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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Martin Amis Vs. Professors Everywhere

The Times of London - of all papers - had a good piece by Alexi Mostrous on Martin Amis's 80,000 pounds a year from the U of Manchester, in exchange for which he performs a "distinctly achievable" 28 hours of work - per year. What was good was that Mostrous did not make Amis's featherbedding into a metaphor for all UK professors. "His salary is more than 240 times that of an average full-time academic, who earns £38,933 a year for 59 hours a week." There it is - the real story for college teachers everywhere in the known world - paid not much for doing a lot.

The piece also explains why they'd pay this big salary for almost no effort: Amis isn't getting paid to work, but paid to endorse the Manchester university brand. His celebrity endorsement sends the brand value up, which sends applications up, which improves fee revenues, while also raising the university's status, which increases its power to hire high-powered professors, who will in turn contribute more publications to the university's list for the Research Assessment Exercise that apportions future funding - just as Amis's many publications will too. Their world rank might eventually go up. Then will then be able to hire more lecturers for 38k pounds (or 2500 pounds per course) to do the actual work.

In buying the Amis name, Manchester's administrators were behaving like completely rational businesspeople running a market-oriented business. Unfortunately, they're actually running a university. Once you go down this path, it's almost impossible to get off it. It's not obvious that anyone thinks there's a reason to have a university that isn't divided between stars and labor.

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