Posted on: June 13th, 2011 by Mary Lee Grant No Comments
Texas A&M University and University of Texas regents are speaking out to the media about issues related to controversial higher education proposals.
Talking anonymously to the Bryan-College Station Eagle, A&M regents said that A&M System Chancellor Mike McKinney was indeed pushed out of his job, but that the reasons were more complicated than news reports would have people believe. Meanwhile, the Texas Tribune interviewed UT Regent Alex Cranberg, who told them even he wouldn’t like himself if everything he read in the media about himself were true.
Media have reported over the past several weeks that McKinney, who suddenly announced his resignation last month, left because of resistance to ideas about the Texas Public Policy foundation’s “seven breakthrough solutions” for higher education.
But A&M regents told the Eagle that the reasons for McKinney’s departure were more complicated and arose largely because of public relations gaffes, such as saying he threw a letter from the president of the Association of American Universities in the garbage.
“Mike’s a bull that brings his own china closet,” one regent said. “For a number of reasons of his own cause but also for many that he didn’t cause, his effectiveness has pretty much been compromised. He’s been mired in one controversy after another.”
But even though the seven breakthrough solutions may not have been the direct cause of McKinney’s resignation, some of his problems arose from the proposals, the Eagle reports. McKinney took heat for poor communication with faculty about the SLATE awards program, which gives money to faculty based on student evaluations, and the “Academic Financial Data Analysis,” a spreadsheet breaking out faculty members’ costs and revenue.
In the Tribune, Cranberg said the media has presented a caricature of him, and that those who have accused him of micromanaging the university system by asking for data on professors are wrong: “That’s not micromanagement” he said. “That’s just good analysis.”
He said he will continue to gather data, and his next request will be for information on faculty peer reviews.
Posted on: June 10th, 2011 by Mary Lee Grant No Comments
Controversial higher education reforms proposals by Gov. Rick Perry and conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation continue to command attention from media outlets.
The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed today by Ohio University economist Richard Vedder on the benefit, or lack thereof, of a college degree. Vedder, a senior TPPF fellow and founder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, claims there is a large disparity in faculty teaching loads, and that teaching loads need to be increased while less productive professors are dismissed. His WSJ editorial calls for “the faculty to teach, on average, about 150-160 students a year.”
“As college costs have risen wildly, the benefits of the degree seem less and less clear,” Vedder wrote. “Larger numbers of college graduates are taking relatively low-paying and low-skilled jobs. The good news? There are ways to greatly ease the burden and make college more affordable.”
However, in the Texas Tribune, a Texas A&M University political science professor blasts Vedder and CCAP’s analysis of faculty data for the University of Texas at Austin.
Joseph Daniel Ura writes, “They found that the top 20 percent of “faculty with respect to teaching loads teaches 57% of all student credit hours” while the bottom 20 percent teach “only 2% of all student credit hours.” Vedder says that UT could save a significant amount of money by increasing the average teaching loads of faculty and eliminating the least productive faculty members.”
Citing statistics, Ura counters:
“The CCAP report is technically accurate but substantively misleading. In particular, the CCAP provides a muddled picture of teaching at UT by describing the distribution of teaching duties for the university’s entire faculty together, lumping together data on full-time faculty with data on part-time faculty and data from graduate colleges and programs with data from colleges and programs that mainly serve undergraduates. As a result, the CCAP report creates a false impression of inequity in the assignment of teaching duties at UT and overstates the feasibility of reducing faculty costs without undermining the quality of UT’s academic programs.
“First, much of the skew in teaching duties observed by the CCAP report authors is simply a function of the fact that UT employs a large number of part-time faculty. Nearly a third (33 percent) of UT’s faculty are appointed at 50 percent effort or less. (The percentage of effort employed is defined as a “faculty member’s percent of time in relation to a full or normal workload, summed and averaged across … fall 2009 and spring 2010″ and reported in the UT data as “Average Percent Appointment.”) As one might expect, the part-time instructors and professors teach fewer students and credit hours, on average, than full-time faculty.”
