Last Sunday in The New York Times two Yale law professors extolled the unilateral authority of lame duck presidents and urged President Obama to act unilaterally as much as possible. The President does have some unilateral powers in foreign affairs and a few unilateral domestic constitutional powers, like the pardon power, as well as his authority to supervise administrative agencies within their own bounds of legal authority.
The Obama administration has recently moved to rate colleges and universities. This proposal is not just the idea of some bureaucrat or even cabinet secretary. It appears to be a brainchild of the President himself. As such it represents a window into his progressive, centralizing mindset. This proposal threatens to undermine and further politicize our universities and colleges, which even with their many faults are the best set of higher educational institutions in the world.
It is true that one of the impulses behind the President’s effort is laudable. Many colleges do cost too much, saddle their graduates with excessive debt, and ill prepare them for the world of work. But often progressive ideas have good intentions. It is their consequences that are bad. The administration is also right that government may have some role in encouraging colleges to provide basic information about graduation and employment rates. Such information is a good that the market may undersupply, because no one has a property right in it. But again the problem with the progressivism is not that markets are always perfect, but that the solutions are frequently worse than the defects.
The defects of government ratings of higher educational institutions lie in the choice of criteria by which college will be graded and in the decisions about how to use these grades.