Peer institutions should not guide Tech

Tech was originally founded in 1885 as a beacon of the future for the agrarian South in the post-Civil War era of Reconstruction. Its founding purpose was to educate and train the future of Georgia and to a large extent the South, hence its status as a state school funded by Georgia’s taxpayers. Since then, Tech has grown substantially and can now be counted among the world’s best schools, but it has never before betrayed its founding principles. However, recent moves by the current administration point towards a shift in culture and perspective, with a new, worrisome vision of Tech.

These goals in and of themselves are not necessarily a bad thing—to “be among the most highly respected technology-focused learning institutions in the world” according to the Tech Strategic Plan. The five goals cited in the plan are all quite excellent and worthy of pursuit, if a bit vacuous, but it is the method of implementation that is irksome and seems to be pulling Tech in multiple directions. One of the most common phrases for policy reasoning in the past year has been “peer institutions.” These words are themselves problematic for many reasons. First, these peer institutions are cited as examples ranging from MIT to Illinois to Purdue to Georgia State as the criteria moves from academics and research to public university rankings to in-state funding. This confusion has Tech being pulled both up and down at the same time.

An example of this is the six percent increase in tuition at the end of last semester. While I understand there is a rising cost of education and Tech does need more funds, the reasoning by President Peterson for the regents’ increase at his behest was to me unacceptable.

“If you look at our peer group, we’re not average in that peer group—we’re in the upper echelon [in terms of college rankings]…if there are 16 institutions and we’re number four, do we really want to be at the average [tuition] or do we want to be in the top quartile?”

In this instance our peer group is other top ranked public universities. It is ridiculous to propose an increase on students solely to make us match other universities, especially when one of the most advertised rankings by administration is our number one return on investment by SmartMoney. It makes no sense to compare the tuition cost of state schools when they are funded to different extents as voted by the tax payers of that state. At the same time, our fees and tuition are also being compared to other public Georgia schools, of which we are already the highest. It just does not connect.

Even more troublesome about the use of “peer institutions,” though, is the fact that it goes against the Strategic Vision we have set out to accomplish. In order to “ensure innovation” or be a top world-class institution, we must be creating our own paths rather than blindly following others’.

Two of the most recent examples are the addition of Coursera and implementation of Open Access for Faculty Publications. Both are great and important steps forward; however, giving reasons like Stanford founded it or MIT did it in 2008 are not in line with where we should be headed as a school. Instead, to be a world-class institution, we should be leaders in the field, not followers. We are already a world-class institution for research and education, attracting top professors and students from around the globe, but can we achieve this in policy also?

However, what I am most saddened by is the brute disloyalty to Tech’s culture and principles. All of these moves seem to be trying to transform Tech into something it is not —a “name school.” Tech is famed for graduating top engineers, not those who only use the school name as a mere tool. Tech’s alumni are known as hard working with the ability to actually solve problems. While branding is important for a school, these seemingly desperate policies do nothing to increase our name and only betray Tech’s alumni—and as one soon to join their ranks, I find it worrying.

I love Tech and am proud to have been a student here. However, I don’t want people in 50 years to assume that when I say I’m a Yellow Jacket that it simply means my parents were rich or that I am somehow less competent to work in the industry. To be the best school for Tech’s students and alumni, Tech can only compare itself to itself. I believe in Tech’s foundations, and while there is room for improvement, these original principles are what give my degree value.