05 September 2011

Money for South Texas universities

The state of Texas is going to send a lot of money towards education in my area, and particularly at my institution. This has been covered in the news in several places, such as here and here.

Particularly interesting are the reports of $9.5 million to recruit new faculty in science and technology. The campus paper quotes my institution’s President, Robert Nelsen:

“We’re looking for starters,” he said. “These will be people with national reputations. We need new faculty and to have the quality of high-caliber faculty such as these is really going to be marvelous.”

Details on exactly how the money will be managed have not surfaced anywhere, as far as I can see. I wonder who will be making decisions about recruiting, and what that money will be used to do (i.e., salary, start-up, something else?).

In an effort like this, the devil is surely in the details. Recruiting new faculty (particularly people with “national reputations”) is a tricky business at the best of times.

Texas does not enjoy a great reputation for science. The last few weeks have seen a lot of discussion about Governor Rick Perry’s mistaken belief that we teach creationism here, and his comments about how climate scientists are lying about global warming to make money. Sprinkle with a couple of years of the Texas State Board of Education weakening the K-12 science standards, and is it any surprise you hear these sorts of dialogues among academics?

Way back when I was but a naive TT hopeful (ahh...2009), J and I had a not-that-serious conversation about which cities we'd be willing to grace with the privilege of our permanent/semi-permanent residence. In truth, it was not so much a conversation as it was me naming places, and J either accepting or vetoing, comme ├ža:

Me: San Francisco?
J: Probably.
Me: Chicago?
J: I could do Chicago.
Me: Houston?
J: No-HO! No Texas.

Then there is physical space. Our university has been talking about a new wing on our science building for some time. The most recent capital improvement has been for a new Fine Arts center - which they got, and good for them! But it’s not clear when we’re going to see new space on a science building.

Finally, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board announced new rules for doctoral programs that take effect in October. The new rules tie requests to new doctoral programs to the undergraduate completion rate: you have to be at or above the state average (excluding the flagship universities, the University of Texas in Austin and Texas A&M University). This means that half the universities in Texas are cut out, including ours.

To sum up: we have millions of dollars to recruit new faculty with “national reputations” to come to a somewhat rural locale in a state with an anti-intellectual reputation, who will then be expected to perform their wonders with no doctoral students and no new space.

Sometimes, you have to wonder if the right hand knows what the left hand is doing.

In related news, the University of Texas system was widely praised for new plans to promote university accountability.

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