Maddox and Overby, Attracting All Kinds of Attention for Tennessee

Dean Dad discusses our latest misadventure in nepotism. I stand  by my assertion that there doesn’t appear to be anything in the state law or in the guidelines of the folks who accredit Tennessee school that would forbid a qualified candidate from being hired to run a state university regardless of whether he or she has a PhD. Which means that this bill is clearly designed to smooth the way for a specific person to take a specific job and to signal to the people in charge of hiring that said candidate has the support of the Legislature and the weight of the Legislature behind him.

It is, quite frankly, bullshit and a complete overstepping (though, don’t get me wrong, a hilarious, hilarious overstepping) for state legislators to so blatantly try to flex their muscle in a hiring process they should have no part in. What if the university doesn’t want to hire the person Maddox and Overby have in mind? Do Maddox and Overby then use their considerable power to make life miserable for the university?

Shoot, let’s get Maddox and Overby some fedoras and some machine guns and a flat black sedan to drive around in and their efforts to influence processes that should remain free from intimidation will be put in the right context.

19 thoughts on “Maddox and Overby, Attracting All Kinds of Attention for Tennessee

  1. SACS may allow this by law, but will individual academci auditors be so kind? Having been through several SACS audits myself, the organization is fired up to prove that southern colleges are on par with the rest of the nation. Most auditors, if not all, come from the ranks of academia and could end up faulting Tennessee schools regardless of the legality of this suggestions.

    And I have worked in the private sector as well as at the college level and they are two different worlds. Colleges simply do not operate well on the business model. For example, how does my field, history, prove it’s worth in a system based on proving your economic advantage to the school? Moreover, business leaders who become vice presidents in colleges, something that happens with regularity, are often miffed by the attitudes of academics.

  2. I admire you zeal, in going after what may appear , at first glance to be wrong. However, (and using your parlance )” In which I defend the Legislature”. The State is going through tuff economic times and this has made us over the last few years, take a hard look at how we do business. The Legislature has become frustrated with Higher-Ed’s inability to handle their problems without resorting to raising their rates or turning on their employees to balance their budgets. This is the reason we included Higher Education reform in the special session this year. Mark Maddox and Doug Overby are two of the most honorable and respected men that I know and are trying to avoid some of the mistakes that Higher Ed has made over the last few years. However I know I haven’t satisfied your concerns, so call me and I’ll give you the Skinny.

  3. The Legislature has become frustrated with Higher-Ed’s inability to handle their problems without resorting to raising their rates or turning on their employees to balance their budgets.

    And, as any higher-ed administrator worth his or her salt will tell you, the reason they keep having to do that is because the average university budget is comprised of a much lower percentage of state funding than it was a generation ago.

    This will quickly become a circular argument.

  4. The Legislature has become frustrated with Higher-Ed’s inability to handle their problems without resorting to raising their rates or turning on their employees to balance their budgets.

    Um, the state has cut our budgets sharply over the last three years even as we face a yearly increase in students. More and morre students qualify for the Tennessee Hope scholarship and yet we have our budgets trimmed so that there is little money for new classrooms and facilities to handle the increase in students.

    How are these mistakes by Higher Ed? That, sir, is an ideologically-charged statement. You blanketly accuse those of us striving against limited budgets and apathy among students, parents, and state politicians of having failed? What we do is work hard to overcome limited resources and do the best that we can.

    Moreover, the need to raise tuition has more to do with a bad economy than with college officials wasting money. My community college had a twenty percent drop in state funds last year while facing a record 18% jump in attendance! How did you expect us to cut expenses to cover the shortfall in funds without raising tuition?

  5. Mike, any and all campaigns to charm me into going easy on the state legislature will have to be carried out either on this blog or in person, at the Joelton Dairy Queen, not on the phone.

    Anyway, Casey brings up the sensible points–you can’t cut funding, increase the number of students, and expect colleges and universities to not have to raise costs.

    Plus, come on! Even if universities are fucking up, y’all looked around the state and you thought “the best possible people to run higher ed in this state are us.”? I love you guys, but that stretches credulity. I mean, y’all are the body that contains Stacey Campfield.

    Even if your hearts are in the right place, what if a succession of Republican governors puts Campfield in their cabinet for 10 years. You want Campfield running UT?

  6. Well, of course, if he agreed to wear the luchador mask at all times, I would support putting Campfield in charge of UT, no problem.

