Thursday, October 25, 2012

Not the "Most Important Election In My Lifetime"

This year I have heard a number of folks claim that "this is the most important election in my lifetime", usually in defense of the argument that Candidate X must be elected. I guess I've heard it enough at this point to feel compelled to write something about it.

There are variations on this theme. On the radio I heard a woman - an ordinary voter stopped by a reporter at a campaign rally - say that she "fears for the future of our country" if the candidate she doesn't like wins the election, and that she is concerned that "my children may not have a country" in four years.

This is nothing new, of course. People have been making these kinds of sweeping existential claims for several election cycles now. It would be interesting to research how far back these claims go, but I suspect their origin is in the last 20 years or thereabouts. So I'm not surprised. What bothers me is the extent to which these claims have become mainstream - that nobody really bats an eyelash anymore.

I don't, of course, expect the candidates themselves to contradict their own supporters. They love this kind of fervid (if feverish, even deluded) devotion, because it helps drive voter turnout. Neither candidate and neither party is above using fear as a motivator, because fear works.

I am a little disappointed that the news media seem to have abandoned the field to this looniness. There was a time in the distant past when respected journalists (think Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite) would not let such nonsense pass without comment. Even the Dan Rather generation would, I think, have eventually felt it necessary to say something dismissive. But today's news media apparently thinks that their job is to put the microphone in someone's face, turn it on, and then head home. So no help there.

That leaves it to the rest of us ordinary folks to try to fight the slowly rising tide of this particular "most important election ever" delusion. On the off chance that anybody holding this particular misperception might read this, therefore, I offer the following:

1) This is not the most important election in your or anybody else's lifetime. Whatever reasonable arguments might be made about measuring such a thing, this one doesn't pass muster. It's just not that kind of historical moment.

2) The United States will not face an existential threat if (insert candidate name here) is elected. Existential threats to societies are extremely rare, and only come in two forms: external and internal. There is nothing outside the US remotely powerful enough to threaten the whole of US society, and nothing so far beyond the norm internally it that could bring the whole house of cards down. 8% unemployment? France (a fairly respectable economy) has spent decades wishing for unemployment in the single digits. Deficits and debt? Big, yes - big enough to suggest the need for significant changes. But not nearly big enough to threaten to collapse the country into Mad Max land. And whatever you think of the future prospects for global warming, anybody who thinks that either Romney or Obama is the single salvation for that problem needs a reality check.

3) Presidents, and therefore Presidential elections, aren't nearly as consequential as we think they are. Most of the stuff that happens that we care about isn't controlled - isn't even particularly influenced - by who is in the White House. We're talking about a job that, while important and publicly prominent, may on a good day have some marginal influence on some 0.1% of what goes on in the US. If you care about taxes, start paying attention to Congress - they write the tax code. Ditto for spending. And mostly (with some occasional and notable, but rare, exceptions) Congress just tinkers around the edges of what already is.

This is not to say that government isn't important, or that it isn't important to try to get it right or to argue about what we think it should or shouldn't do. Government sometimes makes decisions that matter a lot, for good or for ill. At its most powerful, it can make decisions that cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives (funny how war doesn't seem to matter in elections, though...)

But in the end, the government does not control society. Any society as big, complex, and relatively prosperous as America is going to lumber along doing what it does. Government can try to nudge it, even herd it a bit, in certain directions. But it can't mortally wound it. Ultimately, we really are more important than the government (however much a candidate might sometimes like us to believe otherwise).

So by all means, vote for your favorite candidate and/or party. Hold election-night parties and celebrate (or mourn) with your like-minded friends. Just don't be afraid that your world is going to end if the other guy wins. We're stronger than that.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Why I Won't Be Watching the Foreign Policy Debate

I've noted on more than one occasion this election season that I'm a bit of an odd duck - a political scientist who takes little joy in observing politics (at least of the US Presidential election variety), and who wishes it would all just end and go away. I know plenty of other people who think this way, but they don't do what I do for a living.

One easy explanation could be that I'm just not interested in American politics. All of my graduate work and subsequent research has been in international relations (or, occasionally, in the boundary zone between IR and comparative). I'm particularly interested in conflicts, especially ethnic conflicts, and conflict resolution. Since elections may be good ways of choosing leaders but are lousy ways of resolving conflicts, I guess that could explain some of my disinterest.

