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Armey, FreedomWorks back Perry in higher ed reform controversy

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2010/08/MahurinPointing_Thumb6.jpgThe Texas branch of FreedomWorks has thrust itself into the debate over controversial higher education policies pushed by Gov. Rick Perry and allies. An online petition titled, “Higher Education Reform for Texas NOW!” has drawn about 1,500 signatures so far, on the group’s website.

The petition drive comes on the heels of an opinion column on the topic by FreedomWorks president Dick Armey, the former U.S. House majority leader, that appeared in the Houston Chronicle.

“I applaud Gov. Rick Perry for courageously tackling much needed higher education reform,” Armey said in the column defending the ‘seven breakthrough solutions’ by Texas Public Policy Foundation board member Jeff Sandefer.

Armey, a former economics professor, said, “Eliminating tenure offers an important step toward improving education. My university experience suggests that tenure provides everyone who has it the ability to bully everyone who does not.”

He also blasts professors for focusing too much on research instead of classroom instruction. He wrote:

“A professor’s main goal should be to serve the educational needs of students. Yet in most Texas universities research has displaced teaching. A Texas Performance Review found that the average professor at a research university teaches only 1.9 courses per semester. Roughly 22 percent of faculty members do not teach a single course. We could easily remove administrative bloat and reduce tuition by requiring universities to separate research and teaching budgets.”

The claim that research university professors teach 1.9 courses per semester also appears in a TPPF higher education guide for state legislators. That statistic appears in a 1996 Texas Performance Review report on higher education from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. The final TPR report on any topic was published in 2003.

On the contrary, according to University of Texas System reports, UT-Austin faculty teach an average of four courses per semester. UT-Austin tenure/tenure-track faculty spent an average of 36 hours per week on instruction and instruction-related activities — not including research, institutional service or other paid/unpaid service, according to information provided by the UT System Office of Strategic Initiatives, headed up by Sandra Woodley, who has stepped into the role of advising regents after the firing of former UT senior adviser Rick O’Donnell.

The claim that 22 percent of faculty do not teach a single course also appears in the TPPF guide — although that number is qualified as being a national statistic, not a Texas-specific one.

Armey calls for the publicizing of performance metrics similar to the spreadsheet put together on A&M faculty. He said:

“Disclosing the salaries of tenured professors would be another useful reform, along with how many students they teach and how many funded research dollars they bring in. At Texas A&M University, only 49 out of 3,000 faculty members brought in enough money to pay for their salaries and overhead over the past five years.”

According to the initial draft of the A&M spreadsheet that was withdrawn after numerous errors were found, 249 of the roughly 3,300 faculty members listed brought in more than $1 million apiece in grants over the last five years. Of those bringing in more than $1 million in the past five years, 211 were tenured faculty members, 36 were on tenure track, and two were non-tenured.

(Image by Matt Mahurin)

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