Ideology and Politics in Florida’s Current Higher Ed “Reforms”

Prep for Rick Scott’s Blue Ribbon Task Force coming up this Fall!

“Cheaper delivery of higher education” needs serious and participatory thinking. Pushing through ill-considered, drastic and irreversible changes unilaterally, in the guise of budget emergencies is reckless and unwise.

The ecosystem that resulted in the internet requires the  brightest  to pursue academic occupations. They are attracted primarily to the climate of independence and academic freedom, to conduct basic scholarly research integrated with teaching; and only secondarily to remuneration. The “reforms” that are being rammed through now will result in a destruction of that climate and the ecosystem.

(1) Here’s what happened in Texas a couple of years ago
===============================

Rick Scott has mentioned these Texas breakthrough solutions.

“Separation of teaching and research:”

http://www.texashighered.com/files/Breakthrough_Solution_3.pdf

(2) Academic/Industry response pointing out why the breakthroughs don’t
breakthrough
===========================================

Not sure why this kind of thing is being tried here again.

Exhaustive response: http://alliancefortamu.org/
http://www.texaseducationexcellence.org/

Brief:
http://7solutionsresponse.org/index.php?unit=s3
http://universitydiary.wordpress.com/…/connecting-teaching-and-research

(3) UF President Machen’s position (for: integrated teaching and research)
==========================================

Start at minute 55:11 and raise the volume.
(55:11 Integrated teaching and research)
(63:55 Money follows the students — RCM)

http://thefloridachannel.org/video/41212-university-presentations-on-higher-education-issues/

(4) The Florida proposed public university model:
===========================

“To that end, the Legislature provided to the Board – and the Governor approved – $15 million in performance funding related to information technology. The best return on investment in Florida’s public universities

>>>is one that features higher graduation rates across the spectrum,
Read: polytechnics and diploma mills; distance-learning-alone model may work for older, working students, but not 18 yr.olds.

>>>job-producing research and development
Read: self-funding translational institutes tied to short-term bottomlines (not scholarly basic research)

>>>headline-grabbing national competitiveness”
Read: popular press-chasing and  award chasing are the only option open to scholarly, basic research types, if any

(5) UF central admin’s concept of a high performance university.
====================================

Their position appears to be: before spending reserves, get rid of or weaken the department-based model of decentralized resources and procedural, highly accountable, democratic decision making.

Instead centralize resources into an old fashioned top-down corporate model, with a high level of executive power and limited accountability: hence the school layer — one more level of admin, who understand hierarchy. Plus centralized centers, institutes, shared services  (under the guise of saving money). Fewer and fewer accountable faculty structures (who exercise academic freedom and shared governance).

IMO, such an old-fashioned top-down corporate model has no place for 80% of today’s independent-thinking faculty members nationwide. Most creative academics will have no incentive to stay in academia, since the job description that lured them to academia would no longer be valid. See

Texas higher ed coalition applauds Sharp’s statement on importance of bottom-up collaborative decisions

That job description includes an emphasis on academic freedom, independence scholarly basic research integrated with teaching, shared governance, and  a  flexible research-teaching assignment/effort/pay structure. That makes the American higher education system highly effective at both research and teaching, attracts the brightest minds.

It nurtures an ecosystem supported by basic research activity, that is unhampered by profit. It produces free, creative ideas and people, that industry feeds off of, because it cannot grow that ecosystem in house. It is good for universities to transfer research to industry, but do not confuse that with research, or do it at the expense of basic research.

(6) What the Florida legislature clearly says about the cuts and the reserves
==========================================

See http://www.flbog.org/pressroom/news.php?id=447 for the BOG
statement.
In particular:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—April 17, 2012

BOARD OF GOVERNORS CHAIR DEAN COLSON OF MIAMI:
The Board of Governors recognizes there are real and abiding budget challenges that the State is facing. While this budget represents less direct funding for the universities, we appreciate the stated commitment of legislative leadership that the $300 million reduction will be restored to the baseline next year. Our Universities will continue to tap their reserves year-round in order to save course offerings, retain faculty and account for enrollment growth, among other critical demands.

(7) From a faculty friend at Texas A&M (TAMU):
==========================

The push in Texas seemed to be a move away from research and toward teaching, all while saying that this was promoting “efficiency” in the universities.  A lot of the pushback came in emphasizing the importance of research to the economy of Texas and the reputation of Texas universities, and having a lot of business leaders involved helped (faculty senates, and even the AAU, were not given much weight at all).  I don’t know if that’s the same type of folks that your Dean would listen to, or not, but if there were employers of CISE graduates who were willing to say on the record that this seems like a bad idea, I would think that would carry weight.

You can see the alumni letter here:
http://alliancefortamu.org/letter-to-the-aggie-community/
Those names probably don’t mean much to you, but they are the big donors to TAMU (many major buildings named for them, for instance). Really, that was the first letter that I thought really got the attention of the regents (the faculty senate votes, the letter signed by more than 700 of us, and even a formal letter from the AAU seemed nearly ignored).

You can see some of the response organizations to the situation here at:
http://alliancefortamu.org/
http://www.texaseducationexcellence.org/
Note that some of the issues affected not just TAMU, but also UT-Austin (and other public schools here to a lesser degree).  Probably several of the people listed on the second website are in computer-related fields (I would assume that some of the Austin tech folks were part of this).

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