Paul L. Caron

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cunningham: Improving Scholarship (and Rankings) by Buying Out Nonproductive Senior Faculty

Lawrence Cunningham (George Washington), For Faculty Buyouts:

Universities nationwide are in a vise, devastating for most, but an opportunity for a few. The grip is how financial woes dictate reduced spending while rankings intensity demands enhanced research prowess.

For most universities, the cross-pressures mean spending and research curtailed. But a few universities can make the dilemma others face into an opportunity. They can shed highly-paid professors who do not conduct research and hire newer professors devoted to that. That saves money and promotes valuable research.

This strategy will not help already-established national research universities like Harvard or many University of California schools. They must rely on furloughs and other cuts to deal with fiscal adversity and cling to hope that existing research resources will hold their own. Nor would it pay off for the vast majority of universities lower in the academic hierarchy. They must not only resort to furloughs and such but are not positioned to leverage research investment.But it may be an ideal strategy for well-established and well-regarded universities towards but not at the top of the academic hierarchy.

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Revoke all tenure.
Fire all administrative staff and hire temps for record keeping.
Sever all bonds to federal government.

Posted by: Barack | Feb 20, 2010 7:52:00 AM

The post-modern university economic model, like so much else in current society, is dysnfunctional and no longer serves the interests of its alleged constituents. Departments which reward the obtainment of funding (being a rainmaker) over scholarly research, and professors who cannot be troubled to teach, administrators who exist simply to feather their own nests and perpetuate themselves? Sounds like a Ponzi scheme to me.
Oh yes, one other thing... all the while the above is occurring, universities and colleges act as the de facto gatekeepers of our employment market. The sooner this corrupt and ineffective system topples of its own excesses, the better for all of us. Of course, I'm biased... I used to be a slave graduate TA/RA back in my youth, before I knew better!

Posted by: Pete | Feb 19, 2010 11:17:48 PM

Jaed has it right. I am a lecturer at a research University and the talk about how important teaching is, is just that - talk. Even good research is back seat to grant money - big grant money!
We have several "people" in my department who made tenure with so-so research with mainly conference papers, no department activity, poor to lousy teaching but big grants. Now they are tenured they are even worse. The really good teachers don't go anywhere if they don't have the grants even if their research is good.

Administration can hire lecturers at half the price to do the teaching so what do they care?

Posted by: Rich | Feb 19, 2010 3:43:23 PM

At one time, wasn't the primary job of a University to educate the students? And research was done as a sideline?

I wonder how much of the increase in cost of college tuition can be directly laid at the feet of the Athletic department and the tenured professors doing research. You would think a good cost-benifit analysis would point that right out. Probably why we don't see anything like that.

Posted by: Georg Felis | Feb 19, 2010 3:32:07 PM

We should simply outlaw tenure. Our pampered academics need to compete for their jobs like everyone else.

Posted by: Ken Hahn | Feb 19, 2010 3:27:11 PM

Teaching well is close to being a negative for a professor at a research school. Research is becoming less and less relevant, once you meet a minimum standard. The deciding factor for tenure more and more is how much grant money you bring in. The top of the heap is the skilled administrator and rainmaker with his or her own lab.

Which ties nicely in with the fact that more and more money is spent on administration, rather than teaching or research. I don't see this changing with economic problems, since by and large the administrative layer also makes the decisions about financial priorities.

The university of the future has mostly administrators, with a few "star" faculty bringing in grant money to fund labs whose labor is provided by armies of grad student slaves, with teaching grudgingly provided for by like armies of low-paid part-time adjuncts. The actual research and teaching will no longer be something done by full-time or tenured university employees, but rather be nonessential functions farmed out to ancillary personnel. And I'm not joking about that.

Posted by: jaed | Feb 19, 2010 2:08:06 PM

As mere spectators and tax-payers who are footing the bill, we can only wonder why these universities are not looking for ways to get rid of professors who don't or can't teach.

Posted by: Michael W. Perry | Feb 19, 2010 12:21:22 PM

Ah, so all "good" researchers are automatically good teachers. As long as a researcher can gather the grants and employ lots of grad assistants in vital research with commercial applications the tax payer money for the education of the students at all college levels will not be wasted..........

Posted by: toad | Feb 19, 2010 11:50:10 AM

I doubt this would work in Academia like it would in Corporate America, simply because there is such salary compression in Academe. Highly paid professors are typically productive professors, so you'd be shedding your star researchers, more likely than not.

Posted by: Lecturer | Feb 19, 2010 11:13:29 AM