BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Anne Matthews, author of "Bright College Years," Ron Powers writes a
little note on the back of this book that you wrote that said, `She
may never eat lunch in a faculty lounge again but Anne Matthews has
earned an even better table in the pantheon of distinguished American
illuminators.' Why did he say that about the faculty lounge?
Ms. ANNE MATTHEWS, AUTHOR, "BRIGHT COLLEGE YEARS: INSIDE THE AMERICAN CAMPUS TODAY": Well, Ron's like me. He's lived in both
worlds. He's been a journalist and he's also taught on campuses. And
he knows that campuses don't like their secrets to be made public.
It's--it's one reason I wrote about it, actually, because I have been
born and raised on campuses, and the secrets of higher education, I
think, ought to be better known. It's--you know, we can call it a
consumer issue I suppose.
LAMB: Name one secret.
Ms. MATTHEWS: The fact that you can go four years as an
undergraduate at many, many campuses and--famous ones as well as
obscure ones--and never speak directly to a college professor, never
have a conversation with a faculty member.
LAMB: Why is that?
Ms. MATTHEWS: The trend these days is to have campuses be cost
efficient and often cost-efficiency means huge, huge, huge, huge
lectures. At the University of Illinois, a--a kid's parents recently
sued because the brochures said that they were going to get an
intimate, caring education and their daughter was stuck in a--a
lecture section of over 1,000 people. And they said, `You know, wait
a minute.' And, unfortunately, campuses tend to take what the market
will bear. And so if you can get away with teaching kids chemistry by
the thousands, or American history by the thousands, that's what they
tend to do.
The most vulnerable, I think, are the really large state universities.
Michigan State and Illinois are both infamous for having enormous
sections. And it's too bad because, you know, the Big Ten campuses,
as a whole, I think, are some of the most interesting in--in the US
LAMB: Where did you start out, personally, with schools?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, I was born in Lafayette, Indiana. My father was
a--a graduate student in psychology at Purdue and so I was almost
literally born on a campus. My mother was a librarian at the--at--at
the Purdue University library. And so I was--I was raised in labs and
libraries and library stacks and I used to go around when I was six or
seven years old with them to American Psychological Association
meetings and they'd give me this stack of scientific handouts and I
would go up and down the aisles passing them out. And then I--I
learned to give hand signals as they delivered their papers, you know,
`Slow,' `Faster,' and, you know, `Uh-oh, the guy from Stanford just
fell asleep,' you know, `do something.'
LAMB: How many different campuses have you lived on?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Oh, Purdue, as a child, and then we moved to the
University of Wisconsin in the early 1960s, and my father joined the
medical school there. And I was, essentially, raised on the UW
campus. And when I was 21, I was graduated from Wisconsin and went
off to Princeton for graduate school and ended up teaching there and
running the writing program at Princeton, with various excursions to
Middlebury and Edgewood College and Rutgers and, you know, guest
stints at--at half a dozen more.
LAMB: Where are you now?
Ms. MATTHEWS: I'm at New York University. I'm in the graduate
program. I teach history of journalism and graduate seminars in--in
feature writing and literary journalism.
LAMB: What kind of a school is New York University?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It's a very interesting school. It used to be--you
know, it's--NYU, I think, is proof that there are second acts in
American higher education. It used to be a commuter college,
respectable but grimy. You know, it was called a subway school.
Under President Jim Hester in the '60s it really started to take off.
He did a wonderful job. And then Jay Oliva now has managed to make it
very chic, very well-funded, slicked up the campus, made it a very hot
school. There--fashions in schools come and go, and NYU is currently
a--a hot school.
LAMB: Who owns it?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It's a private school.
LAMB: How big is it?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Good question. They--they're trying to count, but it
changes every--it's about 16,000 undergraduates and maybe about the
same for graduate school. I--I spend all my time in the journalism
building, so I don't get out much.
LAMB: Where did you get the title "Bright College Years"?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It's the title of a song from the 19th century. It
originated at Yale, but it was popular on campuses all over the
country. And the first verse is: `Bright college years, with
pleasure rife, the shortest, gladdest years of life.'
LAMB: "Inside the American Campus Today"--why do you think people
want s--want to know that information?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, because campuses are heavily funded by the
taxpayer. And I found as I went around on campuses and tried to
gather the various stories that go into the book that professors and
faculty and administrators were surprisingly anxious to share their
vision of the world inside the walls with those that underwrite it.
And, unfortunately, the average American college consumer is a very
cautious consumer, trusts the campus enormously. We've always
said--the campus has always said to us, `Trust us.' And for d--for
centuries, we have, touchingly so. But i--these days, it seems that a
few questions are in order for the world behind the--the beautiful
recruiting videos, like: What's going on in there? What's a campus
for? Is it supposed to make you rich or decent or wise or a member of
the educated working poor? And the campus is not used to being
questioned. It's very interesting. It's a--it's a public service
institution with mixed feelings about the public.
LAMB: I think I remember your statistics on liberal arts education:
$28,000 a year; $1,000 each school week; and $83 an hour, if I
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah. Every time you skip a class--i--cutting class
is getting more expensive than--than it used to be.
LAMB: What do they do with all that money?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, you know, people tend to think that if you pay
tuition, you get a specific basket of services that mostly apply to
you. And that's no longer the case. You pay tuition, and it goes to
support an enormous, far-flung, complicated organism known as the
campus. And campuses can take your money and they can, you know, act
like a bank or an investment house and they can put it in--oh, Harvard
put $10 million into House of Blues cafe chain, and they're doing
leverage buyouts in the Caribbean and supporting experimental housing
for the poor, and they're having transgender coordinators and wok
stations in the cafeteria and hiring professors from other campuses.
