THE PEOPLE WHO OVERSEE UNIVERSITIES

I read a distressing article in the WSJ this week, written by a man who had been on the University of Pennsylvania’s Board of Trustees and resigned in protest over the Law School Dean’s treatment of a woman professor who merely told the truth about the track record of student performance.  Paul Levy is the trustee who resigned in protest.  He’s founder of JLL Partners, a private equity firm, and he created the Levy Scholars Scholarship at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.  I send him congratulations for doing the right thing.  And, I’m not alone – Mr. Levy reports that he’s received over 150 supportive messages on his action.  Why would I care, you might ask, about the trustees’ oversight of a university and its administrative staff?  It’s simple: universities are in deep trouble already with their nonchalance about freedom of speech – that is, allowing it for some and not for others – and their propensity to stack the professorial ranks with people of certain political leanings – Always a bad precedent to set  – no matter the organization.  Taking a side on political views is something that universities should not be doing – they are institutions of higher learning – and that learning is meant to include all views – so that the nation’s young people can become well-rounded, well-versed, and well-capable of making their own decisions about their beliefs and ideologies.  Particularly this is true for government-funded universities, of which the University of Pennsylvania is one – both state and federal funding makes up a large portion of their funding.  Therefore, I am strongly proposing that the trustees sitting on their duffs at meetings of the Boards of Trustees put on their big boy trousers and start to actually monitor what’s going on at the university that they’re supposed  to be responsible for – that’s why they’re paid a salary and that’s why they’ve been selected to sit on the Board – not, simply, to occupy a seat and enjoy the accolades that flow from being on a select board at a prestigious university.  They’re meant to do something in return for their gratuitous appreciation!  I’m told that one of the reasons that these board members are reluctant to do provide good scrutiny is that they are concerned about jeopardizing their children’s chances of admission.  And, I also know from first-hand experience at the upper levels of the California State University system, that trustees are shepherded through their meetings without many chances of asking the appropriate questions and are given the impression that it is not de riguer to do so.  Consequently, what is the answer to this dilemma.  There are three solutions: 1 – Trustees must start meeting their commitments of holding the university administration responsible for their actions – what happened at Penn is reprehensible! 2 – Trustees must make a commitment to change the down-ward spiraling course of the university on whose board they operate – and, yes, all universities these days are in a downward spiral.  and 3 – Trustees, and trustees alone, can bring about the changes needed at the universities – the university administrators certainly will not – they fear their own shadows!  But Trustees are of a different stripe – most of these individuals come from the world of business and know how organizations should be run.  PROVE IT!  Time is much shorter than you think to get these transgressions rectified.

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