I’ve worked at a state university’s top 25 academic medical center and pharmacy school, an elite private research university, a teaching-intensive, historically-Black college/university in a large state university system, and am now a half-time writing professor (in a department of English) at a state land-grant university. I also work half-time as a science communications director for a state natural sciences museum. The emphasis on teaching vs. research at each institution has varied. I’ve earned tenure twice, once in the traditional fashion at the 7th year of an assistant professorship and again at appointment as a professor and department chair.With David Letterman also pulling the pin, we must look elsewhere for Top Ten lists.
Let's start with the second gripe.
Research universities, medical schools in particular, are highly-dependent on federal research funding to pay faculty salaries. So, you have to raise anywhere from a quarter to 100% of your salary. Some research universities typically hire more faculty than they can afford with the assumption that research project grants will generally cover a relatively stable percentage of faculty salaries. The National Institutes of Health has recently announced that it’s expected universities to step up over the next 20 years.Thus, faculty in the laboratory sciences and medicine have the stresses of being entrepreneurs, in the presence of government funding that is presumably infected with the same bending-the-cost-curve mentality that is wrecking physician morale. Alternatively, there are sources of corporate funding for such research, but that may be Big Business attempting to put an objective face forward by having Mr Chips rather than Dr Frankenstein designing the drugs. That business model, however, brings in conflicts of commercial interest on top of the tournament to be doing frontier research because everybody else is, and University Diaries has never lacked for work documenting those conflicts.
Turn the sponsored projects into a private business and then the professor is now an entrepreneur meeting payroll and covering capital costs, not generating indirect cost recovery for the rent-seekers to dissipate. But I antagonized one former dean by pointing out that doing consulting on my own time during the summer was not subject to any of the constraints that would apply to ordinary grants. Not that he had a particularly convincing rejoinder.
That research entrepreneurship, which allows the professor to keep his Mr Chips image and builds the university's research prestige, collides with access-assessment-remediation-retention. "Many US universities operate under a customer service model while accepting students unprepared for college-level coursework."
"Too many professors are being expected to make up for the deficiencies of public high school education." And it's the talented and striving students without the means or the connections to get into the U.S. News - endorsed signalling mills that get screwed.
And the presence of the reserve army of unemployed Ph.D.s only tightens the screws.
I have seen some tenure-track faculty actually be threatened by their supervisors with being replaced by such adjunct faculty if they can’t score grant funding. The abuse of adjunct faculty by US universities is a travesty.Somewhere, Charlie (ProfScam) Sykes is chuckling. A quarter-century ago he called out the famous universities for advertising their Nobel-worthy faculty yet exposing the freshmen to freeway flyers or inexperienced graduate assistants. Nothing has changed.
This afternoon, I had a conversation with some students about Ph.D. programs and I stressed, this is a risky course of action and the job market is unlikely to get better. But without an industrial reserve army to exploit, the deanlets and deanlings will have to improve the working conditions of the faculty.
At the same time, though, Virginia Postrel offers four specific questions that prospective students and their parents ask of the universities they're considering.
"Do you have a 'free-speech zone'?" The best answer is "No." Any "yes" is likely to introduce an elaborate rationalization full of pomo-babble and diversoid-speak.
"What is the administrator-to-professor ratio? How much has that grown in the last 10 years?" Is that before or after one-fifth of the long-term faculty and staff was pushed into retirement?