And the campuses tries very hard to be all things to all people these
days. And, increasingly, legislatures are saying, you know, `Can we
underwrite this? You know, you guys are going to have to compete for
money now with highways and prisons and health care.' And the campuses
are saying, `Why don't you love us anymore?' It was always OK. For
350 years, the American campus has solved all its problems by adding
more programs or more students or both. It's been a force-entry
winning streak. And, suddenly, the public is not so enamored of its
campus bargain, and the university often doesn't quite know what to
LAMB: When you went around to do your research, how many campuses did
you go on?
Ms. MATTHEWS: I spent four years, and I--I did about 400 campus
interviews. I went to about 100 campuses.
LAMB: Was there any campus that wouldn't receive you and wouldn't
talk about this?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, I just tended to sort of sidle on to campuses as
a private citizen, and often I knew people on the faculty, and I'd go
around with them or, you know, I'd ask my students, you know, `Do you
know anybody at this school?' And very often, they'd have a friend of
a friend who would take me around and let me into their world, whether
it's a frat party or kids in the computer lab late at night. And for
administrators, I would just call up and say, `May I follow you
around? May I watch your day?' And one of the most fascinating campus
visits I made was to the College of Charleston, which is one of those
schools that never makes the top 10 lists and, you know, very few
people outside the Southeast have heard of it. It's, in that respect,
a very average American campus in that there's...
LAMB: South Carolina?
Ms. MATTHEWS: South Carolina. There's--you know, there's 2,000
college campuses and only about 50 are really name-brand schools. But
at the College of Charleston, I--I went around with President Alex
Sanders for a day and saw his life. And it was extremely clear to me
at the end of an exhausting 14-hour day that quality education is not
necessarily found at the name-brand schools.
LAMB: Tell us more about Al Sanders.
Ms. MATTHEWS: He--he was--he was a great character. He's a
marvelous college president. He used to be a--a--a judge in South
Carolina, and his experience in the courtroom and in the jails and the
prisons, you know, fi--fits him marvelously for dealing with students
and faculty and alumni and parents. He was very funny, unflappable,
and he works like a maniac. His calendar for the last year shows, I
think, two nights at home. And he's a natural extrovert, which helps
a lot when you're a--a college president. But he's not entirely
popular, I found, with his faculty. Some of them are very grateful
for him, and others get a little stiff-necked because he says things,
like, `You must do advising,' and they go, `Well, tell the kids to
look in the catalog.' He goes, `No, no, no, no,' you know? In--in
Circuit City now you walk in, trying to buy a TV or a washing machine,
and you get people called advisers, and they will talk, compare the
prices until they're blue in the face. `And going to college these
days,' Alex Sanders told me, `is very like going to Circuit City,
willing to spend $100,000. And are you going to say to these kids,
"Look in the catalog"? You tell me.'
LAMB: You--you say that he's--told some stories, and one was about a
woman named Dorothy and a fraternity.
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah, fraternities I found to be a--a festering and
increasing problem in American higher education. You know, the Greek
system is enormous. It was--it was left as road kill, basically, in
the '60s. And I, for one, was--was not terribly sorry to--to see the
fraternity influence wane on campuses. You know, a college should be
someplace where you find out that peer pressure is not the only way to
conduct your life. And it's amazing, but now there's 3,000,000
college men full-time and 400,000 of them belong to fraternities. And
they all feel, obviously, that they have to buy their friends in--in
some way. And sororities are growing just as fast.
At the College of Charleston, the seven fraternities are very strong,
as they are throughout the--the Southern college system. And South
Carolina is the only state that still flies the Confederate flag above
the Statehouse. And one of Alex Sanders' fraternity houses was flying
the Confederate flag as well. And he came out of the president's
house one day and found a--a campus custodial worker weeping. And
she's a--a woman who is, you know, black and from the area, and
he'd--he'd gotten to know her. And he said, `Dorothy, what's the
matter?' And she said--well, you know, she pointed; she couldn't talk.
She pointed to the flag on the fraternity house, and finally she said,
`You know, I don't mind cleaning up their messes. I really love the
students. But that flag makes me think they hate me.' And Sanders
went to the fraternity and he said, `Men, you've got to take down the
flag.' And they stiffened, you know, they looked like, you know,
w--just guard dogs. They stared at him and said, `Why? It's our
right. It's our heritage.' And he said, `Well, it makes Dorothy cry.'
Absolute silence. `Oh, we didn't mean to make Dorothy cry.' And they
discussed it, and, astonishingly, the Confederate flag has come down.
And Sanders is realistic about it. He says that, you know, in a--in a
year, in four years, when all the fraternity boys who had this
discussion leave campus, it may well go up again, because there's very
little institutional memory on a college campus. But, for one moment,
they realized that true intellectual curiosity, true compassion, is
not the right to display but to think of to whom you--you display.
And they let imagination rule habit. And, you know, if you can come
off a college campus having learned that one lesson, you're doing
LAMB: Where do you find the most fraternities and sororities
in--on--on what campus?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Penn State is the nation's leader in fraternities and
sororities. There's 58 fraternities in all. And it's just
LAMB: What is it about Penn State that...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Fraternities are very old in American colleges,
something like kudzu or poison ivy. They--they entered the college
life in the 1770s. The first is founded at William & Mary. The
social fraternities really take root in the 1820s, when campuses are
kind of at their low point and there's nothing to do. Teaching is
very pro forma; the students are confined to their room most of the
time. And so secret societies and frater--ternity--and fraternities
really become extremely popular, and they just never gave up.
The interesting thing about Greek life today is--well, some
fraternities or some elements in some fraternities are trying to be
more responsible. They'll have date rape seminars. They'll do
housing projects for the homeless. They'll do fund drives. They try
and--not to make it the "Animal House" stereotype that--that others
rightfully uphold. There's black fraternities, and there's Puerto
Rican fraternities, and there's fraternities for--for Hispanic women.
And the--the fraternities for people of color are really taking off.