Meanwhile, in the Austin American-Statesman, UT economics professor emeritus Forest Hill writes the sort of meddling Perry is doing in the state’s university system is nothing new, and that similar politically-driven agendas greatly damaged UT in the past:
“Some will remember the disruption forged by the conflict between the highly conservative regents appointed by Gov. W. Lee O’Daniel and UT President Homer P. Rainey. When U.S. Rep. Martin Dies, chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, charged that there were Communists on the UT faculty in 1941, I was one of the students called in. Rainey challenged the congressman to “put up or shut up.”
“Rainey had the overwhelming support of the students, faculty and ex-students. But this conflict became so daunting that he published a long list of complaints against the regents, who promptly fired him. The episode was so widely condemned throughout the academic world that it crippled the university’s reputation. Rebuilding efforts had finally been completed when I joined the faculty in 1960.”
And the Bryan-College Station Eagle reports that one of TPPF’s “seven solutions for higher education” has had only a lukewarm reception among A&M students. The idea of awarding faculty cash bonuses according to student evaluations has been heavily criticized by faculty, who say it will turn teaching into a popularity contest. According to the Eagle, A&M students aren’t really enthused about the awards.
A&M sophomore Ryan Howard told the Eagle that he only takes time to fill out the survey if he dislikes a professor. “I just feel like most of the students want to get out of there and don’t take it as seriously as they should,” he said. “I only took one seriously because I didn’t like the teacher.”
Posted on: June 2nd, 2011 by Patrick Brendel 1 Comment
The Bryan-College Station Eagle reports on a chicken-or-egg situation regarding Texas A&M University’s “Student Led Awards for Teaching Excellence,” and whether A&M based its controversial faculty teaching awards on a now-defunct program at the University of Oklahoma, or else on a proposal by the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Meanwhile, documents show that during Gov. Rick Perry’s now-infamous May 2008 higher education summit, regents were pitched the “seven solutions” at the same time they were given a copy of a proposal to implement “Teaching Excellence Awards” at OU.
Outgoing A&M System Chancellor Mike McKinney told the Eagle that he proposed the SLATE awards, based on a similar program at OU called the Alumni Teaching Award. Both gave cash awards to faculty based on anonymous student evaluations. OU’s award, first proposed around 2006/2007, was discontinued after two years due to lack of funds, according to the Eagle.
TPPF board member Jeff Sandefer’s father “Jakie” Sandefer, who is a prominent OU alumnus, is credited with bringing the short-lived teaching awards to his alma mater.
“It’s no secret that he introduced the concept here,” an OU business professor charged with implementing the program told the Eagle.
The OU program was instituted before Perry’s May 2008 higher ed summit. A&M began SLATE in fall 2008.
According to the Eagle:
“So it’s possible that the awards program at Texas A&M University — initially called SLATE, or Student Led Awards for Teaching Excellence — was conceived before the Texas Public Policy Foundation formalized its “solutions.”
“Regardless, before A&M, before Oklahoma, the idea came from Jeff Sandefer[...]“
The OU program is featured prominently in TPPF documents for Perry’s May 2008 higher ed summit. As backup information for “Breakthrough Solution #2,” there appears a proposal to implement the OU “Teaching Excellence Awards Pilot Program 2006-2007.”
According to the document, the proposed $360,000 pilot program for the business and engineering schools would be voluntary and funded through outside donations. The proposal includes tables breaking out “possible incentive effects” of implementing the awards and how to determine the amounts of awards for faculty.
“One of the most exciting possibilities of the Teaching Excellence Awards is how it could encourage teachers to improve their teaching effectiveness and teach more sections and students,” according to the proposal.
Right after the May 2008 summit, the Lone Star Report wrote an article on the event. According to LSR, “Regents spent a lot of time discussing an Oklahoma University pilot program to reward teaching excellence.”
Read “Breakthrough Solution #2″ and supporting documents, including the proposal for the OU program:
Posted on: May 23rd, 2011 by Mary Lee Grant 1 Comment
The editorial boards of the Bryan-College Station Eagle and San Antonio Express-News are taking on Gov. Rick Perry for meddling in the affairs of Texas A&M University, accusing him of harming the institution. The Eagle’s critique was particularly scathing, saying that Perry’s “obsession and interference in A&M” has caused “damage some observers feel could take a generation to undo.”
