The director of Florida State University’s program in history and philosophy of science, Michael Ruse, has released the latest of what he calls “dispatches from the war zone,” a series of pieces looking at Gov. Rick Scott’s likely changes to Florida’s higher education system.
Unlike the critics who vehemently oppose an overhaul of state colleges and universities, Ruse writes that he is “not against what Governor Scott is about.” But as for Scott’s recent release of the salary data of Florida professors, Ruse says it’s a tactic that is bound to backfire.
Though Ruse, who is from England, states his belief that the country’s colleges and universities are “among America’s glories,” he goes on to state that those same schools aren’t as good as they might be.
“Too many large classes, too many adjuncts or grad students doing the job, too much simply getting a text and following it line by line, too much rewarding only research and nothing else,” writes Ruse. “Too little thinking about what can be done with the degree or what should be done with the degree. And the list goes on and on, with year after year universities cutting staff and facilities while raising prices beyond the level of inflation.”
Ruse writes that some of Scott’s recent higher ed actions — specifically his near-obsession with anthropology majors — likely weren’t just off-the-cuff comments. Scott’s recent decision to release the salaries of university professors, Ruse writes, is a mere tactic to “engender resentment among the general population” at the amount Florida’s teachers are making. He says it’s a tactic that backfires.
Let me make two comments about this act. First, in some respects it backfires. Faculty look at their salaries—more importantly they look at the salaries of others and compare—and often feel unhappy and cheated. Already I have had a junior member of the unit I run come to me, moaning (legitimately), asking if I can squeeze something for him out of the budget. The immediate result could be more paid out rather than less.
Second, when you look at the salaries, you start to see something that is significantly wrong with the system today, with far less qualified people paid more than far more qualified people. I am not talking now about the medical school faculty getting salaries that only football coaches can dream of, but within regular departments. Some of this comes from truly ridiculous factors. The entering salary at Florida State is based on national averages. They tend to go up each year. Our salaries have been frozen for five or more years. So you can have someone of three or four years’ experience and achievement paid less than someone just hired.
Ruse goes on to write that the practice of counter-offering (or what he calls “the wretched system of getting offers elsewhere that are then matched or bettered by the home institution”) means that professors will almost always be well paid — at least until that fades from American culture. “It may be good business,” writes Ruse. “It isn’t moral.”