Monday, April 13, 2015

Slow motion disaster: North Carolina edition

Charles Pierce has taken to calling North Carolina the 'newly insane state' and he might well be right. Take a look at this development, as explained by Rebecca Schuman:
In higher-ed parlance the herculean act of teaching eight courses per year is what’s known as “a 4-4 load” or, alternatively, a “metric ass-ton” of classroom time.And yet a new bill currently under consideration in the North Carolina General Assembly would require every professor in the state’s public university system to do just that. The results would be catastrophic for North Carolina’s major research universities. The region known as the Research Triangle—Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, so named because of the three “Research-I”–level universities that anchor it—would quickly lose two of its prongs—the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University—were this bill to pass. And it just might
According to the official press release from its sponsor, Republican state Sen. Tom McInnis, Senate Bill 593—called “Improve Professor Quality/UNC System”—would “ensure that students attending UNC system schools actually have professors, rather than student assistants, teaching their classes.” Another result would be more courses taught by fewer professors. But that shouldn’t matter, according to Jay Schalin of North Carolina’s Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, who recently explained to the Daily Tar Heel that “the university system is not a jobs program for academics.” What the bill’s supporters either fail to realize—or, more likely, realize with utter glee—is that this bill actually has nothing to do with “professor quality” and everything to do with destroying public education and research. Forcing everyone into a 4-4 minimum (so ideally an excruciating 5-5, I guess?) is a “solution” that could only be proposed by someone who either doesn’t know how research works or hates it. It’s like saying: Hey, I’ll fix this car by treating it like a microwave.
She spoke to UNC law professor Michael Gerhardt:
 I reached out to Gerhardt because I wanted a North Carolina legal expert to tell me to calm my hormones, that this bill is a silly anti-intellectual showpiece with no chance of passing. My hormones were not calmed. “I don’t know,” he told me after a pregnant pause. “I think there’s enough antipathy toward UNC and enough skepticism about UNC and education that [if SB 593 passes] it won’t surprise me.” It won’t surprise me, either—but perhaps if enough people start to recognize the disingenuous doublespeak of this kind of “improvement” legislation, the bill will be the last of its kind instead of the first.
I teach a 3-2 load (until a few years ago, it had been a 3-3) and I am well aware that a 4-4 load is an order of magnitude more taxing: all your energy is focused on keeping track of where you are in each course, with grading, with upcoming assignments, with little time to actually get to know your students, or freshen the course content with recent work, or to give meaningful and helpful feedback on student papers. How people manage to do all this, and to keep up with their field and publish as well (and I know a few who do) mystifies and humbles me. I know I couldn't.

I wouldn't be surprised if this bill passed, if not in North Carolina, in another state. And then another.The point isn't to save money, or increase efficiency, or decrease the use of adjuncts. The point is to show snooty state universities who their real bosses are. And it turns out they are the privileged assholes in the state capital who redraw legislative districts and rejigger voting rules to virtually guarantee they stay in office so they can pass bills written by ALEC and other lobbyists. Nice work. By the way, the North Carolina general assembly (including both the house of representatives and the senate) meets for a 6 month session in odd numbered years, followed by a 6 week short session in even numbered years. Super nice work.

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