Former professor supports Solomon's recent column

Editor's Note: This is an open letter to Prof. Jon Solomon, the professor who appeared on the "60 Minutes" on the University of Arizona and wrote a column for Monday's Wildcat ("Award-winning professor takes on administration"'). The author, Donald Hall, taught at UA from 1966 to 1990.

Dear Jon (If I may):

My admiration and my sympathy go out to you in overflowing measure! You have told the truth not only as you see it but as it exists. You have done so with insight, humor and a heroic disregard for the consequences you certainly foresaw. Now, expect the worst and you won't be disappointed! However, know that there is a legion of us out here some still at the university, others dead, retired or gone who are with you in spirit and will do what we can to support you. I'm hopeful that your new visibility makes you too difficult to punish for your "crime" of telling the truth.

A couple of items for your defensive arsenal. The whole "publish or perish" image the university pushes is simply this: the "research professor" (hereafter RP) supposedly rushes from his lab or library to gush forth in the classroom his "state of the art" and "leading edge of knowledge" discovery to his students (who presumably are dazzled but fully capable of understanding his discovery). One slight problem: how did the students acquire the fundament, the underlying knowledge of the field that permits their understanding of the new theory or discovery? Surely not from a RP who (1) is being paid and promoted for research, not teaching, and (2) isn't good at or doesn't like teaching. No, the students of the RP were prepared for this great moment by the FPs, the "fundamentals professors" who with extraordinary synthesizing skills and incredible patience have sifted the "accumulated wisdom of the ages" and the current materials on the subject and have brought the students along from their near ignorance in the field to their present capacity for understanding the RPs.

And consider: while the RP does his work in his choice of times and surroundings (lab, library, home office, solitary or in team, day or night), the FP does his work in overcrowded classrooms; in short, arbitrarily established hour blocks and day blocks, fettered by exams, grading and counseling; and continually interrupted by weekends and a plethora of holidays.

Aren't these FPs every bit as valuable [to student learning] as the RPs? Only if one grossly undervalues the goal of student learning or substitutes "pushing back the frontiers of knowledge" or "great discoveries" as the goal can one justify downgrading the contribution of FPs. "Who taught Einstein his first math?" Q.E.D. How odd that teachers rarely resent researchers, yet researchers constantly claim teachers are parasites!

I not only fully agree with you about the university practicing consumer fraud I have made the same remark in public and private since 1973. As Leslie Stahl put it, tuition dollars of hardworking parents are being used to support non-teaching and non-teachers. I loved Sypherd's apparent distress that a fraud lawsuit could cost the university millions of dollars. Back in 1986 or so, I told the University Legal Counsel's office that I was considering suing for denial of an earned sabbatical. Her response: "Get in line; you'll be 26th on the list of people currently suing us." That's how much (at least that office of) the university cared about being sued.

I retired in 1990 after giving up on altering the Political Science Department's relentless hiring of clones: ultra-liberal Democrats who hated all institutions, the military, Republicans, students and FPs, in roughly inverse order. My background as a liberal (Nelson Rockefeller) Republican, political practitioner (former political adviser to then-Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, former County Chair of the Pima County Republican Party, fundraiser and speechwriter), political analyst for (Tucson) newspapers, radio and television, author of one two-edition landmark book on lobbying and scores of newspaper articles plus a smattering of papers for professional conventions all disqualified me for promotion, sabbaticals, raises, etc. It wasn't that I didn't do enough in my field; I "didn't publish enough in my field." "Right!" said I, "I'm too busy trying to make sense of the gibberish you guys write and the politics you practice so I can communicate it to my students." Or, as my sainted grandfather replied, when he was asked why he hadn't written a book about his work as a leading Bishop of the Methodist church, "I'd rather be the person they write books about." Jon, keep that last bit in mind.

Best regards and keep your chin up! Remember: "The only thing necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing." You're a good man, Jon Solomon, and you're doing something: you're telling a truth that needs to get out.

Donald R. Hall

Associate Professor, Emeritus

Political Science Department

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