The Power Line 100: Ben Sasse

Ben Sasse

This installment departs a little from the usual criteria for induction into the Power Line 100 Best Professors in America roster, in that we cast our spotlight on Ben Sasse, the president of Midland University in Nebraska.  Or perhaps I should say, the Weekly Standard’s Mark Hemingway casts his spotlight on Sasse, whom somehow I had never heard of before Mark’s terrifically interesting profile in this week’s issue.  Some of the background:

Being president of the college in his hometown agrees with Sasse, but his résumé suggests no shortage of ambition. He studied at Harvard, Oxford, and St. John’s, then earned a Ph.D. from Yale. His dissertation won the Theron Rockwell Field and the George Washington Egleston Prizes. The dissertation is a treasure trove of forgotten history relating to the populist backlash surrounding the Supreme Court’s school prayer decisions in the 1960s. More broadly, it’s a sophisticated and brilliant dissection of how a lot of the standard liberal narratives about American political realignment in the last 50 years are woefully incomplete at best and self-serving fictions to attack religious conservatives at worst. Given his academic background, it’s not surprising that Sasse has taught history and politics at Yale and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.

The main focus of Hemingway’s piece is the prospect that Sasse may run for the Senate in Nebraska, but as you read through the piece it begins to appear as though Sasse might be wasted on the Senate, given the remarkably successful innovations he’s bringing to higher education.  More from Hemingway’s profile:

When Sasse was appointed president of Midland three years ago, he was just 37 years old​—​making him one of the youngest college presidents in the country. At the time, Midland was in dire straits and contemplating bankruptcy. Sasse turned out to be a prodigious crisis manager. In the last three years, Midland’s enrollment has gone from 590 students to 1,100. It’s not much of an overstatement to say that in the process of turning Midland around, Sasse reinvented the higher education wheel. Oddly enough, his vision for reforming higher ed grew out of his experience trying to fix America’s dysfunctional health care system.

“The only sector that even compares with higher ed for being broken is health care. Think about how similar they are. They’re both dominated by third-party payment, and that third party is mostly public funders that don’t know how to hold anybody accountable for outcomes. The institutions exist primarily for the good of their own workers, not their own customers​—​students or patients. Quality is hard to measure, but to the degree you can measure, you have to measure things that are team outcomes, not solo, virtuoso outcomes,” he says.

It’s worth reading the entire piece, and if he does indeed run I suspect he’ll be high up on the list of races Power Line will want to support and cover.  And even if he doesn’t end up running, I suspect we’re going to hear more from him down the road.

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