Monday, March 21, 2011
As many people in the blogosphere have sadly noted, Bill Stuntz died last week very prematurely. Despite being a law professor at Harvard, Stuntz thought and wrote unconventionally, with lots of verve and lots of wisdom, on a lot of different topics. His main academic interest was criminal law: here is a sharp blog post of his on race, violent crime, and the drug laws. Stuntz also wrote and spoke - intensely movingly - about his impending death.
What no one (that I have seen) has mentioned is that Stuntz also anticipated - in a shrewd New Republic article in 2006 - what is now almost the conventional wisdom about the "higher education bubble" and especially the legal education bubble.
Stuntz's article - which incidentally called Harvard "the new GM" - this was before GM became Government Motors - has apparently disappeared into the aether. But here is a post by Yevgeny Vilensky noting and quoting Stuntz. And here is a little more from The New Editor.
Three key American enterprises have seen costs rise much faster than inflation over the past generation, and all three are enterprises in which America leads the world: housing, health care, and higher education. Houses have grown bigger and better, as anyone who has looked at contemporary bathrooms and kitchens knows. Doctors do things they could not imagine a generation ago. Costs may have risen faster than quality, but there is no doubt that quality has risen, and risen substantially.
Higher education is similar--on the cost side. Benefit is another story. There is little reason to believe that undergrads and graduate students are better educated today than a generation ago. More likely the opposite. Teaching loads of senior professors have declined; probably teaching quality has declined with it. The culture of research universities has grown ever more contemptuous of students, especially undergraduates, who are seen as an interruption of one's real work rather than the reason for the enterprise. Which means that, year by year, students and their parents pay more for less. That isn't a sustainable business plan.
Rest in peace. Bill Stuntz, that is: American higher education is liable to be facing an unrestful time.