Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Modest Proposal for Ohio State University

Ohio's flagship university, Ohio State, now receives 7 percent of its budget from the state, down from … 25 percent in 1990. … [Governor] Kasich questions why all state universities need to offer every major, like journalism or engineering, instead of parceling those programs among the schools. … "It's duplication of resources. … [S]weeping change … is needed across academia." — New York Times, May 13
Since the state of Ohio is so obviously out of touch with the importance of education in the lives of its young people, and since it's spending almost nothing (4 percent of the state budget, according to the same Times article) on higher education, I believe everyone in Ohio will be made happier if the state and Ohio State come to a parting of the ways.
In other words, I propose that Ohio State take itself private. The state will get back 4 percent of its budget and State will get back self-respect and control of its own destiny. It might not even have to tighten its belt by 7 percent (a sum that the legislature is no doubt already pining to slash anyway); alumni, cheered by the prospect of a reinvigorated, private Ohio State, will probably contribute all they can to help fill the gap.
Of course, the new Ohio State will have to pay for the real estate that it occupies and that is no doubt owned by the state. But they can raise the down payment by spinning off the football team, the famed Buckeyes, who will be much happier finally admitting that they are a minor-league farm team for the National Football League. (Or perhpas they can become the football equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters.) I don't know what fraction of the 7-percent subsidy from the state supports the football team, but it's a fraction the new Ohio State won't have to worry about.
Not that sports have no place on a college campus. Perish the thought. Just as it's important for future engineers to be exposed to journalism and even comparative literature, it's important for all those eggheads to be exposed to, even required to participate in, the beauty and joy of physical activity. Imagine an Ohio State where one expects to see football players in real classes making real grades, and where any student who played football in high school can dream of making the varsity team.
Ohio State's bold move could start a trend. The fifty states that compose this brave land of ours can finally admit that their job is not to enrich the lives of their citizens, but to provide vocational training for those whose lives have settled into a steady groove that they can quietly stay in as they serve out their drab, one-dimensional lives. The high schools can sort people into bins labeled "journalist" or "engineer," and they can be efficiently slotted into the Ohio State Vocational School for Engineering, or the the Ohio State Journalism School; except that one lifetime may be a bit too long a time horizon for that last one.
The Times article mentions that the prison budget in Ohio is twice the size of the budget for higher education. I'm sure inefficient duplication would be reduced if the education system were simply merged into the prison system; in Governor Kasich's eyes, the two bear remarkable similarities.
Meanwhile, the universities, freed from the states that no longer appreciate what they are for, will find they are much happier raising money from alumni and charitable foundations than from those beady-eyed state legislators.

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