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Letter to the Editor: A modest proposal for the University of Iowa

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By Paul Durrenberger

I read the Little Village as I waited for my Chinese food to come and learned that nobody at the University of Iowa likes the new president the Regents have selected for them. He’s a businessman. He can’t even get his CV straight. What kind of example is that for a faculty that wants to teach academic integrity? So, “No Confidence.”

But let me suggest another possibility to take advantage of what appears to some to be a ruinous situation. For years, the University of Iowa has been struggling to be a proper corporate university. Naming buildings for donors is a start, but now appropriate leadership offers new opportunities.

Like any other industrial process, university education can be mechanized. Ever since the first recording devices, university administrators have worked to replace expensive faculty with cheap machines. And with the advent of the internet, there are all of the possibilities of MOOC, Massive Open Online Courses. A political scientist at Johns Hopkins, Benjamin Ginsberg, has come up with a new twist he calls Massive Open Online Administration. Administrators everywhere face the same problems and even now govern by collectively established best practices. One person can solve the same problem at many different universities with a few keystrokes. And save the even greater cost of administrators.

Herein lies the opportunity for the University of Iowa to seize with its new president, a bottom-line oriented University of Iowa. With no resident students, faculty or administrators there will be a lot of climate-controlled space that can be converted to CAFOs, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations to produce turkeys, chickens and swine to feed a growing world and help make Iowa’s place in the global agricultural markets.

Regents President Bruce Rastetter, an Iowa alum, is a leader in global industrial agriculture and swine production in Iowa. I’m sure that with him behind the plan, the governor would approve.

Students will support it because they will have no more dorm bills to pay. Administrators will be liberated to explore alternative opportunities in consulting and allied fields such as food services, hospitality and retail sales. Faculty members should offer their patronage because they have nothing to lose but their students. And maybe their tenure. But that’s another matter that requires the hawk-eyed scrutiny of a reality-based business person.

With this opportunity to become a real corporate university, the whole community should join together to work with their new president instead of bad-mouthing him for a few ethical issues and his lack of academic experience. We can at last make the University of Iowa useful to industrial agriculture and help promote the business of Iowa.

Paul Durrenberger is a professor emeritus of anthropology from the University of Iowa and Penn State. He currently lives in rural West Branch.


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