By Charles Ratliff
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Professors and administrators are questioning the ethics of CBS' "60 Minutes," where the UA found itself featured in last Sunday's nationally-televised episode.
Keith Lehrer, a University of Arizona regents professor in philosophy, was approached last November by CBS producers to discuss topics of research, teaching and tenure. He said he consented to be interviewed and what resulted was what he called "simple, muckraking journalism."
Lehrer said he felt the "60 Minutes" team came in with a pre-packaged script. He said they knew exactly what they were looking for and geared their investigation toward that end.
The episode projected the theme that professors would rather do research than teach, and Lehrer said he felt the episode "slammed" teaching assistants.
"60 Minutes" reported that 87 percent of all classes at the UA are taught by teaching assistants. Although the team broached this subject with concerned parents who ended up supporting the UA, the information they compiled was not aired, said Michael Cusanovich, vice president for research and graduate studies.
"They pretty much had the story written before they left Washington," said Vernon Lamplot, associate director of news services. He said he thought the team was not forthcoming in what they were up to and responded vaguely to his and other UA staff mbers' direct questions.
"They could've gone to XYZ university and gotten the same thing," Lamplot said.
"I don't believe it was representative of the faculty or students as a whole," Cusanovich
He said he felt the team came in with a particular slant toward the story and that they only chose to interview those faculty members and students who supported the story they were trying to do.
"They only used the stuff that suited them," he said. Cusanovich said he felt the story was unbalanced and unreasonable.
The CBS News Press Office said "60 Minutes" decided to do the story about the UA because the university receives research money and the Arizona state Legislature had addressed problems in the past concerning teaching, research, and tenure.
The press office said, in defense of "60 Minutes," that they collected the information any normal reporter would collect and the clip was "just how you put a story together."
Lehrer said, in a letter to the Chronicle of Higher Education, that teaching assistants "are very good teachers, especially for freshmen, better often than faculty."
"I think the future of our children and the future of the country depends on our maintaining our research universities," he wrote.
Lehrer said professors are inspired to do research in their subject areas and it was to this end that he agreed to be interviewed by "60 Minutes"' Lesley Stahl.
When their on-camera interview turned to the area of tenure, Lehrer said he found himself defending tenured professors who research more than they teach. But, Lehrer said he teaches as much as he researches, but was "set-up" to say that if professors were required to teach more, then there would be "more bad teaching."
"They left the impression that was where the problems lay," Cusanovich said. "That's a deliberate distortion of the facts presented."
"That's not to say we don't have our problems," he said. "We've done our best in the last three years to address them."
Cusanovich said administrators and faculty have addressed the concerns that lay in faculty research and undergraduate studies and that although problems do exist, the university has made headway in trying to solve those problems.
Lehrer said that tenure doesn't protect professors as one would think.
"If I'm not doing what my department, or the university, is telling me to do, then I'm not protected by tenure," he said.
The CBS team interviewed Dan Dolata, adjunct chemistry professor, as one who had been turned down for tenure despite being published and earning numerous awards. He said he spent a great deal of time in interviews with producers, mostly for background information, and that he wasn't willing to give them any dirt on the system.
"I wasn't providing them with 'sensationalistic' quotes," Dolata said. He said he felt the team of producers were very patient and willing to listen to what he had to say.
"I felt like they were doing a credible job in gathering the information while starting from a pre-conceived notion," Dolata said.
After the three-plus hours spent in interviews, Dolata said he appeared in the segment for only five seconds as a backdrop showing him teaching a class.
Cusanovich said that administrators are talking about what they could do in response to the "60 Minutes" story.
"The possibilities range from making a strong statement to ignoring the whole thing," he said. "We do need to respond in a reasonable way."
Read Next Article