What's Next? Cannabalism at the University of California?

Will the financial crisis that colleges and universities are experiencing lead to cannabalism?

I started wondering that when I heard that most of the department chairs at the University of California, San Diego, wrote a crazy letter recently to the president of the 10-campus UC system.

Twenty one out of 28 department chairs suggested that Board of Regents consider killing off what they considered to be the weakest UC campuses to keep the alpha dogs — UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and UCSD — alive and well.

The professors were gunning for what they consider to be three academic underdogs: the University of California campuses in Santa Cruz, Riverside and Merced. The letters urged the president to drop “the pretense that all campuses are equal.”

You can imagine how that proposal went over at those schools and in those communities.

A columnist for the Modesto Bee called the San Diego professors “sun-soaked, fish-taco-eating egotists who want to protect themselves by picking on the weakest links.” (As a San Diegan, I have no interest in trying to justify what the professors wrote, but I feel compelled to vouch for fish tacos, which are devinely delicious.)

Clearly the UCSD professors believe that research trumps everything else and the schools they want to protect are heavily into research. I’d suggest that all that research does undergrads at these elite schools very little good. While professors want to protect their research,  families should be worried about what kind of education kids are receiving at public universities in California and in many other financially strapped states. Too often kids are spending much of their college lives crammed into lectures halls where their only contact with professors is from 25 rows away.

New ideas are needed to help colleges and universities – the elite and the ones with open-door policies — teach students without killing off anybody.

A good starting point would be for schools to become familiar with the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability, which is doing some amazing research on the topic.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and a college blogger at CBSMoneyWatch.com.

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