There's gay fraternities. They--they have a toasting song, the--the
mighty Lambda man who--who took the fight and won the prince's heart
that night. They're out there, too.
LAMB: How many Americans go to college?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It's stabilized. It's--it's very interesting. Higher
education is now a mature industry. It never has been before. It was
always a growth industry. But now about 60 percent of high school
seniors will try some form of campus experience. Most will go to a--a
four-year campus. Quite a few, for financial or academic reasons,
stay with the community college system. But there's about nine
million people full-time at any given moment and about 11 million that
are floating in the system somewhere.
LAMB: What's the average cost?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It's very hard to--very hard to make to make an
average because the two systems are so skewed.
LAMB: Two systems?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Public and private. There's more private campuses in
the US than public, which I didn't realize when I--I started
investigating this. And, you know, you can still get an excellent
college education at any public campus in the US. See, campuses
really expanded in the '70s with the federal money, then the federal
money died and it started raising tuitions in the '80s. And the myth
became truth that price--price was thought to equal quality. And now
in the '90s, they're having to downsize and they're having to
discount. And that's seen as the way to survival.
LAMB: How much federal money or what kind of federal money...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...got into it back in the '70s?
Ms. MATTHEWS: That's the odd thing. After World War II, there's so
much research money in the sciences, and, in the social sciences,
especially, billions and billions being poured into campus with no
apparent strings. And so it's called, you know, the `While you're up,
get me a grant' period because I--I mean, I remember that, seeing my
parents go through that. And you could get astonishing grant money.
And a lot of good research was done in those periods, but people
became artificially dependent on outside money. And, you know, it's
an improvement over the system in the 1920s and '30s, when you had to
really depend on private donors and plead with the--with legislatures
for, you know, test tubes and--and guinea pigs. But...
LAMB: What--what downsized it then? What happened?
Ms. MATTHEWS: A lot of education economists would really like to
know. Reagan came in and a lot of power went back to the states, and
the legislatures turned more conservative and they started to ask
about outcomes--ask rather pointedly about outcomes. And there's no
way for campuses to quantify their product because thousands of people
sweep in and then they sweep out, most of them with diplomas. And, in
the end, you know, the--the credential makes you a walking
advertisement for a campus, but the campus isn't responsible if their
product goes bad, so to speak.
LAMB: What's the length of time the average student spends at
Ms. MATTHEWS: College registrars are interested in that. It's been
four years, normally; it's up to six now because there's a lot
more--the--the--the average college student is changing rather--rather
radically. You know, the--taken as a whole, the American college
population is part-time, female, public campus, older and heavily in
dept. And wh--what we think of as--as the classic college student--a
kid, 18 to 22, going full-time, living on campus--that's just one in
five of American undergraduates today.
LAMB: Can't remember--you had a statistic that you had $100 billion
in endowments for all schools?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yes, that's true. But it's not equally distributed.
The top 50 tend to control or corral an enormously large percentage of
that money--I mean, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Texas, Berkeley. The
great universities are, essentially, independent nation states, and
a--a two-tier univ--a two-tier universe is clearly forming. And the
great fear of higher education is that the 21st century will be
winner-take-all because you have about 50 name-brand schools who have
protected themselves beautifully with their investments; their
endowments could support them till the year 3000 without raising
another cent. And there's everyone else who's facing increasing,
grinding scarcity and very hard times.
LAMB: Harvard leads the endowment business. Do you know how much
their endowment is?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Harvard doesn't like to talk about these things.
There's a--a very mysterious group up in Cambridge that calculates
college endowments, and Harvard's--I think it's approximately, you
know, the gross national product of Belgium at the moment.
LAMB: Seven billion dollars or $8 billion?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yes, at least. Oh, I think it's larger; it's more
like $14 billion.
LAMB: What's the endowment for Princeton, where you went?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It's about $4 billion at the moment--about $4 billion.
LAMB: Where's the money come from?
Ms. MATTHEWS: A lot of it comes from alums, and that's the secret
for the older campuses, very often, is that they don't so much admit
undergraduates--promising undergraduates--very energetic, very smart,
very talented kids. They are all of that. But Harvards and Yales and
Stanfords and Princetons and--and Dukes, they admit future alumni.
And so when you invest in a kid, you're investing in a lifetime span.
And, you know, income does play a certain part in the calculation,
LAMB: But why do people give? And what's the difference between men
and women and how they give?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Women and men give extraordinarily
different--differently. It's kind of depth-charged that higher
education never expected because, you know, a College Board study
recently pointed out that campuses are spending more. Since 1994,
American colleges and universities have spent more on fund-raising and
on ads and on publicity than they have on libraries and teaching
stipends and scholarship aid. And that's an amazing shift.
Men, an expert on this told me, generally give to preserve, and women
give to change. And--but until now, college fund-raising offices have
not recognized this--this basic fact. To them, women graduates have
always been something out of Jane Austen: Men make the money; women
marry it. And women are increasingly financially independent. They
control amazing amounts of--of assets. They are far more debt-free.
And when the campus fund-raising officers come around these days,
women from 21 to 80 are saying--are saying, `Ah, really? Now tell me
more. Why are there no women on your Priorities Committee? Why are
only 10 percent of your faculty--your tenured faculty women? What's
going on here?'
LAMB: In your book you also have a reference to the University of
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...as the only for-profit university in the United States?
Ms. MATTHEWS: There's a couple others that are--are springing up,
but there's a--there's a high mortality rate among start-up colleges.
There's something we don't tend to think about, that colleges are
being born and they're dying all the time.
LAMB: What did you find out about the University of Phoenix? And
where is it? I mean, it's obviously in Phoenix, but is there a
Ms. MATTHEWS: That's the interesting thing that they're
able--campuses have two fixed costs: the physical plant and the
tenured faculty. And the University of Phoenix not only issues
stock--you can buy stock in the University of Phoenix--but it has no
campus and it has no faculty. It runs entirely on adjuncts, who are
paid about $1,000 per course, which is shockingly low even by adjunct
standards. And they've got a--an 800 number and they've got a
toll-free research desk. And they meet in motels and on Army bases
and in rented garages. And it is the most well-overhead operation
you've ever seen.
