A scholar, who thought higher “education” was in such decline that he founded one of the first Internet Liberal Arts universities, is an advocate of limited government and entrepreneurship. Dr. Richard J. Bishirjian is now looking for a second shot at applying what he knows about administration of a university by becoming the next president of the University of South Florida (USF).
A scholar, businessman and education leader, Bishirjian founded and served as president of both Yorktown University and Yorktown University of the Americas, which was based in Gainesville. He studied under world famous scholars like Eric Voegelin and Michael Oakeshott and has taught at colleges in Indiana, New York and Texas.
Bishirjian has written five books and scores of articles on politics, philosophy, political theory and education, including one focused on higher education that predicts high tuition cost and abusive regulations will lead to the death of education as we know it.
This week, Florida Daily interviewed Bishirjian about why he wants to lead USF. The Tampa Bay Times recently reported that he is one of a dozen individuals who have applied to be USF’s next president and the search committee is expected to start interviews next month.
FD: You have applied to be president of the University of South Florida. What do you see as your main qualifications for the job?
RB: My commitment to scholarship evident in published books and essays. Significant fundraising ability. My many years’ experience developing online courses. I see USF’s “e-learning” as a way to enhance USF’s national reputation. My knowledge of higher ed’s state and federal regulations and accreditation standards. A firm commitment to civic literacy and even Republican Party service in two presidential administrations, and service on the staff of a U.S. senator.
FD: What do you see as the greatest challenges confronting higher ed in general and USF in particular?
RB: The COVID pandemic compels colleges to offer degree programs Online. Even at $196 per credit for some USF online programs, that’s $11,760 for an Associate degree. I will strive to lower online tuition costs by attracting donations, creating new scholarships and appeals to Florida’s governor and state legislators. With all due apologies to USF’s IT staff, the USF website is in need of improvement.
FD: The pandemic forced many colleges and universities to offer more online classes, including some schools which have resisted that trend. What role do you see online classes having at USF and Florida’s public universities and colleges?
RB: My (unsolicited) advice to one of the SUNY colleges was to promote completion of courses in the first two years of college via the Internet, offering introductory courses for degree credit to high school juniors and seniors, and focus third and fourth-year on courses in advanced subjects. USF should fulfill the desire of Florida citizens for courses that qualify them for employment by earning an associate’s degree but I would strive to make USF the state’s leading “Senior College” for students enrolled in bachelor’s programs.
FD: One of the chief responsibilities of any college or university president these days is fundraising. What experience do you have when it comes to development and raising capital?
RB: I raised $56 million in development financing for projects in Eastern Europe; attracted a quarter million in U.S. government grants for Boston University’s College of Communication; funded the startup of a solely online university with four million in investments from accredited investors in a for-profit university. That university attained “national accreditation” of 11 degree and certificate programs. I was retained by a public university in Germany to finance its outreach to the private sector in the Czech Republic and Poland, where I worked with associates of President Walesa. I persuaded highly taxed German companies to donate to a German public university. Much of that is accounted for in my “Wiki.”
FD: What do you see as USF’s strengths? What areas does USF need to improve on?
RB: USF’s greatest resource is its faculty and location in Tampa. I sense that those resources need to be integrated into a plan to make USF a contender for the attention of Florida’s entrepreneurs—they create jobs—and “snowbirds.” UVA enriches Charlottesville, USF should do more to add to the culture and enterprises of Tampa/St. Pete.
FD: In recent years, increasing numbers of political conservatives have grown more and more critical of higher education. You’ve been a leading conservative public intellectual for decades. What do you say to conservatives who have turned against higher ed?
RB: You are right. I am a political conservative in the tradition of Bill Buckley and proud of it! Like all conservatives I deplore the lack of intellectual diversity in higher education. That bias is a wound that infects most conservative voters with fear. When not a single Republican can be found on the faculty in a university’s social science departments as at the University of Oregon, and the humanities are “deconstructed,” those disciplines become fertile fields for utopian ideologies. I will publicly pledge to parents that they should not fear what an education does to their students when sent off to college at USF. Too many Ward Churchills and too few Victor Davis Hansons is bad for “business.” Moreover, a career in higher education tends to be stressful!. If “burnout” as affected USF’s immediate past president is systemic, that should be remedied.
FD: Where do you see USF going in the next five years? How would you as president help get USF there?
RB: Building a sense of community in which faculty are “friends” is critical. Spending time with 10 to 20 instructors every three days my first year will be critical. A colleague–now retired–from the University of Florida told me that in his last ten years what was once a community of scholars had declined grievously. That must not happen at USF!