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Columbia Missourian

Professor surely wasn’t serious ... or was he?

By Billie M. Cunningham, Ph.D., nontenure-track faculty member, MU
July 27, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT

Columbia- I just finished reading the article “MU’s budget plan draws faculty criticism” in the July 24th Columbia Missourian, and I think there may have been an error in the article. According to the article, Michael Ugarte (who turns out to be a tenured full professor of Spanish), in commenting on MU’s budget plan, said that he thinks that hiring more lower-paid, nontenure-track instructors will lower the quality of education at MU. The implication of this statement is that tenured and tenure-track faculty deliver a higher quality of education than do nontenure-track faculty.

Surely his statement was misinterpreted. As a full professor and a researcher, he knows the fallacy of making unsubstantiated broad assertions such as the one attributed to him in the article. In providing his own students with a high-quality education, he certainly teaches them to think critically and explains to them that thinking critically requires them to support assertions with evidence and reasoning. He certainly also teaches them that evidence many times results from research, which requires a level of objectiveness on the part of the researcher that allows him or her to parse out the truth. Most likely, as a high-quality educator, he also teaches his students by example.

Surely his statement was misinterpreted. Evidence shows that the lower-paid, nontenure-track faculty contribute in many ways to the quality of education at MU, and surely he looked at that evidence. Many nontenure-track faculty have terminal degrees like his. Many of them conduct and publish research like he does. Typically, most nontenure-track faculty teach more classes per semester than their tenure-track or tenured faculty counterparts (and research indicates that they receive student evaluations that are equal to, or higher than, those of tenured or tenure-track faculty). Many nontenure-track faculty teach multiple times more students than typical tenured or tenure-track faculty, and so their quality teaching touches more students. I’m sure that, after reviewing this evidence, Professor Ugarte would not have made the comment to which the Missourian article referred.

Surely his statement was misinterpreted.