I think I agree with conservative Texans (and it scares me a little)

In the course of procrastinating/poking around on the Internets, I came across this CHE article, “Professors in Texas Protest Law That Requires Them to Post Teaching Details Online.” It’s behind their firewall, so I will paraphrase.  And let me say at the outset that I am obviously uncomfortable in finding that I agree with conservatives, let alone Texan conservatives.  I fear I am missing some of the more controversial points of this provision, so if anyone who knows better can correct me on what I’m not getting, please do so.

Here’s how the article opens:

Faculty members and administrators in Texas are speaking out about a recent state law that requires them to post specific, detailed information about their classroom assignments, curricula vitae, department budgets, and the results of student evaluations.

A conservative group whose administrators have close ties to Gov. Rick Perry lobbied for the law, saying it offers important “consumer protection.” Opponents counter that it has created an expensive and time-consuming burden and offers little benefit to the public.

Beginning this fall, universities will have to post online a syllabus for every undergraduate course, including major assignments and examinations, reading lists, and course descriptions.

Curricula vitae must include a faculty member’s teaching experience and contributions to professional publications. All of the information must be no more than three clicks away from the college’s home page.

Colleges are required to assign compliance duties to a campus administrator and, every other year, send a written report to the governor and legislative leaders.

Okay, I have some questions/concerns– what exactly does the law mean by “specific, detailed information,” for example?  And what’s the nature of this report to be submitted to the governor and legislative leaders?

Still… what’s the big deal here?  I mean, I have posted pretty specific classroom assignments, readings lists, course descriptions, and the like on the web for years and years.  Lots of people I know have some version of the CV up online, including me (though mine is not at all complete and it is a little out of date).  Basic results of student evaluations have been available to students at EMU for years, and there is a little site called ratemyprofessor.com that has been doing a problematic version of public student evaluations for years.  I think it would awesome if the administration would be a little more forthcoming about institutional budgets. And quite frankly, given all the horseshit reports that administrators make faculty write in the name of program review, accountability, and “strategery,” I think it is more than fair to make the administrators write a few horseshit reports themselves.

Here’s how the article ends:

Theresa J.C. Norman, an instructor of philosophy at South Texas College, calls the reporting requirements “a waste of time.”

Ms. Norman, who is also president of the South Texas Faculty Association, also resents what she sees as the law’s underlying assumptions. “You get the feeling that the government sees us as slackers,” she says. By requiring professors to list every assignment, she says the law interferes with her ability to respond to students’ interests and current events and shift to different topics during the semester.

Texas Tech University has spent $85,000 upgrading its server and hiring an administrator to train faculty members how to create digitally-searchable CV’s and syllabi that will meet the law’s requirements, according to Valerie O. Paton, vice president for planning and assessment.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lois W. Kolkhorst, wanted to protect students and tuition-paying parents at a time of rising college costs, according to her chief of staff, Chris Steinbach. “Enrolling in a course and finding that it’s not what you needed can be an expensive mistake,” he says.

If this law means that faculty have to give REALLY specific details about assignments to the point where it is not possible for changes/modifications to the course, then I would agree.  But is that what this law is saying?  Really?

And an $85,000 server upgrade and training for faculty?!? Really.  Really? How hard is it to slap a PDF up on the web nowadays?

Now, I will admit that I teach in a state and at a university that is considerably more left-leaning than Texas, and I also don’t teach in an area that is particularly controversial.  I mean, the public at large gets a lot more “excited” about the politics of teaching evolution in biology or “dirty books” in literature than they do about teaching the controversies about writing and technology.  I don’t think I have to worry too much about Teabaggers coming after me for English 328.

Still, what’s the big deal here?  What am I missing?

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6 Responses to I think I agree with conservative Texans (and it scares me a little)

  1. Ryan Hoover says:

    Being an educator in Texas, I’ll chime in with my view (which I think is pretty common). For a lot of faculty, it’s not that big of a deal to post online CVs or assignments. We pretty much do that anyway.

    But what gets a lot of us is the “mandated” part. We see a lot of small moves like this that show a distrust of higher ed. There does seem to be a legislative move to make us “accountable” – and we start having nightmares about a higher ed version of No Child Left Behind.

    And there’s also a lot of resentment in terms of the feasibility of the idea. The law, as those around me understand it, is that an individual syllabus must be within three clicks of the homepage. Not the listing of syllabi, but the syllabus itself. Which means that there’s going to have to be some serious modifications to university websites – and we all know how well that goes.

    So, it’s more of an issue of “big brother” watching our teaching than any physical act we’ll have to do.

    Or, at least, that’s my take.

