Texas Professors’ Morale Problem

As problems with higher education go, this is maybe not the most serious concern but, according to an article by Reeve Hamilton in the Texas Tribune:

There has been much hand-wringing across Texas about changes being considered at the state’s flagship four-year institutions in response to a public perception that college and university faculty need to be more productive. Tuition at public institutions around the state has risen, and students are amassing significant debt. Yet graduation rates in the state remain low, causing some students, parents and the politicians who represent them — and control the state’s higher ed funding — to wonder if they’re getting their money’s worth from the faculty.

“Somebody’s just got to work harder,” Texas A&M University System regent Phil Adams said to a group of faculty at a meeting in May.

That sentiment has also been driving controversial policies at other higher education institutions, including community colleges, that have largely gone overlooked. Some worry that they changes are creating a significant statewide faculty morale problem with potentially serious consequences.

Various state colleges are now implementing procedures to keep faculty working hard. One college now has a policy to prevent tenured professors from “loitering and loafing during work hours.”

Mary Aldridge Dean, executive director of the Texas Faculty Association, wondered how a college could know “it’s loafing and not thinking?” Other colleges are cutting faculty pay and forcing professors to teach more students.

This recent push comes along with Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s recent drive to reform colleges to focus more on productivity, outputs, and practicality.

Some of this makes sense, but, as the article points out, many faculty object to such moves.

As professors are called on to teach more classes with more students, [University of Texas at Brownsville emeritus professor Renee Rubin] said, they have to give simpler assignments with less personalized assessment. As they are asked to get more of those students through the system faster, some faculty worry about declining quality and rigor.

Well no wonder there’s a morale problem. While some argue that Gov. Perry’s proposed reforms actually might help higher education, in fact his rapport with state college faculty sort of resembles an abusive relationship; if you treat someone like he doesn’t matter, eventually he starts to feel like he doesn’t matter.

Many worry such reforms will cause Texas professors to leave the state for institutions where they’re likely to be treated better. That probably wouldn’t improve education in the Lone Star State.

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