Sunday, February 22, 2009

Privatization Momentum Builds !!

On Friday the William and Mary Flat Hat published an Op-ed by student Alex Ely, calling for privatization of William and Mary. As Ely points out, the College cannot achieve "Greatness" so long as it remains owned and controlled by the Commonwealth of Virginia. I am flattered that Ely reproduces a quote of me from an earlier Flat Hat article on the subject, where I point out that our public status results in an artificial ceiling on the tuition and fees we can charge in state students. Here is that previous article. Ely also refers to previous Op-eds in the Flat Hat, written by yours truly, laying out the case for privatization. Here are links to those Op-Eds: "Private Greatness" and "Privatization: A Winning Choice" He also notes that privatization would eliminate political interference in the College's internal affairs and that, by raising tuition, the College could generate revenue to fund the ever-more expensive [my characterization] Gateway Program and create a graduate school to train public servants (presumably in addition to the College's Thomas Jefferson program in Public Policy).

Mr. Ely's Op-Ed coincides with one by Mr. Jeff Dailey over at the Virginia Informer, also calling for privatization. Mr. Dailey notes that the Commonwealth has repeatedly cut the College's budget since 2002, leaving the College without the resources necessary to meet its objectives and that, absent a massive infusion of public cash, privatization is the only option. Dailey also points out that the amount of influence the Commonwealth exercises over the College far exceeds its diminishing financial support for William and Mary.

By posting Mr. Ely's excellent article, I do not mean to endorse all of it. In particular, as some of you know, I am no fan of the Gateway Program. See my Op-Ed on the issue: Ely says the program is necessary to ensure access to the College, I don't think that's right. When the College announced the Gateway Program, it reported that there were 300 students of modest means already attending the College; presumably these students were relying upon low interest loans or had served their country in the military and were drawing on the GI Bill. In short, absent Gateway, there are various means of access to William and Mary. By analogy, most of us borrow money to purchase a home or buy a car. No one would say that individuals who must borrow to make such purchases lack "access" to cars or homes. Moreover, unlike Ely, I don't think the College ought to concern itself with training public servants. Indeed, my sense is that the College already graduates an inordinate number of public servants.

These are debatable points, however. Ely's main point still stands. If the College wants to be great, however, defined, it should go private. And, I will add that going private will make it easier to raise money for various programs, e.g., merit scholarships or need-based programs like Gateway, since W&M's President will not have to spend countless hours lobbying Richmond not to cur our budget, change the in-state out of state mix of students, etc. (The President of Duke raised more than $200 million to support its version of Gateway BEFORE implementing the program.) With such free time, the President of a private William and Mary could make contact with more alumni and foundations and raise the sort of endowment the College needs.