The provocative title above preceded both a YES and NO answer. Jane S. Shaw of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy provided the NO answer, and a couple of points presented by her really scrolled my nerd. Ms. Shaw is one of those people who don't seem to know anything about higher education, but that doesn't stop them from criticizing what we do. Firstly, she serves up the familiar and tiresome caricature of "many faculty would rather do scholarship than teach" charge, and of course, for some of my colleagues this is true. But she then dismisses such scholarship as a great academic waste of time. One of our state legislators once asked me "Fine, fine, but for the life of me, I can't figure out how anyone working at one of our Lincolnland universities can justify spending their time studying rain forest in central America." Much to the consternation of the administrative dweeb showing them around, the Phactor, standing right their in the door to the greenhouse, chose to answer. It's simple really. 1. Biology doesn't pay any attention to political boundaries; there isn't a biology of Lincolnland, it's all one. 2. Research isn't easy to do, and to remain motivated to exert such physical and intellectual energies the topic has to be something of great interest to me. But the actual topic doesn't matter as long as the research is biologically meaningful and of a high quality. The reason we do science, and other scholarly endeavors, is that a very important part of our job is to teach students how to learn; to do science rather than learn about science. So students must apprentice with scientists and what kind of this-is-how-you-do-science teacher would I be if I didn't do science? Would you hire a swimming coach who didn't know how to swim? So the actual subject matters little, but we have to be scholars to show students what it's like. And how can someone who understands so little about higher education think themselves capable of suggesting how it should be run? Well, Jane? You miss the whole point of higher ed but feel perfectly OK justifying our economic sacrifices.
Second, the other main thrust of her opinion piece was that fiscally colleges are "coddled, complacent and resistant to cost control" and whenever budgets get tight colleges just raise tuition. In fact our tuition has gone up faster than the cost of living over these past 20 years, but during that period of time the state legislature has cut their percent of support from 64% to less than 23%, and when you factor in the withdrawal of support, the real costs of running the university, including all kinds of unfunded state mandates, are way behind the cost of living. Certainly our salaries haven't kept pace with inflation so we slowly watch our standard of living erode. The Phactor feels so coddled. Members of our foundation board asked me if my salary, an over 30 year full professor, could possibly be less than $100,000? It made me laugh!
But what do you expect from Jane, the president of the Pope Center? Here's their mission:
• Increase the diversity of ideas taught, debated, and discussed on campus;
• Encourage respect for the institutions that underlie economic prosperity and freedom of action and conscience;
• Increase the quality of teaching and students' commitment to learning so that they graduate with strong literacy and fundamental knowledge;
• Encourage cost-effective administration and governance.
Ah, yes, all the right wing what's wrong with higher education buzz issues. In other words, let's run higher education like a business where us subordinates (faculty) are told what to do rather than be given any say in the running of the institution. Forget that colleges exist because faculty hired administrators in the first place so that we could concentrate on academics. Now the college consists of bricks & mortar and the administrations; the rest of us are employees or customers. And Jane wants to know why so many students are doing so poorly? Doesn't she know that the customer is always right? Parents and administrators constantly intercede on behalf of students rather than letting us hold their feet to the fire. Only wish that people like Jane really knew what was going on rather than making it up and cherry picking information based on conservative ideology, which she might learn if she had done some real scholarship, isn't a valid method.
Bioplastic from weaver's broom
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