Friday, September 22, 2006

Does UK have its priorities straight?

This guest opinion was submitted last week to the Lexington Herald-Leader for publication:

UK President Lee Todd has been pledging for several years now to bring the University of Kentucky to Top 20 status. So far, however, the road has been a rocky one. In the last U.S. News & World Report college rankings, the University of Kentucky landed at 112th—right next to the University of Missouri—Rolla.

But certain people in the university administration have struck upon an idea that could change all that, a plan that is sure to set heads spinning at places like U.S. News & World Report, and one which will put to rest once and for all how serious the University is in its quest to become one of the nation’s premier centers of scholarly excellence.

What is this plan? To give benefits to the live-in sexual partners of its employees.

As the guy in the beer commercials likes to say, “Brilliant!”

Apparently there is a school of thought, which seems to include Todd himself, which thinks this kind of policy will somehow contribute to an increase in the school’s academic stature. And maybe it’s true. Maybe there are people at organizations that rank schools who really think providing benefits to live-in sexual partners somehow results in students learning more.

For all we know, these same people might have been impressed with last week’s lecture in UK’s Memorial Hall on how to bring about female orgasms. But somehow you get the idea that the people who rank schools are looking for something… well, a little more serious.

Supporters of this policy point to the fact that many of the most prestigious universities have domestic partner benefits policies, as if that’s the key to becoming an academically prestigious university. To hear these people tell it, you would think Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and MIT were nothing until they instituted domestic partner benefits programs.

Can simply kowtowing to special interest groups really vault a school into the nation’s college elite? President Todd and his administration apparently think so.

If the University of Kentucky is really intent on becoming more highly regarded as an academic institution, why isn’t it doing something that would really make a difference at UK in regard to the level of learning that actually takes place?

The rankings agencies, for example, can’t possibly be impressed with the fact that the University recently forced many of its departments to increase their class sizes. Here are the sizes for several of this year’s introductory freshman classes: History 108 (American History): 300 students; Philosophy 120 (Logic): 672 students; Biology 103 (Intro Biology): 600 students; Chemistry 108 (Intro Chemistry): 250 students; Biology 102 (Human Ecology): 300 students; Psychology 100: 504 students.

Now there are several things we know without question: First, students don’t learn very well when they are separated from their teachers by large crowds of people—at least not as well as when they are not. We know this. No one disputes it.

Secondly, we know that professors are less inclined to teach at places where they have to face large lecture halls full of the faces of people they can never possibly get to know. Just ask any professor.

One university department had to increase its maximum class size from 32 to over 600. Why? According to the administration, because it doesn’t have the resources to keep classes small.

The University of Kentucky cannot keep class sizes at a reasonable number because it doesn’t have adequate resources, yet it can somehow find a way to take care of the live-in sexual partners of its staff.

Let’s all take a moment and collectively scratch our heads in bewilderment.

Or maybe the University could (brace yourself, here comes a revolutionary idea) increase faculty salaries. UK’s faculty salaries currently languish at 89 percent of the salaries at its benchmark institutions to which it compares itself.

I have this notion—call it crazy if you like—that the people at places like U.S. News and World Report would be far more impressed if the University spent its time and energy on policies that actually helped students than with whether it is giving benefits to the homosexual and heterosexual partners of its staff.

The University of Kentucky is desperately seeking the society of the Stanfords and Cal Techs of this world. Instead, it keeps waking up to their less attractive cousins. If President Todd and his staff don’t get their priorities straight, they’re going to be turning over and finding themselves staring the University of Missouri—Rolla in the face.


© 2006 by Martin Cothran. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be published without the express written consent of the author. These comments are the personal opinions of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the official opinion of any other persons or organizations.


Anonymous said...

No offense, Martin, but you're a total prude.

What do you have against a frank and open discussion about how to give your wife an orgasm?

Martin Cothran said...

Let me see if I have this straight: You're accusing me of being a prude because I won't frankly and openly discuss an intimate matter about my wife and you won't even use your own name to express a non-intimate, fairly pedestrian comment on a blog post?