The strange things that “Educrats” propose.

14 01 2009

The Texas A&M proposal to pay professors $10,000 bonuses for good student evaluations is making the rounds of the blogs I read regularly today. I first saw it here, but the discussion seems to have originated with James Joyner. The many obvious reasons that this is a stupid idea are there for all to see, but I was more taken with this line:

The problem, unfortunately, is that the goals of the administration and the professoriate are often at odds. Increasingly, decision-makers at universities aren’t former profs who have risen through the ranks as department heads and deans but professional “educrats” with degrees in higher ed administration and who have limited or no teaching experience. Their mission is to make students happy to keep their parents signing the checks every semester.

That might be the problem with higher education in a nutshell right there, but of course you don’t have to be an “educrat” to be a bad administrator. Plenty of people who do come up through the ranks come up with stupid ideas like paying faculty for evaluations.

The problem isn’t the degree that certain administrators have, it’s their attitude. Paying for good student evaluations suggests that education is a commodity, which you can certainly see in this quote from Joyner’s post:

The chancellor of the A&M system, Michael D. McKinney, told the Bryan-College Station Eagle: “This is customer satisfaction…. It has to do with students having the opportunity to recognize good teachers and reward them with some money.”

But education isn’t a commodity. Indeed, I’m not sure what it is, but it’s not a commodity. You can’t sell it once you have it. Students don’t even buy it. They buy the ability to get it if they make the mental effort to try to learn. Come to think of it, if students were qualified judges of how much they’ve learned, they wouldn’t need any education at all. And why then would we need the entire education evaluation industry to exist at all? We could just ask the students if they learned anything and take their answers as a given.

Like everybody else who’s chimed in on this subject today, I’m not at all against the idea of rewarding good teaching. This simply isn’t the way to do it.


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