But you would think that, with that profile, I would at least be looking forward to tonight's Presidential debate - the only event in the entire campaign specifically focused on foreign policy. It's true that, unless one of the candidates tonight catches fire (literally or figuratively), what happens tonight is unlikely to sway many voters. This isn't a foreign policy-relevant year; American voters both know and care even less about foreign affairs than usual this year. But at least they'll be talking about stuff I take a professional interest in.

Unfortunately, that interest makes me even less likely to pay attention. I expect that the vast majority of what is said tonight (by both candidates) to be vapid, pandering, and without substance. The public politics surrounding foreign policy in the United States has become largely worthless, with no broader discussions worth having and no relevant distinctions between the parties.

A large part of this is because both candidates will be forced, of political necessity, to repeat the American Exceptionalism mantra. There was an excellent article about this in Sunday's New York Times, which is well worth reading. The author focuses more on domestic policy and our foolish tendency to think that America is better than everywhere else at everything (to the point that some folks simply make stuff up to support that contention).

Nowhere is the disease of American Exceptionalism worse than in the arena of foreign policy. Without argument, discussion, or debate our politics over the last 10+ years have shifted to a new consensus in foreign policy:

• That the United States is the most powerful nation on the planet (true, at least militarily), possibly in all of history (arguable, but largely beside the point - like trying to decide whether the Babe Ruth Yankees were better than the A Rod version of recent years).

• That the existence of terrorism means that the US should involve itself in anything that smells of terrorism or Al Qaeda, wherever in the world it may be.

• That when bad things happen in other places, it's the US's responsibility to make them better (e.g. Libya, Syria), unless it's in an area so obscure that we really don't care (eastern Congo?) This is closely aligned with the ever-popular Peter Parker Principle ("With great power comes great responsibility.")

This isn't a strategy, it's a recipe for blind imperial overstretch (to borrow Jack Snyder's term). Particularly galling is that we've arrived at this position without the slightest scintilla of public debate. Foreign policy is decided by a small elite in Washington, without significant comment from outside. We have fallen into the trap that Eisenhower warned of some 50 years ago.

Where are the alternatives? Where is the discussion of appropriate limits on either interests or capabilities? The continued "we're number 1" rhetoric in an election year pushes candidates to outbid each other, each one going to greater and greater flights of fancy with regard to what the United States should (implying can) do. Thus does Mitt Romney take Barack Obama to task for not fixing Syria - as if an American President is capable of doing such a thing, if only he makes up his mind to do so. How did our "fixing" of Iraq go? How's Afghanistan going? Panama? Haiti? Anyone?

So I expect tonight to be filled with bombastic-sounding rhetoric largely divorced from reality. In this, the "debates" in the public arena bear no resemblance to the debates among IR scholars. Where are the Realists (or neo-realists), the Institutionalists, the Constructivists? We have theories that explain the chest-thumping that passes for foreign policy pronouncements today (see Gilpin, Robert, as well as the aforementioned Jack Snyder). But does anybody outside of the DC elite think this is good foreign policy? Not that I can see. Maybe the Monday Night Football game will be good.

Friday, October 19, 2012

How's That Revolution in Higher Education Going?

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the for-profit higher education company Kaplan and its decision to close 9 campuses. At the time I suggested that maybe some of the rhetoric we've seen about the for-profit, online education sector "fundamentally changing" higher education was a little overblown.

Now comes news that the Granddaddy of Them All, the University of Phoenix, is in trouble as well:
Apollo Group to Lay Off 800 Employees and Close 115 Locations
There are a couple of important lessons here:

• In this election season, with lots of sound-bite rhetoric floating around, it's important to note that the private sector doesn't always do a better job of producing something. In this case, Phoenix has been in this game for a while. If their product were really better and more efficient than the current system of universities they would be growing, not shrinking. Having to close 115 locations sounds a bit like overreach - certainly not the "efficient allocation of capital" we're supposed to get from for-profit institutions.

• When Phoenix first came out, there was a lot of hoopla about how online education was going to bury the "bricks and mortar" model of education - that it would be radically more cost effective. We have since learned that this was pure fantasy. Online education can be just as expensive as in-person education. Phoenix opened its doors in 1976 and went online in 1989. They've had lots of time (and capital) to make this work.

