It could have been anyone's governor:
Just what do university professors do all day?
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin has been hearing plenty on that topic since he remarked this week, during a discussion of his proposal to cut state appropriations for the University of Wisconsin system by $300-million over two years, that the universities “might be able to make savings just by asking faculty and staff to consider teaching one more class a semester.” ...
The question is part of a larger public debate that goes back to at least 1967, when another Republican governor, Ronald Reagan of California, asserted that taxpayers should not be “subsidizing intellectual curiosity.”
Gov. Walker is correct. Universities could save in labor costs by having professors teach one more course. That would certainly be a benefit to the taxpayers. But then there is an opportunity cost -- the value of what has been given up by the reallocation of professors' time. This is more difficult to quantify but let me try to describe it. Most professors at most universities conduct research in their field. Some of this research advances knowledge in important ways (and is the stuff that fills up textbooks, by the way) and some ... not so much.
For most professors, the act of engaging in research makes them better teachers. It gives them a deeper understanding of the topic, keeps them current in their field, and adds excitement to the classroom. For example, I'm sure I could teach micro principles and do a halfway decent job without conducting any research on the side (or teach "out of the book" in macro principles). But, my teaching in upper level courses, the courses taken by economics majors that they hope helps get them jobs, would certainly suffer as I lose the important insights about what is currently being done in the field.
Professors who don't do research ultimately become less effective teachers. Having all professors teach one more course would have this as a long term opportunity cost to taxpayers. Of course, I'm a professor and I think the long term cost of less effective teaching outweighs the short term benefit of cost savings. I'm also a parent with kids who'll be thinking about college in less than five years. One thing I'll want to know is how intellectually curious their future professors might be. If taxpayers don't subsidize intellectual curiosity there will be less intellectual curiosity amongst the people who are teaching young adults to be intellectually curious.
One of the underlying themes is that state politicians think that professors are lazy. I know research active professors who seem to work a lot and I know research active professors who seem to work a little (but who can really tell?). I also know professors who don't do research (say, as soon as right after getting tenure ... I'm not so worried about those who shelve their research agenda a few years before retirement). Some of these non-research active professors work a lot of hours on teaching and others don't work a lot of hours (but who can tell, really?). In my college and department we rightly give these professors an extra course to teach.
But I don't think effort should be the issue when it comes to state university funding. When state politicians cut budgets with the intent of getting professors to work more that is simply micro-management borne out of ignorance. At the university we are very interested in labor productivity. We have annual reviews, third year reviews, tenure and promotion reviews and post-tenure reviews (every five years in the UNC system). We measure outputs (i.e., publications) and not inputs (i.e., hours worked) because we value the output and not the input. Honestly, I really don't care if a talented professor goes home early, gets a publication in a reputable journal each year and teaches effectively. But, if there are no outputs professors are routinely penalized. No one claims on their annual review that they put in 50 hour weeks to write a crappy paper that will never get published (i.e., I punched the clock). The game is different than in more traditional jobs. The state politicians that are currently in charge in a lot of places don't seem to care to understand that.
And they don't seem to care to understand about the long term costs of reducing subsidies for intellectual curiosity.*
*Curiosity: the desire to learn or know about anything.