Perhaps the Texas governor is so hostile to higher learning because he wasn’t very successful during his actual time as a college student (reportedly graduating with a 2.5 grade point average) or perhaps it’s just because Texas academia is so hostile to him in general, but for some reason he’s really eager to micromanage the state colleges.
His latest reform efforts involve trying to implement the suggestions of a conservative think tank, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and save money by encouraging professors at Texas state colleges to teach more students and give greater weight to “student satisfaction.” Actual people involved in higher education, understandably, object to these reform plans, calling them simplistic and destructive.
But Perry doesn’t care. According to an article by Karen Tumulty in the Washington Post:
Internal documents recently obtained by Texas news organizations under the state’s open-records law suggest that Perry’s staff was eager to see them not only debated but implemented.
In December 2008, for instance, Perry aide Marisha Negovetich e-mailed university regents and chancellors: “The Governor is anxious to put together a cohesive plan of action .â€‰.â€‰. and also learn from you what progress you have made to move these reforms forward.”
In February 2009, Perry’s staff reminded them: “The Governor is anxious to learn what progress you have made to move these reforms ahead.” While this has been going on behind the scenes, Perry has launched a public broadside on college costs. “A bold, Texas-style solution,” the governor declared this year in an address to the legislature.
But the fact that it’s a bold, Texas-style solution doesn’t actually mean the proposed solution is any damn good. “While he has good political instincts, the solutions are too simplistic,” explained one Republican Texas legislator to Tumulty. “It’s easy to find the red meat and to find the weakness — whether it’s in the federal government, or in higher education being too fat — but his policy solutions aren’t thought through well enough before they get launched.”
In fact, as far as I can tell no one else has ever convincingly argued that making professors more accountable to student satisfaction would improve education, or even save money. And his plan to measure productively by the number of students professors teach ignores the fact that lecture classes at state schools in Texas already have hundreds of students.
There’s something very weird about all of this. If one takes Perry on his word, however, he just wants to give the people of Texas an affordable degree, no matter how it happens. “There were not ‘one size fits all’ solutions, Perry said back in 2008. “The proposals could be modified by different institutions.”
Or even rejected, but at least that might be institutions of higher learning talking about ways to make college cheaper for students.