Academics extol high-minded ideals, such as serving the common good and promoting social justice. Universities aim to be centers of learning that find the best and brightest students, treat them fairly, and equip them with the knowledge they need to lead better lives. But as Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness show in Cracks in the Ivory Tower, American universities fall far short of this ideal. At almost every level, they find that students, professors, and administrators are guided by self-interest rather than ethical concerns. College bureaucratic structures also often incentivize and reward bad behavior, while disincentivizing and even punishing good behavior. Most students, faculty, and administrators are out to serve themselves and pass their costs onto others. The problems are deep and pervasive: most academic marketing and advertising is semi-fraudulent. To justify their own pay raises and higher budgets, administrators hire expensive and unnecessary staff. Faculty exploit students for tuition dollars through gen-ed requirements. Students hardly learn anything and cheating is pervasive. At every level, academics disguise their pursuit of self-interest with high-faluting moral language. Marshaling an array of data, Brennan and Magness expose many of the ethical failings of academia and in turn reshape our understanding of how such high power institutions run their business. Everyone knows academia is dysfunctional. Brennan and Magness show the problems are worse than anyone realized. Academics have only themselves to blame.
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