Texas Tech Profs Revolt Over Teaching

Some professors at Texas Tech are warning of dire consequences if the university goes forward with a massive increase in enrollment, especially if it is achieved by forcing teachers to teach more.

Some of Texas Tech’s most prestigious professors are concerned about their chancellor’s drive to increase the student body from 28,000 to 40,000 by 2020.

They especially are concerned about his assistant’s recent suggestion the university could save millions if officials cut back the number of hours faculty are excused from teaching to pursue scholarly activities and simultaneously enrolled more students in more classes. That would have disastrous consequences, a group of Paul Whitfield Horn professors, led by David Knaff, warned the chancellor last month in a letter.

The chancellor, Kent Hance, said their disapproval stems largely from misinformation.

Knaff is on sabbatical and could not be reached for comment.

That Knaff is leading the charge against increased teaching loads whilst on sabbatical — i.e., taking the semester off from teaching in order to concentrate on research — is quite amusing. But the professors in question are actually outstanding teachers.

The Horn title is considered the highest title a professor can earn at the university for outstanding teaching, research and service.

“While we generally support the concept of increasing the number of students, it is essential that such an increase involves the best undergraduate and especially graduate students. This implies raising admissions standards, creating competitive scholarships, investing in research and scholarship activities,” they wrote in the letter, which The Avalanche-Journal obtained on Monday. “Instead, you seem to be committed to dramatic growth by making our costs very much lower than those of other institutions, causing students to flock to TTU because we will provide education at a bargain basement cost.’ ” The push for thousands more students has already lowered the quality of the student body, according to the letter, which also raises questions about where officials will get the money to invest in resources for new students, like labs and dorm rooms.

So, it’s not just about teaching loads but about the type of students the university will enroll. And, indeed, the chancellor denies any plans to reduce research time. That Chancellor Hance does not have an earned doctorate and did not come up through the ranks of the faculty but is an attorney and politician likely reduces his credibility in making that claim.

Regardless, I suspect one’s views on the controversy will split almost exactly on a where-you-stand-is-where-you-sit basis, with professors on the side of low teaching loads and everyone else wondering what the fuss is about. After all, teaching is a university’s mission, right? Most faculty, especially a PhD-granting institutions, see themselves as scholars first and teachers second, however.

via Inside Higher Ed

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I have a question which I’m asking without snark. I understand how the dual functions of research and teaching came about and why they were necessary five hundred or even one hundred years ago. Why are they necessary now?

    Isn’t specialization the key to efficiency and greater production? Doesn’t that imply that researchers and teachers should be distinct jobs?

    If the answer is that teaching subsidizes research and without the teaching function there would be less research, isn’t the university right?

  2. SeniorD says:

    Mr. Joyner,

    In the academic circles through which I circulate, the PhD is considered a University Level Teaching Certificate. In polite terms, that degree grants permission for someone to teach at the University/Graduate levels. Publish or Perish is quite the norm ‘forcing’ some University professors to use Graduate students to either teach classes or conduct the primary research for the professor. The end goal is, of course, tenure.

    My colleagues and I disdain the PhD for the less numerous, but more gratifying Dsc which permits us to conduct applied research sans the baggage attendant to the PhD.

  3. R. Alex says:

    While we generally support the concept of increasing the number of students, it is essential that such an increase involves the best undergraduate and especially graduate students.

    That’s unlikely to happen in a state with the University of Texas and Texas A&M in it. Texas Tech’s role in the echalon of Texas colleges is almost certainly as the everyman university for students that want to go away to a big college but couldn’t get into UT or A&M.

  4. mike says:

    My limited experience with Profs doing research was in law school where they would attempt to come up with the most obscure article and hope it gets published in the most distinguished journal possible. I know in the medical/science fields etc… the research is completely different and I would hope more beneficial but for some of the other fields, the value of a lot of the “research” seems questionable.

  5. Dave,

    I would argue that part of what makes a university a university (or a college a college) and not just grades 13-16 with specialization is that the professors should be more than just highly educated teachers, but experts in some specific area of knowledge, and someone who is continually working to increase their knowledge and expertise via their own independent research.

    And I say that as someone who teaches a heavy teaching load a 4/4 with normally 8 total preps (i.e., of the courses I teach do not duplicate in a year, so I have to ready for four different courses per semester without duplication within that semester or into the next in a given academic year).

    I think that sans research (and I don’t necessarily mean massive projects) professors simply become nothing more than glorified high school teachers.

  6. SeniorD:

    But isn’t the Dsc (Doctorate of Science) limited to specific disciplines (i.e., hard sciences), and really, is essentially the same thing as a Ph.D. by another name (so much so that a lot of programs, as I understand it, have changed the name of the Dsc to Ph.D?)

    And if one obtains a doctorate for the purposes of going into applied research only, is one really in “academic circles” at that point? (Not that there is anything wrong with applied research).

  7. Steve Plunk says:

    There are plenty of qualified people to step in and fill those teaching positions if some choose to leave. They will not have the same credentials and they will not add to the prestige of the program but they will be able to teach.

    Who serves who? Ultimately the students are the ones to be served.

  8. Beldar says:

    My late mother earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Texas Tech (the former when it was Texas Technological College, back in the 1940s), and I grew up in a small town an hour’s drive south of Lubbock. I’m probably as familiar with the school as anyone can be who hasn’t attended it.