  7. I know it’s unpopular to say so, but sometimes tuition goes up because everything else has gotten more expensive. Gas prices have shot up by 25-30%. Food prices are correspondingly higher. The price of housing and heating has also gone up by double-digit percentages — and yet, people go ballistic if they have to pay 6% more per year for their college education, as though we’re somehow gouging and ExxonMobil is giving y’all a deal. If you have to house three thousand more students, you’ll have to build dorms and that’s an infrastructural cost. If you have to teach all three thousand of those kids chemistry, you’re going to need more labs. This is not mismanagement; it’s a response to having to get the money from somewhere to do the job we’ve been asked to do by the state.

    It’s not a “gee, we’re not managing our money” problem so much as a “we don’t have enough money to manage” problem. Tenneesse public financing has been drying up. Thus, Tennessee colleges did what businesses do when they need more revenue — they decelerated wage increases, trimmed costs, and raised the price of the product. In fact, I’d argue that they are proceeding EXACTLY like corporations do…and that’s not good for anyone.

    Now one solution here is for the Legislature to create the conditions where employers can create better jobs and raise the wage floor in the state overall. Then parents with college-aged kids can actually afford college tuition when it goes up by 6%. I guess that it’s easier to piss and moan about how the eggheads are wasting the people’s coin, though.

  8. In all seriousness – aren’t tuition rates for the UT system and the TBR also determined by THEC, which – while appointed by the governor – falls under the jurisdiction of the General Assembly?

  9. Excellent point, Samantha. If you look at the November ’09 minutes, you’ll find that the THEC is the very group that recommended the hike in student fees and tuition because the state had cut funding by 6%. The minutes also note that the Board of Regents budget was cut by $180 million on top of that 6%. So, the money coming in has been cut by roughly 8%.

    They raised fees and tuition 5%.

    Gee, it looks like they actually are operating pretty efficiently. (This info is from the 11-19-09 meeting — Google Minutes Tennessee Higher Education Commission and the date and the meeting minutes can be downloaded as a PDF.)

    Does the Tennessee legislature know that we’re able to read the documents for ourselves and figure out what they mean or are they trusting that the “keep ’em stupid” educational policy will make them immune to informed criticism?

  10. For years college tuition has been rising much faster than inflation. Not just in Tennessee but nationwide. In fact, the % increase in tuition for colleges is close enough to the increase in health care costs as to prompt one to wonder why the people who demonize the health care system are not similarly demonizing the higher education industry.

    Bridgett is right about certain costs being beyond the control of colleges and about colleges not needing to operate like businesses.

    But it is also true that colleges have greater control over their price structure because, unlike almost any business, there is a huge pool of money available for potential customers (students and parents) to borrow in order to pay that tuition.

    Given the large, and growing number, of people who are taking loans to attend college, increasing that pool has been politically popular. That increase in available money has the downside that it encourages colleges to increase tuition rather than control costs because students can always borrow more.

    That result can be seen in the spiraling level of debt owed by college graduates. I think the average student debt for UT grads is now over $30,000.

    Gimmicks like lottery scholarships similarly allow colleges to increase tuition since students have more money to spend on college.

  11. Mark, the point of having a public-financed university is that the state has decided that tertiary education is a public good. (We’ve already established the importance of education beyond high school as a key ingredient in attracting corporate investment to the state, but there are multiplier effects in other areas as well — health care, crime, reformatory construction, etc.)

    If it turns out that what TN citizens really think is that tertiary education should be primarily an opportunity for private investment (which is the “borrow money if you want to go to a public u” model), then isn’t that making the whole concept of universal access to higher ed suspect?

    Again, it appears that the only thing not going up is wages. Hmmm….I wonder what a group of high-powered men and women meeting in Nashville might be able to do about that…

  12. Bridgett,

    I am not arguing against public-funded higher education. I am all in favor of student loans at manageable interest rates. But the contention that colleges and universities have been better stewards of public money (and private money) than other institutions or businesses is not so certain.

    For example, Tennessee has both the UT system and the Regents system (and THEC) instead of a seamless system that looks at one plan for the entire state. Is that because we need this system? No, it is because the two systems have issues about control and money. The best interest of the state comes in somewhere after that.

    With one system, we could do a better job of placing resources where they are needed and eliminate duplicative programs. It would not solve every problem but it would be a good start.

    Any discussion of college tuition always reminds me of something back in the 1990s.

    Didn’t the Justice Department nail the Ivys and MIT for cooperating to manipulate admissions by using financial aid in order to reduce the chances of top students choosing a college based on costs?

