Those Terrible Texans

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting on the latest brouhaha from Texas:

Faculty members and administrators in Texas are speaking out about a recent state law that requires them to post specific, detailed information about their classroom assignments, curricula vitae, department budgets, and the results of student evaluations.

A conservative group whose administrators have close ties to Gov. Rick Perry lobbied for the law, saying it offers important “consumer protection.” Opponents counter that it has created an expensive and time-consuming burden and offers little benefit to the public.

It might also be noted that, amazingly enough, “lawmakers did not consult with faculty governance groups when formulating the legislation.”  Now there is a shocker: legislators not respecting faculty governance.  Question: does anyone who is not a faculty member respect faculty governance, anywhere?

So, what should we think about this?  As usual, I have many options for you:

  1. Transparency in government is a good thing, no?
  2. This is just conservatives poking pointy-headed academics for electoral gains, like drunk hunters shooting the deer at their salt lick.
  3. Given the leftist excesses of the professoriate, this is a means of the public better monitoring those academics who get paid by the state’s citizens but so seldom share the citizens’ values.  This would be silly argument, but for the fact that the professoriate really is incredibly out of sync with the political values of the electorate (even in Texas).
  4. The general public has no ideas how universities function or what professors really do with their time (they only teach two hours a week and get their summers off—I wish!).  Legislators are little different.  This is just another case of a legislature sticking its nose into something it doesn’t understand well enough, ending up imposing unnecessary costs (another case of government failure).  No serious person really thinks this is going to increase value to students, do they?
  5. Most of this stuff sounds like things most universities are already doing on their own anyway.  My department has had vitas and syllabi on line for years.  Isn’t regulating an activity that is already doing pretty well a waste, from any perspective?
  6. Though I’m a fan of markets and the valuable information market signals provide, as an professor I’m very wary of adopting wholesale the consumer model of education, where our job is to provide services that students either buy or don’t, given their preferences.   If students knew what they really needed to know, they wouldn’t need to be at the university anyway.  Indeed, many of them think that they actually don’t need to be there, that they are being forced to jump through hoops to get a credential, and we should make their jumping easier for them.   I’d prefer to not give this brand of student any more ammunition than we already do.
  7. At a more fundamental level, why are states running universities anyway?  One could possibly make a utilitarian or even a libertarian argument for a state promoting and even subsidizing education, but I can’t think of a reasonable argument for the state actually running universities (or any other school for that matter).

As FoxNews says, “We report. You decide.”

3 thoughts on “Those Terrible Texans

  1. Sven, it seems to me that, noxious though this is, (we) academics have this coming, to the extent that that (we) academics been agitating for the politicization of higher education. That’s been going on at least since the GI Bill. Now we’re paying the piper, but it’s hardly unreasonable to expect the people writing the checks to call the shots. True, many are clueless about the conduct of higher education, but that’s a reason not to subject higher education to the tender mercies of political decision-making. It’s a bit late once you decide you don’t like the decisions they make.

  2. I’m also a university “insider.” Professors at state-supported (more accurately, state-subsidized) institutions are state employees. Our evaluation and retention should be matters of public record. However, a single metric like student evals is unreliable. Student evals are the equivalent of suggestion boxes at most public agencies. Who takes the time to fill these things out? How representative are they of public opinion? How relevant is this sort of feedback to actual performance?

    As far as professors being out of step with their customers–politics aside, the very basis of our employment is that we hold views and steward information/concepts/methodologies as yet unmastered by our prospective customers. We are educators. The “politics” card can easily function like the “race” card. No wisdom lies in this direction.

    1. Andy, I think I am in basic agreement with you. I think college professors largely are in the business not just of providing a good, but of providing a good of which its consumers (in one sense, not necessarily buyers) (i) may not be capable of appreciating the value and thus (ii) likely cannot discriminate between useful and useless products. It’s that bind that frustrates these misguided attempts to assure educational quality. Anybody engaged in the process of providing those goods, though, realizes that to the extent these measures are not a joke, they are simply wastes of the valuable time of those they burden. They serve no useful purpose at all.

      My point is that that fact cannot be disconnected from choices about how to fund the provision of those goods. If you think higher education should be publicly provided and funded, you are choosing to have the decision making about these very issues made through political institutions that notoriously are inefficient, subject to regulatory capture, and subject to all the distortions that public choice theory tells us they are subject to. You should not expect that they will stably respond to real reasons for having educational policies of one sort rather than another, that is reasons grounded in the real value of the knowledge of scholars and the educating those students. Those values are controversial, and subject to a wide range of views about where value exists and where it does not. Those are precisely the conditions which markets suit ideally. It’s the transition from thinking that, if knowledge is good, you should put your money where you mouth is, to thinking that, if education is good, you should put other people’s money where your mouth is, that creates the bind Texas educators now find themselves in.

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