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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday, July 26, 2009

An earlier story from KTVU (Oakland) and a comment on Yudofian rhetoric

KTVU in Oakland featured a story on July 14 concerning the disconnect between increased UC administrative spending and the UC budget crisis -- which leads to criticism from the likes of Leland Yee. Their story is here. If UC employees don't want Leland Yee speaking on their behalf, there needs to be a UC response to the discrepancy between executive spending and employee furloughs.

On a side issue, note President Yudof's defense of the 27% salary increase (with a number of perks) for the incoming chancellor at UC Davis: he argues that she is the holder of 16 patents. (This is part of a larger argument. Elsewhere, Yudof has also argued for the need to pay market rates for the best and brightest administrators.) By pointing to the number of patents held by the incoming chancellor to justify her increased compensation, Yudof is (1) making a non sequitur; and (2) drawing on the myth of science-research profitability and self-sustainability (science research pays for itself) to justify her higher pay.

I'm not commenting the specific patents here, or trying to attack the work of science researchers at UC. Rather, I want to draw attention to Yudof's rhetorical maneuver. Chris Newfield, in Unmaking the Public University (which everyone should read), has noted how the majority of patents do not reap profits for universities. As he notes, "The market results of innovative research are, as research results, close to nil. This is as it should be: the purpose of innovative research is innovation -- discovery, invention, and scientific progress. This research has great long-term and social value that could not be captured as licensing revenue or estimates of the market value of patents" (Newfield, 204). Imagine now, if Yudof had hired a humanities scholar to the same post. Would his argument have been to highlight the three major books and numerous articles she had published? The problem is that scientific research is seen as inherently profitable, while humanities research is seen as costly (or cost-ineffective). In this way, then, the rhetoric of scientific productivity can be harnessed to then support increased spending in certain parts of the university, while cutting other parts. Scientific and humanities researchers should be on the same page -- none of our work should be "for profit"; all of what we do is in the pursuit of more information and education; indeed, all of what is done at the university is cost-ineffective and should be, at least, from the limited market perspective of short-term gains. If Yudof wants to justify higher pay for the incoming chancellor (during a period of drastic cuts to the faculty, staff, and employees), then he has to do so on other grounds than the number of patents she holds.


Gerry Barnett said...

She has 16 issued, 19 pending and published, all co-invented with others, about half assigned to private firms, the rest spread between UMich and Purdue RF. Suggests half of her patent output wasn't connected to her university service (or the assignments would be to universities). None of the patents is an asset of UC, so why would Yudof care?

Let's say "holding patents" is shorthand for "has insight into industry needs and relationships". That's a fair point. One might think that the argument is, insight into industry needs is worth paying a premium to get it. Let's look at this.

Here's what Yudof said he was looking for in a Chancellor at UCD:


'He said he also would tell the chosen candidate: "You won't be blamed for the budget cuts, (because) they're not your doing. (And) I don't have an exact schedule, but in five years you'll be able to move Davis up to the next level."'

How is a relationship with industry necessary to get UC Davis "to the next level"? It may be a good premise that Yudof is "managing to the rankings". He has made a big deal about metrics.

Look at the methodology of the most popular rankings:

US News--undergraduate:

US News--graduate:

Quacquarelli Symonds:

Shanghai Jiao Tong University:

To get to the top of the rankings by "managing to the stats", one will self-promote to other senior administrators (peer assessment figures--elites flock together); increase faculty salaries (another metric for USNews); create lots of small classes, and a few huge ones (50 is the break point for big in USNews--so go much bigger for a few--even use digital support); and focus on research publications in the sciences and hiring faculty who have a major academic prize--i.e., celebrities (in the QS rankings, peer opinion is 40% and citations are 20%; in SJTU rankings, 30% is awards and 60% is mostly science citations).

If it's about rankings, it's mostly about science publications, major awards, and becoming part of the celebrity faculty reviewing club. If association with industry makes for impressing the celebrity academic elite, then it becomes clear why Yudof is willing to pay a premium.

The state, in withdrawing support from the university is saying, fundamentally, 1) we do not believe the connection between research and economic prosperity, or we would be putting more money into university research as a stimulus to the economy; 2) we do not believe that a broadly educated population is critical to stimulating the economy and changing our budget outlook; and 3) we do not believe that there is a connection between the published rankings and what the people of our state need in the here and now.

Arguments by Scull and others for elite reputation correspond to a management commitment to rankings as a goal. The shortest way to reputation--hiring celebrity faculty, suppressing competitors, being secretive with regard to finances, and suppressing adverse educational impacts--makes perfect, rational sense.

That's what the state is being asked to pay for. Downsizing or shuttering campuses that won't get to elite status makes a lot of sense, as does cutting staff salaries (which have nothing to do with rankings) in order to recruit and reward celebrity research faculty and administrators (which will). Pushing greater cost onto students is a trivial decision, as cost of education also has nothing to do with rankings (but selectivity does, and there's no doubt a correlation with higher educational costs and greater student retention).

If legislators and the general public see through this fixation on status over service, that's a credit to them.

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