Richard Vedder

Higher education coalition voices opposition to affordability center's analysis

The Texas Coalition of Excellence for Higher Education opposes what it calls a "flawed" analysis by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity that undermines the efforts of administrators and professors at UT, according to a press release this morning.

The press release outlines yet another attack on the administrators and especially the UT President William Powers Jr. The members of the coalition believe that the report attacks people like Powers who teach in addition to their administrative duties.

Last month, UT System released salaries of the professors and class enrollment sizes. A cautionary statement warned the readers that data is premature and cannot yield accurate analysis.

Texas Public Policy Foundation said in a recent interview with the Daily Texan that less productive professors and excessive academic research should also be eliminated. Richard Vedder, who authored the CCAP report, based his analysis on the data and concluded that increasing class enrollment can halve tuition. The coalition said his analysis also condemns administrators who also teach for being unproductive.

"In addition to President Powers, two vice provosts and 11 university deans, including the deans of the colleges of Architecture, Nursing, Communication, Pharmacy, Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences, among others, as well as many associate deans, department chairs and directors fall in the bottom quintile of the study, when sorted for the simplistic measure of productivity," according to the press release.

The Coalition formed this month seeks to oppose some of the proposals supported by Gov. Rick Perry, the TPPF and Vedder.

On average, University faculty members generate more money than they make with their research and teaching, according to a UT professor who authored a study on faculty instructional and grant-based productivity.

The study analyzes UT System data by breaking faculty down into tenured and tenure-track professors, graduate students and other faculty. The study’s author, sociology professor and associate liberal arts dean Marc Musick, said the results are limited because productivity measurements can’t provide an accurate picture of all the work professors do, especially with the data provided by the UT System.

“The report shows that the faculty are productive, but we can be more productive,” Musick said.

Musick said the UT System data provided faculty salary, benefits, the number of hours faculty members teach and grant expenditures. He said this left out important factors in faculty productivity such as mentoring students.

“Think about how good they’d look if we added all of these things on top of it,” Musick said.

Earlier this semester, Musick released a report on four-year graduation rates that compared UT to other public research universities. The report found that UT ranked 13th out of 120 for six-year graduation rates and second for the number of faculty employed per public dollar. Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, analyzed the data and found that 80 percent of the faculty teach smaller and fewer classes and should increase their teaching loads.

Former UT System special adviser Rick O’Donnell analyzed the same data this summer after he was fired. His report found the University could save $573 million by eliminating 1,784 of 3,000 faculty members that he categorized as under-productive.

Musick said his report is meant to analyze overall faculty performance and does not break data into results for individual faculty members. The A&M System released a faculty productivity analysis last spring known as the “red and black report” that singled out individual faculty performance. The controversial report threatened A&M’s membership with the Association of American Universities, which is an organization of leading research universities.

“It can be broken down, but I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Musick said. “It doesn’t look at all things that faculty do to be productive.”

Musick said the UT System data contained errors that did not properly reflect faculty productivity, which is another reason the data should not be broken down to individual faculty members.

The UT System plans to implement a productivity dashboard that will provide real time snapshots of faculty productivity. Musick said he did not know how it could be done or what it will be used for.

“As we go forward we have to be careful about the data we’re collecting,” Musick said.

Editor’s Note: This story is part of an ongoing series to explore the impact of UT’s research on the University and the state.

Research funding brings twice as much revenue to UT as state appropriations, and officials said maintaining high standards for research is necessary to avoid greater budget challenges in the face of state cuts.

The state allocated $318 million for the academic year 2010-11, while research brought in $642 million in mostly federal and out-of-state grants, said Vice President for Research Juan Sanchez. He said research funding is used to pay salaries, maintain facilities and buy equipment and supplies.

“In fact, we bring in more federal research funding than Berkeley [University],” he said.

Research revenue is used to pay the salaries of graduate students and faculty who contribute to the local and regional economy by paying taxes and spending money, Sanchez said, adding that research is entirely financially self-sustaining.

“Fundamentally, it allows us to sustain an intellectual environment that will be attractive to high quality faculty and students,” he said.

The only way the University can compete for more federal grant funding is by retaining top talent faculty and students, Sanchez said. Students and faculty choose UT because it offers excellent opportunities for research and discovering new things, he said.

President William Powers Jr. said in an email Wednesday that the $92 million in cuts means state appropriations will fund 13.3 percent of UT’s budget in the next biennium, compared to 14 percent in 2010-2011. This will require the University to change the way it uses its money, he said. UT has been preparing for the cuts in recent months and years, he added. He told The Daily Texan last week that quality research will remain a high priority for the University.

