Public School Ownership

In an op-ed centered on the question of who owns institutions of higher education like universities, Richard Vedder, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Ohio University, identified seven categories of people who claim ownership of these institutions:

  • The board. Most schools, public or private, are overseen by a legally constituted governing board.
  • The politicians. At public institutions, state government usually is the legal “owner” of the school.
  • The administrators. A school’s president and senior bureaucrats are vested with executive responsibility, which resembles ownership.
  • The faculty. The professors who administer academic offerings and conduct grant-inducing research often feel the school belongs to them.
  • The students. They are a primary reason for the school’s existence and their families pay substantial tuition and fees.
  • The alumni. Graduates constitute the donor base at most private schools and some public ones as well.
  • The accrediting agencies. The federal Education Department charges these bodies with certifying an institution’s right to confer degrees.

I have thoughts.

Board members are charged with organizational governing oversight, but they own nothing, except through personally funded stakes. Board members serve at the pleasure of the school’s owners.

Politicians, acting through the governments of which they’re a part, so long as they’re duly elected or appointed by those duly elected, do act in an ownership capacity vis-à-vis public colleges and universities, and they hire and fire employees like board members—and administrators and faculty—as they see fit. The same capacity is held by private institutions’ owners: partners; private share holders; in the case of publicly traded schools, those shareholders; and religious institutions regarding their parochial schools.

Administrators, like board members, own nothing in their capacity of administrators. They’re employees of the school’s owners, hired to conduct the day-to-day administration of the school within the framework established by the board—and the school’s owners.

Faculty claiming ownership only demonstrate their own self-absorbed arrogance. They’re employees, nothing more.

Students claiming ownership are showing their own, even deeper, obliviousness, an ignorance fostered by those same faculty members. Students are customers of the school. Full stop.

Alumni are even further removed from any trace of ownership, except in the depths of their own fetid imaginations. They’re ex-students, and nothing more, no matter the size of their fiscal donations.

Accrediting agencies claiming ownership is risible on its face. That’s like raters like a Moody’s or auditors like a Deloitte claiming ownership of the companies they’re rating or auditing.

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