    R Alex comments above that “Texas Tech’s role in the echelon of Texas colleges is almost certainly as the everyman university for students that want to go away to a big college but couldn’t get into UT[-Austin] or A&M.” That’s partly true — those two flagship schools of the two main state university systems do indeed have higher academic standards and are harder to get into — but Tech has historically also been more of a regional college, mostly attracting students from the Texas panhandle and west Texas. Students from Houston, for example, have to face a 10-11 hour drive to get to Lubbock, and there are much closer public university alternatives (e.g., the University of Houston, which also is a more regional, less state-wide school than either UT-Austin or A&M). Tech has also suffered because of Lubbock’s perception as being flat, dry, dusty, and dull, and at least the first three of those descriptions are and will always be true.

    Tech also faces increased competition from what were formerly junior colleges and third-tier four-year colleges who’ve been absorbed into either the U.T. or A&M systems. UT-Dallas, for example, was small and widely disdained, and UT-El Paso barely less so, when I graduated from high school in 1975. Now they can make a serious case for their own merits not only as four-year colleges, but (in some fields) as graduate schools.

    Kent Hance’s stature as a former politician is considerable. Hance will have a footnote in history as the only politician ever to beat George W. Bush, for example — which he did (as a Democrat) during their 1978 battle to succeed long-time U.S. Rep. George W. Mahon. Not long after, Hance and another junior congressman from College Station, Phil Graham, both made national headlines, and anticipated a state-wide trend, by cooperating with the Reagan Revolution tax cuts and then by formally changing to the GOP.

    Hance doesn’t have a PhD, it’s true, but keep in mind that a J.D. is a doctorate level degree — typically the only degree that law school deans hold, for example — and Hance’s political connections are likely to be more important to him in this fight than any purely academic connections could be anyway.

    I don’t know if he’ll manage to double the size of the school. But I would put my bets on him to win the fight to grow it considerably over a fairly short time period.

  9. William d'Inger says:

    After all, teaching is a university’s mission, right?

    When I was in college, there was no doubt. The mission statement specifically stated that universities serve a three-fold purpose. In alphabetical order, they were community service, education and research. It further stated that each leg of the tripod was to be co-equal in every respect including time, effort, funding and enthusiasm. I doubt the Texas Tech chancellor would get much support at my alma mater.

  10. Beldar says:

    By the way, if you’re wondering why there are two competing state university systems in Texas, that can be traced to the Texas Constitution adopted shortly after the Civil War, which specifies that the revenues from vast acreages of public land to which the State of Texas had retained mineral rights (including oil & gas revenues) would be divided between U.T. and A&M in perpetuity on a 2/3rds to 1/3rd ratio. That constitutional disparity accounts for the perpetual chip on some Aggies’ shoulders when it comes to U.T. But even A&M’s one-third share has stood it in very good stead, compared to other public universities elsewhere in the U.S., over the many decades since.

  11. Michael says:

    I have a question which I’m asking without snark. I understand how the dual functions of research and teaching came about and why they were necessary five hundred or even one hundred years ago. Why are they necessary now?

    Mostly for the same reason they were necessary then, don’t you think? After all, would you want a PhD to graduate with knowledge that is a decade old?

    When I took university classes in computer science in 2000, I was shocked at the number of teachers who had no concept of the internet. How they expected to produce even bachelor level graduates who were ready for the demands of the CS industry in 2004 is beyond me.

    A PhD, one would think, should be at the same level at a PhD in the field (in terms of knowledge at least), when they graduate. You can’t produce students who are up-to-date in their field unless their teachers are up-to-date in their field.

  12. davod says:

    Beldar:

    Does the method of funding affect the cost of getting an education at these facilities compared to to say the large endowment universities in the North East.

  13. Beldar says:

    davod: Revenues from the Permanent University Fund (which collects those mineral right revenues as its corpus) are supposed to be used by U.T. and A&M for capital improvements, not to subsidize professor salaries or student tuitions. But they indirectly have considerable effect on what the Texas Legislature votes to spend — and not just for the U.T. and A&M System schools, but all state universities.

    Despite recent rises that have far outpaced inflation, in-state tuition for Texas public universities continues to be a bargain compared to almost any private universities anywhere, and also as compared to many other states’ public universities. When I was at Texas Law School in the late 1970s, even out-of-state tuition there was cheaper than in-state tuition at other very good state-university law schools (e.g., Berkeley), but I’m not sure whether that’s still true.

  14. SeniorD says:

    Alas, Mr. Taylor, you are correct in that many Universities are converting the Doctor of Science into Doctor of Philosophy. The rationale, as I understand it, seems to be focused on the rarity of Dsc found outside of Europe. Personally, I don’t care to argue the whichness of the why (or conversely the whyness of the which) when doing pure research. I leave that to the PhDs.

    To me, it is the ability to conduct Critical Thinking to form a thesis, antithesis and synthesis to direct one’s applied research.

  15. Chip says:

    “Most faculty, especially a PhD-granting institutions, see themselves as scholars first and teachers second, however.”

    Since that is usually how they are evaluated for tenure, especially a PhD-granting institutions, it would be unwise for them to see themselves otherwise.

    If Texas Tech is proposing an increase in the teaching load, while still expecting the same quantity of research output, then, hell yeah, the professors are upset.