“We are collaborating with other universities across the nation to define the public research university of the future,” Powers said in the email. “But some things never change, such as our commitment to education and to nurturing the people and the research that changes the world.”

Richard Vedder, economist at Ohio University and a researcher at the The Center for College Affordability and Productivity, said “excessive” academic research should be eliminated. In an interview with The Daily Texan last month, he said some type of research in liberal arts has an anti-intellectual quality.

President William Powers Jr. said in an interview last week with The Daily Texan that deans and department chairs are getting questions from potential faculty about the future of research at the University. The controversy surrounding the subject is raising skepticism among donors and alumni as well.

“Anyone that talks about reducing research at the University has to understand that it will have a drastic impact on regional and statewide economy,” said Bruce Kellison, an associate director of the research arm IC^2, a University think tank.

If UT wasn’t doing the type of research it does, the funding it receives would go to other schools such as Berkeley, University of Wisconsin, University of California at Los Angeles and University of Illinois, Kellison said. That would hurt the Texas economy, he added.

“Because we are tier one, we are attracting people from all over the country and the world,” he said.

UT’s operating budget is $2.2 billion, but its economic footprint on Texas’ economy is $5.8 billion, Kellison said.

Students attending the University from other states and countries contribute to the state’s economy through direct and indirect spending, he said, and the University’s presence stimulates job growth both on and off campus.

“50,000 [students] buying cokes, pizzas and groceries — that is a lot of extra employment local businesses are able to generate from direct spending,” Kellison said.

Besides generating revenue through research, UT creates an environment that enables students to compete in an ever-changing world, said Texas economist Ray Perryman, who runs the Perryman Group, an economic analysis firm in Waco.

“It produces generation after generation of extraordinary people who will go on to make great contributions to the state, whether it is in sciences or politics,” Perryman said.

Updated on 07/18/2011 at 1:18 p.m.: Richard Vedder's attribution

The College of Liberal Arts released a report today in which Dean Randy Diehl said suggestions in “The Seven Breakthrough Solutions for Higher Education” could significantly undermine the quality of education and research at the University.

Diehl said he agrees with the “The Solutions’” goals to improve productivity and excellence at the University by evaluating faculty and increasing scholarships and grant programs for students.

“This is just an honest disagreement in terms of how to achieve those goals,” Diehl said.

The solutions, written by Austin businessman Jeff Sandefer, are supported by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, as well as Ohio State University economics professor Richard Vedder and Gov. Rick Perry.

“Some state leaders are advocating a business-style, market-driven approach under which colleges and universities would treat students as customers, de-emphasize research that isn’t immediately lucrative and evaluate individual faculty by the tuition revenue they generate,” Diehl’s report says.

The UT System released data requested by the Board of Regents including faculty names, salaries and class enrollment sizes two months ago with cautionary statements saying the data is premature and cannot yield accurate results. Vedder responded to the release of data in op-ed articles saying if professors increased their class sizes, tuition could be reduced significantly.

“Professors are getting relief time from the classrooms to produce articles that are not worth anything, aren’t read or aren’t cited by other researchers,” Vedder said to The Daily Texan two weeks ago.

The College of Liberal Arts report addresses some proposals for improving higher education which are based on data that was not properly filtered, Diehl said.

The report also highlights the importance of research in humanities and arts and addresses class sizes and student rankings.

It makes a distinction between the roles of tenured track faculty members and assistant professors and administrators, who are considered the “least productive” members of the University, according to a press release sent out last week by the Texas Coalition for Higher Education.

The author of a report that decries UT-Austin faculty workloads said he doesn’t believe his conclusion about the University needs to change, despite new and verified faculty data released by the UT System.

Last week, the UT System released updated data detailing faculty salaries, class sizes and tenure status, an update on system data released May 5. A report from the Center for College Affordability & Productivity noted, based on the original UT System data, that 20 percent of UT-Austin faculty teach more than half the student body.

Richard Vedder, an economist from Ohio University and author of the report, said UT would be able to significantly reduce inefficiencies and tuition if the remaining 80 percent of the faculty, who teach smaller and fewer classes, increased their teaching loads. Vedder said the new data list one group of senior administrators as non-instructional faculty, differentiating them from other faculty who teach one or two classes a year. The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education said last week Vedder’s report considers that group among the “least productive” faculty members.

Vedder also said there is great disparity in faculty teaching loads because most professors are teaching smaller classes and doing research as well. Some research is not cited by anyone or is only published in obscure journals, which fails to serve society, he said.

