Thursday, April 07, 2011

Profs as Profit Centers

Is a professor worth his keep? Business has long had metrics and standards for assessing employees contribution to the bottom line, but Texas A&M seems to have pioneered the dollars and sense approach to academic evaluation. From Amanda M. Fairbanks HuffPost story:

For years, state legislators, parents, and even his own boss had been hectoring Frank Ashley, the vice chancellor of academic affairs for the Texas A&M University System, to tell them whether his highest paid professors were worth their often fat paychecks.

Ashley responded with a spreadsheet that listed each of his faculty members according to how much money they made or lost for the university.

The study calculated an individual professor's "revenue" based on the tuition he or she brought to the school -- a product of the number of students taught -- and the amount of research awards and grants he or she obtained, among other factors. The greater the number of classes and students taught, the greater the revenue. If a professor's annual salary was lower than the amount of revenue generated, it was black. Otherwise, it was red.

Of the 50 highest compensated faculty members, only five appeared to be in the black and earning their keep. The rest were crimson…

The trouble started when this “internal” study grew legs. This sort of thing challenges a lot of fundamental ideas about the nature of a university and what is valuable in and about it. It seems that Mammon is as uncomfortable a podium guest for Hermes as for Yahweh.

There is a very real point to all this though – those who pay the bills have a responsibility to see that their money is being well spent. As long as they have faith in the fundamental values of the institutions they can be fairly happy to let the administrators handle the details. When money is tight, the details get scrutiny.