Since most people know better than to ask the barber if they need a haircut, why does state government bother asking educators if it should economize with education? Like barbers, educators will give only one answer.
But worse than asking educators about economizing, state government has even given them a veto over it. For like other professional groups, educators have established “accreditation” mechanisms like the New England Association of Schools and Colleges to prevent economizing at their expense.
It is the most brazen racket. As the classical economist Adam Smith wrote long ago, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” The modern playwright George Bernard Shaw sharpened it: “Every profession is a conspiracy against the laity.”
Such a conspiracy seems to have torpedoed the plan of Governor Malloy’s administration to economize with the state university and community college system by consolidating it, a plan titled “Students First” by the system’s Board of Regents and its president, Mark Ojakian. The schools and colleges association announced last week that it would not accredit the system’s consolidated institutions without a review requiring as long as five years.
While accepting the association’s veto, Ojakian responded angrily that it would force the college system to close some institutions and drastically reduce services amid state government’s financial collapse. But Ojakian’s grievance was ironic, since he has been part of an administration and political party that have blocked economizing elsewhere just as arbitrarily, as with the governor’s 10-year extension of the master state employee union contract and the state law that forbids municipal school systems from reducing spending as enrollment declines.
Indeed, even as Ojakian was warning that the higher education system’s resources are nearly exhausted, the General Assembly and governor were rushing to enact legislation qualifying illegal immigrant students for financial aid. Obliviousness and incoherence continue to define state government.
By rejecting the consolidation plan, the educator lobby - infinitely more fearsome in Connecticut than the lobby that sparks most politically correct indignation, the gun lobby - is betting that no administration will dare to economize seriously with higher ed. After all, most towns in Connecticut have a state college or university or are next door to one, and this gives the public the comforting illusion of being educated, though much of public higher ed here is only remedial high school work, a consequence of Connecticut’s main educational policy, social promotion, which has vastly driven up educational costs by assuring students that to reach a public college they need not learn anything in high school, that college admission awaits them anyway, even for free. But as its finances collapse, state government no longer can avoid economizing, and higher ed may yield to a simple solution: implementing the consolidation plan despite the educator lobby’s veto and daring the lobby to cancel accreditation of the colleges and universities.
After all, if students learn, they will have been educated quite without any accreditation, and if they do not learn, which often happens now, no accreditation will make them educated. Connecticut should defy the conspiracy of the educators and repudiate their credentialism.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.