Tearing Down Higher Ed in TX, one Tier 1 university at a time

March 16, 2011, article in Texas Tribune:

At the 2008 meeting, Perry asked the regents to consider seven “breakthrough solutions” developed by Sandefer.

Many of them seek to put more control in the hands of students, while taking some away from the entrenched forces of higher education. One provides in-state students with vouchers funded with the money that is currently funneled directly to public universities.  Another calls for the development of a new accrediting agency.

Another proposal that particularly rankles academia calls for the splitting of research and teaching budgets, which the foundation says allows for excellence in both but others worry is merely lays the groundwork to choose the latter over the former, particularly because it is less expensive.

The Texas A&M System was the first to implement the solutions, giving professors cash bonuses for good student evaluations. In 2010, A&M officials attracted attention for laying out in a document the revenue generation of every professor. It was this step that caught the attention of the AAU, which is widely accepted as the keeper of the Tier One designation.

Miller, for one, believes these specific reforms have not worked at A&M, and hurt the case for moving forward on them at UT. Though, he supports Powell’s creation of the task forces (there is also a second one on “blended and online learning”), noting that he would question anyone that did not believe that was something the System should be looking into.

From the April 2011 issue of the Texas Monthly:

As has been widely reported, new standards for measuring efficiency and effectiveness of teachers were implemented in College Station last year. Here’s how it works: First the university determines the total employment cost for every teacher. That number is weighed against how much money each teacher brings to the university through research and teaching. Faculty are then listed in a 265-page spreadsheet with members who produced a “profit” for the university coded in black and members who produced a “loss” for the university coded in red (some professors have organized a “Red Brigade”). An October Wall Street Journal article compared the position of Carol Johnson, a lecturer for an introductory biology course with 79 students, with that of a newly hired assistant professor, Charles Criscione, who had spent most of his time setting up a research lab. Johnson “made” $279,617 for A&M. Criscione “lost” $45,305.

So numerous were the faculty complaints that A&M officials took the spreadsheet off the Web, and university president R. Bowen Loftin declared that the data wouldn’t be used to assess the productivity of individual teachers. Still, I recently met with around a dozen faculty members at A&M to talk about the spreadsheet, and it was clear that the impact upon morale had been severe. “If it were possible in the national economy,” a former speaker of the faculty senate told me, “half the junior faculty would be gone tomorrow morning.”

Another of the reforms is “split research and teaching budgets.” This may not seem like a big deal. The idea is simply to increase transparency and accountability by emphasizing teaching and research as separate efforts in higher education. But many observers, myself included, suspect that the real agenda is ultimately to curtail the role of research in higher education. Why? Because it costs money. Sandefer has written that academic research consumes two thirds of every dollar spent in American universities. Once the public sees how much more money is spent on research than on teaching, it will demand that spending on research be cut. This is why, to the UT brass, splitting budgets amounts to a frontal attack on the classic model of a research university. “Teaching and research are inextricably linked,” UT president Bill Powers told me. “Splitting the research and teaching budgets devalues the synergy between two essential components that are the essence of a world-class institution.” Like all the TPPF recommendations, the objective is not to improve the academy but to diminish public support for it in its current form.

The Texas Monthly article also argues that this supposed NEED to revamp the university system in Texas makes no sense:

It would come as news to many Texans that UT and A&M are in need of dramatic reforms. Both are members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), the nation’s most exclusive academic club, where membership is reserved for Tier One research institutions. In a recent U.S. News & World Report list of the best American universities, UT ranked forty-fifth (very high for a public university) and A&M sixty-third. If one applies the normal measures, these two schools rank among the best in the nation, public or private. But this has not slowed down the drive to implement reforms at A&M, nor will it save UT.


I am so angry right now.  It’s like the Republicans are looking at my (albeit rather cushy) life and trying to figure out how to hurt it the most:

  • Take away bodily autonomy for women: CHECK!
  • Take away services for children: CHECK!
  • Lay off lots and lots grade school teachers and staff, and close exemplary schools: CHECK!
  • Destroy universities by degrading the importance of research and upping the importance of student evals: CHECK!

AAHHHH!!!!  What’s next? Outlaw people from having long-haired blue-eyed cats?  Cause that one would really hurt (I love you, Roly Poly!).

While there are MAJOR problems with tuition increases in the last decade (coupled now with less federal money for student loans), one of the awesome things about Texas is that you can attend multiple universities that are incredible (INCREDIBLE) for much less than you would ever need in order to pay for private higher education.

Somehow even that is now being attacked.


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