Jenna Robinson of the Martin Center highlights new research involving higher education governance.

Academia is a troubled institution plagued by financial problems, falling academic standards, and poor educational outcomes. Especially concerning is its politicization; it increasingly sows racial discord, advocates for anti-American and anti-Western perspectives, and promotes socialism. At times, it even rejects its most important value—the pursuit of truth—for a distorted vision of social justice.

How has such a heralded institution come to such a dismal reality? And can it be restored to a more promising future?

In a newly published report titled Bolstering the Board: Trustees Are Academia’s Best Hope for Reform, the Martin Center’s Jay Schalin provides an answer to the first question and solutions for the second.

He does not just recommend tinkering around the edges as do so many analyses of higher education. Instead, he investigates the basic incentive structure that underlies academia. As a result, the report is bold, imaginative, and goes right at the single biggest obstacle to higher education reform—today’s system of “shared” academic governance thwarts positive change.

Colleges and universities almost always subscribe to shared governance, in which each of the three main stakeholder groups—boards of trustees, administrations, and faculty—have control over their own sphere of activities and influence over other spheres. It has resulted in a tangled mess of distortions, inefficiencies, perverse incentives, and the vesting of special interests. “Shared governance is a sacred cow that needs to be gored,” Schalin writes.

The complexity of shared governance clogs the gears of decision-making, according to Schalin. Instead of leadership, academia runs on manipulation, horse-trading, secrecy, and intimidation.

Making things worse, given the steady infusion of government dollars propping it up, is academia’s lack of a natural correcting force, the way profit and loss reward and punish decisions in the private sector. Nobody is in control; as a result, academia is permitted to continually slide in negative directions.