Citing the Dallas Morning News, the Express-News criticized Perry for forcing Chancellor Mike McKinney into early retirement: “Will the governor use this as an opportunity to put in place a “yes” man who he can control from Austin? We hope not. There needs to be an independent national search for a new chancellor for the A&M University System. An appointee with political ties to the governor could spell disaster on several fronts.”
Meanwhile, more than 700 A&M faculty members have signed an online letter delivered to Board of Regents Chairman Richard Box, asking regents to address how controversial reforms, backed by Perry and proposed by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, will help A&M. The professors requested that the issue be addressed at the board of regents meeting Thursday. In closed session, the group also will discuss replacing McKinney. Emails, along with anonymous sources who have spoken with McKinney, indicate he was pushed out for resisting some of the aforementioned proposals. Read more about the board of regents’ agenda for this week in the Eagle.
“From his appointment of regents with greater fealty to him than to the university system they are supposed to represent to his constant meddling in the day-to-day operations of the flagship university to his infatuation with the Texas Public Policy Foundation — an ultraconservative think tank that seeks to insinuate itself into every corner of state government — Perry has proven not to be a friend of A&M, but rather a hindrance. Never before has a governor of Texas had such deadly influence on a major state university, and Perry’s meddling blocks the way of A&M’s oft-stated efforts to achieve greatness.
At closer examination, the “breakthrough” solutions are an affront to A&M and all the other Texas universities that work hard to prepare our young people for the future. They should be rejected outright. Politicians such as Rick Perry should not be running our colleges and universities.
A college education is increasingly expensive, due in large part because politicians such as Perry have shirked their responsibility to provide adequate state support to our universities.
Perry has been in thrall to the Texas Public Policy Foundation and its backers since he began accepting generous contributions from them in his first statewide race. Texas cannot, however, be run by contribution and those most able to spend big bucks to help buy elections, no matter which side of the political spectrum they are on.”
This isn’t the first time that Perry’s been called on the carpet by the Eagle, the hometown newspaper for A&M’s flagship campus.
In its endorsement of Hutchison, the Eagle editorial board wrote:
“While most of [Perry's] appointees are well-qualified, many owe intense loyalty to Perry and not to the board or institution they serve. A prime example is Texas A&M University, where Perry’s meddling has left the university wounded and floundering. Its reputation in the academic community is in free-fall and it likely will take years to return to the stature it once enjoyed.”
In its endorsement of White, the Eagle editorial board wrote:
“Perry for the most part has ignored other Texas universities, preferring to focus — harmfully — on his alma mater, Texas A&M. He has packed the administration and the Board of Regents with political cronies to the detriment of the university. His meddling has brought faculty and staff morale to a low unseen in decades. Because of the governor’s interference, A&M’s reputation as a first-class university is eroding and there is grave danger that the school will be unable to attract the best faculty in the future. Why any Brazos County voter, why any loyal Aggie would vote for Rick Perry is beyond us.”
Posted on: May 19th, 2011 by Mary Lee Grant 1 Comment
Gov. Rick Perry’s office subverted the usual process for choosing Texas A&M University System student regents when he handpicked at young tea party activist, a move that attorneys say violated a state statute. In contrast, University of Texas System student regents have been selected through the traditional process spelled out in the law, a UT System spokesman said.
Marty Loudder, an associate dean at A&M’s Mays Business School was angered by what he viewed as the partisan nature of the appointment, according to the Bryan-College Station Eagle.
“How will our students believe in the process if they don’t believe it’s fair and open?” Loudder said in an interview with the Eagle. “This action points out that you don’t really have to follow the rules if you have connections.”
Student Regent-designate Fernando Trevino Jr., who begins his term in June, did not apply through the student government, as is traditional, but applied directly to Perry’s office. Perry’s office said there was no breach of ethics in the selection of the student, but lawyers said Perry violated a Texas Education Code statute that governs how student regents are selected, a violation which holds no penalty.
Perry’s appointments have been criticized for being highly political, especially at A&M, his alma mater, where most regents have donated money to his campaign fund. Chairman of the Board Richard Box is actually the governor’s campaign treasurer.