• This looks more and more like a sector-wide problem. You can explain one company's problems as indicative of issues at that company - bad management, poor decisions, etc. But this trend appears to be hitting the whole for-profit industry - Phoenix, Kaplan, Career Education Corp & others. That's a sign that the business model isn't right.

All of this is not to say that online education is necessarily a good or a bad thing, or that it can't be a useful tool for educating. It does suggest that the radical steps that Phoenix and its kin have taken - pressing on-line education, tacking hard to the 'guide on the side, not sage on the stage' model that gets away from instruction by established experts, emphasizing convenience ├╝ber alles - have not played out as well as hoped (or feared) in the marketplace.

On this point, free-market pundits are correct: ultimately, the market (which is really just a way of saying "the behavior of a free public") determines outcomes. In this case, the public is speaking pretty clearly in favor of "old-style" education (how many established universities have closed recently?), even where that education is not motivated by profit and continues to enjoy some (if dwindling) level of public financial support.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Slope Isn't As Slippery As We Think

The longer the Presidential campaign goes on, the wackier the rhetoric gets. This, in and of itself, is not that surprising. The last month generally sees things reach a fever pitch, as all of our favorite ads get squeezed out by massive campaign spending endorsed by this or that candidate or SuperPAC.

In the midst of this stream of nonsense this year, I'm noticing one thread worth commenting on - the resurgence of the "slippery slope" argument. This is a favorite of fear-mongers and those who want to argue that everything will go to Hell in a handbasket if we elect the wrong guy. The basic structure of the argument goes something like this:

"My opponent once advocated X [insert exaggerated bit of opponent's political history here]. If we go down that road, it's a Slippery Slope to Socialism/Fascism/SomethingBadism [insert stock video footage of Europe circa WWII, or people standing in breadlines in the 1930s, or something else bleak and historical-looking]. Vote for me, or you'll end up like: Germany 1939/Russia 1922/pick your favorite historical case."

Examples are easy to find. Some are by amateur, even fringe, outside groups:


Some are more professional, efforts by the campaigns or parties to slip the subtle message in (note the quick "socialism" reference):


And some are both very professional and very direct:


This year it seems to be the Republicans' turn at the Slippery Slope trough. I've heard or seen a number of arguments about how this or that policy shift (attributed, rightly or wrongly, to President Obama) is really the "first step down the slippery slope". The favored fear-inspiring target for these arguments is Socialism, lending the whole thing a sort of Reaganesque, Cold War glow. We used to fear the Commies once, right?

To be fair, I've seen this from folks on the other side before as well. There was no shortage of people in 2004, or even 2008, talking about how George W. Bush was leading us down the Road to Fascism, and that we would soon become a Police State. Folks even believed that the administration had plans to rig elections, or otherwise monkey with the system, to gain what Karl Rove ominously called a "permanent Republican majority."

The problem with all of these arguments is simple: historical slopes just aren't that slippery. Not every country that institutes measures designed to increase equality becomes Communist Hungary. Some of them, in fact, do very well - by most measures Scandinavians and Swiss are better off than Americans. Likewise, not every country that increases the strength of law enforcement becomes Nazi Germany, bent on hunting down and imprisoning its political enemies and persecuting hated minorities.

The George W administration is an excellent case in point. If ever a Presidency had the opportunity to create a real police state, it was Bush's post-9/11 presidency. For about a year, Americans would put up with anything - up to and including troops with fully automatic weapons in airports and train stations. Even through 2004, with the Iraq war and continued terrorism, there was enough there to make a serious push for rewriting the rules of American politics. With a well-placed, planted attack or two or a Krystallnacht-style event, W and his administration could have tried to permanently cement their hold on power. Instead, in 2008 they faded into the background (where they apparently now reside in Cheney's Undisclosed Bunker, at least to judge by the 2012 GOP Convention).

None of this is to say that you can't advocate for or against a particular policy change. Like many Americans, I find it a little creepy that nearly every square inch of London is blanketed by monitored security cameras - often several of them. I'm not in favor of this kind of increased monitoring of ordinary civilian life, not least because there is a tendency to erode some freedoms. But I don't think England has turned into a fascist state, nor do I think it's likely to tomorrow.

Massive and sudden societal shifts can and do happen - but they are exceedingly rare. And usually where they do occur (think of the rapid fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 and 1990), the pressures for that change had been building for many, many years. You can't take a country and make it into something it isn't overnight, regardless of who is President.

