February 16, 2017

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: State Legislators Go After Tenure:

The anti-tenure crusaders have some of the right impulses, but they seem to be approaching the problem with a meat ax rather than a scalpel. Here are some thoughts on a more productive way to proceed.

First, the best place to trim higher education budgets is administration. Administrative bloat, much of it driven by federal regulations, represents a loss to both taxpayers and students; this is an area where savings could be procured with less political backlash. For example, the average state university today is an unwieldy mix of institutions and activities that maybe don’t all need to be under one roof. Legislators should think about ways to disaggregate them and promote competition. Do colleges need to run dormitory systems? Health clinics? Dining halls?

Second, policymakers should develop a comprehensive vision for higher education reform, rather than conducting piecemeal attacks on this or that activity. While there is a lot wrong with the modern American state university, they are complicated systems, and strong ones are an important economic asset for states and cities. The goal of reform shouldn’t be to punish professors perceived as radical or lazy. The goal of reform should be to build a stronger, smarter, more productive higher education system that does a better job for kids at a sustainable cost both to students and taxpayers.

Third, policymakers could draw sharper distinctions between disciplines and between teaching and research. Not all disciplines are equal, though many would like to pretend that they are. ‘Research’ is a much more important component of the natural sciences than in the humanities. It is not clear that the best teachers of the humanities are engaged in cutting edge research, nor is it clear that taxpayers are well served by funding ‘research’ into various postmodern critical theories (if you doubt this, see the Twitter account New Real Peer Review for real-life examples of the type of humanities work that is supported by public funds).

In the social sciences and the humanities, there may need to be a change in the expectation (which already in reality is being left behind) that every professor ultimately achieves tenure and that research plays a major role in getting there. Universities should improve the status of career teaching professors so that the current class of hyper-exploited adjuncts becomes a thing of the past.

If it weren’t for tenure, I probably wouldn’t have a job, and the same goes for pretty much any other non-leftist professor. And administration is, in fact, both the biggest source of expense bloat and the biggest source of lefty activism on campuses.

Related: Universities, Facing Budget Cuts, Target Tenure. If tenure were important to the apparatchiks who run the higher education complex, they wouldn’t be targeting it. It was useful when it provided an excuse for not firing communists, but now it’s a barrier to complete control. Plus: “In 1975, 45% of faculty at public and private schools was tenured or tenure-track; the 2014 figure is 29%. The balance of the jobs are now filled by part-time adjunct professors who make, on average, less than half the salary of tenured professors, enjoying few of their benefits, and are excused from much of the administrative work. While the average salary of a full professor is $142,141, according to the American Association of University Professors, adjuncts are typically paid between $1,500 and $5,000 a course.”