Tuesday, September 27, 2005

"The right thing"-- whatever that is

Last week, Margaret Spellings appointed Charles Miller to lead a commission to propose legislation to improve higher education. Miller seems to be a good choice. He's someone that works well on both sides of the aisle, is well aware of the issues involved (he served on UT-Austin's governing board), and cares deeply about the future of American higher education.

But he's said a few curious things so far. Like this from the Houston Chronicle yesterday:

By August, Miller wants the commission, which has a $700,000 operating budget, to submit a report that is "short, but important," addressing no more than six themes.

Time will tell whether the work will lead to specific legislation. But he said it will not lead to a higher-education version of the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandates testing of reading and math skills and holds elementary and high schools accountable for the results. Critics claim the act is underfunded and overly bureaucratic.

"It's a different breed of cat," Miller said of colleges and universities. "We should be asking: What are they learning? Are they learning the right thing? Academe is going to have to come up with answers there."

The first part is great. God knows we don't need an expansion of NCLB to the college level. And as conceited as the Bush Administration has been in other areas they must know that such a move would be met with massive resistance.

But then he poses some questions -- good ones -- and says "academe is going to have to come up with answers." But there's hardly any representation from faculty or students on the commission. So by academe does he mean, well, himself and 18 fellow panelists. I sure hope not.

And if "Are they learning the right thing?" ain't a loaded question, I don't know what is. If that's there focus, the panel's recommendations could end up being yet another battle in the Culture Wars. If there's one thing higher education doesn't need, it's that.


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