Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Rot and Enronification of Universities: Part 1

This is not about class. Instead it is inspired by the events at Penn State. The whole matter has an Enron feel to it. The catch is there there is no reason to believe similar events could not happen at other universities. What has occurred is that universities do not act like they exist at the pleasure of taxpayers and are means to an end. They make rules rather than follow them and when they are caught they hunker down. There are some key elements that allow and encourage this behavior. They are:

1. The struggle against transparency.
2. Self Dealing.
3. A captive legal staff.
4. The "not technically a lie" culture.
5. No real rules.

I will discuss one in each entry. The struggle against transparency is part of the believe that information is power. Universities fight to avoid disclosures. One of my own experiences with this was a request to an administrator at my school, per University instructions, for the documents I wanted. I was told that I had to make the request to a different University official. I did. After weeks of waiting I contacted the official who told me the request was actually forwarded o the administrator I had asked in the first place. Eventually, weeks after asking, I received a partial request. That is minor matter but at the other end of the struggle against transparency is lying to a grand jury. Take a look at the two Penn State officials who are accused of doing that. Are their backgrounds and educations any different than those holding similar posts at your school. Are you sure. But for the randomness of life they could have been Enron officials. You may say they were involved in a cover up while avoiding a documents request is not a cover up. Well, the best cover up is to make sure the information never gets out in the first place. Many university officials just can't stand the fact that what they do is your business, not theirs. When they keep the information to themselves they are stealing what belongs to you.

There are other version of the transparency issue including the refusal to write things down --"come down and we can talk about it"-- and not technically a lie. More on those later.

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