Can Democratic Accountability Alone Fix A State University (i.e. Rutgers)?

If you’re interested about Rutgers’ governance, this “call to action” is about as thorough as it can get

The deep problem with most state universities is that they are run in such a way as to represent the “interests” of the people.

After all, the people want to pay barely anything for tuition, want a top notch research university, want competitive sports teams at those universities, and then want everyone and anyone to get into these places and succeed. This utterly unrealistic set of demands is populism at its best.

However, as commentators from Plato to the Federalist have noted, the popular will is rarely directly instantiated by the people. In our modern democracy, the people make their opinions known, and the opinion creates a climate where any and all standards are shaped by them knowingly or unknowingly. I submit the few who control the Board of Governors and the administration at Rutgers are elites in the sense that they are the inheritors and preservers of this climate.

Take note of the culture that’s destroyed Rutgers, a culture where every decision about education is put in terms that would better describe a business. The culture of obsessing over money, success, “being number 1” in an academic discipline (stop laughing, I had to stop laughing years ago when I went to this awful school), and, of course, providing remedial instruction to people who are little better than criminals – this culture stems from the only way the lowest common denominator can conceive of the good.

You can argue, and you would be right, that the “lowest common denominator” is not necessarily “the people.” That’s absolutely true – that’s why there’s hope for fixing Rutgers, that’s why people who do know better can communicate and trust others with their words. People do desire the good, when they care.

The reason why the “lowest common denominator” has come into play, making “the people” more expansive and more vicious than ever before, is because truth be told, people in New Jersey don’t care about education. They care about rankings, they care about money, they care about what they think they need to survive.

And yeah, the consequences are severe, quite obviously.

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2 Comments

  1. hey there, long time no comment.

    this is interesting; i just had a discussion yesterday with a friend about using consensus in committees to arrive at decisions. a very frustrating process (and, btw, one that is NOT used in business).

    i submit that in both (related) cases – democracy and consensus – it’s not that these concepts are at fault. it’s that we don’t know how to “do” democracy and consensus building, we don’t understand it. and this lack of understanding is definitely the fault of the elite you just mentioned (i suspect they don’t really want people to learn about it).

    btw, i was a little taken aback by this: “providing remedial instruction to people who are little better than criminals”. when i got to the link i understood what you were saying but before that i took it as a slight against remedial instruction, which, as someone who works with people with alternative learning styles, i would see as problematic.

  2. Yeah, that is definitely not meant to be a slight against remedial instruction. It is the combination of the viciousness and the lack of willingness to learn that define the new “students” at my university, and I want to make it clear that this is zero tolerance on my part.

    Thank you so much for asking me to clarify. There probably does need to be a more involved discussion on intelligence, values and discrimination. On a larger scale, calling people “dumb” is an awful thing to say if there are some people who are dumb and are struggling to know better.

    However, at some point our sensitivity stops, and it is tricky to know where that point is. Nowadays it has to do with diagnoses of medical conditions. But even this gets tricky, such as research into how criminals’ brains are actually formed. It may be insensitive for me in rant mode to call someone dumb, but ironically enough, the empirical sciences depend on categorizations that can discriminate against whole groups of people still.

    For me, virtue is knowledge. Moral people care to know so they can be moral. But given that we are creatures doomed not to know the ultimate truth of things until all is said and done, there’s a prejudice hiding even behind my high-sounding claims.

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