Now it horrified the University of Arizona and ASU and Northern
Arizona, too. They screamed and screamed. But the accr...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, the accreditation wars are fierce still and not
really settled out. And Arizona said, you know, `These people are not
accredited. They don't have a campus. They aren't, by our
definition, a university.' And the University of Phoenix said, `You
know, define university.' And for the moment, they're running 60,000
people through with--to get--you know, in the--just the last few years
they've--they are--they are a factory for MBAs and for undergrad
LAMB: What's it cost?
Ms. MATTHEWS: You pay by the course. It's--it's--it's complete
retail. And I--I saw their catalog and talked to some of their grads,
and you pay, you know, $500 or so for a--for a course. It's not
inexpensive. They got into a little trouble because, early on, they
were doing things like giving people college credits for life
experiences. You just had to explain that you had a hard time in your
divorce, and they would say, `Fine. Three credits.' So
they've--they've calmed that down a little. But it's still extremely
LAMB: You say that there are two cost centers...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...that make college expensive: tenure and the physical plant.
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yes.
LAMB: Talk about tenure. Are you tenured, by the way?
Ms. MATTHEWS: No, I'm not. I--I'm an adjunct. I--I'm a visiting
professor, which means I just come in and do one course--one course
every semester, by my own choice.
LAMB: Do you do other things?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Oh, yeah, I--I--you know, the usual committee work
LAMB: No, but I mean...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Oh.
LAMB: ...do you have another job?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah, what I do is--is I--I write books and articles,
and most of my income comes from a--a free-l--being a free-lance
LAMB: So in any given semester, how much do you teach?
Ms. MATTHEWS: I teach one sem--I've been at NYU three years, and I
teach one graduate seminar each semester, which is either--it's either
split two and two, or else it's a one four-hour run.
LAMB: You say in the book that most adjuncts make $1,000 a course?
Ms. MATTHEWS: If they're lucky, yeah.
LAMB: Why do you say if they're lucky?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, because a college credit costs the same if it's
taught by an adjunct or a tenured professor, and it also carries the
same academic value. And this is--instead of margin, it's keeping a
lot of colleges afloat because there's a--a very distinct hierarchy
among professors. Professor's an all-purpose title. You know, my
students call me professor, even though I just come in once a week and
I'm not tenured, I'm not a permanent member. And you can be a
professor if you stay for 70 years and, you know, sign that contract
that says, you know, `We're going to feed and water you until you die
because you are a permanent member of--of this academic society.'
But the problem with the system is that it's gotten seriously out of
whack, and so there's--it's top heavy with a lot of tenured people who
came in in the '60s and the '70s who now reaching a sort of contented
middle age. But the education machine kept grinding through the '70s,
through the '80s, through the '90s. And so there are immense numbers
of highly qualified, extremely intelligent, potentially very
hard-working, devoted PhDs who are utterly frozen out of the system.
And there's just not enough jobs, especially in the humanities because
the--the academic party has moved, in effect, from the humanities over
to the campus and science side of--of the university.
So there's an amazing oversupply of people, who are experts in, you
know, 17th century iconography or, you know, 18th century English
journals of--of Northumberland. And--and they are willing to work for
LAMB: What does it mean to be tenured?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It means that--well, in a historic sense, it means
that you've benefited from that great revolt of the faculty after
World War I, where they said, you know, `We're not going to have hired
hands anymore. You know, we are independent people. We're not
ushers. We're not high school teachers. We are scholars, and we need
to know that we can take on long-term projects.' And so the
universities grudgingly said to people, `OK, we will hire you. We'll
hire you for life.' And only racehorses and royalty get this deal
in--in the world today. It's the most amazing hangover from another
world. It's very feudal.
And being tenured is the freest job in the world. Basically, the
university says, you know, `You have to teach a little.' Some people
get out of teaching altogether. `You have to think a lot.' And all
they say--after you get tenured, and they say, `Well, we'll pay you
for life, but you've got to keep your brain alive. You've got to stay
in the conversation. That's all we ask.' And a lot of people do and a
lot of people don't, and some are bitter about tenure because there is
a lot of deadwood on American faculties, people who--who, you know,
relax. They get comfortable; they stop thinking. They had six ideas;
they published them all. They sit back and they can't be fired and
they can't be downsized ever.
LAMB: When do you get tenure?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It depends. Usually, if you follow a standard
academic career, you'll go to college, you'll find somebody in college
who says, `Hey, you can do graduate school.' You go off to graduate
school, you get the master's. You go on for the doctoral program,
which takes anywhere between seven and 10 years in most fields these
days. The job market's so bad that you might do it postdoc, you might
do two postdocs. By this time you're about 30, maybe 35. You're
ready to apply for your first job. You know, this--a lot of people
with PhDs get their first real jobs in their 40s. You know, it's an
amazing elongation of--of adolescence.
And then once you're hired on what's called tenure track, you have
seven years up or out. And after seven years, if your department
decides that they want to keep you around, that you fit into
the--the--the family or the--the drama of the department, they'll
offer you a lifetime position. And you teach as long as you like.
You can't--you can't fire people or--or move them out because of age
reasons. And so it's possible to be tenured from age, say, 35 till
LAMB: Is there a legal document you have once you're tenured?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, it's--it depends on if the campus is unionized.
See, Rutgers is heavily unionized, and the SUNY campuses, the State
University of New York campuses, also are--are union. At Princeton
they get what's called the Tiffany Letter. And this little note
appears from the president's office, and it says, you know, `Sir,
Madam, I have the honor to inform you that your salary will be such
and such. Very sincerely yours,' the trustees or the president.
