Subject: UFWS Message: THE HELP PART TWO
Date: October 23rd 2012
THE HELP, Part 2 by Bill Lyne ufwsblog.org
Galileo Galilei was a professor at the University of Padua in the sixteenth century. His fundamental contributions to mathematics, physics, and astronomy have been recognized by scientists across the continents and centuries, and celebrated in the smooth stylings of Bertolt Brecht, Freddie Mercury, and the Indigo Girls. In 1633, he was fired and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life for telling a politically and religiously unpopular truth about the sun.
On Halloween in 1992, Pope John Paul II admitted that the Catholic Church had probably treated Galileo badly, and, in further reassuring evidence of how far we’ve come, Rob McKenna’s Washington would be a place where Galileo’s five year contract wouldn’t be renewed, but there would be no house arrest.
The last time we spoke of Republican Gubernatorial Nominee McKenna here at the blog, we mentioned that his higher education platform included a proposal to eliminate tenure for our state’s university professors. We pointed out that this is a dumb idea, but then we were willing to let it go. We figured that since the proposal is buried near the end of McKenna’s higher ed policy statement, it might just be a sop to his campaign’s big funders who are intent on privatizing public education.
But then the McKenna campaign doubled down on their dumb idea.
Last week the Western Front, Western Washington University’s student newspaper, contacted the McKenna campaign for comment on their tenure proposal. Given McKenna’s stance as the education guy, we might have expected the campaign to pivot with something along the lines of “yes, that’s an idea worth discussing but what we really should be talking about is how we can better fund our desperately underfunded state universities.”
Instead, the Front reported that “he campaign’s communication director Charles McCray said McKenna would nix new tenure-track hires because the system does not ‘motivate to improve their instruction.’”
This response is stupid and uninformed, and it perhaps reveals that McKenna and his campaign are not serious about preserving and expanding the high quality public university education that will give Washington’s children access to Washington’s best jobs.
Mr. McCray’s breezy assertion that our tenured university professors are lousy, unmotivated instructors has absolutely no basis in evidence or fact. Washington’s public universities always rank at or near the top in their categories in all of the various college ratings. Washington’s public universities rank 5th in the nation in 4-year graduation rates and 3rd in the nation in 6-year graduation rates. This outstanding performance becomes miraculous when we put it in the context of how badly Washington’s universities are funded:
Yes, you’re reading that chart right. In total funding per student (state support plus tuition), Washington now ranks dead last in the nation. Fiftieth out of fifty.
So when Attorney General McKenna looks at the most desperately underfunded university system in the country, the system that does the most with the least, what he sees is a need to punish the professors who are the people most responsible for that success.
To see just how knee-jerk and faulty this thinking is, let’s do a little comparison.
Rob McKenna is a very smart guy who spent four years in college and another three years in law school. He has spent most of his working life in public service. It’s a pretty safe bet that, as a smart, well-educated, articulate straight white guy he could have made a lot more money in the private sector. It’s probably just as safe to assume that his motivation to do his job well as a public servant comes as much from an admirable internal sense of duty and responsibility as it does from any external factor.
Public university college professors spend at least twice as much time in graduate school as McKenna did in law school and make about half as much money as McKenna does as attorney general. We are willing to move across the country for the job and we don’t get meaningful health or retirement benefits until we’re in our thirties. Our parents all wish we had gone to law school. Only an idiot would go into this line of work for anything other than a genuine desire to pursue knowledge and help students learn. External carrots and sticks are far less likely to motivate faculty than internal demons and drives.
Tenure protects the thing that our society most needs and that faculty most value: the right of a professor to pursue the truth without fear of retribution. It allows an astronomer to say that the earth revolves around the sun, an economist to point out the regressivity of Washington tax policy, or a constitutional scholar to disagree with an attorney general about the constitutionality of Obamacare.
The stick that Attorney General McKenna proposes will only motivate faculty to work in the other 49 states where academic freedom is protected by tenure and funding for higher education is better, leaving Washington’s students with only those professors who can’t get jobs anywhere else.
At best, that’s a pretty odd proposal from the candidate who claims to be the education guy.--
<< Previous: UFWS Message: ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE
| Archive Index |