Speaker talks privatization

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April 3, 2009

2:28 AM

Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, a libertarian thinktank based in Washington, D.C., is privy to privatization. At an on-campus talk hosted by Libertarian Students Thursday evening, McCluskey laid out two cases for why public universities like the College of William & Mary should go private: efficiency and freedom.

According to McCluskey, colleges need more autonomy to more efficiently set tuition, program budgets and set salaries.

“Presumably the president of university and the deans understand what colleges and universities need to do now and what another colleges and universities are doing than legislators in Richmond,” McCluskey said.

As a libertarian, though, McCluskey says he is most interested in reconciling first amendment rights with taxpayer support of the university.

“When you tell a taxpayer you will subsidize this college or university, you’re then subsidizing every professor’s speech, every student’s speech, every event that they have on campus, and you are probably familiar with some of the manifestations of the conflict that this causes,” McCluskey said, referencing the controversies surrounding the Wren cross and the Sex Workers’ Art Show.

“[Supporters and critics of SWAS] both have equal claims, because you have compelled support of the institution,” McCluskey later added.

McCluskey offered privatization as a solution to these problems but also warned that going private could remove an important financial safety net for the College and put certain academic programs in financial
jeopardy.

Despite these anti-privatization arguments, McCluskey said that the College’s reputation makes it more likely to make up the funds with the private support.

Later in the talk, McCluskey spoke against the position that higher education is a public good worthy of public financing He said it fails to meet the definition of a “public good,” which is inherently non-rivalrous and non-excludable. He also said claims that public education makes for a better citizenry are unsubstantiated.

According to McCluskey, the College can best serve the good of the public by going private. McCluskey said privatization should be achieved by having the state deliver aid directly to students rather than through the College, by providing tax credits and donation programs to students, or, ideally, by separating from the state completely.

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