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A Machiavellian Guide to Destroying Public Universities in 12 Easy Steps

As a general rule those who wish to win favor with a prince offer him the things they most value and in which they see that he will take most pleasure; so it is often seen that rulers receive presents of horses, arms, pieces of cloth of gold, precious stones, and similar ornaments worthy of their station. So, in my desire to offer myself to Your Magnificence, with some proof of my obligation to you, I have found nothing among my possessions that I cherish more or value higher than I do my knowledge of the actions of great men, gained from long experiences in modern affairs and continual reading on ancient ones. Having for a long time thought over and examined these matters with great diligence, I have finally put them into a little volume, which I send to Your Magnificence.

—Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

In order to destroy public universities, it is important to:

(1) Denigrate public education, and public institutions in general, as drains on private wealth and “job makers” to the point that no one would dare ask for increased support. This will assure that public universities are relegated to second-rate status with inferior facilities and loads of part-time faculty members, and will forever have a negative stigma placed on them relative to private universities.

(2) Take advantage of economic downturns to instigate “taxpayer outrage” in order to remove support from public universities so that they must either raise tuition or cut back on their programs. Afterward, condemn those institutions for raising tuition in order to support lazy, socialist professors teaching irrelevant subjects like anthropology and philosophy.

(3) As state support recedes, encourage a student-loan system that will create a “market for higher education.” Saddling students with lots of debt will make them enterprising and rational consumers of educational products and will encourage them to safeguard their economic interests. Refer to these changes as “empowering students.”

(4) Install new public-management tactics borrowed from public-interest theory to wrestle control from faculty governance systems. However, to quell widespread discontent, keep university senates in place as giant, irrelevant “suggestion boxes.” Be sure to talk a lot about the importance of shared governance as these tactics are introduced. Label the faculty cynicism that will undoubtedly emerge as “consensus.”

(5) Put into place various “oversight instruments,” such as quality-assessment exercises, “outcome matrices,” or auditing mechanisms, to assure “transparency” and “accountability” to “stakeholders.” You might try using research-assessment exercises such as those in Britain or Australia, or cheaper and cruder measures like Texas A&M’s, by simply publishing a cost/benefit analysis of faculty members. If you run out of ideas, just contact the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

(6) Increase the reliance on part-time faculty members and one-year contracts to teach most courses. Those faculty members are more vulnerable and amenable to administrative control (you should also drastically increase the number of administrators in order to manage those disempowered professionals). Afterward, criticize the quality of college graduates. This will enable even more managerial oversight and assessment.

(7) Scream about the high cost of higher education and increases in tuition. Blame the increases on greedy, overpaid professors rather than on the withdrawal of state support, the techno-gadget mania promoted by edu-businesses, or the administrative bloat caused by increased auditing practices and assessment.

(8) Promote narrow vocationalism and STEM areas to show that you are in tune with the demands of the new “knowledge economy” and will no longer tolerate puffy and useless subjects like history or literature. If students are interested in those subjects, they can do Civil War re-enactments or join a book club. Such areas are superfluous in the new, pragmatic age of economic determinism and global competition.

(9) Limit the contractual rights of faculty members. They still “cling to the collective” and need to be forced to face the dawn of a new day. In the end, they will thank you for the liberty, freedom, and opportunity you have brought them.

(10) Bring in outside consultants such as Bain & Company or McKinsey & Company to convince boards and administrators of the urgent need for “disruptive innovation” or other ideas championed by Harvard Business School gurus. Those may be slogans without substance, but no one will pay much attention, particularly if the consultants have a colorful PowerPoint presentation.

(11) Introduce a “competency based” education model that allows students to bypass many of the traditional requirements of the university. The old-school liberal-arts requirements get in the way of the “on the go,” cellphone-laden student consumer of today. If professors protest, simply state that no one could possibly resist competency except the incompetent.

(12) Finally, use public-relations and advertising campaigns to divert attention from the nasty consequences of all of those reforms. A Web site showing happy people doing great things goes a long way here. This is, after all, a postmodern age. Spectacle and simulacrum trump substance.

And if, from the lofty summit on which you stand, Your Magnificence will sometimes turn your eyes to these low places, you will perceive how undeservedly I endure the great and continual malice of Fortune.

The Prince

Steven Ward is a professor of sociology at Western Connecticut State University. He is the author of Neoliberalism and the Global Restructuring of Knowledge and Education (Routledge, 2012).

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