory Higher Education.” It presents a 3-part study by a “group of 400 faculty members,” Faculty Against the Sexton Plan (FASP). Toward the end of the third part of the study is this:
Excessive on its face, such [administrative compensation] largesse at the top is all the more appalling for the widespread poverty and debt enabling it. Our students have paid dearly for it, not just in money but in common hardships that NYU’s Board and managers shrug off, and that the faculty has tolerated far too long.
Our students pay in homelessness and hunger, bone-weariness, and/or severe emotional distress brought on by overwork and the inordinate financial pressure. Among our female students, hundreds—more than at any other university—pay by having to resort to prostitution, through online “dating” services that cater to affluent older men. (We have been compiling student narratives of such ordeals, which we will publish next semester.)
Less dramatically, but often no less painfully, our students also pay through deprivation of essential services such as the Wellness Center, Writing Center and the Moses Center (for disabled students)— resources which NYU underfunds while squandering billions on top management and real estate. They also pay who run afoul of a bureaucracy dysfunctional because of ruthless budget-cutting at its lower levels, leaving countless students often struggling over billing errors, late paychecks, snafus in financial aid and other time-consuming glitches. And while NYU’s top brass live in luxury, our students’ dorms are often crumbling, cramped, under-heated, without air conditioning or otherwise neglected.
The situation at New York University isn’t that different from what goes on at even public universities—it’s a difference of scale, that’s all. Those on top get more; those below get a peanut.