Tuesday, January 23, 2007

UK's comedy routine

In a recent editorial, the Lexington Herald-Leader defends the University of Kentucky against our criticisms about their proposed domestic partner benefit plan. Here is the response I submitted today:

In a recent editorial, the Herald-Leader said that we had “risen up in righteous anger” at UK’s proposed plan to provide taxpayer-subsidized benefits to live-in sexual partners of its staff. We don’t know what made the Herald think we were angry. The sound coming from our offices down the street was much more likely to have been laughter and guffaws caused by the increasingly ridiculous arguments made by supporters of UK’s proposed domestic partner benefit policy.

And we are having an even harder time trying to keep a straight face after reading the Herald-Leader’s recent editorial in which it continues to insist that there is some kind of relationship between instituting a domestic partner benefits plan and becoming a top 20 research school.

This is an argument that belongs at Comedy Off Broadway, not at a newspaper run by grown ups.

While UK continues to fall behind in areas that do matter to rankings agencies, like class size and quality of teaching, it insists on focusing on things that don’t matter, like domestic partner benefits.

UK hasn’t even cracked the top 100 yet, let alone the top 20. It didn’t make The Consus Group’s list at all. In U. S. News and World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges, 2007” report UK came in an unimpressive 112th.

It didn’t even have the consolation of making the list of top party schools. At least then it would have had an excuse.

All this is not to say that UK is not top 20 in something. As a matter of fact, in The Princeton Review rankings, UK made the list of schools where “Professors Make Themselves Scarce”, where it ranks 20th, and the list of schools at which “Teaching Assistants Teach Too Many Upper Level Courses.”

Where does it rank in this latter category? 4th in the nation. Congratulations.

So what is UK doing about this? Is it trying to reduce class sizes and track down these missing professors? No. Instead it recently increased the maximum size of its classes.

And the missing professors? Maybe someone needs to let the bloodhounds out of their cages, but more likely, these are dedicated professionals who just can’t get in the door of their increasingly overcrowded classrooms.

According to the University, one of the reasons for instituting a domestic partner benefit plan is to send “a strong message about institutional priorities.”

No kidding.

Any school that seriously thinks it can attain top 20 status by instituting a domestic partner benefits plan while ignoring its fundamental problems deserves to be booed off the stage.

Then there is the matter of how much it’s going to cost for the University to share the taxpayers’ love with the unmarried partners of its staff, and here is where you want to start reaching for the rotten vegetables.

Let’s roll back the tape to October 19, 2006: “It doesn't cost taxpayers anything,” opined the Herald’s editorial seers, “to allow workers to pay extra to insure those with whom they share their lives.” The plan, we were assured, wasn’t going to cost anything.

And what is the Herald saying now—now that the University has itself admitted that it is planning to subsidize these lucky individuals to the tune of $633,000 a year? “It would be quite a bargain,” says the now fully informed Herald, “for the university to gain full access to that part of the talent pool by spending only 1 percent of its health care budget.”

Before it was free, and now it’s a “bargain.” Can you spell B-A-C-K-P-E-D-A-L-I-N-G?

We have this feeling (call it a hunch), that the taxpayers who fund the University and the parents who pay their children’s tuitions can think of better ways to spend their $633,000 a year than underwriting the sexual lifestyles of unmarried university employees.

And speaking of tuition, have we mentioned that UK wants to raise it again?

The University also intends to visit state lawmakers next month to ask them to fund projects vetoed last year. When it does, legislators need to ask some hard questions about UK’s “institutional priorities.”

We hear they can be a tough audience.

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