Pope Center Issues
By clicking on the following headings, the reader can find articles on the Pope Center website about specific issues. Below each heading is a short explanation of why we write about these topics as we pursue our mission of promoting excellence in higher education.
Universities should be places where ideas can be exchanged and debated openly, and universities should defend the rights of faculty members to speak and write without fear of official sanction or retribution. At the same time, we recognize that, as did the American Association of University Professors’ 1915 statement on academic freedom, such liberty depends on responsible behavior. Students should never be silenced or subjected to ridicule for questioning a professor’s ideas or voicing their own opinions, and the Pope Center opposes speech codes except at those schools, such as religious ones, that state explicitly that other values have priority over free speech.
At many colleges and universities, academic standards have fallen to the point where a large percentage of the students are not ready for or truly interested in higher education, yet are allowed to enter and continue. Faculty are often under pressure to give good grades for mediocre work. Core curricula have been replaced by distribution requirements that eschew traditional courses and allow students to take a mish-mash of electives.
Athletics can be a valuable part of college life, but they are not at the core of higher education. Concern for success in athletics should not be permitted to undermine academic standards. The growing costs of sports programs place unfair burdens on students who have to pay for spectator sports whether they are interested or not.
Today’s universities are a far cry from the past. The traditional role of in loco parentis is long dead and has been replaced by codes of belief and conduct that are hostile to anything traditional as well as to free thought. The Pope Center opposes the rise of speech codes, sexual harassment codes, sustainability doctrines, “residential life” programs to inflict guilt, etc.
Community colleges are a less-expensive alternative to public universities. Long neglected by the media and disdained by the rest of higher education, these colleges are increasingly seen as valued institutions. Students who are only marginally prepared for college can often get “on track” at community colleges. Ideally, these schools will not duplicate vocational training programs that are available in the marketplace nor serve as subsidized job training programs for business and industry.
Higher education, both public and private, has experienced cost increases well beyond inflation for decades, and those costs have been used to justify annual increases in tuition. The forces behind rising costs include the lack of a bottom line, lack of a market for ownership, intrusion by the federal government, and excessive governmental aid. One of the goals of the Pope Center is to reduce those costs through greater transparency and exposure of the incentives that lead to such increases.
A competitive market is the best way of discovering which approaches work best in any field, including education. Government policy should not create obstacles to the establishment of new kinds of higher education institutions and products. Private companies that provide educational services, especially online, offer alternative delivery methods. So far, however, the potential for online education has been limited, probably because of heavy federal student aid, which allows for-profit colleges to maintain prices comparable to those of nonprofit and government schools.
The faculty are, and should be, at the heart of education, and many articles address faculty concerns, from pedagogical techniques to the future of tenure. Unfortunately, the number of class hours taught by professors has been gradually declining for many years, with increased attention given to research. The emphasis on research in hiring and tenure decisions weakens the ability of colleges and universities to fulfill their central mission, which is the education of undergraduates.
The vast increase in federal dollars and federal control is one of the most harmful forces affecting universities today.
The Pope Center is interested in improving governance of all universities, both public and private, and is particularly active in reporting on the governing mechanisms of the University of North Carolina.
On today’s campus, both teaching and research are often politicized. Rather than engage in the lively and objective pursuit of knowledge, faculty, staff, and even students sometimes distort their studies in order to promote pre-determined policy goals. The Pope Center reports on such politically motivated activity.
While the search for new knowledge is an important part of a large university, it should not crowd out undergraduate education. Nor should it be trivial or irrelevant—yet it often is. While research may foster economic development, how and under what circumstances it does is very uncertain.
Most of the Pope Center’s coverage of state appropriations and legislation affecting public universities concentrates on North Carolina. We are, however, interested in the activities of all state governments as they deal with their public universities.
The combination of rising tuition and the expansion of college debt—fueled by the federal government and the mantra of “college for all”—may be building to a crisis as more and more students enter the workforce with heavy student loans.