“People [are] writing hundreds of articles about self-esteem,” Vedder said. “[It has] sort of an anti-intellectual quality to it.”
He said unless the impact of the research is extremely high, professors shouldn’t have flexible teaching schedules — rather, they should increase the number of students they teach each year.

English professor Jerome Bump said he is doing research that involves students going out in the community and rescuing animals that are sentenced to death because nobody is willing to adopt them. These students work with Austin Pets Alive! and write small biographical advertisements on Craigslist to save animals, Bump said.

“This assignment gives students an ethical motivation to write,” he said. “It strengthens the foundation of ethics, which enhances the ultimate ethical virtue: compassion.”

He said people like Vedder are out of touch with the origins of the University. One of UT’s graduation requirements is that students take at least one course with a leadership and ethics component. These courses develop a sense of ethics and morality in students, which Bump said is so essential and beneficial for society.

“[This] means creating leaders in society that democracy cannot function without,” he said.

Bump said the sense of morality is far more important to cultivate than learning how to make mobile homes, which Vedder would most likely consider more important than humanities and arts.

“The minute you stop valuing arts and humanities, you’re instantly doomed,” said Student Government President Natalie Butler.

Butler, a communication and liberal arts senior, said nobody knows the value of any research until someone starts doing it. Research done in liberal arts can help students develop good writing and research skills, she said.

Gordon Appleman, UT alumnus and member of the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, said it is highly unusual for the UT Board of Regents to request data that will cast the University in a negative light.

“These people seemed to be intent on harming the University,” Appleman said. 

A report by The Center of College Affordability and Productivity classifies high-level administrators as the least productive members of the University, according to a Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education press release.

The coalition, which formed in June, came out with a statement Tuesday saying the center’s analysis casts the University’s senior officials in a negative light. The report used preliminary data released by the UT System in May and used it to propose solutions that would significantly undermine education, according to the press release.

“A number of people who have been involved in Texas with higher education like myself have examined what [these] proposals are, and we don’t like it very much,” said former UT president Peter Flawn, who serves on the executive committee of the coalition.

People who support this analysis are characterizing the value of education using numbers, statistics and percentages that do not capture the full quality of research and education at the University, Flawn said.

Richard Vedder is an Ohio University economics professor who authored the center’s report. Vedder said President William Powers Jr.’s administrative salary is excessive at about $1 million a year. Powers earned $746,738 last year, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Vedder said Powers teaches one class a year and has a student interaction of about 100 hours. He said if professors taught more students per year, tuition could be reduced significantly. Powers and other senior officials represent only one percent of the faculty, and if you took them out, the analysis would remain the same, Vedder said.

“As a professor of 40 years, it seems to me that a person can do a good bit of research while still maintaining [a high] teaching load,” he said.

Powers said he is not as well-paid as some of the other university presidents in the country. As president, he said he works about 80 hours a week.

“In most schools, presidents and deans do not teach at all,” Powers said. “I teach my freshman seminar, [which] I am not required to do, but I think it’s good for the curriculum.”

Some people don’t understand that increasing class sizes can be dire for students and their academic experience, he said.

Powers publicly criticized the Seven Breakthrough Solutions — written by Jeff Sandefer and endorsed by Gov. Rick Perry — in an op-ed published this month. Powers said he wants to continue a vigorous conversation about solutions to the challenges facing Texas higher education.

Printed on 06/30/2011 as: Powers speaks out against evaluations of UT administrators

Gov. Rick Perry has backed the Seven Breakthrough Solutions for Higher Education, but the plan from a conservative think tank could prove to be a breaking point between Perry and members of the higher education community even as Perry may be seeking support for a presidential run.

UT President William Powers Jr., Student Government President Natalie Butler and UT alumni organization Texas Exes went on alert after interest grew in proposals from groups such as the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation that suggest rewarding professors based on student evaluations, splitting the budget for teaching and research and increasing class enrollments to halve tuition. Perry’s endorsement of such policies in speeches stirred further controversy among leaders of the University.

“We don’t want to see the de-emphasis of research because that’s what made our state so great,” said outgoing Texas Exes President Richard Leshin.

Leshin said he thinks Perry has had a lot to do with setting the agenda for the UT System Board of Regents and it’s something the administrators, students and other members of the higher education community have seen for a long time. A UT spokesperson said nobody from the University administration would want to speak publicly about the matter, but several administrators expressed discomfort with Perry’s ideas off the record.

“I think it’s very difficult for them to speak up because they are state employees, and it makes it very difficult to oppose anything like that,” Leshin said.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said Perry’s constituents have questioned his position on higher education in the form of letters to the Texas Ethics Commission. Perry and others, including the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the UT System Board of Regents are pursuing proposals that would damage higher education’s quality without seeking input from university students, professors and administrators, Zaffirini said. She said Perry and those who support his views on education have the right to make suggestions and be heard, but they must also consider competing proposals.