That's it--no contract, nothing.
LAMB: What's the legal th--attachment in all this then?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, that's a really good question, and
that's--there's a lot of tension about that because the American
Association of University Professors has--has had a lot of test cases
where people are hired as adjuncts for over seven years, and at that
point many of them can sue or try to sue, saying, you know, `I've
been--taught here for seven years, ergo I'm a real professor. You
can't fire me.' And so what campuses tend to do is usher you out after
six and a half years. They're very, very ca--very cautious about
LAMB: Would you change tenure?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, it's not a perfect system, by any means, but
higher education is singular. It's not efficient. Learning is not
efficient. And very often it can't be run like a business, though a
lot of administrators would like to. I think tenure probably has to
stay because higher education is all about waste and it's all about
And so y--there's eight hundred and thou--there's 800,000 faculty in
the US, and of those, maybe 8,000 will have a really good idea at some
time in their career, an idea that will change a field or change a
direction of thought. And maybe eight of 800,000 will, with the--the
benefits, the protection, the calm, the peace, the--the sanctuary of
the campus--eight out of 800,000 in the course of, say, a century,
will have an idea that will change the world. And that's--that's the
bargain that campuses, that universities, especially--research
universities--have--have made with society. It's very hard to explain
to people the--the ratio of p--of--of productive faculty in the true
sense to normal faculty.
LAMB: You say that the highest paid professor in the United States is
at Cornell and that this surgeon, male, makes $1,779,730. How did you
find that out?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It was in The Chronicle of Higher Education, an
absolutely wonderful journal published in Washington, DC, that has an
almanac of--of statistics. It's something that's read by
administrators mostly, but a lot of faculty could--could benefit by it
from taking a look now and then.
LAMB: How can somebody in a college make $1.7 million?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, apparently he knows how to remove hearts from
chests with greater efficiency than anyone else on the planet, and so
he--he or his lawyer or his agent was able to persuade Cornell
that--that--that he was worth it. And faculty do have agents now.
You know, this star system on campus is creating a good deal of--of
bitterness and it's understandable.
You know, when I was--when I was growing up on campus, which was not
all that long ago, everyone was poor together. You know, the campus
was a kind of sweet backwater that not very many Americans explored.
And, you know, peop--society didn't expect that much from the college
and, you know, it didn't get all that much. And then, when the
federal government started investing heavily in it, the stakes became
a lot higher. And so what you wanted wa--you wanted stars. You
wanted competitive hiring.
And so when money entered the social equation in the campus, it
changed a lot. And so what you have now is people in geology or
material science or med school saying to the poets and the classicists
and the folklore specialists, you know, `You people ride on our
backs,' you know, `We deserve all our perks. We produce. We have
outside contracts with corporations,' you know. `You sit around
and--and think about verbs and Homer,' you know? Please. And it
makes the--the classicists and the--and the poets very anxious.
LAMB: By the way, did you talk to any agents in this project?
Ms. MATTHEWS: No. I--I--I talked to faculty who had agents, but
they--they got embarassed and--and upset and said, `Well, it's--it has
nothing to do with my scholarly life, the fact that I just sold my
book to the movies, the fact that I just got a MacArthur and--and,'
you know, `bought a villa in--in Italy.'
LAMB: What do you think of MacArthur grants? And tell us what they
Ms. MATTHEWS: The MacArthur grants are a fascinating--oh, it's been
going on more than 10 years now. It's a very '80s supply-side idea
being practiced by the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago, that if you
throw money at genius, genius will become even more productive.
It's--essentially replicates the question of tenure. If you take all
these people and you feed and you water them and you make them happy,
they'll produce wonderful things.
And the MacArthur has had a secret--extremely secret collection of
selectors and nominators and judges for the last dozen years. And
they go out and they--they fan out and they say, `Well, so and so
is--is an unrecognized genius and so and so's an unrecognized genius.
We should give them $350,000 for the next five years to do whatever
they want with.'
And it's a great idea. It's absolutely fascinating. And they've
found some terrific people. There's a juggler named Michael Moschen
who's amazing. There's a--a doctor who does public health in Georgia
who was a real find. There's some great woodworkers. There's people
who do wonderful things for, you know, building Third World
wheelchairs and people who do public organizing--Appalachia. The ones
outside the academy, I think, have been much more successful.
But about three-fourths of MacArthur winners have been tenured
faculty, and they don't need the money, but they do need the fame,
because if you get a MacArthur, you can write your own ticket to any
campus in America, except possibly Harvard, where they have an
LAMB: You say that a small college professor, a full professor...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...will make on average $53,000 a year, that a state school
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...will make $65,000 a year. Is that the extent of the money
they make, or are there other ways for them, when they're in schools,
to make money?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, it depends, because colleg--college culture is
so split these days between a teaching college and a research
university. And if you're in a small private college that advertises
a lot of personal attention for the kids, you often have more contact
hours than a high school teacher. You're in there constantly, running
biology labs and taking the kids on field trips and running yet
another discussion section for the seniors. It's very, very, very
You--in a research uni--and so there's--the faculty at the small
colleges, private schools, are usually so exhausted they have no time
for--for outside labor, as much as they might want it. At research
universities you can, indeed, have a very profitable other life, doing
consulting or doing public appearances, you know, getting on the
speech circuit, writing books, writing best-sellers, you know.
Erich Segal wrote "Love Story" at Yale in 1970 and started this whole
trend, basically. His colleagues were horrified, but he became a
zillionaire and his book was--was sent to the movies, and then
suddenly every professor in America suddenly thought, `I can do that,
LAMB: You write a paragraph on what you think an education is.
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
LAMB: I'm going to read it.
