Friday, December 5, 2008

TBR Chancellor tries to pull a fast one - gets slammed by academic community

The Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) is the is the sixth-largest system of public higher education currently operating in the United States. MTSU is the largest University in the system and largest undergraduate University in the state.

Facing state budget shortfalls, TBR Chancellor Charles Manning proposed a “New Business Model” [pdf] for the TBR system that was potentially so destructive to sound academics, that he earned the “Turkey at the Top” Award in the Chronicle Review as the worst academic leader of the year. (Nashville Scene story). To put it in perspective, Manning beat out University of Louisville Dean Robert Felner, who was indicted for conspiracy to commit fraud, money laundering and tax evasion to the tune of $2 million. Manning’s proposal was to be approved by the TBR Board on Thurs Dec 4, but it didn’t happen.

Some of Manning's proposals included:
  • Requiring students to take a certain number of online courses en route to their bachelor’s and associate’s degrees.
  • Turning online learning into an entirely automated experience “with no direct support from a faculty member except oversight of testing and grading,” and providing financial incentives for students to voluntarily accept teacherless education. Even initiating mandatory online classes.
  • Cutting salaries and permitting furloughs as a short-term expedient in dealing with budget reductions
  • Use 'advanced students' to teach 'beginning students' and build that requirement into curriculum and financial aid packages.
  • Increase faculty workload, initiating a "students-taught” metric to supersede courseload, and “revise” summer compensation
  • Formalizing a system that anticipates even greater use of adjunct professors where the remaining tenure-stream faculty into their direct supervisors

Attack on education - shot down, for now

Apparently due to public and faculty outcry, and a whole lot of bad publicity, the TBR's plans to formally approve a new business model on Thur 12/4 were inexplicably rescinded.
(Nashville Scene story , MTSU Sidelines article)

So what is wrong with Manning's plan?

1) It was sneaky and timed to be pushed through before anyone noticed. Everyone noticed. As MTSU Faculty Senate Prez Alfre Lutz wrote:

Chancellor Manning's memorandum was released as late as November 20, a week before Thanksgiving and about two weeks before the Board "will formalize its approval of this undertaking" at its December 4 meeting.... It is shocking to realize that TBR would (a) initiate fundamental changes to the work faculty members do ("new business model") without so much as informing, let alone consulting, them, the experts on this work; and (b) consider adopting a radical change to the Personnel Policy within two weeks, again without soliciting faculty input. This constitutes a serious breach of trust, and we will certainly no longer assume that TBR values faculty members as stakeholders crucial to the future of higher education in Tennessee.

2) The proposal would create a 2-tiered system: students will receive a tuition discount if they 'work online with no direct support from a faculty member,' setting up a scenario where the wealthier students would be able to consult faculty members, and, as a result, receive a superior education and graduate with higher GPAs.

3) TBR professors are already underpaid compared to the national averages. Adjunct professors are outrageously underpaid. As the Chronicle article stated:
...the reality is that if you’re really experienced and qualified, teaching 10 courses a year for Chuck Manning nets you about 15 grand without benefits, or less than you’d make at Wal-mart. That’s quite a bit less than half the $33, 960 that the extremely useful Living Wage Calculator says is necessary to support one adult and one child in Knox County.
Here is one professor who worked as an adjunct for nearly 10 years at MTSU for $15,000 and had to get family help, food stamps and bear the indignity of bagging groceries for his own students and their parents at a part time job. And the TBR wants more professors like this?

Disgusting. I’m glad to see students both liberal and conservative speak out against this attack on education.

Check out the interview on YouTube:



Personally, I wonder how one gets to be a member of the TBR - the governing body of a major academic system. Most of these board members don’t have anywhere near the level of educational achievement and scholarship that the majority of the faculty that they’re directing have. Also, it is not a diverse group - mostly people involved in business, politics, law, and athletics, but very few individuals with backgrounds in the arts, sciences, and humanities. I don’t think I saw a single board member with any background in the arts. We sincerely hope they do the right thing.

More from NIT and here on MTSU student protest.

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