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Monday, July 14, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008
Today the Chronicle of Higher Education published the results of a job satisfaction study. It shows a sag in satisfaction in mid-career, but overall very positive reviews for jobs in academia.
71 percent of faculty members give high marks to collaborative governance on their campuses; 68 percent of tenured professors agree their colleges support a strong teaching environment; a nearly equal percentage of male employees (82 percent) and female employees (83 percent) say their institutions provide resources for work-life balance; and both groups are similarly satisfied with their jobs as a whole (86 percent for men and 88 percent for women).
These numbers are much higher than what I'd expect talking to friends and colleagues. There are two reasons for this.

First, the article notes, "The percentages of positive responses were fairly high because the study was not a random national sample but instead was conducted only at institutions that felt confident enough in the quality of their workplaces to participate in the Great Colleges to Work For survey."

Second, public universities do significantly worse than the privates:
Faculty members at public colleges have less confidence in their senior leadership than do professors at private colleges (65 percent to 56 percent). Among the more-senior faculty members — full and associate professors — the news is even worse for public-university leaders. Just under half of public-college professors in the top two ranks have confidence in their senior leadership, compared with 66 percent and 60 percent, respectively, at private colleges. . . .

In several other key categories as well, private colleges outperformed public institutions. Professors at nearly every rank gave their private institutions higher marks for research and scholarship opportunities. At private colleges, 79 percent of faculty members ranked their teaching environment positively, compared with 71 percent at public institutions.

Employees over all at private institutions ranked their compensation and benefits better than those at public institutions did (66 percent to 63 percent), as well as their work-life balance (84 percent to 78 percent). One area where publics performed better than privates: health-care benefits (75 percent to 68 percent).
I have written a whole book on this topic and am bleakly satisfied to get some confirmation that there is fairly widespread awareness of the deterioration of working conditions in public higher ed.

Stagnation in professorial careers is an equally interesting issue, and this study is one of the first I've seen to take this on so directly:
For faculty members especially, the midcareer point is fraught with anxiety about what's next. After receiving tenure, they are no long-er protected from a heavy load of committee work. Some remain stuck as associate professors for years without a promotion. And unless they are superstars in their fields, it's not easy to get a job elsewhere.

"Faculty careers are flat unless you go into administration," says Saranna Thornton, a professor of economics at Hampden-Sydney College. "Even if you become a full professor, you essentially do what you did as an associate professor."
The flat career can poison the individual and the institution: associate professors feel themselves to be dead-enders long before they get labeled as deadwood by their peers, chairs, and deans. And decades of flat or declining funding means long series of ideas that are never actually implemented, which makes the stuck feeling worse.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008
I've caught up with a truly shocking story that was broken last fall by UCLA's student paper the Daily Bruin. Since the university is one of my main areas of research I like to assume I'm not naive, but this piece took my breath away. It has the elements of deep corruption, and not just of aberration - large donations followed by admissions to super-competitive programs for OK-to-good relatives of the donors; open boasting by beneficiaries, suggesting there's no climate of prohibition around seats-for-sale; a leak; an inside investigation that finds no abuses and holds no one accountable; scattered outcries, resignations, and protests; a wall of administrative silence.

For a long time the for-sale sign on academia was seen as an isolated problem. It went with mediocrity, desperation, or individual corruption. As recently as 2003, Harvard's president emertius Derek Bok could write a book called The University in the Marketplace, express muffled rage at medical faculty for their arrogant obliviousness to the conflicts of interests they eagerly pursued, and still insist knowledge was not being corrupted. But the continuous pursuit of major and minor donors - as a central academic activity - is starting to change the focus, goals, metrics, etc of the institution.

Actually there's lots of evidence that this has already happened. Slaughter and Leslie's 1997 classic Academic Capitalism clearly explained the iron logic of income substitution. Jennifer Washburn's University Inc. was a well-documented cry for help that still needs to be addressed. Longtime science reporter Daniel S. Greenberg has a new book called Science for Sale that tells a nuanced story about mixed motives. All of it calls for better connections between the new dominance of fundraising culture and changes in both the directions of research and their results.

What we have to avoid is this: a new hybrid in which ultra-selective admissions generate small numbers of brilliant and economically diverse students that offer a front for lucrative academic influence-peddling. But this is what happens when fundraising gets woven into the research and teaching life of departments. It's the business version of Potomac Fever in Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, where every new project seems pitched to presidential candidates and the conclusions are written for their leading aides. We have enough knowledge for hire already - aka the major media. The university has to sound different from CNN or why not cut its public revenues to zero?

We Senate types are all out here pumping for public higher ed and yet we look more and more like the folks who run the plumbing-supplies store for Tony Soprano. That is, our corruption is looking less and less like an occasional accident and more and more systematic.

In May, the resident who went on the record for the November Daily Bruin story resigned from the department.
In his resignation letter, Kent Ochiai blamed the program’s chair for making his residency unbearable after the Daily Bruin published an article last November exposing preferential admissions within the orthodontics program for donors and their relatives.

Ochiai’s refusal as an applicant to donate a large sum in order to secure his own admission prompted The Bruin’s investigation.