Much is being made in the media about Gov. Rick Scott’s move to reform higher education in Florida.
Well, not really broad, important reform, but a comment he made about whether Florida taxpayers should subsidize anthropology majors the way they do business, science and engineering majors.
“While anthropology is really interesting, there are no jobs there. We don’t tell these kids that,” Scott told the Observer Group’s editorial board recently. “We’re going to put our money into science, technology, engineering and math. So if people want to get degrees in anthropology, that’s great. I just don’t want to take your money to pay for that.”
In an exercise in pointless reporting, the media frenzied almost exclusively on the anthropology remarks, going in knee-jerk fashion to the obvious arbiters of objectivity on the issue — university anthropologists and anthropology associations. Predictably as gravity, they were aggrieved at Scott’s “lack of comprehension.” Again, disagreement from the left — yes, an assumption, but a reasonably safe one — always comes down to name-calling, even when it is polite. Scott’s stoopid. Bush was stoopid. Reagan was stoopid. Perry is stoopid. Bachmann is stoopid. Face it, conservatives are stoopid.
Of course, considering what we know of university faculties, the chances that any of those cloistered, ivory-tower special interests voted for Scott is microscopic. So part of this really is political.
But it is a healthy exercise to question the way things have always been — something that used to be a mainstay of liberalism, which has now become largely statist in many ways.
The reporting, smelling like just more anti-Scott hit jobs, is a disservice to the greater issue: The need for dramatic reform in the state university system that churns out too many unemployables at too much cost while making sure that its own turf is protected.
Scott wants to look at several major higher-education issues, such as:
• Reconsidering the concept of permanent, untouchable employment by professors, encapsulated in the tenure concept. No one in the private sector and most in the public sector do not have that kind of job security on steroids. Clearly the weak profs need to go, but do not under the current system.
• Reforming university boards so that members will question presidents and other faculty and not just be “yes” members to everything the university establishment wants. That has resulted in ever-escalating tuition costs for students and taxpayers;
• Reigning in pay. Scott pointed out that more than 2,000 people make more than $144,000 per year in Florida’s universities, and he is placing public salaries online for transparency. People should know those numbers.
Scott is patterning his proposals after Texas reforms known as the “Seven Breakthrough Solutions.” Those reforms look at requiring colleges to quantify their performance by calculating a cost-benefit analysis of teachers. It attempts to let the market of students and parents make better decisions with more information. It rewards success, not mediocrity.
In calculating the cost-benefit analysis for professors, these questions are asked: How much are they paid? How many classes do they teach? How many students? How do students rate those professors? The data are then compiled into rankings, which students could review before choosing their instructors.
And then professors proving their worth get bonuses.
Another part of the Texas reforms calls for redirecting how funding is done. Right now, public money is given to schools as a tuition subsidy. The Texas plan argues that students make the best decision — not politicians — and that they should get the subsidy directly. Critics say this is a voucher system — as though that would be a bad thing.
Of course, the government union — United Faculty of Florida — opposes any such changes. Why not? The current system is gravy for its members. Just not for taxpayers and students.
The way things are does zippo to reward high performers and provides insulation for crummy professors. Those are the real issues, not anthropology’s contribution to modern society.
Rod Thomson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.