7/6/2011 3:47 PM
Yesterday, I posted an item drawing attention to the fact that recent tuition increases will blow a hole in the state budget
. I will admit that the tone of the piece conveyed some frustration that state leadership in 2003 knew that tuition deregulation would adversely impact the soundness of the guaranteed Texas Tomorrow Fund – thus blowing a hole in the state budget – and passed it anyway. I’m frustrated that the legislative leadership’s top priority that year was providing more money for four-year university administrators to spend, rather than goals that benefit taxpayers generally.
That said, the tone of the piece gave heartburn to at least one commenter to the blog with a background in higher education. He makes several fair points. I reprint his comments in full below, then I will respond:
This article states that in "Texas institutions of higher learning . . . tenured professors often teach no more than six hours a week." That statement is laughable. First, the idea that teaching classes is the only thing tenured professors have to do is ludicrous, and the idea that the six hours spent in class represents the totality of the time required to actually teach that class smacks of sheer ignorance. Tenured professors earned their tenure through their dedication to scholarship, research, and professional practice. Neither the quality of education nor the value of a tenured professor's expertise can be measured in only time spent in the classroom. Furthermore, the vast majority of teachers in higher education (including me) work for community colleges, where the minimum teaching load is five classes per semester (although most of us take an additional class in order to meet our financial obligations, including paying back the student loans that were required to obtain the graduate school educations that got us these jobs in the first place). That works out to 15 hours of classroom time. Factor in the time it takes to prepare for those classes, plus time for grading, record keeping, documentation of disciplinary actions, professional development requirements, professional research, writing, and publication, and the hours spent teaching those 15 classroom hours per week translate into well above the typical 40-hour work week. Before you start devaluing the time tenured professors spend on their work, try walking a mile in their shoes--if, that is, you are qualified to do so.
First, I can understand some of his frustration. A lot of positive things are happening at Texas community colleges, and if my prior post was read to encompass them, I regret that. I should have been more specific and said the state’s two flagship research universities (or UT-Austin and Texas A&M), since those were the institutions to which I was referring, rather than used the broader term “Institutions of Higher Learning.”
Second, I recognize that there are some dedicated teaching faculty in Texas higher education, and that good teaching involves more than just the time in the classroom. I should have said six credit hours rather than just six hours.
My problem with the tenure system at many institutions is that – while administrators often claim that teaching plays a major role in tenure evaluations – that can often be more lip-service than reality. In other words, I think quality teaching is insufficiently rewarded at many universities.
With respect to the research universities, let’s assume for the sake of discussion, the average teacher spends two hours outside class for every hour in class. A teaching load of six credit hours would still only involve 18 hours. I don’t think the world will crumble by requiring tenured faculty to teach at least three classes per semester.
Third, since the commenter questions my background, I have a masters degree in economics. I would not be eligible to teach at a four-year university but meet the minimum requirement to teach at a community college. I started a Ph.D. program a long time ago. I encountered many good and talented people. But I also came away feeling that universities are insufficiently dedicated to the teaching enterprise and questioned the value of a lot of the so-called research that receives federal grants and appears in prominent academic journals. I also believe some parts of academia have a serious problem with the time it takes to get Ph.D.'s in some fields (though this varies by discipline).
To put it another way, is the Ph.D. the only measure that should determine whether someone is “qualified” to teach in academia? Is a CEO of a Fortune 500 Company or a successful entrepreneur less able to teach business than someone who has a Ph.D. in business theory? Some of the recent college graduates I have encountered in my professional career are ill-prepared for the decisions they have to make in the workforce. Should there be more connection between the employer world and higher education? And should we determine “quality” using measures that reflect what happens to students, or stick with the current definition, which relies largely on what academics think of each other’s research? These are all fair and reasonable questions, and ones that Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Public Policy Foundation have ruffled some feathers by asking.
I would also note the core reason for my post. The cost curve in American higher education is unsustainable. There will be major reform in the next two decades. The only questions are what sets it off and what form it takes.
I suspect the commenter and I may continue to disagree, but I hope this clarifies what I was trying to say yesterday and I appreciate him taking the time to read and respond thoughtfully to what I had to say.