`In the end, an undergraduate education is not so much a pile of
notebooks mouldering in the bottom drawer, but learning to talk in
front of a group, to read and to summarize, to reason on demand, to
push yourself late at night, to live and work with people you might
never speak to in ordinary life, to think against the grain, to manage
time, to not be afraid or rejecting to say every other sentence,
quote, "in my high school, we were,"--unquote.'
Is that it?
Ms. MATTHEWS: That's it.
LAMB: Wha--how did you conclude that? I mean, what at--at what point
did the--did you decide that's what an education--an undergraduate
education was all about?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, two things: I spent a long time at Princeton
working with freshmen and sophomores. I taught in the Woodrow Wilson
School, taught public policy writing, and I taught literature and
writing courses at Princeton for many years, and I ran the writing
program for four years as I became a college administrator. And I
realized as I was doing it that I was sitting in the middle of one of
the great untold stories in American life, what really happens in--on
a college campus.
But listening to the--listening to the kids as they came into my
office, crying or upset or triumphant or bewildered, was what really
made this book start because I started taking notes. I couldn't
resist. My--my reporter's instinct kicked in. I thought, `These
people are telling me wonderful, amazing things about what it's like
to be young in America in the late '80s, early '90s, mid-'90s.' And
there was one thing that made me--listening to them, made me conclude
that if college works, all those things have--have to be part of it.
And also I talked a lot with professors, especially older professors
who had been teaching for 30 and 40 years and had seen every possible
combination of undergraduate trauma or depression. And I asked them
what they thought success was in teaching. And some of them said,
`Well, success is when the student destroys the teacher, takes off and
says, "No, I don't think it's like that." When the kid learns to think
independently of you, OK, you've achieved something.'
Others said, `Well, it's when they come back after five years and
realize that, you know, they gave you a very hard time as an
undergraduate, but that the struggle in the end was worth it,
that--that they were thinking for themselves.' And between the
students and the professors and the maybe 50 percent of amer--of
administrators who know and care and love their students, that it's a
kind of composite conclusion.
LAMB: `To talk in front of a group.' Have you seen people in your
teaching experience change in front of your eyes, that--that one
trait, able to talk in front of a group?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah. When they come into college, it's--it's
amazing. You know, the--adult learners are great. I--I would love to
have more adult learners, because they do know how to talk and they do
know enough about life and they can share it with the 17- and the
18-year-olds who've never been away from home; they've ne--something
like 85 percent of college freshmen have never shared a room with
anybody else, which is why, you know, the old--the old college dorm or
the old college roommate are almost as extinct now as--as the old
Students come to college either having been extremely sheltered and
pampered or else having had extremely hard lives. And they have to
learn to talk with each other, which is tough, and
it's--it--it--it's--it's very, very difficult to know when a kid is
going to make it and when they're going to drop out, because so many
do drop out.
LAMB: How many drop out, out of these--if 60 percent of high school
kids go to college, how many of those make it?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, about half of them won't see graduation and
about a fourth don't return for sophomore year. But the machine just
needs to suck in more warm bodies every year. And so a lot of people
go to college under, essentially, false pretenses. They don't know
what to expect. They're going to be thrown into the pool and they are
going to drown.
But the myth of college is that everyone gets a chance. And a lot of
these people get a chance, but they are very badly prepared by
their--their--either their life circumstances or their high school
education. So when I say talking in front of a group, it means that
somehow they've managed to--to discover in themselves enough--enough
talent to--to say, `OK, I can do this.'
LAMB: You say that the average credit card debt for...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm.
LAMB: ...a college kid is $2,000 and their average income a year is
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yes. The--the two jobs on college campuses where
they're actually hiring, as opposed to, say, the--the English
department or the history department, one is residency Rambo, the
person who checks in-state residency, because people are so desperate
for in-state tuitions that, you know, often they'll--they'll try to
claim a fictitious address, so you've got to check out virtually all
the--the in-state applications these days.
And the other thing is credit card counselor, because the
commercialization of the campus is one of the most interesting and
depressing things that I found in my--in my tours through the--this
parallel universe of higher education. The commercial culture has
infiltrated the campus culture to an enormous extent.
You know, college used to be a place where--where you would be ad-free
for four years, where you would be, you know, segregated, but in an
interesting way, from the dominant culture. Whether that's your
church or your family or the--the commercial American culture or
what--what have you. Whatever you came from, college was so decidedly
other that you had to say, `OK. I've got four years to think about
incredibly irrelevant things, learn things I wouldn't learn
But these days, the--the sense of passing on to another planet or
through a veil or into another world, I think, is being diminished
and--and not for the best--by the fact that administrators are saying,
`Well, OK, maybe to pay the bills, we should make faculty
entrepreneurial and student life more commercial and administrative
style corporate, because romantic inefficiency doesn't pay the bills.
Maybe we should be training kids to work for the corporations that
donate to our campus, for instance.'
And that makes a lot of alumni hyperventilate, a lot of faculty
hyperventilate, but the administrators say, `Look, we're losing money
every year. It costs $17,000 to keep any student on any American
campus when you add in all the costs.' And the stationery may say,
`Veritas,' which is fine, and a lot of--a lot of people in the college
world still believe that the point of a campus is to explore things
that--that, you know, you--you normally don't make connections
that--that you normally don't.
And a lot of people agree with the University of North--Northern
Colorado, you know, because their--their stationery now says,
`Quality, diversity, personal touch.'
LAMB: Go back to that figure. Did you say $17,000 a year to educate
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yes.
LAMB: On average--all campuses in the United States?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah. Average of all campuses--Chronicle of Higher
LAMB: And how much of that in--in the state schools is paid for by
Ms. MATTHEWS: It's hard to say because campuses--one reason tuitions
are going up--I mentioned Alexander's before. He calls tuition the
fastest growing special tax in America today. And it's become that in
many ways, because campuses never know where their money is coming
from year to year, because there's--their revenue streams are tuition
and fees, federal money, state money, gifts and whatever the
endowment's making on--on the stock and bond market.