“When we deal with higher education, we must deal with the educators,” Zaffirini said.

Liberal arts professor Tom Palaima said education cannot be treated like a manufactured automobile. Rather, you have to create a balance between big and small classrooms and continue to engage in research that proves essential for the future of students and citizens of the country, he said.

“Education is designed to create something absolutely new,” Palaima said.

Perry and supporters say they don’t want to dilute the quality of higher education — instead, they’re trying to increase efficiency and improve educational experiences. Prominent advocates of this idea include Perry, Ohio State University economics professor Richard Vedder and Texas Public Policy Foundation members.

In his Center for College Affordability and Productivity report, Vedder encourages institutions to use fewer resources, eliminate excessive academic research and cut unnecessary programs. This research includes studies done by university professors and students that don’t improve society, said Texas Public Policy Foundation spokesman David Guethner.

“Professors are getting relief time from the classroom to produce articles that are not worth anything, aren’t read or aren’t cited by other researchers,” he said.

Guethner said Vedder’s analysis suggests institutions should increase the number of classes being taught by each professor. When professors are engaged in research and cannot teach full time during a semester, the universities have to hire people who can make up the work load, he said. One way the universities can deal with this problem is by getting rid of less productive professors, he said.

The bipartisan Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education formed last week to oppose an attitude that devalues research and emphasizes quantifiable efficiency measures such as those that Perry and the Foundation support.

“We have not been on [Perry’s side] when we first discovered what he was doing,” said Gordon Appleman, a UT alumnus and member of the coalition’s executive committee.

He said the coalition disagrees with the proposal to halve tuition by eliminating research in favor of immediate, easily quantifiable results. Some research has quick payoffs but other forms can take a long time to yield results and benefits, Appleman said.

As Perry’s profile grows nationally, so does discontent among some educators and education advocates. They said they will continue to address concerns about Perry’s attitudes toward higher education.

Printed on 6/23/2011 as: Perry endorses controversial educational reforms that face resistance from UT leaders, student body

In a recent Austin American-Statesman guest column, Richard Vedder lambasted the University of Texas at Austin in particular and higher education in general. Through his Center for College Affordability & Productivity (whose staff directory looks more like a yearbook for an all-boys boarding school), he proclaims to have determined that it is pointless for anyone to write articles about Shakespeare any longer and that academic papers are generally a waste since they don’t generate enough capital, despite the fact that he boasts to have written “scores of academic journal articles” himself.

He also laments that many of his colleagues at Ohio University are often not in their offices during the workweek — something he knows because of a reconnaissance mission he took to survey the corridors, presumably giving himself license to leave his own office at the time to perform this particularly important research.

There is plenty in academia to criticize and be concerned about, yet Vedder, for all his self-righteous stone throwing, is unable to hit a single mark. He’s desperate to solve the problems of academia by putting things in terms he can understand, but the value of research, teaching and learning cannot be quantified, nor can Shakespeare, Texas barbeque or Jesus Christ Himself. All the standardized testing and aggregate data analysis in the world isn’t going to change that.

If Vedder had his way, universities would turn out products like “Jersey Shore,” Grand Theft Auto and Donald Trump. Those are all serious moneymakers after all, so why aren’t we producing this trash?
Because that’s not what we do and it’s not who we are.

That’s not to say UT is not in the business of marketing and selling products. It certainly is. Hats, T-shirts, key chains, picture frames — you name it and UT will put a Bevo on it if it means a buck. But it is not UT’s core mission to produce the niftiest bottled water in Texas.

UT’s mission is to contribute “to the advancement of society through research, creative activity, scholarly inquiry and the development of new knowledge.” Yes, it is also to benefit the state’s economy, which it does in spades. If you absolutely have to put a dollar figure on it, here it is: For every dollar going into UT, 18 are returned to the state economy. One hopes most people can understand that what UT gives back — what any educational institution worth its salt gives back — is boundless. It is the essence of innovation, that indefinable something that makes America great, that wonder of research and awe of discovery.

Ray Nance and many others used to sing a song about something called “swing.” Vedder wants to know how much swing costs or what the financial return is. Being unable to put a dollar value on it drives people including Vedder crazy because they don’t have it and they’re never going to get it. And in the end, after all the money is divvied out and Vedder and his gang calculate how much everything and everyone is worth, the beautiful reality is that it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing.

Kresl is a graduate student in the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the School of Architecture.