This post is a bit ‘off the beaten path’ for this web log, but I did state (somewhere) that these postings are ultimately composed around whatever topic I feel like spending my precious and often short bursts of time writing about.
This admittedly parochial story has been slowly developed over the last few days, with a big boost provided by the great Instapundit (naturally). Those of you who peruse the generally conservative web logs and news sites have undoubtedly seen reference to the upcoming second shoe to drop in the dismal news of the dismal science: after the housing crisis that brought on the economic bust of 2008, we are looking to see another major bubble that should soon burst in the area of the cost of higher education.
This little corner of impending doom is particularly concerned with Texas, and the fact that Governor Rick Perry is determined to reduce the skyrocketing cost of college tuition by making higher education “affordable, accountable, and accessible”. Contrast this with the fact that tuition at the University of Texas at Austin has increased 39.88% from 2004-2011, a scant seven years, with no appreciable gain in . . . well, anything, other than to fill the coffers of the university. Clearly, Texas University (the ‘teasippers’ there love it when you call it that) is a major target of the reform movement for stopping and rolling back the huge price increases. Two of Governor Perry’s reforms are a four-year tuition freeze for incoming students, and the $10,000 degree. The higher education cabal heaped scorn on the ideas but they have been implemented in public universities across the state.
The story now quickly centers around Bill Powers, President of the University of Texas at Austin. A public relations campaign has painted Powers as the main force standing up to this tuition freeze, which would somehow result in higher costs. Stories in major web logs, including the one for the magazine Texas Monthly, painted a picture of an administration under siege, and a huge groundswell of support from students flocking to social media site “I Stand With Bill Powers” on Facebook. The press has followed the stories of how some 10,000 people have joined the site, but Will Franklin of Willisms.com has written a lengthy yet readable post that is the definitive explanation of the fact that the university staff under Powers and a public relations firm have invented the site and the enthusiasm of its purported members.
Along with some others in the higher ed movement, it quickly became apparent that a handful of really sharp young folks, working with some powerful organizations with ample resources, synthetically engineered what appeared to be a natural groundswell.
The names, in the thousands, are being added without their knowledge, many posted within a matter of minutes, and all by basically two people. Franklin does an admirable job of explaining, in great detail, exactly how this has been done, and goes on to cover how this astro-turfing is bad enough, but it is being passed off to the press, and reported, as true.
I cannot begin to condense the article down to an easily understood abridged version; you will have to take some time to read the article to grasp how this fraud is being perpetuated, and why. But toward the end, Williams asks some devastating questions:
As for Bill Powers, can someone please explain to me what exactly are his accomplishments, or, alternatively, what exactly are his goals, ideas, values, or policies that are worthy of support?
The article is worth reading in its entirety, but especially the answers to those questions. If you have any interest in the business of higher education, this article is must read.