- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Marc Oestreich, a legislative analyst at the Heartland Institute, got some basic facts wrong in his Thursday column, and his claims about “for-profit” higher education need a reality check (“Obama’s fake education reform,” Commentary).

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is not affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, though the two have a joint organizing agreement. Neither the AAUP nor the American Association of University Women is among the largest higher-education unions, and although tens of thousands of professors, academic professionals and graduate employees are represented by local AAUP collective-bargaining agents, the national organization is not a union.

With regard to politics, the AAUP is not engaged in “rallying Democrats” to fight the commercialization of higher education, as Mr. Oestreich suggests. The organization is active, however, in advancing higher education in the interests of students and society in general. To that end, it defends academic freedom regardless of whose freedom is being violated.

In an important recent case, the AAUP filed an amicus brief in Adams v. Trustees of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, defending the academic freedom of a professor whose conservative religious views had inappropriately come into play and adversely influenced his promotion case.

Mr. Oestreich refers to “for-profit” higher education as efficient and market-oriented. Yet many major players in this sector are dependent on the federal government for close to 90 percent of their revenues (in student aid), the current cap on that percentage. Lobbyists for this sector have worked hard to increase that cap and redefine some forms of federal aid as nonfederal so institutions could remain under the cap. It might be more accurate, then, to define this sector of higher education as “for federal subsidy” rather than “for-profit,” at least in its funding source.

Tax dollars subsidize these higher-education enterprises twice - in providing federal student aid and in bearing the cost of the very high student loan default rates compared to those of their not-for-profit peers. So the sector is quite efficient in the federal lobbying game, at the expense of taxpayers. As a legislative analyst, Mr. Oestreich might want to turn his attention to those politics for which taxpayers pay a high price, though in doing so I would hope he would be more careful in fact-checking his work.

GARY RHOADES

General secretary

American Association of University Professors

Washington