9.12.07

REVEALED PREFERENCES. Where they are to strengthen the already well-respected football program at the same time they are to raise Florida State's prestige profile on the cheap, they do little for faculty morale.

The single most important factor in the quality of a university education is the faculty. Offering these kinds of raises to coaches when there are no raises for most faculty and staff sends a series of bad messages to students, faculty and the broader community. They tell the students that academic achievement is secondary to sports and celebrity. They also affirm to the world that FSU is committed most clearly to football, despite claims that it aspires to join the AAU (American Association ofUniversities) and other grandstanding about becoming a nationally recognized research university.

This year, FSU has asked departments to cut their budgets by 4 percent, with a possible second cut this spring. This translates into a significant portion of each unit's discretionary spending. Students are working on old computers and outdated equipment in labs. Deans have limited research and travel money for faculty, yet still expect research output and national and international scholarly participation. Staff members are burdened with added tasks with no new help.

The column, which is the work of a Florida State faculty member, notes

[Football coach Bobby] Bowden's agent says the new salary is competitive in the "market" of NCAA coaches. As faculty members, we wish the administration would apply a similar market value to our work. The FSU market equity study confirms the average FSU faculty member is below market by about $10,000 per year. Despite this deficit, FSU has no plan to use any of the expected $1.4 million revenue from tuition increases to bring faculty salaries in line with national market rates.

So while Bowden gets a $600,000 raise, [another coach, Jimbo] Fisher gets a $200,000 raise, and [university president T. K.] Wetherell enjoys a "top 10 in the nation" salary, FSU's ranking remains stagnant, and the faculty and staff who have exceeded the university's goals for graduate student recruitment, produced numerous books, articles and creative projects, and brought in millions of dollars in grants (recent statistics show that the amount the FSU faculty brings into the state in grants for their work exceeds the total amount of FSU faculty salaries) are rewarded with an insulting "bonus."

It's an incomplete comparison, because faculty have tenure, which coaches and many of the current crop of presidents do not, and because faculty do have the opportunity to move to other universities. There's probably some economic hysteresis at work, such that faculty do not often move to other institutions, even with the prospect of immediate tenure and no hassles getting the grants transferred, in response to the administration's slights.

The harder question is whether it's evolutionarily stable for the administrators to engage in rent-seeking and to support the positional arms races in sports, but not, say, in industrial economics (shameless plug) or applied mathematics. Perhaps the Florida State faculty stay put because working conditions (increased helpings of access-assessment-remediation-retention, eligibility studies, grantsmanship, and larger class sizes with less support) are pretty bad everywhere else, and there's more certainty about the local conditions than those that will come with the one-time pay increase. But again, why is that behavior the equilibrium? (It can't be a conspiracy of the failed scholars and the jock sniffers: by definition, a conspiracy carries with it an incentive to defect.)
This is the real message FSU is sending with these contracts, and this is why FSU is shooting itself in the foot in its efforts to attract, develop and retain the top tier scholars needed to join the AAU. When academics are rewarded in the same way as athletic coaches and top administrators, FSU will begin to move out of the parochial backwaters of higher education.
Florida State's efforts, however, do undermine individual faculty members' efforts to negotiate pay raises elsewhere. A department chairman communicates to a tightwad dean or provost that a promising colleague has an offer from Florida State. The dean or provost is in a better position to call that bluff.

(Via University Diaries, who also provides a link to additional observations from Florida State.)

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