If The University of Texas wanted to reduce its costs, it could slash the number of faculty on staff and start holding classes in Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium. Never mind the quality of the education; our professors would be ever so “productive” churning out more and more students!
One-on-one interaction with a professor? Who needs it. Small classes that offer the opportunity to build important critical thinking skills? Why bother. Laboratory environments where instructors use hands-on techniques to teach? Inefficient. That’s essentially the central tenet of a misguided study by the “Center for College Affordability and Productivity” that used raw data the University provided to the University of Texas System Board of Regents.
In a press release issued today by the newly formed Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, our group points out that the analysis the Center did on UT’s data paints “unproductive” those who do not teach enough semester hours—as if that were the only measure of productivity. In fact, based on their measurements, University president Bill Powers would be deemed “unproductive” because he chooses to teach a signature course for undergrads in addition to his full-time leadership duties. Other top UT administrators and deans would suffer the same grossly misleading characterization.
UT president emeritus Peter Flawn puts a fine point on it: “Teaching the future leaders of our state and nation to think critically, challenge assumptions and make informed, reasoned decisions is quite different from manufacturing widgets on an assembly line. …University degrees are not widgets.”
Knowledge can’t be measured with manufacturing metrics. UT should always strive to be better, more efficient, and more excellent in everything that it does. After all, the state constitution mandated that Texas establish “a University of the first class.” That’s why UT is on the cutting edge, looking for new and better ways to educate, innovate, cut costs, and offer new programs that meet the ever-changing needs of our global economy. As Powers recently laid out in his update to the Commission of 125, “Our vision includes a strong commitment to undergraduate teaching…to harnessing technology to deepen and enrich the learning experience…to greater efficiency in all our operations…to developing new revenue streams…and to strengthening our research enterprise to expand the Texas economy to improve life in America and beyond.”
And we, the Longhorn community, should hold him to it. We should always ask for our university to be accountable to its important stakeholders and strive to be ever better. But we should not stand by while outside groups malign our university, misrepresent raw data, and hold UT up as an example of national inefficiency. It’s untrue and unfair, and it diminishes the value of our degrees.
Find out more about the Coalition at www.TexasEducationExcellence.org.
Jenifer Sarver chairs the Texas Exes’ Public Relations Committee and serves as spokeswoman for the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education.