Breaking Down the Numbers on ‘Flawed’ Productivity Analysis

A comprehensive new report released this week discredits a flawed critique of the productivity of University of Texas at Austin faculty being touted by Richard Vedder, an activist who appears to have manipulated the data to paint an inaccurate and highly misleading portrait of the University’s educators. Vedder is speaking today at the Cato Institute.

The new report was written by Marc Musick and analyzed for the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education by higher education expert Michael McLendon of Vanderbilt University. It shows that UT Austin faculty are highly productive, actively engaged in groundbreaking research, and deliver a two-to-one return on investment for the state of Texas.

Some of the inaccuracies in the distorted Vedder analysis include:

– Vedder used a wildly inflated number of 4,200 faculty members for his conclusions, even though UT Austin has only 1,988 tenured or tenure track faculty.

– Vedder compared apples to oranges. By choosing not to filter information and instead using the raw data set, the report treated all instructional staff as equal, whether they were graduate students who supervised a few undergraduates as part of their studies or actual full-time faculty. By mis-categorizing almost 1,300 adjuncts and part-time lecturers and more than 600 graduate students as full-time faculty, the report is intentionally misleading as these part-time roles are by definition not full-time.

– Vedder included retired faculty members who continue to supervise graduate students, yet teach no classes.

– Vedder included UT Austin’s president, college deans, administrators, research scientists, and others whose primary function is not instruction, but who teach undergraduate courses or supervise graduate students in addition to their full-time work loads.

– Vedder only looked at un-weighted semester credit hours which is not how the state of Texas measures or funds higher education faculty. The state of Texas uses a weighted system that recognizes that certain classes are much more difficult and time consuming to teach than others. For example, intense laboratory courses for doctoral students may receive a higher weight than a freshman history seminar course. Vedder ignored this important distinction.

The Washington Post has noted the discrepancies and closed its story on the reports with Musick’s words:

“This is the type of distribution that any institution like UT Austin would hope for. Our university, like many others, is torn between offering large sections of lower-division classes that serve many students and smaller sections of upper-division and graduate sections that serve many fewer. Both types of courses are essential at a research university in an effort to provide a high quality education at the undergraduate and graduate level to large numbers of students. Quality would be sacrificed by offering fewer small and intensive courses, but the ability to educate many students would be sacrificed by offering fewer large classes.”

Jenifer Sarver is a member of the Texas Exes Public Relations committee and the spokeswoman for the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education.


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