A fascinating study from Texas shines a bright light on the underbelly of Higher Education in that state. It also raises troubling questions that Ohio may need to consider examining, even as it moves forward with some reforms such as “Enterprise Universities.”
The study, called “Higher Ed’s Faculty Productivity Gap,” classifies faculty at both the University of Texas- Austin and Texas A & M in one of five different ways, Sherpas, Pioneers, Stars, Coasters and Dodgers. According to the report,
“Sherpas- do all the heavy lifting on the teaching front and bear a disproportionate part of the teaching load; they are mostly adjuncts or other non-tenured faculty.
Pioneers- are the highly productive research faculty, measured by external research dollars raised, who use their research grants and contracts to buy “released time” from teaching to blaze new trails in research, most often in science, technology, engineering and related fields.
Stars- are highly productive faculty who do a lot of teaching and a lot of funded research.
Coasters- are mostly faculty protected by tenure and seniority, which gives them reduced teaching loads and yet they don’t produce significant research funding. Their cost to teach one student one class is five to six times that of Sherpas.
Dodgers- are the least productive faculty, who bring in no external research funding, teach few students and cost nearly ten times as much as Sherpas to teach one student one class.”
As the report states,
“At UT Austin, there are 1,748 faculty members who consume 54% of instructional costs but teach only 27% of the student hours and generate no external research funding…
The Sherpas at Texas A&M teach an extraordinary 54% of the student hours but incur only 13% of total faculty cost. Meanwhile, the Dodgers (who, like the Sherpas, bring in no external research funding) teach only 19% of student hours but account for 46% of total faculty costs.”
Think about these numbers for just a moment. It’s pretty evident that the higher education burden is not being spread in a remotely equitable way. There are some extreme high performers that do what we think of when we think of universities, but a bunch of gadflies seem to be along for the ride.
Oh by the way, if those numbers aren’t surprising enough how about the fact that at UT over half of all undergraduate courses are taught by low ranking faculty, not tenured or tenure track faculty.
Now let’s suppose you’re a parent helping your child pay their tuition and you are confronted by this set of statistics. You are now being told that that you are helping to subsidize large numbers of faculty that do not teach and do not bring any dollars to the university to help it with potentially cutting edge research. It’s almost like you’re paying for other people’s vanilla lattes when you should be paying for an education.
Is that fair?
Do these findings mirror the situation in Ohio? Well, that is a pretty interesting question and one that does need to asked. However, the key thing is to be aware of the possibility. Given all the reform talk coming out of the office of the Chancellor of the Board of Regents, this might be the time to start asking.
In the meantime, check out the full report.