Obama's Scranton visit today
The president is in the middle of a tour through New York and Northeast Pennsylvania, having made stops at the University of Buffalo and in the city of Syracuse yesterday; he will visit Binghamton University and Lackawanna College in Scranton today.
President Obama has already announced his untenable plan to tie federal aid for colleges and universities to outcomes involving graduation rates (evidently he never read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), service to minority and economically disadvantaged students, job placement rates, and student debt loads. He prefaced his suggestions with, as is his practice in dealing with any complex issue, the observation that we simply "can't go about business as usual." As he made many similar observations while pushing for his Obamacare plan, my recommendation to all my fellow professors is that we be on guard and keep ever in the forefront of our mind Reagan's dictum that the most feared words in the English language are, or should be, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."
The principle difficulty (I do not in principle disagree that a reevaluation of college performance or government funding is a bad thing, and the behavior of the for-profit college sector is often scandalous) lies with the idea of tying the graduation rates of Pell Grant recipients to a college or university's performance evaluations. By definition and intention, students receiving Pell Grants are from low-income backgrounds; they often attend college in need of a considerable amount of remediation, and many simply fail. Colleges and universities will be tempted to pursue one of two routes: either they will pander to students even more than they already do, or they will attempt to discourage Pell Grant recipients from attending their schools lest a large number of economically disadvantaged students lower the schools' evaluations. In my experience, pandering is more likely, but either course could have a devastating impact on schools that are tuition-driven.
A few words about the Scranton visit. Do not be misled by media coverage. According to local radio host Steve Corbett, no conservative but generally an honest muckraker and civil libertarian, tickets originally offered at one per customer were being given away 4 at a time by yesterday morning. There is little enthusiasm about the president's visit. In fact, a local state representative, Kevin Haggerty, posted somewhat negative comments about the president's visit and has been excoriated by the local liberals for it. To his credit, he has stood firm against the local thought police, although he has gone out of his way to indicate his personal regard for the president.
A word about the choice of Lackawanna College as the president's Scranton venue. (I hasten to point out that I have nothing but respect for the school; all colleges and their faculty and staff deserve respect, if for no other reason than the sheer difficulty in this day and age of executing their mission, and by all accounts available to me, the school does an outstanding job.) Lackawanna College is, locally, the college most devoted to serving a minority and disadvantaged student population. A few blocks away sits the University of Scranton, a Jesuit university that is, without question, the finest university in the area and consistently ranked by U.S. News and World Reports as one of the top ten schools in its classification in the Northeast. The president's decision to go to Lackawanna and avoid the University of Scranton speaks volumes. Scranton has a much smaller number of minority students; it is not a hotbed of student liberalism, let alone radicalism; and he would have to face tough questions from faculty and students about abortion, birth control, and Obamacare's effects on the insurance options Catholic institutions would have to provide.
The president seems to wish to engage in his usual tactic of speaking only to his base and avoiding the rough and tumble of genuine debate and discussion, preferring, as is his wont, idolatry.