Rick Perry as higher-ed visionary

Rick Perry Is A Higher-Education Visionary. Seriously. So argues Kevin Carey in The New Republic.

The Texas governor is urging university leaders to implement “Seven Breakthrough Solutions for reforming higher education developed by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Taken together, the seven solutions are remarkably student-friendly. Four of them focus on improving the quality of university teaching by developing new methods of evaluating teaching performance, tying tenure to success in the classroom, separating the teaching and research functions within university budgets, and using teaching budgets to reward professors who excel at helping students learn. The fifth solution would give prospective students choosing colleges more information about things like class size, graduation rates, and earnings in the job market after graduation. The sixth would make state higher education subsidies more student-focused, and the seventh would shift university accreditation toward measures of academic outcomes.

University teaching is often terrible, writes Carey.  Many students learn very little, the Academically Adrift study found.

Some professors don’t do much teaching or research.  “At UT-Austin, one group of 1,748 mostly-tenured professors, representing 44 percent of the faculty, generated 54 percent of institutional costs, taught only 27 percent of students, and brought in no external research funding whatsoever.”

Nearly all Texas Democrats have denounced Perry’s plans, Carey writes.

The left-learning Texas Monthly declared that “Rick Perry is waging an undeclared war on higher education.”

. . . The problems that Perry is trying to solve — bad teaching, unaccountable public institutions, soaring college costs — disproportionately hurt the first generation, low-income, and minority students that liberals should be most interested in helping. His call to disrupt traditional business models with low-cost, technology-driven alternatives reflects the ethos of the netroots movement that has come to dominate progressive politics. Yet one Firedoglake writer opined that Perry was “casually sacrificing the human pursuit of knowledge to the gods of a craven capitalism.”

Research universities “are established, wealthy, powerful, and determined to stay that way,” Carey writes. “Progressives tend to be enthusiastic about sticking it to every available Man other than the one who conferred their prized college degree.”

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  1. The article seems a bit incoherent, switching from “some college professors aren’t good teachers” (well, yeah…) to “a lot of college professors aren’t puling their weight outside of the classroom, publishing scholarly works or bringing in grant money.” In your experience, were the teachers who were prolific in the production of scholarly works, or who were really good at getting grant money for their projects, the best teachers in the classroom?

    Also, is there an age at which we can stop complaining, “That teacher isn’t effective enough” and make the student responsible for doing the course work and reading? I had a number of brilliant professors in law school who were inept, boring teachers; it might have been easier to learn the material from a professor who was more effective in the classroom, but we were responsible for learning it anyway – so we did.

    You can press colleges to hire “better teachers”, but the price will be that the quality of scholarly publications and the inflow of grant money declines. Or you can ask a university to seek the most brilliant scholars and researchers, resulting in increased scholarly work, increased grant money, and a sharply higher number of professors who aren’t good classroom instructors, hate teaching undergrads, have odd personality quirks, etc.

    At a certain point you have to decide if an undergraduate college should be a slightly harder version of high school, or if it should be a place for serious scholarship. The tension which I think you implicitly identify, and which is reflected in the article’s incoherence, is that many people seem to want colleges to be both – places where diligent teachers will hand-hold even the worst of students through an undergraduate curriculum while simultaneously producing top quality scholarship. Oh yes – and they want that for cheap.