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The American education system has long been under fire for being ineffective and needlessly expensive. Public policies such as No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top have set the precedent that test scores are strong evidence of the competence and effectiveness of individual teachers.

In higher education, universities like ASU are focusing a majority of their time and money on useless rankings and football championships, all while professors are pressured to bring in as much grant money as possible.

Because of the foolish focus that many large universities are taking, they often leverage the costs of massive stadiums and hundreds of solar panels by hiring adjunct professors who will never have the opportunity to be on the tenure track. Universities generally save their tenured professors for graduate-level classes and research.

A Northwestern University study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research “Are tenure track professors better teachers?” has indicated that this might not be as detrimental as it sounds.

This study covered more than 15,000 freshmen who attended Northwestern from 2001 until 2008 and found “strong and consistent evidence that Northwestern faculty outside of the tenure system outperform tenure track/tenured professors in introductory undergraduate classrooms.”

These non-tenure track faculty at Northwestern not only “induce students to take more classes in a given subject than do tenure line professors but also lead the students to do better in subsequent coursework than do their tenure track/tenured colleagues.”

The study showed non-tenure track faculty “increase the likelihood that a student will take another class in the subject by 7.3 percentage points ... and increase (the) grade earned in that subsequent class by slightly more than one-tenth of a grade point.”

Millions of students each year attend community colleges and universities to receive their education. As a university, if your non-tenured faculty are outperforming your tenured superstars in effective teaching and student retention, there is a problem. The problem is not in their ability to teach, but institution's focus: "publish or perish," rather than actually teaching.

Thanks to the buckets of hope and change that President Barack Obama has promised us, government agencies of all stripes will begin to implement the Affordable Care Act starting in 2014.

ASU has begun preparing for these policy changes by cutting the hours of non-tenured track associate faculty members to only six credits a semester.

One must ask, are the student body and educational quality taken into consideration when ASU decides to cut back faculty that are statistically more likely to be better at teaching, even as we continue to spend money on horribly ugly solar panels all over campus.

Do college deans think first about improving professors by providing formal training, or is a fully electronic bathroom with a sliding glass door more of a priority?


Reach the columnist at or follow him at @_joshgonzalez

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