09/07/2010 06:12 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Capital Investment

Just published in the "Chronicle of Higher Education:"

"The Texas A&M University System is moving ahead with a controversial method of evaluating how much professors are worth, based on their salaries, how much research money they bring in and how much money they generate from teaching. Under the proposal, officials will add the money generated by each professor and subtract that amount from his or her salary to get a bottom line value for each ..."

"Frank Ashley, vice chancellor for academic affairs for the 11-campus system, said the public wanted accountability. 'It's something that we're really not used to in higher education: for someone questioning whether we're working hard, whether our students are learning. That accountability is going to be with us from now on.'"

Accountability? Well, accounts, anyway. I'm afraid student learning is going to be the victim, not the outcome of this Texas epidemic, which I fervently hope will be contained within the boundaries of the Lone Shark -- I mean, Lone Star -- state. Professors whose responsibilities focused on helping students succeed, will now be focused on their own success -- in bringing in revenue from enrollment, grants and fundraising initiatives. They'll be working hard, all right, but on economic development, not student development.

It'll be goodbye to inspiring seminars and workshops with a small teacher-student ratio and lots of individual attention and personal mentoring. Hello, large lecture halls with 400 plus students and canned lectures from the barely visible professor on the distant dais. Opera glasses, anyone? Adios to basic research that provided new discoveries and innovation, as well as a creative training ground for our future scientists. Hello to public-private partnerships, research for hire by well-heeled corporations. Ciao to office hours, where students could pop in and get tutoring and coaching on class material by their professors. Hello networking luncheons, where professors will be joining campus administrators to schmooze potential donors.

Clearly, the old-fashioned idea of our society supporting -- and, gosh, even funding -- higher education seems to have fallen off the radar. Of course, young adult elites will still have their legacy admissions to the Ivy League, where the old school ties will safely bind the next generation into the upper class. But middle and working class students will be indenturing themselves for a mediocre education as universities devolve into diploma mills.

All education is an investment in our future. Many of our economic challenges today have arisen because strategic planners in the financial and industrial sectors focused on short term gain rather than long term planning. We must not make the same mistake in education. The bottom line should not be the bottom line. Instead, our society should continue to support and fund the nurturing of our next generations of students and workers. We will all benefit if our society begins to value a wealth of knowledge and wisdom over a wealth of greenbacks.