Why Aren't Public Universities More Transparent and Accountable?
By Michael Newman

Over the last six months of researching for my work-in-progress documentary about the pitfalls of American higher education, The Elephant on Campus, there have been many problems I have come across. One of the biggest and least talked about problems is that public universities are totally opaque when it comes to the way they receive and spend money, especially tuition money. No one outside of these institutions can say with any certainty how this process works.

Public universities are supposed to be providing a public good to society and therefore should be forced to be totally transparent with their finances and accountable for their actions. Unfortunately, they are allowed to operate under the radar with very few questions asked. These universities are neither transparent nor accountable for their finances because neither the public nor the elected officials are questioning them and the media isn't investigating them.

Knowledge is power, which is why public university administrators and their boards of trustees keep most of the knowledge of their finances to themselves. It's a process that is as confusing and secretive as they want it to be. With all the financial turmoil surrounding the American economy you would think that at least the media would be shining a light on this issue. So far, to my knowledge, this isn't the case. There have been some investigations into the finances of universities' athletic departments, but none looking into the detailed finances of the universities themselves. There have been numerous books and articles written that point out that universities are wasting money on everything besides education, but even these don't dig beyond the surface.

I haven't found one investigative journalist that has looked deeply into this issue. Maybe they are out there somewhere, but I haven't discovered them yet. All I've found up to this point is a website created by UC Berkeley professor Charlie Schwartz. It seems to be a pretty intensive site with a lot of research, but I haven't been able to dig too deeply into it. I wish I could focus solely on this issue, but my documentary takes a much more broad approach to the problems with American higher education.

The financial integrity of public universities is a subject that should be the focus of serious investigative journalism all over the country but hasn't been. Why? I have no answer. I'm just a documentary filmmaker. I'm not an investigative journalist. I don't have the resources nor the training to look deeply into this issue. I just know that it is my job to ask questions that people aren't asking and it's time to start asking serious questions about the way our public universities spend and receive their money.

How much tuition money is being spent on education and how much is wasted on everything else that has nothing to do with education? How much of the endowment money goes towards improving the quality of education? How much money goes into the pockets of the administrators and bureaucrats that never step foot inside a classroom? These are just a few of the questions the public universities should be forced to answer.

Students have a right to know exactly how much of their money actually goes towards their own education. Taxpayers have a right to know if their money is being used like it should be. If their money isn't being spent wisely, then the universities should be held accountable. I don't think this is asking too much from institutions that are supposedly here to serve the interests of the public.

Load Comments
You Might Be Interested In
25 min · The Elephant on Campus is a feature-length [work-in-progress] documentary about the problems plaguing higher education in America and the search for solutions to fix this broken system. Contrary to popular belief, college is no longer the sacred cow that it used to be. With...
7 min · Based on three actual stories told by young people in New Mexico after participating in a survey on youth health access, this video recreates what it can be like for young people to access health services and information. Running Time: 6.5 minutes     Christian Redbird...
60 min · Even in lean times, the $400 billion business of higher education is booming. Nowhere is this more true than in one of the fastest-growing -- and most controversial -- sectors of the industry: for-profit colleges and universities that cater to non-traditional students, often...
2 min · A clip of Michael Newman's interview with Robert Applebaum, taken from the documentary "The Elephant on Campus".  The film explores the systematic failures of higher education in America and searches for solutions to reform this system. elephantoncampus.com
3 min · Click on «cc» for english subtitles. Tens of thousands of Quebec university and college students have been marching, blocking roads and bridges and loudly demonstrating for seven weeks against a tuition hike - making it the longest student strike in the province's history...
7 min · Welcome to standardized testing season, when students nationwide are clearing their desks, sharpening their pencils and fighting feelings of anxiety to meet our schools’, states’, and federal government’s desire for a simple, quantifiable way to measure them. Is this really...
3 min · Blame for problems with schooling in America is often assigned to insufficient funding or the inherent failings of today's kids. In rare cases, parents, teachers, and administrators are also implicated. However, all efforts to improve the quality of education are doomed to...
2 min · This is the Quebec student's response about media critics of wearing mask in demonstration. Tens of thousands of Quebec university and college students have been marching, blocking roads and bridges and loudly demonstrating for seven weeks against a tuition hike - making it...
59 min · In China, education is considered the only way out of poverty. But as the nation’s higher education system has largely been privatized by for-profit companies, the future for millions of students is bleak. College is less accessible to Chinese youth than ever before, and...
61 min · Hemenway is a frequent teacher, consultant and lecturer on permaculture and ecological design throughout the U.S. and other countries. His writing has appeared in magazines such as Natural Home, Whole Earth Review and American Gardener. He is an adjunct professor in the...
14 min · Fed up with a media system that values corporate profits over the interests of the public, Americans are taking action. Mobilizing Media Reform provides an inside look into this growing movement for media reform in the U.S. This 14-minute video addresses the problems that...
4 min · Rebel Diaz - the in-your-face trio out of Chicago mix strong political statements with their dynamic flow and character. As a performance group, Rebel Diaz came together in early 2006 when they were invited to perform their revolutionary music at the historic immigrant rights...
Jordan Weissmann · And the grand total is... A mere $62.6 billion dollars! According to new Department of Education data, that's how much tuition public colleges collected from undergraduates in 2012 across the entire United States. And I'm not being facetious with the word mere, either. The...
Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone · On May 31st, president Barack Obama strolled into the bright sunlight of the Rose Garden, covered from head to toe in the slime and ooze of the Benghazi and IRS scandals. In a Karl Rove-ian masterstroke, he simply pretended they weren't there and changed the...
Simeon Talley · While London has been rocked by student protests over proposed tuition hikes, United States college campuses have been largely quiet. Tens of thousands of students in the UK have taken to the streets -- confronting police, storming the Conservative Party headquarters...
Rick Ayers · Davis Guggenheim's 2010 film Waiting for Superman is a slick marketing piece full of half-truths and distortions. The film suggests the problems in education are the fault of teachers and teacher unions alone, and it asserts that the solution to those problems is a greater...
John Taylor Gatto · Let me speak to you about dumbness because that is what schools teach best. Old-fashioned dumbness used to be simple ignorance: you didn't know something, but there were ways to find out if you wanted to. Government-controlled schooling didn't eliminate dumbness - in fact, we...
Steven D · What happens when you fail to invest in education (and no, I don't mean investment in excessive layers of school administration), the most important single item in our nation's success or failure? You end up with this result: An unprecedented study that followed several...
James Herod · It is time to try to describe, at first abstractly and later concretely, a strategy for destroying capitalism. At its most basic, this strategy calls for pulling time, energy, and resources out of capitalist civilization and putting them into building a new civilization. The...
Films For Action · Survival is the only international organization supporting tribal peoples worldwide. We were founded in 1969 after an article by Norman Lewis in the UK’s Sunday Times highlighted the massacres, land thefts and genocide taking place in Brazilian Amazonia. Like many modern...
Like us on Facebook?