This is where the Slippery Slope folks wander into crazytown. No President has the power to turn the United States from what it is (a large, chaotic, extremely diverse, rather unequal, basically robust democracy) into something it isn't and never has been (whether a centrally-planned Socialist Stalinism or a jack-booted Nazi police state). Heck, Presidents barely even have the power to get minor changes enacted. For all the Sturm und Drang over Obamacare, the ideas in it are very close to the mainstream of American politics - indeed, most of them were first mooted by Republicans, before they decided that letting a Democrat take credit for their stuff was bad. And look at how much effort THAT took to create.

So when you see an ad warning about the imagined dystopian future that Obama is going to take us to in four years, turn it off. When you hear a "we're all going to be Socialists if Romney doesn't get elected" argument at a party or in the office, call it what it is - tribalist fantasy. We have real and legitimate policy disagreements. Let's argue about those, instead of making up loony theories to scare our neighbors. Leave Halloween to the Jack-o-Lanterns, not the politicians.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Tragedy of Too Much Force

I've written before about the role that guns play in our cultural understanding of self-defense (or, as one very eloquent Australian practitioner and lawyer describes it, "civilian defense"). Today comes a tragic story that only underscores the point:
Connecticut man shoots burglar dead, turns out to be own son
This story, brief and devoid of detail as it is, is a tough read for anybody who is a parent. As I've argued before: right, wrong, legal, or illegal, this man's life is now ruined. He will have to live with this day for the rest of his life, and that pain will never leave him - not to mention its impact on the rest of the family.

I know that gun-as-self-defense supporters will cite other cases in which guns were the right response. And certainly there are cases - precious few, but they do exist - in which someone armed with a gun (along with practice in its appropriate and skillful use) succeeded in defending him/herself, or a family, or someone else. There is always another story to tell.

But that does not take away from the fundamental point: guns are a terrible, awful means of self-defense. They are too deadly, too quickly and too easily. The damage they do is frequently irreversible - the consequences of their use drastically overwhelm the split second it takes to fire one.

We think of guns as a "good" method of self-defense because we want to find short cuts - the proverbial (and in this case ironic) "magic bullet". In so doing, we make two enormous mistakes:

1) We misunderstand the point of civilian self-defense. The point is to protect yourself by whatever means necessary. The point is not to disable/disarm/neutralize your attacker - because that often isn't necessary. Escaping from the situation is successful self defense. So is diffusing the conflict with a few words or a simple action. Only in Hollywood B-grade movies do we conflate "self defense" with "defeating your opponent". I don't have to beat an attacker to succeed; I just have to avoid getting beaten myself. Any encounter you walk away from uninjured is a victory.

2) We fall into the trap of thinking that if we prepare for the "worst-case scenario", that will cover all other scenarios. It doesn't. There is no "trump card" for serious civilian defense - every situation is different. For the vast majority of potentially threatening situations, guns are a very poor response. They pose enormous danger to people on both sides of the weapon.

People who know me, and who have followed my blog, know that my own preferred answer is sustained training in some kind of civilian defense system. My personal preference is for Asian martial arts, which have a wealth of benefits beyond self defense. Can my art, or any other, protect me from any situation? Of course not. There is no 100% foolproof defense against everything. But you can strongly improve your odds, if you are willing to not only learn new skills but commit to practicing them over time.

The ongoing danger of continuing to think of guns as a self defense shortcut is not only that more people will be tragically (and avoidably) killed. It is that we will drive ourselves deeper into our collective error, replacing reasonable self defense with a hair-trigger "I must beat the other guy" attitude. This is a terrible mistake, not only for its immediate consequences but for our ability to learn to live in genuine peace with one another.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

More on Sports (Football) and College

Just a brief follow-up to my previous post, which talked about research indicating a negative correlation between the success of a university's football team and the grades of its students.

On the heels of that study comes the first of what are likely to be many stories this fall:
Postgame Mayhem Draws Rebukes Form West Virginia U. President
Anybody who pays any attention to higher education, or who lives near a large university, has seen this story before. The worst violence and destruction always seems to come after the victories - the bigger the victory, the more raucous and destructive the response. That this should also drag down grades is not much of a surprise - rioting and studying being mutually exclusive activities.

