Friday, March 27, 2009

13 reasons why Higher Ed is a mess

I came across this article on the Chronicle of Higher Ed recently. It was an interesting read. I can't really speak to the financial information they give because I am not involved in that area of university management. I did however have a couple of comments on other topics...

Millions of workers have lost their jobs in recent months. But tenured professors are hard to fire. And some powerful faculty unions have resisted when colleges asked their members to teach more classes, despite what seemed like reasonable requests.

The faculty union at Kean University, for example, balked last year when administrators tried to require professors to teach on Fridays and some Saturdays. The public university, located in New Jersey, was facing a $4.5-million cut in the state's contribution and was trying to get more use out of classroom buildings.

Faculty members considered the proposal an assault on their autonomy and a retaliation for a previous squabble with administrators. Since then Kean has postponed several construction projects and raised in-state tuition by about 8 percent.

I think that this is a fundamental mismatch between what faculty are expected to do, and what they were asked to do in this situation. The culture in higher education promotes research and it places less emphasis on teaching. This is why the whole publish or perish conundrum exists. If a faculty member does not publish, they don't get to stick around and get tenure.

Even after faculty get tenure, their merit pay, and overall increases in salary are gauged by how much they publish. Yes good classroom evaluations are weighed in too, but research and publishing is where the minds and hearts of the faculty are. By asking them to take on greater courseloads, and/or come in on weekends to get greater utilization of physical facilities, you are impeding their ability to publish. For some it's a money issue, for others it's an ego issue. You can't foster one type of culture for a long period of time and then expect people to pull a U-turn on demand!

This is why I favor teaching faculty and research faculty. Research faculty would be people who get tenure, and get job evaluations based on the research they do, and less on their teaching. So the ratio of research to teaching would be 70/30 or 80/20. Teaching faculty would be the opposite. Their main purpose to would be to teach, so they could take on a greater courseload each semester, and they can choose to research if they want to. In this scenario people could work in pairs or groups. Research faculty could pair up with teaching faculty to help out with the research, and then that research can get translated down to the classroom level for the benefit of the students.

More colleges are finally waking up to a well-known reality: Politics is the art of compromise. The University of Arizona hopes to appease state lawmakers by consolidating more than a dozen colleges and eliminating dozens of majors that produce few graduates. The university has also assembled a team of economists and policy experts to present budget alternatives to lawmakers.

Consolidation of Colleges of fine by me. Elimination of majors is not! I can understand that if you consolidate ten colleges, and each one has a Political Science major, but only five have enough graduates, then you can eliminate the political science majors in the five colleges that don't have enough graduates and then encourage people at those colleges to attend classes at colleges that have political science either face to face or online. Your institution can still offer those majors (after all, you did consolidate!), you just don't have that facility on your local campus.

So that's my 2 cents on this article.

Thoughts? Comments?
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