    College leaders are as likely to put other interests above the good of students as any company is of doing the same to their customers.

  13. The legislature feels that the academics have financially mismanaged the state’s publicly-funded universities, and that one of their own might do better.

    Meanwhile, it’s the General Assembly that has passed budgets that don’t adequately fund said institutions, while a committee overseen by the legislature determines the hikes in tuition and fees.


  14. I’m not trying to down play the importance of our university’s, nor the hard work that the people that work there do, but well over half the people that enter college fail to graduate. We rewarded University’s by how many kids they had enrolled not by how many kids they graduated. In the special session we changed that formula and I believe that our Schools will become more Accountable, but the University’s still have Presidents and Vice- presidents, department heads, Deans, and in a pinch they seem to only cut the teachers and the other workers at the bottom of the pay-scale. If the United States can get by with one Vice-President why not the University of Tennessee. Some of the Phd’s that we have hired to be University Presidents have been a very expensive embarrassment. Why not give a Business man or woman with experience with billion dollar budgets a chance to run a College or University it can’t be much worst than what we have seen lately.

  15. Hi, Mike, and all,

    Look, this Maddox-Overbey proposal is awful. Plain and simple.

    You don’t hire someone to run your higher education budget who doesn’t have enough respect for higher education that they bothered to actually get a doctoral degree. Period.

    If it’s a Community College President, I might be willing to allow some wiggle-room. But if it’s a university president/chancellor, no. They need a doctoral degree. To allow any less would fundamentally undermine Tennessee’s reputation, which is already fragile enough.

    Higher education administrators should have enough respect for the profession that they actually bother to get a higher education.

    The degree matters. If we don’t believe the degree matters, then why are we encouraging people to bother getting a degree? We need leaders in higher ed who demonstrate professional excellence in higher ed.

  16. Ben,

    “You don’t hire someone to run your higher education budget who doesn’t have enough respect for higher education that they bothered to actually get a doctoral degree. Period.”

    Fair enough. Does your position also apply to having people who have never operated a business or managed a bank make laws regarding how people who do have that experience should run their businesses?

  17. Mark, those are two different things. I wouldn’t expect a bank to hire someone who wasn’t intimately familiar with banking to run it and I’d be weirded out by the idea of legislators trying to smooth the way for someone unfamiliar with banking to run the banks.

    I don’t think you have to have PhD, necessarily, to run a college (and I still don’t see any evidence that it’s legally required right now in Tennessee, thus necessitating a law to un-require it), but I would expect that, if you had a shit-ton of experience, it would be experience that (most) people at the university recognized as relevant.

    For the legislature to decide that they know better than the universities in this state what the universities need to run, when it is the state legislature who continues to put state schools behind the eight-ball, would be hilarious if it weren’t so… no, it really is just hilarious.

    As a state with elected officials, we should not have a permanent ruling class. Any efforts to smooth the way to move people with power from one powerful position to another, regardless of qualifications or experience, should just be rejected on its face as being unamerican.

  18. There’s been some discussion at this blog recently about how little is currently required to graduate from high school in TN. And abut how poorly TN high school students and graduates rank in national assessments of education levels. Surely that has something to do with the graduation rate from TN state colleges and universities: students are getting to college unprepared for real college-level work, and (even worse) not aware that they are unprepared, since they have successfully completed high school. They aren’t academically ready, and they can’t keep up. They don’t graduate, or at least they don’t graduate in the traditional four or five years. (I’m not suggesting that this is the only cause of the low graduation rate here, but I think it’s a very important one.)

    I have taught at a CC in another state, and I know that good college teachers can help students like that recover from this deficit. But it takes more teachers, more training, smaller classes, all sorts of things that actually cost more money. Cutting funding to state universities will only make the problem worse, since classes will increasingly have to be turned into large lectures, with little personal attention and no constructive feedback to the students.

    If the state legislature cared about this, and was serious about cutting out levels of vice presidents and deans, the budget cutting could reflect that. It’s easy enough to earmark money for professors’ salaries, library funding, laboratory equipment, and the like. The fact that the budget cutting takes place without any of these safeguards, though lawmakers are aware of the effects of bloated administrations at some schools, suggests to me that they aren’t all that interested in fixing things.

    Or that, if they really are interested in fixing things, they still have no understanding of how universities work. Which is why bringing in business people, who also have no idea how universities work, is not going to solve anything.

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