And the only thing--as costs are rising all the time, the only thing
that you can really control is tuition and fees. And so when you get
in trouble, that goes up. And at the moment it's about $17,000 a year
to tak--to keep a kid in school.
LAMB: The--you had some names in here...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...I wanted to ask you about.
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah.
LAMB: Elihu Yale...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...Nicholas Brown and Ezra Cornell.
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah. Some of the great early suckers of higher
education. They were--they were persuaded by early administrators and
Cot--that investing in a campus would be a great thing. And Cotton
Mather told Mr. Yale that to put his name on a college campus would
be better than having it on an Egyptian pyramid. He agreed and he--he
funded and helped found Yale. Sti--Yale was founded as kind of a
retort to--to Harvard's laissez-faire liberal theology. Yale was
going to be very, very strict.
And Nicholas Brown was a merchant in Providence who answered a want ad
in the local paper. The--the college trustees and faculty literally
put an ad in the paper, `Wanted: One Patron.' And in return for
funding, they changed the name of the college to Brown University.
And, you know, so it goes.
LAMB: Where did Princeton get its name?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Princeton is named after William of Nassau, who was
ruling in the late 17th century, and the reason that this school--the
main hall is called as Nassau Hall and it's known as Old Nassau Hall,
is because he--it was one of his--Nassau was one of his
principalities. He was William of Orange. Hence, they actually have
a convoluted way that the Princeton colors are orange and black.
LAMB: What is the night campus syndrome?
Ms. MATTHEWS: The night campus syndrome is probably the scariest
thing I found in higher education. I heard about it through my
students, who would come in and say, `Well, I don't have my paper done
because I was up till three in the morning taking my roommate to the
Rape Crisis Center. I was up till four in the morning throwing up
with my fraternity brothers. I was up till 5:00 in the morning on
a--on a road party to the next state.'
I'd say, `Excuse me?' And they would say, `No, no. You--you have to.
You don't understand.' And I--I realized, no, I didn't understand.
And very few campus adults do understand, because after sundown on
campus, there are no adults, technically speaking, except the security
people and the people in the infirmary. Everyone else takes off.
A residential college faculty is extremely rare these days.
Administrators live off campus, the staffers tend to go home and so
the kids are technically adults, as the legal department will happily
tell you at any university. And they say, `Well, they're adults. We
trust them to make their own decisions.' And for about half of
American undergraduates the adult decision, even though the drinking
age is 21, they're 18 and adults and they decide that they are going
to become binge drinkers. And...
LAMB: What's a binge drinker?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Binge drinker is somebody who--men who take more than
five drinks in succession, women four--different body mass. And about
half of students today are drinking less, according to a recent
Harvard School public health survey. Half of them are drinking a lot
more--a lot more. And what this means is that when kids get drunk
they tend to do stupid things, so campus crime is going up and getting
And campuses didn't understand the body count for a while, why kids
were, you know, being raped; they were being assaulted; they were
having their possessions stolen on a regular basis; why the Coke
machines would be body slammed and the--and the lights shot out with
BB guns and the lampposts head-butted and, you know, sinks and toilets
torn out every weekend.
So they started to investigate this about 10 years ago, and it turned
out that a lot of campus crime was not intruders, it was not people
from off campus, that 80 percent of student crime--campus crime tends
to be student-on-student, and 90 percent of it involves drinking or,
much less often, drugs.
The intensity is changing most. You know, an argument becomes
assault; pilfering becomes grand auto theft. And if you're going to
look for your basic campus criminal, it will most likely be white,
male, probably an athlete, probably a frat member.
LAMB: What's happening to the mix on campuses, diversity?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah. It's getting a lot more diverse and that's
great. It--I think age is the most interesting addition to the mix
because one college student in four now is over 25. The great America
of the 21st century will be older women. And that'll change campus
life a good deal.
You know, campuses are not democracies. They never have been. It--a
campus is a place with one foot in the 12th century and one foot in
the 21st. But two things that have become democratized--and high
time--are the undergraduate faces. Undergraduate admissions has
become much more merit-based and the campus--the undergraduate course
catalog has become much more democratic.
You can major in anything--the--the range is astonishing. You can
major in wine-making at the University of California at Davis. You
can major in mall management at the University of Connecticut.
LAMB: You say there are 800...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah.
LAMB: ...800 majors?
Ms. MATTHEWS: At least. And there's--so there's wine-making,
there's mall management, you can major in astrophysics at MIT. You
can major in meditation at Naropa, the only--the only Buddhist campus
in--which happens to be in Boulder, Colorado. You can major in pastry
arts at the Culinary Institute of America. You can get a BA in
virtually anything imaginable.
LAMB: If you had it to do--do it over again, would you--what would
you do about your education, based on your study?
Ms. MATTHEWS: I would do--if--if I w--if I were reforming higher
education and redoing my life, my recommendation would be the same.
Not all 18-year-olds belong on campus, by a long shot. Not all
19-year-olds belong on campus. And a lot of the--the babysitting
problems, so to speak, and a lot of the remedial and academic catch-up
that happens in the first--those first crucial two years could be
avoided, I think, if people would take two years off.
If--14 years of schooling as a national average, as Clinton wants,
is--is a marvelous idea, but it doesn't necessarily have to be
straight through, I think. People come to campus at 20 or 21 after
having spent time traveling or working or helping with Habitat for
Humanity or teaching inner-city kids how to read or being in the
military or having held down a genuine job, they understand the
enormous value of a college education. They're ready to work; they
will work; they do work.
But funneling kids for reasons of status or boredom or fear or
whatever, straight from--straight from high school into the college
campuses, you know, it was a model that worked in the 17th and the
18th century when college students were all much younger than they are
now. But now I think if you got kids who are more akin to the first
GI Bill generation, the people who had seen the world in the most very
depressing form and then flooded onto the campuses, you know, they
were probably the most interesting generation in the 20th century to
be on the campus or, faculty say, to have taught.
