Florida Contemplates a Bad Idea

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Florida Governor Rick Scott has apparently now fallen under the spell of Texas Governor Rick Perry and his half-baked plans to “revolutionize” academia by rewarding schools for things like how many undergraduates professors teach.

According to a piece by Lilly Rockwell at WCTV News:

Scott has begun discreetly promoting the same changes to the higher education system that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has championed. The proposals include some of the same reforms pushed by conservatives in K-12 schools: merit pay for professors, tenure reform, and generally a much greater emphasis on measurement of whether professors are turning out students that meet certain goals.

Scott [said]… that he has discussed the Texas reforms with his appointees to university and college governing boards in an effort to line up support for a nascent campaign to dramatically change how universities and colleges are funded, overhaul professor tenure, emphasize teaching over research, and give students more influence.

There seem to be few people outside of the Texas business community who think Perry’s plans will improve the intellectual capacities of the Lone Star State, or even really save much money.

As Texas professors protested last month, Perry and friends are:

…advocating a business-style, market-driven approach under which colleges and universities would treat students as customers, de-emphasize research that isn’t immediately lucrative, and evaluate individual faculty by the tuition revenue they generate. Advocates of these proposals see them as a necessary response to the rising cost of higher education, a cure for a system they suggest is inefficient and inaccessible.

The… proposals seek to approach complex issues with “simple tools” or “one-size-fits-all” solutions. If implemented, they will likely lead to structural changes in higher education that will leave Texas lagging behind other states and drive top students and faculty away.

Scott maintains that his (or Perry’s) reform plans are all just about ensuring solid accountability, explaining that

One of the things I really like about what [Perry] has in there is the fact that we should be measuring our professors, Scott said in an interview…. I believe students ought to be measuring the effectiveness of our professors because ultimately, it is the family’s money paying for this.

This seems to be based on the erroneous idea that currently professors at public universities are living in some sort of intellectual paradise where colleges just throw unlimited money at them with no expectations of performance. It just doesn’t work like this.

In fact, professors face extensive performance reviews. In order to achieve tenure professors have to publish often, generate research money, serve on university committees and, yes, teach. Course evaluations are part of how colleges rate academic quality.

The satisfaction of their students is a very small part of this measure because, well, the satisfaction of students isn’t really that important.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer