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Chartered-university initiative is likely to cause more harm than good
Date published: 1/4/2005
Fragmentation of the system of public higher education would make it more difficult for state leaders to achieve important public policy goals.
As for localities, they would face sovereign entities in their midst that operate for-profit businesses and engage in development that is subject to neither local nor state oversight. How would non-university businesses be protected from unfair competition? What would chartered universities do to compensate localities for the social costs of unrestricted building?
Most at risk is the system of public higher education as a whole. Common sense dictates that the interests of chartered universities would diverge over time from the interests of traditional state schools.
As the flagships relied increasingly on market-rate tuition and for-profit research parks to balance their budgets, they would spend less time in Richmond lobbying for resources. The impact on other post-secondary institutions such as the community colleges would probably be dire.
Thomas Jefferson spent four decades battling elites who hated the concept of public education even more than they hated taxes. In 1819, Jefferson succeeded in laying the roots of what today is one of our nation’s premier public university systems. The frustration at the flagship schools is understandable, but radical measures such as the charter initiative are likely to cause more harm than good.
More moderate measures such as limited deregulation, the creation of a rainy-day fund, and moderate tuition increases would give these universities the flexibility they need without compromising the interests of students, employees, or the commonwealth.
JEFFREY J. ROSSMAN is an assistant professor of history at the University of Virginia.