I generally try not to be to political neutral on this blog. Partisanship does not have much to do with higher education. Academics are much more interested fights based on differences in methodology, theory, department, or the differences between faculty and administrators.
However, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) has become a distraction in the higher education debate and Rick Perry’s alliance with them means that they could continue to push some really bad ideas.
Let’s start the story with Rick Perry on the campaign trail where he said that researchers have “maninupulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.”
My question today is: Why would Rick Perry believe that scholars would lie to get more money.
Maybe the answer springs from his relationship with TPPF.
Read the commentary in the Houston Chronicle (“Poor management hurts college completion rates“) written by Ronald Trowbridge, a senior fellow at the TPPF. Ask yourself: “What grade would this earn on a research paper assignment in an undergraduate class.”
His argument is that administrators should assign professors (rather than graduate students) to teach more freshman courses. This is to done in order to increase student success (graduation rates).
His evidence? Two sets of facts:
- Graduation rates are highest at the University of Texas and Texas A&M.
- Teaching loads are lowest the University of Texas and Texas A&M.
Trowbridge’s evidence contradicts his argument. The most successful schools do exactly what he says they should not.
He does throw in a quotation about how courses are taught at Harvard. I think the teaching load is pretty low at Harvard and the faculty does a lot of research. Trowbridge might want to look into that.
There is other research that should be done. However, Trowbridge is so committed to the idea of de-emphasizing the role of research at universities that he apparently refuses to do research on universities.
Trowbridge and the TPPF conveniently ignore the existence of other schools in Texas. Texas currently has just over 100 state-funded institutions involved in higher education. This includes 35 public universities, 50 public community college districts, 2 independent junior colleges, 7 public technical and state colleges, 9 public health-related institutions, and 1 independent health-related institution. Trowbridge suggests that most of these schools have the same teaching loads as UT, A&M, and the University of Houston. They do not.
If higher teaching loads are the answer, Trowbridge should at least acknowledge that many schools are already doing exactly what he prescribes. Why doesn’t he look at the data from these schools? He is either lazy or worried (correctly so) that looking at the graduation rates elsewhere will wreck his arguments. They might also cast doubts on all the claims about progress in Texas public schools coming from the state’s political leaders. After all, a new report shows that the majority of Texas high school graduates are not ready for college. TPPF just as easily could look at these numbers and give the state’s universities credit for getting these students back on track.
So, what grade would Trowbridge get from you if his commentary was a research paper? Maybe not so good.
Back to where our story began. Why would Rick Perry think that researchers make up results in order to keep money rolling in? Maybe he knows some people that do.