Morton J. Marcus is an economist formerly with the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. His column appears in numerous Indiana newspapers.
Listen. You don’t hear them. Instead you hear the birds of spring. They, the birds of the General Assembly, have flown to the corners of the state. That’s always the first surprise of observing the Indiana legislature. They are, individually, capable of flying on their own; they do not have to fly in formation following the loudest honker.
Now that the representatives and senators are back in their respective 150 nests, we can assess this most recent befouling of the Statehouse.
1. They did not pass legislation specifying the appropriate way to sing the national anthem.
2. They did not repeal the rights of teachers to teach cursive writing, probably because a quorum could not be found knowing the meaning of cursive.
3. They passed right-to-work legislation knowing it was merely a symbolic act to establish Indiana as a sister state to Mississippi.
4. They did something about smoking that was unsatisfactory for all concerned.
5. They did nothing to relieve the fiscal burdens of our local governments.
6. They failed to set a course for the abandonment of casinos and their replacement by the nascent Naval Academies of Ivy Tech.
7. They denied the voters of Marion and Hamilton counties the right to determine the future of a modernized mass transit system. After all, none of the legislators knew anyone who would use such a system.
8. They carefully examined the full implications of declaring some unknown firearm as the State Gun.
9. They continued to dominate and eviscerate the little remaining intellectual integrity of our state universities.
Except for this last point, all of the above should be self-evident. The legislature and its creature, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (ICHE), have bullied state universities into an unwise course.
Now the legislature and the ICHE seek to determine the costs of and the inputs to that education. As the legislature reduces its support for higher education, it complains that parents and students have to pay more. That education becomes more expensive is largely a function of the market place. Selected members of the faculty are in great demand by the private sector. To keep the best in any field and to attract new talent into collegiate life, universities compete with each other.
But legislators want to see university costs (read: salaries) controlled. These wise men and women believe that degrees matter and fail to recognize the production and transmission of knowledge as vital parts of a competitive economy.
The ICHE, with little to do except carp at the universities, wants to dictate the number of credits needed for graduation. Together the drive to push down costs and control requirements will hurt quality. How will lower quality at Indiana institutions of higher education help our economy to grow?
The consummate stupidity of the legislature and the ICHE is setting goals for the percent of the population to have degrees of various kinds. Once they learn that degrees do not equate with education, what will they want then?