The newest threats to university independence in America are the colleges' own accrediting agencies and the states, according to a report by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
"There used to be widespread concern about federal intervention in university life, but the ground rules have changed dramatically in the last two years," Ernest L. Boyer, Carnegie president and former U.S. commissioner of education, said in releasing the report. "State agencies and the various independent accrediting bodies are now much more interventionist than the federal government."
Academic decisions, the Carnegie report states, are dominated more and more by state budget considerations.
Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida and New York are all involved in key university decision-making, and more states are requiring legislative or agency approval for how universities spend their money.
Pennsylvania requires state approval for all state university expenditures of more than $1,000; New York screens every business trip taken by a state university faculty member, and the state legislatures in Arizona and Nevada dictate the student-faculty ratios at their state universities.
Some states also regulate university consulting fees and honoraria for faculty members. Other states supervise tuition, financial aid programs and federal grants to their universities.
"If times of tight budget come accompanied by detailed, green-eyeshade accounting procedures, college administration becomes almost hopeless," Boyer said. "There has to be some degree of trust between the states and their universities."
The Carnegie report says that the more than 50 nationwide university accrediting agencies are also intervening more and more in university decision-making. One agency tells universities what buildings it must construct to win accreditation, another dictates student-faculty ratios as a requirement for accreditation, and a third even orders new courses as a condition for accreditation.
"Universities must be free to direct, without outside interference, those functions that may challenge but ultimately will enrich the culture they sustain," Boyer said. "But if things continue as they are, higher education will lose by default its own leadership and control."