Begging the Question

File photo by Val Cook

Begging the question refers to a fallacy—common in introductory logic classes—whereby an argument arrives at a conclusion presupposed in the premise.

In the ongoing debate over the future of higher education in Texas, this problem is rampant among those who would have the Texas public believe that UT and A&M desperately need overhauls.

Calling oneself a reformer does not mean that what you want changed necessarily needs it.

Critics of UT and A&M offer what they believe are “solutions” to “problems” only they insist exist—namely, that professors overemphasize research. Then, when University officials or objective observers disagree with them, they’re attacked for not offering their own solutions.

That’s begging the question, and it’s both obnoxious and intellectually dishonest.

Take this headline from Times of Texas, referring to a response issued yesterday by the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education to Rick O’Donnell’s latest faculty productivity report: UT, Coalition Focused on Striking Back, Not Solving Problems.

What’s funny about that is, if you read the bipartisan Coalition’s response, they are calling for “a higher standard of conduct and conversation on how best to improve our institutions of higher education.” How is that striking back?

There’s wide agreement, for example, that improving graduation rates at UT and A&M is a good project. UT has boosted its four-year graduation rate 60 percent since 1994, and is hard at work boosting that number some more. You might even call what the School of Undergraduate Studies is doing UT’s “solutions.”

There’s no consensus, however, among higher education professionals, alumni, legislators, or the public, that UT and A&M should wildly de-emphasize research in the name of teaching.

In fact, there’s far more agreement that both teaching and research matter.

Not only have the people of Texas said—in the state constitution, no less—that they want “a university of the first class,” they have also supported legislation in the past two legislative sessions to make more Tier 1 universities in Texas. And the fact is, Tier 1 universities do both teaching and research.

Should these proposals be implemented, they would undeniably diminish the value of a UT or A&M degree, a value that has been built up at taxpayer expense and with taxpayer approval for decades.

Disagreeing with these proposals does not mean people are against reform. It means they think the proposals aren’t any good.


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