  2. PhilosopherP says:

    I think that, without the context of the class, the folks who want to see all of this information may take it the wrong way.

    For example, I teach Ethics. We do a unit titled “sexual ethics”, mostly because it’s something that my students are actually interested in — unlike euthanasia and war — which are the other two applied ethics units.

    My worry is that the folks reading the syllabus a) won’t bother to do the reading assignments and b) won’t be in the classroom when we have discussions that are actually meaningful. Instead, they’ll jump to the conclusion that the unit is smutty and raise a fuss.

    I think the result of this is going to be horrible for students. The syllabi will become very generic, thus non-specific and as a result the students won’t have a solid idea about what’s in the course before it starts.

    The other alternative will be a course that has very few assessment opportunities, lots of lecture and a syllabus that reflects such a course.

    The problem isn’t being “open” with course content, it’s the fear that the content will be taken out of context or that, in the fear of content being taken out of context, the actual course becomes less valuable.

  3. Steve Krause says:

    For me, the issue of things being taken out of context is fairly minor and easy enough to deal with. All PhilosopherP would need to do establish context is to include some text that, well, establishes context. And it seems to me that the fear is that people won’t bother reading the assignments or won’t bother reading the other materials to understand the context isn’t really a reason to not do this.

    “Three clicks” thing is annoying but possible. Homepage->Faculty->Faculty member name->Syllabi/other materials is three clicks. This could presumably be done with some kind of database software too– that is, as long as individual faculty update their materials on some sort of web site, then the materials can be found. Of course, if I was an IT person and/or administrator trying to comply with this silly rule, I’d argue that a search engine is all you need to get to the three clicks thing for most users.

    As far as the mandated/”no child left behind” part of things: I feel your pain, at least to a point, and I agree this is a problem. I mean, what the heck does the governor or the legislature know about any of this? Of course, those are the groups that have the money, which means that by definition, they are the ones who “know better,” like it or not.

    And I guess I have two other basic problems with the fear of it being mandated. First, lots of degree programs are routinely are assessed on mandatory requirements of curriculum and faculty in order to earn some sort of certification. In other words, this sort of mandated assessment feared by a lot of faculty happens all the time already. Here at EMU, we have enormous programs in elementary and secondary education, and as a result of that, we’ve been going through assessment by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. This is an assessment that impacts most faculty in my department since we have a large English teacher preparation program. It’s a pain in the butt and a lot of what they were asking for is, IMO, stupid. But we didn’t really have a choice, and it forced us to do things differently than we did before. But at the end of the day, it hasn’t lead to a collapse of the educational system as we know it.

    Second, and this is related to things I saw with the NCATE assessment in our department, I think faculty often have an unreasonable fear of “accountability.” I suppose this is in large part due to the “Ivory Tower” of academia: many of us have been lead to believe that we are in fact our own little fiefdoms, master of our own little domains that have no connection with anyone else and thus we are only “accountable” to ourselves. So I think that a lot of faculty resent the idea that anyone would even dare to ask them to explain what they are doing in their teaching and why.

    Well, I think those days are either long behind us or they never existed in the first place. So in the end, while I too am not sure that the Texas governor and legislature ought to be doing the assessing, I don’t think there is a straight line between “being accountable” and “being oppressed.”

  4. cbd says:

    The biggest problem here: the three click “rule” isn’t. And we’ve known that since 2003. And it takes two seconds to find that out:

    Testing the three-click rule

    If that’s representative of the careful thinking and research that went into this law … well then.

  5. Steve Krause says:

    Good point, cbd, and good link.

    I still think they could make it three click or even one click though– just list ALL the syllabi and stuff on the homepage. It’d make for one nasty and unusable web site, but it kind of goes with the “garbage in, garbage out” sentiment of the law, perhaps.

  6. Bruce says:

    Being an educator in Texas, I’ll chime in with my view (which I think is pretty common). For a lot of faculty, it’s not that big of a deal to post online CVs or assignments. We pretty much do that anyway.

    But what gets a lot of us is the “mandated” part. We see a lot of small moves like this that show a distrust of higher ed. There does seem to be a legislative move to make us “accountable” – and we start having nightmares about a higher ed version of No Child Left Behind.

    And there’s also a lot of resentment in terms of the feasibility of the idea. The law, as those around me understand it, is that an individual syllabus must be within three clicks of the homepage. Not the listing of syllabi, but the syllabus itself. Which means that there’s going to have to be some serious modifications to university websites – and we all know how well that goes.

    So, it’s more of an issue of “big brother” watching our teaching than any physical act we’ll have to do.

    Or, at least, that’s my take.

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