Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Texas-sized dispute on higher ed

Texas has two of the best public universities in the country: UT-Austin and Texas A&M.  Faculty at both schools are up in arms about proposals from the Texas Public Policy Foundation that have been endorsed by Governor Rick Perry, according to a story in yesterday's N&O.  Here are the TPPF's ideas about how to improve college education:
  1. Publish data on teaching efficiency (salary of prof/#students) and student evaluations on the web
  2. Give cash bonuses to faculty with the 25% highest teaching evaluations
  3. Split teaching and research budgets for each faculty member
  4. Require evidence of teaching skill for tenure
  5. Learning contracts between faculty and students
  6. Fund higher education by giving each student a voucher (as opposed to giving money directly to schools based on enrollment)
  7. Create a new results-based accrediting agency for Texas colleges and universities
This YouTube video of a Texas A&M faculty member's response is well worth a look.  

A few reactions:
  • The UNC system regs state that teaching must be the primary consideration in granting tenure, and that seems to be working fairly well here
  • Metrics for performance in service industries are always difficult, but why would anyone infer that a professor teaching in an auditorium is always contributing more than one teaching a doctoral seminar with three students????  
  • Student evaluations are pretty reliable in identifying ineffective instructors, but not so great at distinguishing those who provide high entertainment value from those who create a sound learning environment.
  • Now I can call my syllabus a learning contract.
  • Faculty outside of science and engineering would have trouble attracting enough grants to cover the research portion of their salary, so making research self-supporting would mean less research in non-scientific disciplines.  
  • In addition to going to voucher systems, maybe Texans should auction off the buildings and land of their state universities?
  • When we have open positions here at NC State, I will make sure our colleagues at UT-Austin and Texas A&M know about it. 
  • While there seem to be serious concerns in Texas about rising tuition, grade inflation and poorly prepared graduates, I was surprised that the TPPF report said nothing about the losing football seasons the Longhorns and Aggies had recently. 

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