Lazy professor, beware.
Your time delivering droning lectures and writing overwrought articles for obscure journals draws nigh. A posse of free-market thinkers led by a conservative Austin think tank wants to hold higher education accountable by weeding out bad teachers and unproductive researchers.
But how do you corner these elusive creatures? Their peers characterize the lazy professor as a rarity, quietly culled from the herd before earning tenure.
Critics, however, believe they are far more commonplace, and can be exposed by crunching numbers on teaching loads, research grants and student evaluations.
Some would like to do away with tenure, reasoning that professors would work harder if their contract came up every few years. Others, including Gov. Rick Perry, have suggested that professors should stick to research that “delivers real dollars.”
Yet academics and a new coalition of higher education boosters say critics are on the wrong track if their goal is to improve Texas universities.
Those kinds of remarks about research, coupled with the release of reams of detailed salary and workload data for thousands of professors in the Texas A&M University and University of Texas Systems, have already bruised the national reputation of two well-regarded university systems, said John Curtis, director of research and public policy at the American Association of University Professors.
“People around the country are watching that and would be leery of taking a job at A&M or UT,” Curtis said. “If it continues that way, it may be a detriment for all of public higher education.”
Return on investment
Those who seek greater productivity insist the scrutiny is long overdue.
“All we’ve ever wanted to do with this issue is just have an open discussion about ‘Are the taxpayers of the state of Texas getting a good return on their investment?’ ” Perry has said. “To be honest with you, we can’t answer that unless we have openness and transparency in higher ed, and there’s some that just block that.”
In addition to the governor, the roster of change-seekers includes several university regents, some conservative lawmakers and wealthy Austin entrepreneur Jeff Sandefer. Many have ties to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative Austin think tank that has acted as the movement’s brain trust.
David Guenthner, a TPPF spokesman, said the cost of higher education has spiraled out of control, and many students are questioning whether it’s a worthy investment.
In his view, tuition and state dollars subsidize the time professors spend writing journal articles of questionable value to society.
The system, he said, is set up to reward research with higher pay, professional kudos and a job for life, while good teaching often goes unrecognized.
As a result, Guenthner declared, students who pay top dollar for a flagship education spend a good deal of their first two years in huge lecture halls being taught by adjuncts rather than by tenured professors.
“The pendulum has probably swung more in the direction of research in recent years, to the detriment of teaching,” he said. “We think there needs to be a better balance for the sake of Texas students.” Read More