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Lost in the Ivory Tower

6/1/2011, 1:29 a.m.
“Brother Barack is out of touch with the people...

Lost in the Ivory Tower

Tenured professors at major universities have the most secure jobs in America. They cannot be fired except for grievous misbehavior. The rationale for such an institution is to secure academic freedom.

Society pays a big price by granting such necessary freedom to academics. Their unnatural world of limited professional accountability has created the Ivory Tower syndrome. Their wistful world too often seems to them like reality.

In his unbridled attacks on President Barack Obama, Professor Cornel West of Princeton University reveals a lack of understanding about the Executive Branch of government. The first thing he should understand is that the president has only four years, not a lifetime like tenured professors, to accomplish any objective. And the power to act is not unilateral. The president must still cope with Congress.

In his tirade on the April 10 MSNBC program “A Stronger America: The Black Agenda,” West upbraided Obama for not providing personal leadership on the education issue. However, Obama appointed the energetic Arne Duncan as secretary of education, he committed substantial funds for public education, and Obama has been personally involved in numerous events to inspire young students.

Rev. Al Sharpton pointed out in the MSNBC program that by comparison, West has been missing from public protests with the people. When he was at Harvard, the closest he got to the black community was his condo in the Four Seasons. After his battle in 2000 with then Harvard President Lawrence Summers over cancelling classes and other issues, West decamped to Princeton.

West’s continued harangue against the president was published on May 16 in Truthdig. He described Obama as “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.” West now believes that it is up to him and his associate Tavis Smiley to engage in civil disobedience to benefit the poor.

Despite West’s insults, Obama will certainly be the Democratic candidate for president in 2012. Since he is against Obama, which of the Republicans does West support?

A crippling debt burden

This is the season of college commencements and high school graduations. Proud parents join with their deserving children as they accept the formal recognition of their academic achievements.

Away from the limelight is another group that is less joyful. This includes students who have accumulated substantial debt in for-profit higher education programs, and the promised employment is not available.

The U.S. Department of Education and the Offices of the Attorney General in several states have begun investigations to determine whether for-profit colleges and trade schools are operating without the interests of students in mind. An investigation by the U.S. General Accounting Office found that as much as 90 percent of the revenue from some for-profit schools came from federal student loans.

According to reports just about anyone who applies is admitted to for-profit schools. Recruiters hired by the schools build enrollment, and they often distort the facts as aggressive salesmen customarily do. Consequently, the schools suffer a high drop-out rate of disappointed students.

Regardless of whether the experience benefits the student, the schools’ fees are paid by the loans. Even if the student drops out or fails to become employed at the completion of the course, he or she must repay the loans. This can be a terrible burden for low-income students.

Federal student loans provide a revenue machine for for-profit schools. They will naturally resist any effort to reduce the flow of funds. A common argument is that any tightening of regulations will adversely affect minorities and low-income students. Yet there must be some modification to reduce the unacceptably high rate of failure.

In Massachusetts, the community college system provides a more reliable and often less expensive education alternative. For many of the trades, the government, industry and the unions should explore a more effective apprentice system, such as those in Germany and other industrial nations.

It is time to remedy the disappointments of the commencement season that leave too many American youth without much hope for the future.