Friday, June 09, 2006

Hardly a vote of confidence 

Some people are trying to sugarcoat a report by AAUP on confidence in institutions of higher education. But the report says concerns about liberal bias on American campuses are more than a tempest in a teapot.

Here's the key result the sugarcoaters are pointing to:

When asked to name the biggest problem facing American higher education today, 42.8 percent of respondents � the single biggest category � say �the high cost of college tuition.� ...17 percent say �binge drinking by students� is the biggest problem, 10.2 percent say �low educational standards,� 8.2 percent �political bias in the classroom,� 6.5 percent �crime on campus,� and about 5 percent each say the biggest issue is �incompetent professors,� �too much focus on college athletics,� or �lack of support for a diverse student population.�
What a surprise. Most parents, and particularly those getting ready to send kids to college, probably have as their primary concern how to pay the bill. The binge drinking answer is likely influenced by the Duke lacrosse story. And the surveyors split out concerns about faculty performance into three categories -- standards, bias, and incompetence -- to hide the concern in the American public over the quality of higher education. When asked which problems were very serious, of course four in five thought tuition was a very serious problem. But 48.9% thought low educational standards were, 37.5% said so for political bias, and a third thought incompetent professors were a serious problem.

They also read them a definition of tenure (since only 55% said they knew what it was) and then asked whether they liked the idea of tenure. Of course most did. But listen to the definition:
�Let me give you a definition of tenure. In most American colleges and universities, professors are eligible for permanent or continuous appointments after a probationary period of about seven years. These appointments are called tenure, and once tenure is granted, professors usually can be dismissed only for serious misconduct or incompetence.�
Now you've just asked them what the serious problems are, and a third say incompetence is. Do they understand how few tenured faculty are dismissed for incompetence?

This is a very cynical report to be read at the AAUP convention this weekend. But I doubt any one will notice.