Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Some Benefits of School Privatization

Tibor R. Machan

No one in the mainstream media has, to my knowledge, noted that Virginia Tech University is a state institution. But this is crucial for understanding how VT has dealt with someone who was to all appearances a danger to himself and to others on campus.

In a fully free society, where education is in the private sector, the standards for how various problems are dealt with on campus would be highly diverse. One school could have very stringent conditions for entering its premises, another not so stringent, while a third might be quite permissive. It would be a matter of the administration's decision, based on its concerns, local circumstances, history, wisdom, etc.

As it stands, with the government fully involved in all levels of—including most of higher—education, the principles of public administration, including due process, govern how problems must be dealt with. In particular, no one may be treated in ways that could be construed as discriminatory or intrusive because within the public realm all citizens must be dealt with fairly and deemed innocent unless otherwise legally proven. So to subject anyone to special treatment, based on mere suspicion or even prior behavior, would be legally actionable.

The ACLU and similar organizations would stand up for such persons, as would trial lawyers who sue establishments based on laws, for example, which protect people with disabilities (including mental ones). This is because in the context of how governments are supposed to deal with people, there are innumerable so called civil rights that block efforts to have certain standards applied that are not sanctioned by the courts or thought to be unconstitutional.

In contrast, if you wish to come into my home for dinner and I insist that before you eat you must say grace, no one can bar me from this. You either do so or I may prevent you from joining my family for dinner. But should some government funded and administered establishment insist on such a thing, they would be forbidden to do so. It would be deemed a violation of, say, the right to freedom of religion. Similarly, should a private club, in a fully free society, insist that its members undergo a test for mental instability before they join, nothing could be objected about this. No one is entitled to unconditional membership in the club and those who own and run it may impose their chosen standard for admission, be these either sensible or irrational.

Yet, in our society even private establishment have no legal right to set their own terms—the government has usurped their right to do so. It would be deemed some kind of unjust discrimination and forbidden to set such terms, just as it is forbidden in business relations or university admissions. The only place personal discrimination is not yet banned is in ads published for romantic purposes!

But if a private university, which is the only kind there should be in a free society, wanted to imposed stringent requirements having to do with mental instability, predisposition for violence, history of fascination with guns or whatever the owners and administrators would deem to signal trouble, there would be no legal grounds opposing this. No ACLU could holler "foul" if someone suspicious were more severely scrutinized than others. No due process provisions could be required of the school.

There would, of course, be variations of stringency about these kinds of issues, as well as many others, if the largely one-size-fits-all approach now in place were lifted, as it would be in a fully privatized educational system. And no doubt, some of the terms of admission at some of the schools would be undesirable by reasonable standards. But that's the price of liberty—even in our day some private, especially religions, schools impose requirements that only certain applicants can meet, such as membership in a given church.

Let me be very clear. In our system very, very few institutions are free from government regulations. Even private schools, colleges, and universities are held to all kinds of terms imposed by the government—e.g., when students who attend receive veteran benefits (which, irrationally, are deemed to be subsidies rather than payment for services rendered). What I am suggesting is that a radical change in how education is dealt with today—namely, from treating it as an entitlement governments must provide to recognizing that it must be provided voluntarily, in the free market place—would have as one of its benefits that cases such as the one that gave rise to the Virginia Tech massacre could be prevented more easily than they can be now.

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