UT Needs To Put Students First, Make Professors Teach More Classes

By John J. Duncan Jr.


Regular readers of my column may remember that my mother moved here from Iowa after she finished at Iowa Wesleyan College.

She had come here to visit an older sister who had married an engineering graduate from the University of Iowa who had gotten a job at TVA. Her sister talked her into staying, and she met my Dad, who was a student at UT. I have always said I am glad we let people move here or I wouldn’t be here myself.

However, because so many people are fleeing the high taxes and high crime of Democrat-run states and cities, I have recently been hearing many people saying that they wish not so many were moving here.

My grandfather from Iowa, Dr. Jacob Swisher, spent the last 28 years of his career on the faculty and working for the University of Iowa. My mother was born in Iowa City, where the university is located.

It is amazing that Papa Swisher, who visited Tennessee but never lived here, ended up with nine grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren going through some part of the University of Tennessee system.

I am grateful to UT for giving me my undergraduate education that enabled me to go to law school at George Washington University. I went to GWU in part because I had been to school all my life in Knoxville and thought it would be a good experience to go to school someplace else.

Over the years, I was able to get many millions of dollars for various UT programs. Three examples of the many programs I helped with include $7,000,000 for the Institute of Agriculture; $4,000,000 for a robotics program; and $3,000,000 for the neo-natal clinic at UT Hospital.

Joe DePietro, a former UT president, once sent me a photo of him and me, and at the bottom, he wrote, “No one has helped us more than you.”

I root for the Vols as hard as most, but I also think it is terrible to pay the coaches so much, and now even a few of the players.

But no individual and no university are perfect. I have met with and have known so many UT students, and recently I have heard the same complaints from them I have been hearing over the years.

As great and powerful and important as UT is, I hope the university, its administrators and its professors have not lost the desire to improve and/or feel they should be immune from criticism.

The university has too many foreign professors who are difficult for the students to understand.

There are too many professors who seemingly have lost the desire to teach, so too many classes are too big and are taught by graduate students.

I always felt very lucky to have my job, but I can assure you, I could not have stayed in Congress for 30 years if I had not worked nights, weekends and holidays.

Too many professors seem to think six hours a week is a heavy load. It is not. If every professor taught at least 12 hours a week, classes could be smaller, and more students could graduate within four years. Now many students can’t get the classes they need, and it takes many of them five or six years to graduate.

Too many professors seem to want to simply do research and writing. That is a racket. Most of the writing seems to be done for obscure academic journals that have very little circulation.

When professors mainly do research and writing, they are putting themselves first. When they teach classes, they are putting students first.

To sum up: 1) Foreign professors should be required to be fluent in easily understandable English. 2) Graduate students are students, they are not professors. 3) If every professor taught in the classroom twice as much as most do now, there would be more and smaller classes, and more students could graduate within four years.

Also, if professors taught more, the university would not have to keep adding to the number of faculty members, and student tuition and fees would not go up nearly as fast as it has over the last 50 years (about four times the rate of inflation).

I have good memories of my time at UT where I did all of my undergraduate work. But UT should not rest on its laurels. It does not need more buildings. It does need more teachers who are willing to teach.