By Arnold Kling
An elite university is like a kibbutz hooked up to an ATM. It is the closest thing we may ever find to a socialist enterprise that endures. The key element of the kibbutz–that the workers collectively decide on the activities of the entity–is hardwired into the university via faculty governance. (The departure from the ideal–that some workers are “more equal” than others–is also evident, in that it is faculty, not employee, governance.) The notion that this is a sensible way to organize one’s professional life is bound to resonate more with people who have a soft spot for socialist, utopian ideals. In my opinion, that you find more liberals than conservatives in the modern elite university is largely (though not exclusively) a reflection of liberals rather than conservatives feeling at home in such an environment.
Under normal circumstances, we would expect such an enterprise to implode, because some members of the collective are more productive than others, and they eventually get tired of subsidizing the lifestyles of the less productive members of the collective. So what keeps the elite university alive?
It’s the ATM–alumni generosity. With outside money, even those who cross-subsidize the rest can feel like they are being adequately rewarded.
I gave my opinion about the kibbutz in Real World 101, where I argued that professors are too insulated from the trade-off between autonomy and security to appreciate the overall economy. I gave my opinion about the ATM more recently in Lawrence Summers as Martin Luther.
For Discussion. Will higher education still be a kibbutz hooked up to an ATM in 2025?