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Saving Alma Mater: A Rescue Plan for America's Public Universities 1st Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226283869
ISBN-10: 0226283860
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“James Garland’s book not only describes in detail his fascinating experiment in restructuring the financing of Miami University but furthermore provides a broader discussion of why the challenges facing higher education today demand similarly bold paradigm shifts in the financing of America’s public universities. This book should be an important resource for both those involved in the leadership and governance of higher education as well as those citizens interested in the rapidly changing nature of America’s colleges and universities.”

(James J. Duderstadt, President Emeritus, University of Michigan)

"Garland (president, emeritus, Miami University of Ohio) asserts that a misguided business model for public universities—he was a teacher and administrator at Ohio State for many years—has led to increasing tuition and declining quality. Garland explains the damaging impact of an unpredictable and uncompetitive system of state appropriations and also shows that faculty values and the character of academic culture get in the way of cost-effective management and the identification of priorities. Most faculty are dedicated and hardworking, but campus attitudes have led to a defensiveness that wastes resources, resists change, and undermines the academic excellence that students and society overall need. While Garland's recommended change in tuition policy may not work throughout the system, his clearly expressed and hardheaded analysis provide a valuable perspective for both the general reader and public officials."
(Library Journal)

"As the former president of a public university, Garland worries about whether the public university will continue to provide professors with a venue for instructing students from middle-class homes. In recent decades, he laments, Americans have witnessed the breakdown of the economic model that once made public universities almost universally affordable. Consequently, students must pay staggering tuition to attend institutions that cannot maintain their facilities, keep their best faculty, or satisfy their staff. Garland therefore draws from the corporate world to propose a bold new economic model: let state legislatures replace their direct aid to public universities with indirect aid via expanded aid to needy students. To meet the market pressures generated by this new economic model, universities—Garland believes—will become more efficient, more flexible, and more responsive to social needs. Certain to spark fierce resistance, this proposed reform will require firm leadership from state governors who understand what is at stake in changing a valuable but now dysfunctional institution."
(Booklist (starred review))

"In Saving Alma Mater, Mr. Garland argues that government should end subsidies altogether and allow supply and demand to rule. . . . A useful primer on academic dysfunction."
(Patricia Cohen New York Times)

About the Author

James C. Garland began his teaching career at The Ohio State University in 1970. During his twenty-six-year tenure there, he served as a physics professor and department chairperson, acting vice president for research and graduate studies, director of the school’s Materials Research Laboratory, dean of its College of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, and finally the school’s executive dean of Arts and Sciences. In 1996 Garland began a ten-year term as president of Miami University of Ohio. He retired in 2006.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (October 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226283860
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226283869
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #249,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
James Garland is the former president of Miami University of Ohio who negotiated the revolutionary change in Miami's tuition structure. In Saving Alma Mater he examines the current model for funding public higher education, considers it doomed and offers an alternative.

For years now the state allocations for public higher ed have diminished. Where once public universities were state-funded (and then state-supported) they are now little more than state-located. The percentage of the state contribution to the top public universities' budgets is now sometimes in the single digits. As a proportion of the universities' budgets, student tuition has now generally eclipsed the state allocations, even though the states continue to robustly regulate public higher ed. However, while the states often expect universities to take on additional students and have failed to provide the proportional costs for those students they have also pursued such policies as the capping of tuition levels.

Where public higher education was once seen as a public good (certainly the numbers--in economic development and increased state income tax revenue, for example, demonstrate that it is) it is now treated as a private good, with the responsibility for its funding increasingly pressed on the parents or on the students themselves.

Garland's solution is a modified voucher system in which the state provides portable support directly to the students. Public universities--largely freed from their current regulatory shackles--would then compete for students through the strength of their programs, the attractiveness of their services and facilities and the distinctiveness of their `brand' and comparative advantages.
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Garland's book is incredibly descriptive of the processes and problems of the university. I found his portrayal of the problems, particularly the problem of dealing with faculty, shared governance, and commitees to be consistent with my experiences in academe. Clearly this book reflects Garland's passion and, in places, his frustrations.

To my way of thinking, the book would be most useful for university trustees. The first half of the book is generally descriptive of the public university, and Miami University (in rural SW Ohio) in particular, and should serve to inform newly appointed trustees of many of the problems in running a university from the presidency. I am not sure that the trustee who has only been a student at a college will know about the issues (and attitudes) that Garland describes but they can read this book and find out something about those issues. Faculty and adminstrators will be all too familiar with these topics even if they disagree with Garland.

The book becomes more prescriptive with the chapter called "The Role of Governing Boards in the New Era." The trustees of public universities in Ohio are appointed by the Governor and trustees tend to be party loyalists who asked for appointment as a trustee resulting in boards that ... well, let me just say that a potential trustee wanting to be on a board does not always advance the institution. I think Garland makes this point when he writes, "Trustees should be paid for their services, not as an honorarium or "thank you" for their efforts but as compensation for the value they bring to their institution. ...[paid] enough to send the message that a serious commitment is expected, that there is important business to be conducted, that many millions of dollars are at stake....
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If you want to be surprised by the ending of this book, stop reading now! There is a spoiler ahead. Dr. James C. Garland started his career as a condensed matter physicist. He then went into the administration career path, concluding as president of Miami University (Ohio). Obviously he has much to say about universities and he can do so from experience. He provides the reader with much detail and gives the general reader incredible insight into the intricacies of academic governance, especially a public university. So why did I only give this book a three star rating? It is his supposed solution. Now comes my spoiler. His solution is analogous to vouchers for public education at K-12 levels. He proposes to have no direct support for any higher education institutions, rather have states provide funds directly to students in the form of scholarships, like vouchers, and have the students choose the university. He believes that this will lead to intense competition for students and that the better managed colleges will get more of the students, and the poorly managed colleges will go under. So hey, it's like survival of the fittest right? Or is it? You may wish to read up on the debate on school vouchers to better understand the cons, not just the pros. Perhaps check out an objective web site on vouchers. Nonetheless, I find it amusing that Garland's so-called solution would give the late Jerry Falwell his dream, as he said: "I hope I live to see the day when ... we won't have any public schools." I guess it is a little late for Falwell. Could a physicist ever be wrong?
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