In the history of bad ideas for higher ed, this one is a star

I’ve often heard people say of some problem the faculty are causing, “You’d never get away with this in industry, where you have to meet the bottom line.  But academia doesn’t have bottom lines.”  Well, think again.  From the CHE:

The Texas A&M University System is moving ahead with a controversial method of evaluating how much professors are worth, based on their salaries, how much research money they bring in, and how much money they generate from teaching, The Bryan-College Station Eagle reports.

Under the proposal, officials will add the money generated by each professor and subtract that amount from his or her salary to get a bottom-line value for each, according to the article.

I wonder what will be the universities’ equivalents of skimping to protecting the bottom line.  The gulf is a disaster zone because BP wasn’t exercising due responsibility, millions of eggs are recalled because of taint produced at filthy farms.  Maybe we should skip out on the last 200 years of science and let students learn the easier Newton.   Make “Philosophy for Dummies” the central text.  And so on.

The philosopher Jose Bermudez is now dean of Liberal Arts at A&M.  One wonders if this appointment could have been subversive?  Or a matter of co-opting.

6 thoughts on “In the history of bad ideas for higher ed, this one is a star

  1. Ummm…call me ignorant, but how do you generate money by teaching? Alumni donations? The number of people who take your classes? In that case, wouldn’t “Philosophy for Dummies” be a good idea–the ultimate “bird course”? (i.e. the course people take because they think it’s easy and they can pad their grades) Can you advertise to get people to come to your classes?

    And, so far as businesses go…95% of new businesses fail within 10 years. What does this approach say for academia?

  2. Professors to start accepting sponsorships, selling themselves ad ad space a la Nascar drivers.

  3. I think advertising for the ‘BIRD’ course would be great. Maybe also courses on sex.

    I love the idea of professor’s selling ad space on their clothes. Perhaps one could also have breaks in the classes for ads.

  4. how do you generate money by teaching?

    At the secondary level, you look to see how the teacher’s students do on standardized tests compared to other students. The idea is that by making the students more competitive, they’ll make more money, and hence a better teacher is selling a more valuable service to the customer/student. Here’s a recent NYT piece explaining the idea.

    The approach is flawed in so many ways, it’s really quite appalling.

    I recently read Matthew Crawford’s Shop class as soulcraft, which is really a fine book, and one of his arguments seems relevant. According to Crawford, one ways in which manual or blue-collar work is superior to what passes for cognitive or white-collar work is that the former, unlike the latter, has clear, intersubjective criteria for success: the pipe doesn’t leak, the motorcycle runs, the sweater you knit doesn’t come unravelled, etc. He goes on to argue that much of contemporary bureaucratic culture — the peculiar style of language, the obsession with intraoffice `political’ disputes — is a response to the lack of clear, intersubjective criteria. For quite interesting mathematical reasons, it’s impossible to determine just how much any given employee has added to the corporate bottom line; hence success and failure is largely a matter of managing the appearance of success and failure in the eyes of the right people in the hierarchy.

    Another solution — and one that may be particularly appropriate for bureaucracies that are less tightly-knit, like in most schools — is to invent seemingly clear and intersubjective criteria, like standardized tests. To speculate further, the need for clear and intersubjective criteria might be so great that anything with the faintest veneer of intersubjectivity will seem very, very attractive, even if it has only the most tenuous relation to the actual aims of the organization. That would explain why education administrators still have standardized test mania even after nearly a decade of NCLB.

  5. DH, as always, interesting ideas. One impetus for the testing in higher ed is the Boards of Regents (at least in some instances) and, related to what you’ve said, of course as political appointees they are often clueless about intellectual products. What they understand are much more obviously measurable products.

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