Utah legislators are cool to the notion of college tenure but most acknowledge that state-run colleges and universities do not receive sufficient funding to accomplish their missions.
A legislative subcommittee that focuses on higher education funding issues polled fellow lawmakers to gauge their attitudes toward the state's higher education system.The survey results suggest lawmakers agree that higher education is "customer friendly" but perceive that they will become more efficient through the use of technology to deliver education, according to survey results.
Some of the highest marks on the survey related to faculty.
Lawmakers agreed or strongly agreed that faculty members are qualified in their respective disciplines, they put sufficient effort into their jobs, and some faculty engage in research as their major responsibility and that is important.
Charlie Johnson, chairman of the Utah Board of Regents, said the survey results will be helpful as the regents begin a new master planning process.
"They've always said they have a healthy view of higher education. I think this survey would ratify that."
Johnson interpreted the results as mostly positive, particularly in regards to the faculty. "But they did not have a favorable view of tenure."
Legislators, particularly members of the Senate, strongly agreed that students are "gaining the knowledge necessary to contribute as a broadly educated citizen."
According to the survey, lawmakers also agreed that colleges should continue to utilize part-time faculty. Sen. Ed Mayne, D-West Valley, has introduced legislation that would require at least half of a school's faculty work full time.
Using a scale of 1-6, with a 1 meaning strongly disagree and a 6 meaning strongly agree, most of marks fell in the 3 or 4 range.
Regarding tuition, more legislators disagreed than agreed that tuition rates are too high.
Lawmakers listed growth, funding, holding the line on tuition and the need to attract and retain competent educators as the higher education system's greatest challenges for the next four to five years. Another concern listed was using physical facilities more hours each day.
The free response section of the survey hinted to some of the tension between the Legislature and the state's higher education system.
When asked "What does higher education do extremely well?" one lawmaker responded: "Protect their own turf."
Another observed: "Spend money."
Still another opined: "Lobbying for more money."
Others lauded the system for its commitment to research, athletics and creating a community for students.
Another lawmaker credited the system for expanding horizons and knowledge of students in a "sheltered" setting.
Asked what policies or structures might be changed to address lawmakers' concerns, one lawmaker suggested handing over the higher education budget to the Utah Board of Regents "and let them divide it among the colleges and universities with some suggestions from legislators."
Now, of course, the Legislature divvies up the funding pie, accepting recommendations from the regents.
Other lawmakers suggested the Legislature revisit the enrollment funding formula, eliminate tenure and require some teachers to instruct more hours.
One legislator replied simply, "Elect a new Legislature."
About half of the Legislature's 104 lawmakers responded to the survey, which addressed primarily student and funding issues.