Many of us would agree that, for all its esteemed worldwide reputation, American higher education is in dire need of reform, if not complete overhaul. And one of the elements on most reformers’ list is academic tenure, the century-old concept that provides job security in academic freedom for qualified professors. In Texas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has placed tenure reform high on his list of priorities for the upcoming legislative session on the grounds that the concept provides undue cover for radical progressive ideas like critical race theory, and his plan goes beyond modest reform to the elimination of tenure for all new hires at public universities. But House Speaker Dade Phelan opposes the elimination of tenure because he thinks it would work against conservatives by removing the protection provided by tenure and making it more difficult to recruit conservative faculty members. In other words, be careful what you ask for, and I agree with Phelan–tenure might be the only thing keeping many vastly outnumbered conservative college professors in their jobs. There are other, more comprehensive steps that are more promising.
Jonathan Haidt, Professor of Ethical Leadership at the NYU Stern School, has written recently on the fiduciary duties of college professors. He believes that higher education should return to its telos, meaning the end, goal, or purpose at which a profession or institution aims, and that the telos of a university is truth, and he suggests that universities can have many goals and many values, but they can only have one telos. He argues that the wave of protests and changes sweeping through universities are attempts to elevate the value of social justice to become a second telos requiring a massive restructuring of universities and their norms in a way that damages their ability to seek truth. In fact, it seems we have reached the point at which it seems this conflict of truth vs. social justice is unmanageable, and will continue to be so until we return these institutions to their proper telos, the pursuit of truth as a fiduciary duty.
A most promising idea to restore this duty that I have recently been working on with the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) is promotion on college campuses of what has been named the Chicago Principles, founded at the University of Chicago, which has been called “the gold standard” as an in depth higher education policy commitment to the pursuit of truth through free speech and deliberation. ACTA has recently announced its national launch of this project and the chosen launch pad is The University of Texas at Austin. The donor and trustee-driven goal is to have every major university adopt and enforce the Chicago Principles or their like in policy. The initiative deserves our support.
Gregory Stachura says
The fiduciary responsibility seems to me one separate from the duty of fidelity to the telos of a university or college. Respect for the hard work and investment made by taxpayers and parents is an essential virtue in the nature of any such institution and in its administration.
Still, I agree with the Chicago Principles as a touch stone for higher education in a civilized community, which by its own order, restricts the more base and brutal behavior of the human animal.
Richard Illyes says
Academia is the new Planter Class. Instead of living off the stolen labor of their slaves, Academia lives off the stolen future labor of their students via student loans.
The solution is to introduce competition. New ventures like the University of Austin are a partial answer. However, state funded schools could be required to provide equivalent credits via examinations. The instruction needed to pass these examinations would be provided by the free market. Students receiving these credits would receive the same degree as those who sat through the courses, and could mix actual classes with credits via exams to attain their degrees.
Texas and most states already provide for some courses to be tested out of, and have developed information on the requirements of first and second year courses to provide for transfer credit. Almost all courses could receive the same treatment, allowing for free market education providers to provide competitive offerings.
The credentialing exams should also allow retaking, with higher grade points reflecting life experience and added study. The tests should not be pass/fail, but actually indicate the test score. To stop indoctrination, an appeals procedure staffed by volunteer alumni should allow review of grades where other than multiple choice questions are part of the grade. Total transparency at the student’s option should be required.
Flight training is an area where a lot of private schools compete, and it provides a very high quality of educational services. There is no reason why other areas could not do the same. I got part of my flight training from the University of Illinois, and the remainder from non-university providers. The difference in quality was amazing, with the non-university providers far ahead.
In the fast approaching world of the future, continual education will become the norm. It is time to open the provision of educational services to the free market in a truly meaningful way.
Bill Close says
I agree !
Danny Billingsley says
These three posts by Jim, Richard and Gregory, are prime examples of the superiority of creative ideas from free thinking citizens over the political class.
david redford says
I certainly believe that the telos of a university should be the pursuit of truth. As Jesus said in the book of John “you shall know the truth and the truth shall make us free”. The problem is having a populace which knows how to pursue truth. This requires critical thinking which requires many things including research and freedom from bias. My wife taught classes in critical thinking at U of H. We have about 100M people in our country who believe Trump won the election with no evidence except that is what he says. There is no critical thinking there and no pursuit of the truth. The gold standard for education should be having tools to find the truth.