Educated Yet Uneducated

In Florida, a judge upheld the State Department of Education’s ruling that ties tenure and post-tenure review to student success. The article states (IHE, 27 December 2013):

“The rules that have now been approved state that each district president, after consulting with faculty, should develop a system to evaluate faculty members, using ‘appropriate criteria to measure student success.’ Those criteria ‘may include’:

  • Demonstrated or documented learning gains.
  • Course completion rates.
  • Graduation and/or certification rates.
  • Continued success in subsequent and additional courses or educational pursuits.
  • Job placements in the appropriate field.

The criteria would be used not only for awarding new continuing contracts, but also for the equivalent of post-tenure reviews, which are also mandated by the new rules.”

The educated people who make and enforce such policies seem to me to be uneducated.

I see five things wrong with this:

  1. The focus is on the people, faculty, not teaching processes and administrative processes. Blaming people for problems is zero-sum solution that will not result in fundamentally improved outcomes.
  2. Trying to put into control what is clearly out of professor’s control is a dumb thing to do. Students often do poorly in courses where they dislike the subject matter, many of of which are outside their major – and where student success is most highly evaluated. Post-graduation educational success is obviously of out of professor’s control, as is job placement.
  3. Higher ed is optional education and not subject to the same rules as compulsory (K-12) education. As with any commercial transaction between two consenting parties, a student is free to pay and receive value or let the value provided by the supplier go to waste. Federal student loans don’t change that.
  4. Tenure is an evaluation of teaching ability, research productivity, and service to the university and to one’s profession. Connecting tenure to student success changes the nature of tenure evaluation and moves the incentive away from advancing knowledge for a better future and towards a parenting relationship with students to meet today’s socio-economic needs.
  5. Institutions of higher education will soon be accused of defrauding the federal government due to the games that administrators and faculty will play to generate favorable metrics in order to continue receiving funding or subsidies.

I know of no better institution of higher education where the five faculty evaluation criteria listed above are better documented than Harvard (or, the top tier private universities in total).

Yet, we continue to see small- and large-scale failures led by those educated by our greatest institutions. For example, Enron financial fraud, the recent financial crisis, GM and Kodak bankruptcies, Johnson & Johnson product recalls, Boeing’s 787 development program, the heathcare.gov web site, BP Gulf oil spill, the shift in public funding of higher education to subsidize private corporations, etc.

Clearly there should be a sixth criteria to consider, one that ties tenure to student’s long-term success:

  • Not leading or contributing to one or more large scale failure in the years after graduation.

A lot of tenured professors at big-name institutions would fail their post-tenure review if that were the case.

What’s the Lean approach to dealing with this problem? First, it would be to focus on the teaching (and administrative) processes, not the people (faculty). The Lean approach is to recognize reality, engage in root cause analysis, identify practical countermeasures, and continuous improvement thereafter via kaizen. We do things that are fun and effective, and avoid doing what kills human spirit and drains the life out of people.

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