No one has yet come up with a good response to this problem. Some years ago Ohio State and the city of Columbus flooded the near-campus area with cops during big games, and ended up drawing angry responses and some violence directed at the "heavy-handed" police presence. Yet where there are no police, couches get burned, cars overturned, and various breakable things destroyed. Police departments and university administrations can't seem to win either way.

The root, as always, is culture. So long as we have a (sub-)culture that not only tolerates but encourages destruction in response to the "big win", that's what we'll get. Suppression efforts will always be unpopular, and will only help to some degree - by putting cops in harm's way and inviting both violent reactions against the police and over-reactions by them.

As with most mass behavior problems, this will only change when we - and in this case, "we" means both students and the adults around them - decide to put an end to it. The students, of course, have the greatest control. But adults - especially alumni - get tainted by these incidents too, and need to find their voice and their levers. Some alums, of course, probably did similar things when they were students and so are reluctant to call out current students. But that can be a cop-out, an excuse for doing nothing.

What should responsible alums do? I don't honestly know - I came from a school that, for all of its own alcohol issues, never rioted after football games (won or lost). But making this a continual battle between rowdy students and university presidents (and their police forces) reduces the problem to "Animal House". More voices who care about their universities and the cultures they propagate need to get involved.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

On Politics, Elections, and Peace

This has been an interesting election season for me, media-wise. I don't watch TV, don't listen to much radio, and don't have a landline phone - so most of the ways that the Presidential campaigns have of trying to reach me, the ever-elusive "swing state voter", don't work. However much money they're spending is wasted on me, and probably some other people like me.

What I do see, however, is Facebook. This exposes me to two different streams of political communication: the paid ads on the side and the conversation & posting of people on my Friends list.

The paid ads go mostly unnoticed - I suspect that most FB users have long since learned to pay no attention to that part of the screen. Interesting bit of evidence - my employer decided to run a trial campaign of FB ads recently (they turn out to be surprisingly cheap). We got almost no response. Our other internet marketing tactic, buying ads on Google & Bing, was FAR more effective. I'm sorry for owners of FB stock, but their sidebar ads just aren't producing much.

So the official campaign ads I see on FB are pretty much wasted. Far more noticeable (also intrusive and frequently annoying) are the political posts from FB Friends. These appear right smack in the middle, intermixed with stuff I actually care about, so I have to pay some attention. Plus, to be fair, some of them are funny - not as many as their posters think, but some really are.

The problem is that, at least in my limited experience, the FB political conversation is much like the stream of campaign ads, but more so. Whereas about 60% of all campaign ads (on both sides) are negative, this seems to rise to 80% or 90% among the FB crowd. And most of it isn't merely negative - it's snarky, caustic, and hyperbolic to the point of absurdity.

I am continually warned that if Romney is elected, we will all become slaves to the mega-corporations, or that if Obama is elected we will turn into North Korea overnight. I am informed on a daily basis that all Democrats/Republicans are idiots/heartless bastards/evil/damned to hell. It would be funny if the feelings behind these sentiments weren't sincere much of the time.

Lots of smart people have made the sensible and obvious observations about this kind of "discourse". It convinces nobody, especially independents or people who might be persuadable. It only makes those propagating it look like petulant kindergartners. It contributes to the broader breakdown of social capital in our communities by pitting people against each other over differences that matter far less than we think they do. All of this is true, and it bears repeating.

But what I find bothers me most about this kind of political rage is not its irrationality. It is the effect that it has on me, and I suspect on a lot of other people. Rage-induced screaming and sarcastic attack don't just fail to convince; they disturb the peace. They make it evident that there are people who care more about getting things "their way" or winning for "their team" than they do for their relationships with real people that make up the communities we live in - either virtual or real.

Plenty of folks have offered simple advice: turn it off. De-Friend those FB people who are spewing toxic waste. Don't participate. I even had one FB friend, a strong partisan of one side, make a generic offer on FB - people can de-Friend her and she won't get offended. And, in truth, this does solve the immediate problem, insofar as I don't have to look at negative political sewage anymore.

But this "solution" misses the point. If a bunch of angry folks walk into a room and start shouting at each other, and then suggest to those who don't want to shout that they can always just leave, what does this accomplish? It drives away all the voices who want to talk about something else - about common community values, or a shared vision of the future, or peace as a virtue within the community. It cedes the room to the bullies. And that's what bothers me most.