Student regents serve one-year terms on university system governing boards. This year, Perry has picked 11 students to serve on these boards throughout the state, the Eagle reports. By law, students first apply to the university’s student government. That group then forwards five names to the chancellor. He sends two or more names to the governor, who has the power to make a final selection.
All UT student regents have been chosen by the traditional process, according to Matt Flores, a spokesman for the UT System. Student regents have been appointed since 2006. The governor is not required to pick a finalist chosen by the chancellor, but the education code directs that he must appoint one of the applicants.
Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for the governor, said that although Perry encourages students to apply through the university system, many student regents have applied directly to the governor’s office in the past. But the lawyers said this open interpretation grossly misconstrued the statute.
An interpretation which allows the governor to freely choose student regents “serves primarily only the interest of the Governor, and supports their notion … that the Governor can do whatever he pleases in regard to appointing a student regent,” Gaines West, a College Station lawyer who has more than 30 years experience in higher education law and once served as associate general counsel of the A&M System, told the Eagle.
West said it’s not unusual that there is no penalty attached to the law, but that the governor should still take it seriously. It is common for the state Legislature to pass laws that don’t have sanctions attached to them, he said.
“This fact doesn’t mean though that the law can simply be ignored,” West said. “It just means … no readily apparent sanction will result if the statute is not followed. Other consequences can, however, flow from failing to follow the Legislature’s directive.”
Trevino, 20, is a conservative activist from Brownsville who helped start a tea party group in the Rio Grande Valley, as well as organizing a Republican club and working to elect conservative College Station City Council candidates.
He said he was told that going through the student government was the traditional manner of obtaining a regent position, but that it wasn’t required and that he was given the runaround by student government.
Konrad Johnson who was one of 13 students who applied for the position, was the only one forwarded to the governor, but Trevino was chosen over him.
“I put a lot of trust in the process,” the senior finance major told the Eagle. “When I found out what happened, I wasn’t upset, but a bit confused as to what had played out.”
Bob Strawser, former speaker of the Faculty Senate, said the choice reinforces his belief that Perry is micromanaging A&M and questioned why students would apply if they knew Perry would handpick his own candidate and go around the selection process.
“I’m not a big believer in extensive processes for everything, but I’m a big believer that if you say you’re going to do something a certain way, you should do it that way,” Strawser said. “Why would the governor of a state do such a thing? Why does he have time for this?”
Posted on: May 6th, 2011 by Patrick Brendel No Comments
The University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems each has recently released information about faculty “productivity,” including data on pay, students taught and research money.
The documents from UT contain a plethora of information about all instructors at UT’s nine campuses, including salaries, number of courses taught and percentage of time spent on research – even down to cumulative grade-point averages received in each teacher’s class and value of research grants awarded.
The 821-page spreadsheet comes with the caveat that it cannot be verified and “cannot yield accurate analysis, interpretations or conclusions,” according to the Texas Tribune.
Meanwhile, A&M today released a new version of its controversial analysis that proposes to measure the financial costs and benefits of each faculty member. The preliminary version of the document released in the fall garnered censure from the prestigious American Association of Universities. A letter from the group’s president, Robert Berdahl, said some of the reform proposals pushed by Perry do “violence” to the very values that have made American universities great.
The new version of the 260-page Academic Financial Data Compilation was first obtained by the Bryan-College Station Eagle and was subsequently given by A&M to the Texas Independent.
The document — stamped “DRAFT” on each page — measures the financial costs and benefits of faculty members, but does not include the “red and black division” that was seen on the previous spreadsheet. The new document does have benefit and cost columns beside the faculty member names.
The information in the UT spreadsheet was created in response to a request by the UT System Board of Regents, who recently formed a task force on productivity and excellence chaired by Regent Brenda Pejovich, a board member of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based conservative think tank.
Working with Gov. Perry, TPPF has encouraged the university systems to gather the data as part of TPPF board member Jeff Sandefer’s seven breakthrough solutions for higher education.
One of the proposals calls for improving the quality of teaching by providing legislators and governing boards with a simple tool to measure faculty teaching performance. The idea was to measure each teacher’s employment cost compared to the number of students taught, “and force rank from highest cost per student taught to lowest cost per student taught.”
