Drexel University: A Modern Business?

by | Feb 10, 2003 | Education, POLITICS

Drexel University is very often accused by students and faculty of being “run like a business” while pointing to its shortcomings and ignorant “customer service” as proof of it. When one hears of so many bad experiences with the Drexel administration and considers the recent barrage of corporate scandals it seems only natural to draw […]

Drexel University is very often accused by students and faculty of being “run like a business” while pointing to its shortcomings and ignorant “customer service” as proof of it. When one hears of so many bad experiences with the Drexel administration and considers the recent barrage of corporate scandals it seems only natural to draw that conclusion. Is business inherently scandalous or is there something else at work here?

Only a few weeks ago the ever-vocal professor Robert Zaller wrote to the Triangle that “the president said at his inauguration that he regarded Drexel as a business and that he planned to run it as such… Decisions are made in the dark and deals are struck in secret. Schools, divisions, and departments are run up, struck down, and shifted about like so many corporate subsidiaries. Vice presidencies proliferate like mushrooms while the lights in classrooms go dim and faculty haul their own trash. The CEO is rewarded with the sixth-highest presidential salary in academe while a national magazine rates the university in the third quintile of its peers. If that’s not modern American business practice, I don’t know what is.”

I sympathize with Dr. Zaller’s disappointment. However, I think that blaming Drexel’s low respect for students and faculty on the fact that it’s an American business is incomplete at best. In a free market, bad customer service and sour relationships with employees spells eventual disaster and bankruptcy for any business. What is it about a university like Drexel that lets such mediocre service go unchecked and without punishment?

One reason is that many of those who feel their university has wronged them are fearful that they may be hurting themselves by going public. They believe it could later accumulate with other bad press and cause potential employees or other universities to diminish or even reconsider the value of their degree. While this is true to some extent, it is often the case that the only way for a university or any other business to refocus their efforts on satisfying the needs of customers and employees is for the problems to be brought to public scrutiny. Otherwise the institution feels that very little is at stake and will take equally little action to correct it.

Another reason for enduring mediocrity is that in our mixed economy there is a mix of freedom and government controls that ultimately distort and hinder corrective economic decisions. Government handouts in higher education enable many American universities to be less responsive to market forces–handouts without which universities would be forced to improve service and increase student satisfaction.

For example, even though Drexel University is a private business it has been on the government dole for at least the past 3 years. This is because the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania classifies Drexel, as well as MCP Hahnemann University, O S Johnson Technical Institute, Pennsylvania College of Optometry, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Thomas Jefferson University, University of Pennsylvania, and the University of the Arts as a “state-aided university.”

The state-aided designation is conferred on those universities because, according to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, they offer programs that have been deemed to meet the “public interest.” These are medicine, technology, and arts specialties. It is almost telling that the state does not consider “history” or “economics” to be in the public interest, for if they did they would simultaneously learn that neither is their state-aided university plan.

The FY (fiscal year) 2000-01 budget for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, under non-state related universities and colleges, lists Drexel University for the amount of $6,959,000 and MCP Hahnemann University for the amount of $14,761,000. In FY 2002-03 Drexel University is listed for the amount of $6,810,000. These funds, while significant, don’t compare to UPenn’s whopping $38,445,000 this year.

Government handouts that aid universities are destructive to academic freedom and the quality of education. Honest universities strive to meet their student’s and faculty’s expectations and needs by providing resources and environments conducive to learning, treat their students and faculty with respect and solve their problems in a timely manner. Dishonest universities lure people by faking such an environment, give students and faculty the run-around, sweep problems under the rug and sell short future profit for present gain. Normally these dishonest business practices are punished on the free market: students and faculty simply choose to go elsewhere. However, universities aren’t on the free market.

When the state or fed puts taxpayer dollars up for grabs it is always the dishonest and mediocre universities that are the first to grab it. Honest universities are reluctantly forced to follow suit in order to remain competitive. Who can compete with free money? What can eventually happen is that universities begin to rely more on public money and less on private sources of funding which is symptomatic of publicly funded projects and programs. The university’s recent acquisition of $8 million from the state and $3.5 million in federal funding is a large increase from past assistance. Drexel pursues a range of public and private support in order to keep tuition within reach.

As is often the case, wherever state money goes, regulation is soon to follow. Eventually the money becomes conditional and enables the government to influence classroom subject matter, fund only politically correct research and leave higher education twisting in the changing political winds – if it hasn’t done so already.

Drexel isn’t bad because it’s a business – Drexel is simply a bad business. Given the choice, I wouldn’t give a single cent of extra money to Drexel on my own accord – given the choice. Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania legislature doesn’t think I’m qualified enough to make my own economic decisions and instead uses money confiscated from my paycheck to reward Drexel without my consent.

When a society isn’t free to choose what it can and can’t spend its money on, the free market is no longer free and has been robbed of its best and most powerful check on dishonest behavior and mediocre service: individual judgment and choice.

If Drexel won’t listen to its students and faculty, maybe it’ll listen to the hand that feeds it. If you’re curious about change, mail a copy of this article to your local representatives.

Originally published in Drexel’s The Triangle.

Leonardo F. Urbano is an electrical engineering student at Drexel University.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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