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Can Money Contaminate a College?

You would think so, given the way a Brooklyn College dean avoided a multimillion-dollar grant opportunity.

By Mitchell Langbert

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July 02, 2014

University administrators and faculties frequently impose their ideological preferences on their institutions. Rarely does that entail giving up money, however. As a rule, administrators leave no stone unturned in their efforts to sift through as many grants as possible. 

An exception to that rule happened recently at my institution, Brooklyn College.

For decades, Brooklyn College has had an underfunded, mismanaged business program. A few years ago a new administration set out to improve things by seeking accreditation from the prestigious Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). The accreditation would certify that the school has a qualified faculty. Indeed, for the past 30 years, our inability to afford highly qualified faculty has been the main obstacle to AACSB accreditation.  

The problem of affording qualified faculty is most acute in finance and accounting. With only a handful of accounting and finance professors with Ph.D.s, the business school’s ratio of qualified faculty to the program’s 3,000 students is dismal. Additional qualified faculty would have promoted AACSB accreditation, so I proposed to seek a grant amounting to five million dollars to help hire finance faculty, with a larger amount possible were we successful.  

Because I have a free-market orientation, I naturally sought funding from a source tolerant of my views and supportive of my academic freedom: the Charles G. Koch Foundation.  

I would have furthered the cause of AACSB accreditation by establishing a center for the study of financial regulation. Since regulation is an area of potential interest to the foundation, Brooklyn could have obtained financing in a three-way win: I could have found colleagues with whom I want to work; Brooklyn College could have found the finance-and-accounting faculty it needs for AACSB accreditation; and the foundation could have established an institute to study ideas and topics that interest it. 

The dean of Brooklyn College’s School of Business, Willie Hopkins, was hired three years ago to lead the accreditation process. My hope was that he would succeed and the process would professionalize our mismanaged programSecuring this grant would have strengthened our case for accreditation. 

The foundation had sent some positive signals of which the dean and the college were aware. Nevertheless, the dean was evasive and uncooperative from the beginning. He refused to brainstorm or negotiate with me, either concerning my idea for a center for the study of free markets or then about my suggested center for the study of financial regulation. I repeatedly revised my proposals, but he repeatedly rebuffed me with a variety of excuses. 

First, he did not want to expand the economics department. Then, he did not like the idea of an honors program. He did not see the need for an interdisciplinary institute. He repeatedly failed to return my email messages and phone calls.  Tellingly, he offered no positive suggestions. 

After a period of months of the dean’s not responding, I approached the college’s grants office for help. The grants office met with Dean Hopkins and me, but the dean continued to raise objections. Another six months of avoidance followed. 

Recently, the Charles G. Koch Foundation has been criticized for donating money to universities because of “strings attached” to the grants. Such criticisms are linked to supposed academic freedom concerns. Those claims, however, are a pretext for silencing free-market-oriented academics—and I view them as an attack on my academic freedom. At Brooklyn, I proposed free-market-oriented programs, but the college refused to entertain my ideas. I can only conclude that it was because top school officials disagree with me ideologically. 

The faculty of CUNY and the CUNY faculty union claim to support academic freedom, but apparently only for faculty members who agree with them.  

After a year of the runaround from Dean Hopkins, I sent him an email asking him to make a decision. He said that he preferred to cut bait on the project. Using Alice in Wonderland logic, he said that the reason was that he needed to focus on AACSB accreditation. 

In fact, this is but the latest assault on my academic freedom. The earlier story involves the self-dealing and nepotism that the dean was hired to resolve, but it involves the same self-indulgent impulse that is behind political correctness. 

Before the dean’s hire, the former department chair and the deputy chair refused to search for candidates in academically legitimate venues.  Instead of advertising and interviewing at the business learned societies—the American Marketing Association or the American Finance Association, for example—they advertised jobs minimally and locally. The reason, they claimed, was that the college lacked the money to pay for legitimate job candidates—the very problem a grant would have helped resolve.  

As a result, the people hired were often from within CUNY.  

Some examples of the college’s hiring decisions have been two community college instructors, friends of the former provost, a doctoral student of the deputy chair’s wife, the son of a Brooklyn College professor, and a former student of the associate provost. None of these hires had Ph.D.s in fields related to business.  

The lesser the qualifications, the greater the dependence on and loyalty to the chair and the deputy chair. The two built department that backs their every decision.  As a result, the group, if not appeased, poses a threat to accreditation.

In 2003 I served on the departmental appointments committee. When I attempted to advertise at the American Marketing Association, I was treated to a defamatory performance appraisal that was placed in my permanent file. The deputy chair harassed me, threatening me while following me from my office to my classroom. I never again participated in the appointments process.    

In 2006 then-SUNY trustee Candace de Russy and I met with CUNY’s chancellor, Matt Goldstein, to bring the abuses to his attention. Chancellor Goldstein said that he would address the matter, and three years later Dean Hopkins was hired.  De Russy’s assistance in bringing the abuses to Chancellor Goldstein’s attention may have contributed to this decision. 

However, because the faculty union prevents reform, the dean has been forced to navigate the political machine rather than overcome it. A grant from a controversial foundation would have been fodder for the former chair and the deputy chair to leverage with their allies in Brooklyn College’s far-left liberal arts departments. That may be the reason for Dean Hopkins’s willingness to let the grant slip away.  

In his recent Pope Center commentary, Professor Henry G. Manne attacked the idea that not-for-profit management in education is superior to for-profit management. The Brooklyn College School of Business illustrates Manne’s point that not-for-profit, public education is associated with insiders imposing costs on students, parents and taxpayers, benefiting themselves psychologically at public expense. 

In light of the events I have described at Brooklyn College, can anyone proclaim that not-for-profit management is necessarily better than for-profit management?

 


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