A few days ago I blogged about the potential assault on tenure and liberal arts funding in Florida, and mentioned that Florida is looking to Texas, where proposed changes to the tenure system are also afoot. I've now done some looking into the Texas situation, which strikes me as quite chilling. (Brian pointed out several months ago that these changes were afoot in this post.) As in the Florida case, I don't feel qualified to judge how likely it is that the proposed reforms will go through or what exactly their long-term effect will be, but (1) it is worrisome that Republican legislators are becoming so interested in micromanaging academia, and (2) the general tenor of the assault is telling.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation has put together a '7-step plan' for 'strengthening' higher education in the state, at governor Rick Perry's request. Perry has urged the regents of the state universities - all of whom have been appointed by him - to adopt the plan. This plan urges adopting a 'business model' for running universities, in which students are the 'customers'.
Part of the plan is to make 75% of tenure decisions depend pretty much entirely on teaching, evaluated by objective, state-defined measures, while 25% of the faculty positions would be set aside as pure research positions. Along with the obvious downsides to judging most faculty solely by their teaching, I am deeply disturbed by the assumption that there is no symbiotic relationship between teaching and research - that students need no access to strong researchers, that being a researcher is in no way an important condition for certain kinds of high-quality teaching, and that our teaching does not enhance or help develop or direct our research. Indeed, somewhat ironically, the report refers to teaching as a 'burden' from which researchers could be freed according to the plan. (I couldn't find anything about how graduate advising would fit into this - does anyone know?) The details of how teaching would be evaluated are particularly troubling: Teaching professors could only receive tenure "by having taught an average of three classes per semester and thirty students per class for ... seven or more years" and "average teaching ratings must be a minimum of 4.5 on a 5.0 scale" (my emphasis - see here). I think it would be condescending of me to spell out on this blog why these are terrible ideas, in light of the effect on the kind of topics that could be taught, the need to pander to students, and so on. The writers of the report do have the chutzpah to claim that this would not turn tenure into a 'popularity contest'. This has been brewing for a while, and the Chronicle of Higher Education did a story on the Texas situation a year ago; here is the link, although you'll need access to the Chronicle to read it.
I am curious how worried philosophers at state universities in Texas and Florida actually are about all of this; although I have some Florida ties, I don't really know how things feel on the ground. I am opening comments, and particularly encourage signed comments from folks who are working in one of those two states. I'm also curious if anyone knows if there are other states jumping on this bandwagon.