“Efficiency, Productivity, and Quality in Texas Higher Education State Policy”: a Presentation by Dr. Lee Holcombe, 10/11/12

I think this will be an important discussion for us as we try to understand  higher education policy in this state. Please make every effort to attend.

Thanks, DM


VIA Brainpickings: The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge

Here is a superb rejoinder to the advocates of a strictly utilitarian concept of education: Maria Popova’s post on the educational thought of Abraham Flexner’s The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge (1939).

Flexner, a contemporary of John Dewey, wrote:

I have myself spent many years pleading that our schools should become more acutely aware of the world in which their pupils and students are destined to pass their lives. Now I sometimes wonder whether that current has not become too strong and whether there would be sufficient opportunity for a full life if the world were emptied of some of the useless things that give it spiritual significance; in other words, whether our conception of what is useful may not have become too narrow to be adequate to the roaming and capricious possibilities of the human spirit.

I think one of the biggest gaps in any accountability scheme is how we evaluate the impact of our teaching or our research over significant periods of time.  We talk about “life-long learning” as a goal, but how can it be factored into an annual report?  Every experienced teacher knows that the effects of her teaching may take years to turn up (if at all?), but even this kind of time-span could be irrelevant when we talk about the longer-term effects of our research.  Flexner reminds us:

Over a period of one or two hundred years the contributions of professional schools to their respective activities will probably be found to lie, not so much in the training of men who may to-morrow become practical engineers or practical lawyers or practical doctors, but rather in the fact that even in the pursuit of strictly practical aims an enormous amount of apparently useless activity goes on. Out of this useless activity there come discoveries which may well prove of infinitely more importance to the human mind and to the human spirit than the accomplishment of the useful ends for which the schools were founded.

So how can these longer-term interests and concerns be brought into the picture when we discuss public higher education?


via WSJ: Putting a Price on Professors

Here’s another account of the A&M accountability system, this time from the WSJ.

A 265-page spreadsheet, released last month by the chancellor of the Texas A&M University system, amounted to a profit-and-loss statement for each faculty member, weighing annual salary against students taught, tuition generated, and research grants obtained.

So what would be the impact of such initiatives be on instruction on campus , if such statements began to determine the curriculum available to studetnts at the undergraduate and graduate levels?


via the Texas Tribune: A&M System examines Professors’ “Revenue Generation”

[thanks to Gordon Johnson of EPSAC for passing this along]

More on the “Revenue Generation” accountability system devised at A&M, through this article by Reeve Hamilton.  The impact of this kind of system on educational values could be drastic, since it counts only formal instruction hours, and externally funded research:

some research never registers. Hugill has authored five books and has two more on the way — none of which would be captured under the proposed measurements because they weren’t externally funded. He guesses that the study only logs about “40 to 50 percent” of what a professor actually does. Ashley agrees: Professors are only given credit for time spent in front of a class, though plenty of teaching happens elsewhere. But, he says, those are the only figures publicly available.


Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board–Higher Education Cost Efficiencies (draft report)

I think we should be prepared to begin hearing about this very soon.  What impact would these recommendations have on our teaching and research missions?


Education Reform Round-Up

For a number of reasons, I’ve felt for a long time that the debates over K-12 and Higher Ed Reforms are politically and institutionally linked: this is because arguments from one debate tend to get imported into the other, but also because the effects of K-12 reforms like NCLB are already having their impact on things like college readiness.  So here’s a selection of recent pieces I found that discuss reforms and their effects from a number of angles:

  • A long overdue piece by Nick Lemann in the NYer about the overblown “education crisis.”
  • In a critique of yet another accountability/productivity astroturf group’s press release, (The Center for Accountability and Productivity) Daniel Luzer of the Washington Monthly asks, “Just how easy is it to measure what colleges do?”  (Incidentally, does anyone know who is funding the The Center for Accountability and Productivity?) (though I must say they have interesting arguments and data about financial aid and the trends in the higher ed work force)
  • One of my favorite education bloggers, Dana Goldstein, asks “What Happens when Curriculum drives Education Reform?”
  • Observational Epidemiology asks, Which businesses should education model itself on?  Surely not NBC
  • Matt Yglesias picks up an interesting study that shows how public posting of job salaries affects job satisfaction.


TPPF Higher Education legislative guide 2011-12

In case you were wondering what the Texas Public Policy Foundation is telling legislators this session, here are their guides to Higher Education Quality and Productivity.