First, we are perceived as being elite institutions at a time in which the word “elite” has become a bad word (when applied to anything but a quarterback). Some people think that institutions like ours care far more about making themselves great than they do the world better. And I think therein lies a challenge for us, and we can talk about how do we in fact respond to that perception of elitism that we are often saddled with.
Second, I think there’s public anger toward institutions like ours because people believe that we are too politically correct, that we lean left, that we do not truly embrace ideas from across the ideological spectrum, and that we are, in fact, more than that, intolerant of other views.
Now I’m going to editorialize here. We have never had a speaker shouted down at Harvard or somebody who was unable to speak. We have speakers from across the spectrum. This past year, Mitch McConnell, Betsy Devos, Charles Murray all spoke at Harvard without incident. Yet having said that, there’s a perception that certain folks cannot speak at a place like Harvard. We work very hard to counter that, but it’s an issue for us.
Third, I think a lot of the public anger over higher education is actually rooted in the ever-escalating cost and price of a college degree. People believe that we are incapable of controlling our own costs or, worse, that we will charge what the market will bear because we can. As the real cost of an education has increased, I think this has stoked cynicism and public anger over the higher education sector more broadly.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at The future of higher education: A conversation with Lawrence Bacow, President of Harvard University