Many UT faculty members have been nervous about the data‘s release, according to the Tribune. Earlier today, Dean Neikirk, the chair of the UT-Austin Faculty Council, wrote this note to fellow faculty members so they would be prepared for the document’s release.
“The Faculty Council Executive Committee members were informed last week at a UT System Faculty Advisory Council meeting that “faculty data” would be released in response to an open records request. Please be aware that this may occur, and feel free to inform your colleagues about the imminent data release. Most, if not all, of this information was already available, but the “convenience” of the release will no doubt invite a variety of interpretations.”
Dan Formanowicz, a University of Texas-Arlington biology professor who chairs the UT System Faculty Advisory Council, told the Tribune this afternoon, “It’s not the data that bothers us; it’s how people use it. We’re not afraid of the data.”
A&M professors echoed the sentiment.
“I have no problem with data like this being released as long as people realize it’s part of a much bigger picture,” Peter Hugill, an A&M faculty member and Association of American University Professors state conference president, told the Eagle. “I thought the last one was very poorly thought out, and that sort of red-line, black-line was a bit of a red flag to a bull — the bull being the faculty.”
In his BurkaBlog, Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka says that it is not the faculty bottom line that needs to be examined at UT, but student graduation rates:
“If the UT regents really want to get to the bottom of the reforms needed at the university, they should forget cockamamie schemes of rating professors according to the number of students taught and the tuition payments their students generate, and they should abandon their attacks on the role of research and on the governance of the university. They should likewise forget about educating students on the cheap, which will inevitably mean larger classes, more multiple choice tests, and more teaching by lecturers instead of faculty (which UT’s critics correctly point out is already a problem).”
Burka then includes a letter from former UT regents chairman Charles Miller, who says:
“UT-Austin lags badly in graduation rates, having one of the lowest six year rates among the top 50 in the US News rankings. That’s one of the reasons they’re not ranked even higher and it’s something they are primarily responsible for and can control. Considering that they enroll students on average from the top percentiles in high school class rankings and in test scores and from families whose income is two to three times the average Texas family, the current graduation rate not an acceptable result.”
In the midst of the higher ed controversy, Texas legislators announced the formation of a new oversight committee to spotlight crucial issues, such as containing rising costs and improving graduation rates at public colleges and universities, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
Meanwhile the Dallas Morning News reports that lawmakers and prominent UT alumni fear that Perry is working to oust the top two leaders at UT because they have resisted the changes he has proposed.
“On one side of the battle is a small army of powerful UT alumni, civic leaders, political players and major donors who want a prestigious university that produces well-rounded future leaders and the research that will spawn business and ideas. Many have written letters of support for [UT-Austin president Bill] Powers and [UT System chancellor Francisco] Cigarroa, saying their loss would hurt the Austin campus and the entire system,” according to the Morning News.
“On the other side are conservatives and business leaders who want a bigger university that’s cheaper to attend. They say tenured professors shouldn’t be off merely writing for scholarly journals but rather teaching in the classroom for students who worked hard and paid dearly to be there.”
Posted on: March 25th, 2011 by Patrick Brendel No Comments
On Thursday, The University of Texas System reassigned special adviser Rick O’Donnell and stipulated that the former Colorado higher ed chief’s position will be terminated at the end of the current fiscal year. The move — which was much more high-profile than the initial hiring of the former Texas Public Policy Foundation expert — came in response to resounding criticism from higher education experts and alumni of TPPF’s influence on university policy and O’Donnell’s skepticism of the value of academic research.
At the same time, about 100 miles northeast of Austin, Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign treasurer Richard Box was elevated to the position of chair of the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, while major Perry donor and TPPF board member Phil Adams was elected vice-chair, the Bryan-College Station Eagle reports.
At UT, O’Donnell will no longer report directly to UT Regents chair Gene Powell, but instead to UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa. O’Donnell will be dismissed, at the latest, on Sept. 1, the San Antonio Express-News reports.
In addition to O’Donnell’s work for TPPF, where he questioned the value of academic research and proposed splitting teaching and research functions, O’Donnell actually played a major role in implementing Colorado’s unique college student voucher program while he was head of higher education in that state from 2004-2006, the Austin American-Statesman notes. The Texas Independent previously reported on O’Donnell’s involvement in the ‘College Opportunity Fund,’ which, in addition to tying college funding to students rather than institutions, also effectively severs teaching and research funding.