LAMB: Go back to Al Sanders, your...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: ...president of Charleston in...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: ...South Carolina. Here's a quote from him. He says, "Their
parents look like central casting. Every fall, Ozzie and Harriet
bring their freshmen down here, buy the notebook paper, hang the
posters, hug all around, go home and immediately get divorced. The
kid lands in my lap a total wreck." How much of that goes on?
Ms. MATTHEWS: A lot. The student services empire has grown
enormously in the last 25 years, partly because parents tend to think
that the campus can be everything to everybody and very often they
assume that the campus will be a--a good babysitter and therapist as
well. Babysitting and therapy are two reasons that tuitions are going
up. You know, student vandalism is a reason tuitions are going up.
Malpractice insurance for campuses is another reason. You know,
the--the--the efflorescence of--of frills is--is a fourth reason
tuitions are going up.
But people simply assume that the campus will change lives. And they
think it's--it's like some kind of, you know, bath that you can drop a
kid in and they'll come out the other end perfectly matured. And
that's not fair to the campuses or to the kids.
LAMB: What's the National Alumni Forum?
Ms. MATTHEWS: National Alumni Forum is--they've been pretty quiet
recently. They're a group of conservative academic scholars, alumni,
and they'd like to...
LAMB: Run by Lynn Cheney still?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah. Run by Lynn Cheney still. They're trying to
essentially have an alumni takeover of campus by checkbook power. And
they say to campuses--sometimes successfully, sometimes not--`We don't
like what you're doing. We don't want a department of, you know, gay
paraplegic studies. We don't approve of that sort of thing. We will
underwrite the great books. We will underwrite a new dorm. But we're
going to practice behavior modification and not pay you for--for
things that we don't care for.'
It's a--an--it's an interesting attempt to turn the campus back to the
world of, say, 1951. And campuses were great in 1951, but they were
not 21st century campuses.
LAMB: This is out of context, but I got to ask you about Steve Mann.
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah, OK.
LAMB: Why did he make your book?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Well, Steve Mann i--is somebody that a lot of
undergraduates would dearly love to be. He's a sort of secret hero
of--of the wired, undergraduate world. He's a grad student at MIT,
and he is a cyborg, essentially. He goes with a camera on his head
and he's got glasses where he can get e-mail on the lenses. And
there's a keyboard attached to his belt. And so he can go to the
grocery store, look at a stack of lemons and say--and wait for his
wife at home to look at them through the camera on his head and then
type a message to him, `Steve, buy a dozen,' or, `Forget it. Go get
the Campbell's Soup.'
And I find that one of the great splits on campus--and it's
increasing, it's widening, and I don't know any way to cure it--is
between kids who have been brought up in an electronic world and
camp--and faculty, even faculty my age, who were formed under the lost
empire of print--and it--it is a lost empire. Students in my
ex--you--occasionally, you--you'll get a kid who's spent their
adolescence in their bedroom reading about the French and Indian wars,
you know, that's great. But it's--it's pretty anomalous.
Students increasingly know about the world through the screen and not
through the page. And so I found that if you ask them, `In what
episode of "Gilligan's Island" was the phrase `Tiki, tiki, Brady'
used?' They will instantly be able to name the--the episode and recite
a long stretch of dialogue.
If you say to them, `Why did Nora in "A Doll's House" not just go to
law school,' they--they--they can't figure it out. They think it
would be a good idea if Nora had gone to law school. And so
there's--the undergraduates are interestingly disconnected from a
sense of history. You know, they're smart, they're hard working, but
they have been formed by TV. They've been formed by TV in ways we are
only starting to understand in the humanities.
LAMB: You write that at `thoroughly wired campuses...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yes.
LAMB: ...like Dartmouth or the University of California at Santa
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...70,000 to 100,000 messages pass daily through their local
system.' About what?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It can be changing the date of a field trip. It can
be a faculty member writing back about a kid's paper. A student can
have found a terrific URL for a site in a history course or a science
course and be sending it to the class newsgroup.
LAMB: This is e-mail?
Ms. MATTHEWS: It--it's e-mail and it's--and also surfing the Net
through things like Cyberdog and the--the problem--the only problem
with Internet-related teaching, I've found--99 percent of it is a
marvelous thing--the only problem is for kids that mothers have modems
now. And mothers in Osaka or Ann Arbor will follow along with their
kid's online class assignments. And they write the kids e-mails,
`Have you done your homework? Are you-all partying? Send me--send me
an--an e-mail copy of that term paper.' That's the only drawback.
Electronic teaching, I--I think, is going to be unalloyed joy for--for
the faculty members that are able to make the jump. A lot of them
LAMB: Eighty-five percent of the students...
Ms. MATTHEWS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...live off campus after the first year?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yes. The--you know, the old--the dear old college
dorm is essentially extinct. The--and the inclination is to--and when
you have an older campus population, to find your own--your own
arrangements. So you're much more likely to find undergraduates now
not in dorms. And the idea of--of a house mother is out of the Dark
Ages. The condo, the apartment, living at home, buying your own house
while you're in school, group shares, co-ops--there's all kinds of
living arrangements, but the dorm is less and less a feature of
LAMB: We're about out of time. Did you really find a campus the--New
Hampshire's Thomas Moore, only 76 students?
Ms. MATTHEWS: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: Can they make it?
Ms. MATTHEWS: So far. There--there's a lot of interesting little
start-up campuses, boutique campuses. St. Thomas Aquinas out in
Southern California is another. They tend to be conservative and they
tend to be contrary, but they're also very interesting.
LAMB: The book is called "Bright College Years" and our guest has
been its author, Anne Matthews, who teaches, adjunct professor at New
York University and writes books. Thank you very much.
Ms. MATTHEWS: Thank you.
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