College Guide

July 8, 2011 02:59 PM

Texas Professors Object to Governor’s Reform Plans

by Daniel Luzer

Higher education reforms proposed by Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry are awful, say a group of Texas professors. According to an Associated Press piece in the Houston Chronicle:

Urging against treating Texas college students like customers “shopping on iTunes or visiting Banana Republic,” a top University of Texas at Austin administrator Wednesday blasted proposed higher education reforms broadly endorsed by Gov. Rick Perry but opposed by faculty statewide.
The report by Robert Diehl, dean of UT’s College of Liberal Arts, is the strongest defense yet by the state’s largest university against the so-called “Seven breakthrough Solutions.” The proposals, created by the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation, have stirred ongoing unrest on Texas campuses since last year.

The seven solutions include “dividing the costs of professors’ salaries and benefits by the number of students they teach,” “paying teaching faculty based on number of students taught with bonuses based on student satisfaction,” and using state funds now allocated to colleges… “for scholarships… students can use at public and some private universities.”

I’ve said before that so many of Texas’ higher education reform plans really just seem like half-baked complaints about academia and business-friendly buzz words but here’s a much more sophisticated point. This is just not the way universities ought to operate, say professors.

According to their report:

The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) think tank and some state leaders are advocating a business-style, market-driven approach under which colleges and universities would treat students as customers, de-emphasize research that isn’t immediately lucrative, and evaluate individual faculty by the tuition revenue they generate. Advocates of these proposals see them as a necessary response to the rising cost of higher education, a cure for a system they suggest is inefficient and inaccessible.
The TPPF proposals seek to approach complex issues with “simple tools” or “one-size-fits-all” solutions. If implemented, they will likely lead to structural changes in higher education that will leave Texas lagging behind other states and drive top students and faculty away.

Perry spokesman Mark Miner responded to the academics’ report: “We all have an obligation to meet the needs of Texas students, employers, taxpayers and our fast-growing economy. Resisting reform and accountability is an unsustainable recipe for mediocrity and stagnation.”

Well okay, but that doesn’t mean the reforms you guys proposed are any good. The professors aren’t resisting improvement in general; they’re just resisting the reform plans proposed by one Texas conservative think tank.

If the state is really interested in “meeting the needs of our fast-growing economy” maybe it should consider funding higher education a little more generously.

In January the governor proposed cutting the higher education budget by $1.7 billion. Resisting that kind of “reform” makes a lot of sense for state colleges.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

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