In a certain sense, we have brought this on ourselves. Some among us have bought the lies about every election being "the most important election in my lifetime" and the myth that the choice of a single person makes the difference between prosperity and happiness on the one hand and 1000 years of darkness on the other. And the rest of us, for lack of a better alternative, let them. We don't know what to do when the screamers make things intolerable, so we withdraw into our quiet corners.

Screaming - like violence - is inherently escalatory. That's why every election cycle is a constantly-building crescendo of angry insanity, and why each new cycle is a little louder, nastier, and more rhetorically violent than the last. All of this leaves fewer and fewer spaces for people who care about other things.

As a sidebar comment, it is no small irony that many of the screamers do so in the name of God and of the Christian Church. I'm not a very good theologian, but I'm pretty sure that the priority at the heart of the Christian gospel is relationships. Love one another, we were told. There are apparently folks who think that The Great Commandment can be set aside for convenience, or when the other political party is winning.

To the general problem of screamers taking over the landscape, I don't have any solutions or even suggestions. Violence, rhetorical or physical, is a trump card - it forces everyone else to either play the same game or withdraw. The best hope, I suppose, is that those of us who don't want to play the game might find each other and carve out our own spaces where we can live in peace and try to build real communities.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Data on Sports That's Hard to Look At

The American love affair with sports is well-documented. Nowhere is this love greater than football, which has long since supplanted baseball as "America's pastime". In its intersection with higher education, football has had a greater impact on universities (fiscally and otherwise) than any other sport, with top-ranked college leagues commanding as much media attention (and TV revenue) as professional leagues in other sports.

As important as college football has become, therefore, the release of a new study provides a sudden shock of cold water:
How Does Football Success Affect Student Performance?
The punch line of the research, done at the University of Oregon over a series of football seasons where the team when from just OK to national champions, is blunt and direct: the better your football team does, the worse student grades get. Not the athletes' grades - the rest of the student body.

Much of the Chronicle article summarizing this research focuses on the gender difference, which is both interesting and predictable (the effects are much greater on men than women). But there's a much more fundamental issue at stake.

Here is cold, hard evidence that a successful sports program provides a distraction which damages the university's supposed primary mission: educating students. If grades are an indication (and despite all of their flaws, they are, especially in the aggregate over time), the more successful the football team is the less learning takes place across the student body.

This is going to be a very bitter pill to swallow for anybody with an interest in collegiate sports - especially for university administrators with a financial stake in the success of those teams. I expect there will be much denial, and many will point out that "this is only one study". It's certainly true that, by the rules of science, one study does not establish truth - it must be replicated and expanded as far as possible. Hopefully that work will take place.

But I suspect that most of my colleagues inside higher education will hardly be surprised when this same result turns up again and again. And if/when that happens, we will see a very real test of courage. Every university claims that educating students and creating knowledge are its primary missions. When faced with unmistakable evidence that some collegiate sports (in particular, successful football teams) detract from that mission, how many will have the courage to do something about it? And how many will simply hide behind platitudes, evasions and falsehoods so the money can keep flowing?

I expect I'll be disappointed by the answers. But maybe a few courageous institutions will surprise us.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Juggernaut It Ain't

There's been a tendency in higher education circles to inflate the threat posed by on-line, for-profit higher education. At its most extreme people have argued that the new massive on-line models have completely changed the paradigm of higher education, threatening to push traditional universities to the brink of extinction. In one case, such overblown fears appear to have played a role in the Greek drama over last summer's firing and rehiring of the president of UVA.

To those alarmists who warn of a "higher education bubble", this news item should be of some interest:
Kaplan Says It Will Close 9 Campuses
It appears that this particular for-profit outfit may have engaged in a bit of overstretch, and is now being forced to retrench. Notable in particular is this tidbit:
Kaplan had been warned earlier that it could lose accreditation for three campuses because their students had failed to meet achievement requirements. 
It's only a better business model if you really deliver a better product, or one at least as good, more efficiently and at a lower cost. This is a problem that has dogged the for-profit sector - their inability to deliver graduation and completion rates on par even with most open-access public universities. Until they solve that problem, the "threat" they pose to higher education is minimal. Selling a worse product cheaper isn't a paradigm-changer - it's just cheap imitation.