And while O’Donnell will no longer report directly to Powell (who’s given more than $110,000 to Perry over the years), his role will be to provide staff support to two special advisory committees, one on “university excellence and productivity” and one on “blended and online learning,” the Texas Tribune reports. UT Regent and TPPF board member Brenda Pejovich is spearheading the committee on excellence and productivity, which also includes new Regent Alex Cranberg, a prominent supporter of charter schools and school vouchers in Colorado, as the Texas Independent previously reported.
Committee findings were first due to be released in May, while the Texas Legislature is still in session, but now the committees could still be working through the summer, after the Legislature ends. Several key higher ed leaders in the Legislature have also criticized O’Donnell’s hiring.
A page on UT’s website is dedicated to the special advisory committees, with a “Background Reading List” for each committee. Included on the reading list for the excellence and productivity committee is a book by Clark Aldrich called Unschooling Rules, which purports to contain “55 ways to unlearn what we know about schools and rediscover education.” The foreword to Aldrich’s book was written by TPPF board member Jeff Sandefer, founder of the Acton School of Business and one of the architects of TPPF’s seven “breakthrough solutions” for higher education, now in various stages of implementation at A&M. On his blog, Aldrich calls Sandefer a “visionary.”
Also on the reading list is a two-part presentation by InterEd Inc. consulting group, aimed at university leaders exploring the institution of a three-year degree plan. In addition to numerous statements elsewhere on its website critical of traditional universities and laudatory of for-profit colleges, “The Three-Year Degree” presentation includes the following passages attributed to InterEd President/CEO Robert W. Tucker:
“Most university administrators see the advantages of offering their products in various formats to different markets. The professoriate, on the other hand, rhapsodizes about an antiquated model of higher education in which professors ruled and students took copious notes. There was no substantial corpus of knowledge derived from the learning and pedagogical sciences. Only the smart and the rich attended. Efficiency was not a concern. There was little infrastructure or superstructure. The system operated in a 19th Century agrarian economy serving 2-3% of the theoretical market.”
“Bring the incessant and self-serving whining about academic ‘rigor’ and ‘quality’ to an end. The posture is not only unattractive and hypocritical, it is a lie. Notwithstanding degrees for which there are external proficiency benchmarks, only a handful of the nation’s colleges and universities conduct scientifically sound integrated assessments of learning processes, outcomes, and impact, including student goal attainment. Of these few institutions, perhaps 10% use the information systematically as decision-support to improve quality, efficiency, etc. The rest of the schools conform to Ted Manning’s observations by producing copious claims to vague notions of quality they can’t prove, and don’t understand very well.”
“Replace the unsound, unprovable, and largely irrelevant notions of rigor and quality with the understanding that modern definitions of quality derive from the construct “Suitability to Purpose“—but whose purpose? Most economists would argue that the customer’s purpose is central and dominant. Higher education, on the other hand, discounts the student as a customer and derives its notions of quality from professorial purposes, which are often at variance with those of the customer.”
In related news, the head of UT’s former students association issued a call to action to members of the influential organization. The letter blasting UT Regents’ decision to hire O’Donnell begins: “We need your immediate help to address what is unquestionably the most serious threat our University has faced in years. The mission and core values of our beloved University are under attack.” (via the Houston Chronicle’s Texas Politics blog)
On the other hand, news aggregator Push Junction published a letter, attributed to San Antonio entrepreneur Red McCombs, wherein the namesake of UT-Austin’s business school urges unified support of university leaders and Gov. Perry. McCombs has given Perry nearly $450,000 in campaign contributions since 2000, including $170,000 in 2009-2010, according to Texas Ethics Commission records.
Posted on: March 9th, 2011 by Patrick Brendel No Comments
Soon after Colorado energy executive Alex Cranberg became the newest University of Texas regent, former Colorado Department of Higher Education executive director Rick O’Donnell was hired by the regents as a special adviser, Texas Monthly’s Nate Blakeslee reported Tuesday. (more…)