Thursday, September 02, 2010

Elsewhere In Academia

The Texas A&M system is about to introduce a radically new way to rank professors.
A several-inches thick document in the possession of A&M System officials contains three key pieces of information for every single faculty member in the 11-university system: their salary, how much external research funding they received and how much money they generated from teaching.

The information will allow officials to add the funds generated by a faculty member for teaching and research and subtract that sum from the faculty member's salary. When the document -- essentially a profit-loss statement for faculty members -- is complete, officials hope it will become an effective, lasting tool to help with informed decision-making.

"If you look at what people are saying out there -- first of all, they want accountability," [Frank] Ashley [,the vice chancellor for academic affairs for the A&M System,] said. "It's something that we're really not used to in higher education: For someone questioning whether we're working hard, whether our students are learning. That accountability is going to be with us from now on."
This does not begin to measure if students are learning, in fact, it should result in a system in which students are guaranteed to learn less.

Does anyone think that hiring a shitload of contingent faculty, paying them a pittance and putting them in front of several hundred students is the best way to teach students? Because that obviously dumb approach would undoubtedly lead to  a very favorable outcome on this metric and therefore is one likely end  result of the use of this metric, particularly in the humanities where the opportunities for large outside grants is severely limited. 

In the sciences and engineering, one might expect that faculty will be encouraged to seek out industry funding which may do little if anything to push back the frontiers of knowledge. This could be particularly problematic in the medical school, where conflict of interest arising out of pharma research is a growing national problem. This metric induces the wrong incentives all around.

This is not the first boneheaded idea introduced at the Texas A&M system recently.
[A]wards of between $2,500 and $10,000 to faculty members based on
anonymous student evaluations... was implemented at Texas
A&M University [in the fall of 2008] and has been expanded to all
A&M System campuses.

Can you say grade inflation?

This is Texas, which has been screwing up education for year through the Texas State Board of Education's textbook standards, so there should be no surprise that the dumb is seeping into the Texas higher ed community. By the way, both of these ideas come from a list of seven proposal introduced by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, which shares a board member with the Texas A&M board regents, Phil Adams who is also a major contributor to the Governor Rick Perry's reelection campaign. The good news is, that unlike the situation with the textbooks  which impact textbooks nationwide because of the size of the Texas market forces textbook publishers to write their books to accomodate Texas, there is no natural mechanism for this to spread outside of the Lone Star state. Nonetheless, there may be pressure from the rightwing business community for other state's to adopt these ideas. Hence vigilance is required.