Minding the Campus ran a great article “Why University Presidents Are Clueless About the Real World”. The author, Richard Vedder, makes some great observations about the disconnect between those in academia and, “us lower mortals”.
Becoming a successful college president…
How do you become a successful college president? You raise lots of money, which you then use to bribe the various constituents in the university community to keep them happy. The faculty you bribe with low teaching loads, good fringe benefits, and perhaps a nearby parking place. Your fellow top administrators whose support is vital you bribe with not only good salaries, but also lots of assistants who do much of the heavy lifting associated with the job. You bribe the students by giving them nice recreational and dorm facilities, and reach an implicit bargain with them to not demand much academically (hence grade inflation) and to largely ignore their hedonistic bouts of alcoholic and sexual excesses. You bribe the alumni with decent football and basketball teams and a nice campus facility where they can hang out. You bribe the trustees with whatever idiosyncratic whim they want. In short, you spend money to keep a narrow group of people associated with the Ivory Tower happy.
… is much different than becoming a successful businessman.
Contrast that with business leaders. They are motivated by profits, maximizing the gap between revenue and costs. To increase revenues, they must please vast numbers of persons with new or improved products. They also enhance profits by reducing costs, raising productivity so they can do more with less. They reward subordinates who further these goals with bonuses, stock options, etc.
They don’t hang out with people who are truly torn from economic woes.
While they spend a good deal of time with affluent alumni, occasionally with politicians and rarely with irate parents, the zeitgeist of the university president is heavily influenced by a community of persons largely isolated from economic realities.
They think they’re better, and they know what’s best for you.
Intellectuals are supremely confident in their understanding of the human condition, and often contemptuous of the thinking of lesser mortals.
Their heads are filled with theories. Reality and theories can never agree 100% because theories make assumptions. Experience trumps theory every time.