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Commentary

Editor’s note: Commentary provides university faculty and staff an opportunity to express their opinions in The Miami University Report. Contributions should be no longer than 500-600 words in length and should be directed to Bill Houk (physics), houktw@muohio.edu. Published commentaries also will be posted online at www.muohio.edu/townsquare/commentary.

Slidin’ Down the Slant
as overheard by Jim Brock, economics

“Well Doc, you must be pretty disappointed by this article in the latest issue of Miami’s alumni magazine,” this lil’ punk sez as I’m easin’ out of the biscuit leather interior of my burgundy ‘54 Jag drophead.

“Naw sonny,” I shoots back. “For me to care about alums would take a five-year faculty improvement leave, a reserved parkin’ spot outside Roudebush, and a fat bonus like what we paid to stab our Western colleagues in the back. We faculty are on the a-la-carte plan here at the ol’ U now, doncha know — strictly pay to play!”

“I don’t know about that,” he whines, poking a magazine in front of me, “but look at this article on page 20 of the Fall 2007 issue of the Miamian, titled ‘Professorships Vital to Maintaining Top Faculty’. It features two members of the faculty who, the article says, ‘share their leading-edge thinking and passion with their students in the classroom.’ It says this happens ‘each day across Miami University’s campus.’ It even quotes the president saying ‘the quality associated with a Miami education rests fundamentally on our ability to recruit, retain, and support highly qualified faculty.’”

“Sounds tricky to me — just the thing to make alums all misty-eyed and reach for their wallets,” I barks, anxious to hop my flight to Cancun three weeks before Thanksgiving break. “What’s yer problem with that?”

“My problem with that,” he says all uppity, “is that being taught to think critically, I did a little research on these two faculty members by looking them up in Miami’s course schedule, and guess what I found?”

“I couldn’t care less,” I offers, reachin’ out to smack a smoker upside the head for violatin’ our diversity-tolerant ‘Live Clean or Die’ directive.

“This fall, one of these featured professors is teaching no undergraduate classes at all — not a single one — while the other is teaching only one undergraduate class with 40 students. For the coming spring semester, one of these professors is scheduled to teach only one undergraduate class enrolling only 20 students, while the other is scheduled to teach only one undergraduate class with room for only 10 students.”

“Sonny, it sounds to me like these profs have struck the perfect balance between undergraduate teachin’ and cuttin’-edge, state-of-the-art, mega-grant-gettin’ research,” I yells.

“But Doc,” he whines, “how can this even remotely be considered a good balance? How can they be held up as role models when they represent the antithesis of Miami’s ideal of the faculty as scholar-teachers? How do any of the 13,000 undergrads here benefit from their research, when the probability is zero that any of us will be able to enroll in their classes? How do we undergrads — whose education Miami touts as its primary mission — benefit from this?”

“What are ya, deaf?” I screams back, “I told ya I’m on the the a-la-carte plan: Ya want concern outta me, it costs extra!”

“Well Doc,” he snivels, “it’s interesting that you mention cost, because I’ve been thinking about that too: No wonder the cost of operating Miami is skyrocketing along with our tuition, when Miami pays professors not to teach undergraduates, and then hires visiting professors to teach the courses the other faculty are being paid not to teach. It seems grossly inefficient to me — as if we undergrads and our families are paying twice for teaching.”

“I see you’ve never taken an econ class,” I shoots back, “’cause if you had, you’d know this is optimal.”

“And Doc there’s another thing I don’t understand,” he sez. “I hate to say this because I really do love this university and what it traditionally has stood for, but, well, isn’t it pretty fraudulent for the alumni magazine to print an article like this, misleading alums and prospective students into believing that all this scholarship strengthens undergraduate education here, when these professors spend virtually no time actually teaching undergrads?”

“Ah Sonny, there’s the flaw in yer thinkin’,” I triumphantly sez. “Ya seem to think higher ed’s got somethin’ to do with truth!”

“Yeah,” the lil’ twerp sighs, “I guess I expected better from the new president.”
“Go Bucks!” I yells in his sorry lil’ face!

Date Published: 11/29/2007
Volume: 27   Number: 11

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