, , , , , ,

Governor Rick Perry of Texas, who according to some polls is the leading Republican candidate for the nomination to President of the United States, and an Aggie, points to what he says is the success he created in Texas at attracting new industry and the jobs that go with it.

This is reminiscent of George W Bush’s Texas Miracle, his contention, discredited by subsequent studies, that his educational policies created a better education for Texans.

Look at Perry’s claim when you compare it to the total supply of jobs:

Forbes Magazine gave Rick Perry credit for the creation of new jobs and highlighted some research on the key factor in Texas success. “According to research conducted by the Praxis Strategy group, Texas has boosted mid-skill jobs — those that require two years or more of post-secondary education — by 16% in the past decade, That’s the third-highest rate in the nation (after much smaller Wyoming and Utah) and three times the national average.”

Mid-skill jobs exist only because “top-skilled” jobs demand it. Without a steady supply of advanced degree recipients, engineers and medical research staff for example, the mid-skill jobs would not exist. Forbes did not quote all of what Praxis had to say. Here from their web site is the reason for this economic expansion.

“Engaged Universities and colleges play a vital role in the economic competitiveness and quality of life in any region – promoting innovation, stimulating creativity and building the skills of the work force. These are key elements of success in today’s global economy, accentuating the need for education to build stronger and closer partnerships with business and government.”

Meanwhile Perry has been busy trying to kill the goose that laid his golden egg. Under Perry’s leadership Texas has been debating how to save money in higher education, beyond the cuts instituted already.

One idea is to link professorial pay to how many students instructors teach and how much research money they bring in. It’s been suggested that instructors would get annual bonuses (some have proposed $10,000 a class) if they rated highly on student satisfaction surveys. The Austin Statesman reports that under his plan even the assignment of faculty offices and parking spaces would be based on their performance in student satisfaction surveys.

The ideas come from a Republican “think-tank” called Texas Public Policy. They call their brainstorm The 7 Breakthrough Solutions (see http://texashighered.com/7-solutions). It’s more like the seven suicide methods.  If adopted they are sure to kill the quality of instruction taking place at Universities.

Hopefully universities will see ways they can survive by engineering around the “solutions”, in which case these solutions will end up being nothing more than a distraction in the face of other serious issues. These “solutions” exemplify the kind of thinking that is grounded on a total lack of knowledge of how universities work. It highlights the reason why universities must function independently and autonomously if they are to achieve high quality. Universities have been around for a thousand years and they have evolved into the current form of shared decision-making, after centuries of change and improvement.

Universities could be more productive, but the micro-managing of legislatures and governors will not do it. We have discussed many different ways to increasing productivity and there’s evidence, for example, that a suggestion we often repeated of scheduling for 3-year baccalaureates by using summers more productively, is being adopted by over 125 campuses this Fall, up from 12 campuses the year before.

No faculty in my campus has an assigned parking space, we call our parking permit a “hunting license,” and my office, after 38 years of being an academic now has windows.  But, as a professor who has not received a salary increase in 4 years, I could use an extra $10,000 per class and I know how to get it if this policy recommendation becomes the law of the land in a Perry presidency.

Student evaluations of faculty teaching are done using a paper and pencil instrument that has the student rate the professor in several areas. Some of the questions assume knowledge the student does not have, such as “how much did you learn on this course”, we know for a fact that if they knew nothing, they say they learned more than if they knew a great deal, so this is a measure of how much the student already knew.

Another question “how much does the professor know about the subject of this course” should only be answered by another professor in the same field. The student can only guess. But more significantly, the overall score a student gives is highly correlated with the grade they expect to get on the course, a question also asked the student. The higher the grade expectation, the better the professor evaluates. If I wanted the $10,000 I would tell all my students at the beginning of the course that they will all get an A and remind them just before they complete the survey.

Let me make a suggestion to legislators everywhere from my own experience. I post my student evaluations on my web site so that new students can know what previous students thought of my teaching and I invite legislators to mandate that as a consumer information measure.

See http://llanes.auburn.edu/3000Spring2010.pdf for an example of the instrument used and what 25 students thought about the course they were taking from me last year.  I also give my students a mid-semester questionnaire on how I can improve the course. All classes are different and each express different opinions in these questionnaires that’s why I do it mid-semester while I still have time to change my approach if necessary. (See http://llanes.auburn.edu/SO3000.html )

Students who want from me as a teacher the things other students say I’m good at will take my course, others will not. In an environment where the student is viewed as a customer, a little more information will go a long way.

Legislatures can also focus on “time to completion.” Providing funding incentives for students and universities that reduce this variable will save money for students and institutions and will provide a general economic benefit to the society as more graduates will be entering the workforce earlier.

But facts are less interesting than myths and the new Texas Miracle myth, I predict, will serve Perry as well as it served Bush.