Whatever else the Fourth Estate might have once been, reporters of the past were at least willing to ask tough questions of those holding the reins of power and access to the people’s purse.

Today, whether it’s the Washington Post or the Texas Tribune, the press seems to exist more to shield government functionaries from public review and accountability, and to attack reformers.

Let’s face it: The higher-ed establishment is out-of-control, spending wildly and waging a political fight to keep students, parents and taxpayers in the dark about how dollars are used in  state-funded colleges and universities.

Of course, you won’t find that in the press. The “conservative” blogger at the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin, today took at aim at those with commonsense questions about higher education spending calling them “crackpot.”

Conservatives actually want government-spenders held accountable. At the WaPo, a staff “conservative” is really just a liberal who sits slightly to the right of Nancy Pelosi or Barney Frank. Rubin has a history of attacking conservatives and conservative reforms. The Washington Post calls her a conservative, but it doesn’t mean she is. Rubin clearly trades in ad hominem attacks rather than government accountability.

Rubin and her crowd don’t ask hard questions of their ideological betters in lefty academia and the halls of bureaucratic power. That’s not what shills do. And her motivation today was clearly to attack Texas Gov. Rick Perry, with higher ed reform the convenient tool. Too bad she conveniently ignores reality.
That’s par for the course in reporting on higher-ed. The Ivory Tower dwellers don’t want dollars spent better, and they sure don’t want any transparency or accountability. So the higher-ed administrators and their country club friends have taken to disparaging the reformers using their tools in the press.

And outsiders are roundly pilloried, or worse. Consider the elitist drivel State Sen. Judith Zaffirini (who holds a PhD in communications from UT and chairs the Senate higher education committee) directed at Gov. Rick Perry for asking that lawmakers start improving higher education outcomes in Texas. She said he had no business commenting on such issues because he only has a bachelor’s degree. Just imagine what she thinks of those taxpayers funding UT, A&M and other schools, who don’t have even that…

The Texas higher-ed establishment has created an anti-reform task force headed by George W. Bush’s communication’s director, Karen Hughes. It has marshaled the resources the business leaders like Gene Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines, to attack Gov. Perry, conservative legislators and the reformers. (Apparently a Southwest Airlines ticket now pays for airfare, peanuts and opposition to needed government reform — suspect they won’t admit to that in a commercial any time soon.)

It’s probably also just a coincidence that most of the Hughes’ “Texans for Excellence in Higher Education” team looks like a Kay Bailey Hutchison campaign advisory panel from 2010. We know how that worked out…

For his part, Gov. Perry is guilty of asking questions that make the higher education establishment uncomfortable. The high priests of the Ivory Tower don’t like anyone looking behind their castle walls or into their accounting ledgers. Even with the sky-rocketing tuition rates at the state’s flagship universities, the press isn’t interested in asking why so many students are being priced out of those college by wasteful spending. And they sure don’t want the governor or anyone to ask questions, either.

The latest attack comes in that paragon of right-thinking, the Washington Post‘s Rubin. She was on Twitter this morning attacking Gov. Perry (a rumored presidential candidate) by sullying the commonsense reforms to higher education brought forward by Empower Texans Foundation board member Jeff Sandefer and championed by many thoughtful leaders around the state.

Mr. Sandefer is perhaps one the most interesting folks you can meet. He is both an accomplished businessman and acclaimed academic. Besides being the second youngest person inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame (beat out by Michael Dell), Sandefer started an MBA program and was named one of the top 10 entrepreneurship professors in America. He is a member of several advisory boards at the Harvard Business School, and was a long-time member of the National Review board of directors, among other awards and positions. He has business and academic street-cred — precisely what the Ivory Tower dwellers hate: someone who is productive.
Certainly don’t expect the establishment protectors in the media to report on Sandefer’s credentials and bona fides. They just want to tear down anything that upsets their friends hiding in the Ivory Tower.
The press is unwilling to ask higher education officials tough questions about classroom productivity, research results, and the like. Worse, these same reporters attack those who do. As our friends at AgendaWise have noted repeatedly, the Texas Tribune has rather significant business ties with UT. And the Trib just happens to carry the higher education establishment water on a daily basis.
Texas taxpayers and college students deserve more bang for the higher education buck. The public Ivory Tower was built with Texans’ tax dollars and tuition payments, and we demand that it be opened up.
State Rep. Dan Branch (R-Highland Park) chairs the higher education committee in the Texas House. He is rumored to have ambitions for statewide office, but has carefully straddled the fence between embracing reforms, and siding with the higher-ed establishment. As the committee chairman, he now needs to take the lead and push the bureaucracy far beyond their comfort zone. 
The sooner the better. Pretty soon, he and his colleagues will have to chose sides: the higher-ed bureaucracy or Texas’ taxpayers. Sen. Zaffirini has used her committee hearings to give the bureaucrats a soapbox; Mr. Branch should use it force more transparency and accountability from the multi-billion-dollar-spenders.
Legislators need to be ready to explain on the 2012 campaign trail why they’d rather do the bidding of  higher ed administrators than protect taxpayers and students. And make no mistake, Karen Hughes, the Washington Post, and their establishment-protection crowd want nothing to happen — except to take more money from your pocket.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, and a dog. Check out his podcast, Reflections on Life and Liberty.