jump to navigation

This University’s Problems are a Microcosm of Washington, DC’s (Washington Examiner) May 31, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
trackback

 

One of the nation’s most successful university presidents, C.L. Max Nikias of the University of Southern California, recently shocked the Trojan community with his abrupt resignation. Although Nikias had been highly successful in raising money and, with it, USC’s profile and reputation, he had also presided over the university’s mishandling of scandals and crises.

USC faculty member William G. Tierney, who is also an expert on higher education, describedthe president’s leadership failure as one of speed and action over deliberation and reason. “Instead of reflection and reasoned debate,” Tierney has written, “the university sprinted toward growth.” There were few “checks and balances” on the president, Tierney said, as he raced headlong toward financial and reputational goals.

Nikias’ leadership style and problems are, unfortunately, a microcosm of our political leadership in Washington, D.C. Rather than engaging the Congress in meaningful deliberation, presidents increasingly seek what President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered the nation during the crisis of the Great Depression: “action and action now.”

Everything has become a crisis or emergency in Washington, mandating action over reasoned reflection. President Lyndon B. Johnson launched a “War on Poverty,” soon followed by later presidents with a “War on Crime,” a “War on Drugs,” and a never-ending “War on Terror.” All of these domestic wars result in heightened presidential power and a diminished oversight role by the Congress. At the same time, we live under 28 official “national emergencies” declared by presidents, some as old as Jimmy Carter’s presidency in the 1970s.

If the president cannot get Congress to support his agenda, he goes it alone by means of executive orders and agency actions. President Barack Obama was sufficiently frustrated by Congress that he famously said he had a “pen and a phone” and he would start taking unilateral action rather than deliberate with Congress. He undertook unilateral changes to the Affordable Care Act, while also initiating new gun control and immigration policies, stretching the application of executive orders.

Congress has also moved to action over deliberation. Instead of putting major legislation through committee hearings, with their debates and amendments, legislative leaders now hold a bill in secret until they have the necessary votes and then spring them on the Senate for a quick, usually party-line vote. The most important legislation of the Obama era, healthcare reform, was passed on a straight party-line vote of Democrats. Tax reform, the biggest legislative accomplishment of the Trump era, similarly passed on a party-line vote of Republicans.

One problem with choosing “action and action now” over deliberation and debate is that those actions lack deep bipartisan support and are easily overturned. President Trump signed several executive orders in his first hundred days that directly overturned executive orders of the Obama era. Congress came very close to repealing Obamacare on a party-line vote, just as it had originally passed with limited party-line support. Rather than deliberating over long-term policy, the sailboat of federal governance tacks first one way and then the opposite direction when new presidents and congresses take office.

Just as checks and balances had been weakened at USC, there are attempts to do so in Washington. The National Popular Vote Bill, for example, seeks to overturn one such check by replacing our current electoral system with a national popular vote, and without going through the constitutional amendment process. Progressives constantly attack various checks and balances and separations of power as attempts to thwart the democratic voice of the people. However, what they really do is allow for, indeed require, careful and reasoned deliberation.

The USC experience should be a cautionary tale for leadership broadly, including our political leaders in Washington. Especially in large public institutions, the goal is not simply to take action, but to engage a broad representation of the community in its processes, to foster a culture of reasoned deliberation. A failure to do so invites the crashing and burning of both the institution and its leaders.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

 

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/university-of-southern-california-problems-microcosm-washington-d-c-s

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: