The Washington Post has a story (“UC-Berkeley and other ‘public Ivies’ in fiscal peril“) about the financial struggles of Berkeley. The problems there probably sound familiar to faculty around the county:
Classes grow perceptibly larger each year. Roofs leak; e-mail crashes. One employee mows the entire campus. Wastebaskets are emptied once a week. Some professors lack telephones.
State governments are reaching the point where they may be more liability than asset for some schools. State governments provide a smaller and smaller portion of schools budgets while imposing expensive bureaucratic rules. Without leadership at the state level higher education will become the next part of America’s infrastructure to fall into disrepair.
I spend a lot of time traveling and I see a lot of families on vacation and can not help but notice some of the kids running around. They miss the elevator because they get distracted. They can’t figure out the juice dispenser in the breakfast room. There were kids who could not stay focused on even the shortest presentation at the Alamo. The Zits comic strip is popular with parents (like myself) for a reason.
Try to understand: The kid that you struggle to manage come into classrooms… in large numbers. The kid you can’t get to carry out the trash does not want to learn math. Maybe the kids you can’t get to take you seriously doesn’t take that standardized test seriously.
We shouldn’t automatically blame students’ inability to learn math on their teachers and should avoid “success-based” funding that puts the blame the universities when students do not graduate on time.
A story in Inside Higher Education “Buying the Professor a BMW” looks at wether or not faculty are getting richer off those higher tuition bills.
Answer: It’s complicated, but not so much
Jeff Selingo has a very interesting blog posting (“Wanted: Better Employees“) on responsibility for problems with college grads. I was delighted to see someone note that there is plenty of blame to go around.
Seligno quotes one business recruiter who said, “We’re encouraging students to go to college who should be considering other options, and then we’re pushing them through once there.” Those of us who teach in Texas know that’s exactly the pressure we face. Every day some elected official or poorly informed special interest group tells us to graduate more students quickly and cheaply (while spending other days telling high schools that their graduates are not ready for college).
Fixing higher education in Texas will take some thoughtful analysis. The state’s political leaders are too invested in partisanship and dodging responsibility to lead. That means the responsibility for real reform will be on universities.
The Congressional ban on earmarks has hit universities in pocketbook. There’s a good story in The Hill (“Earmark ban a strain on higher ed – TheHill.com“) that explains why some schools want earmarking back in Congress.
Inside Higher Ed has a report (“At the White House Roundtable“) from the President’s meeting with College presidents about college affordability. The article suggests that the White House is about to focus on college costs and the meeting may provide some hints about their priorities.
The need tenure is often a rather abstract debate about hypotheticals. Fortunately, one brave member of the Texas House has stepped forward so that I don’t have to dream up some crazy scenario about why we need tenure in Texas. Representative Leo Berman (Tyler) attacked Professor David Hillis who had criticized including the Institute for Creation Research as a charitable organization in the official State Employee Charitable Campaign. The recommended penalty for Hillis’ dissent, according to the Quorum Report, losing tenure (Texas current does not have re-education camps):
“If I were Chancellor, I would fire him for trying to deny individuals of their first amendment rights. As a legislator, I think removing tenure if he has tenure and putting him back to work, would be the best thing the state can do.”
Firing people who disagree with you seems to be an odd way of promoting the First Amendment.
Protecting faculty members from political retaliation is essential part of protecting the integrity of education in Texas (and the First Amendment). Faculty members in science should be held to the standards of science and not those of political correctness. Berman’s overreaction to Hillis demonstrates that academic freedom needs the protection of tenure now more than ever.