21.1.09

CONSIDER THE MARKET TESTS. A University of Minnesota (motto: Lake Wobegon's children are in Madison) professor goes public with her frustration over a cancelled search.
I invite the University community to consider how the administration’s cancellation of faculty searches comports with the University’s core mission and stated goals, the larger financial picture and the annual tuition hikes. Note that we are not talking about increasing the numbers of faculty through incremental hires, but simply about preserving what we had up through last spring.
The essay goes on to detail the work wasted in conducting the search. Yes, there is waste. That's also true of the product development for the Baldwin Centipede. (Keep scrolling). At least Baldwin got a locomotive (after a fashion) out of it. We could be talking about the wasted effort of Bethlehem Steel in identifying all the reasons a thin slab caster wouldn't work. Oops. (Again, keep scrolling). In a world of costly information, dry wells, misbegotten locomotives, incorrect understanding of technological possibilities, and failed searches happen. I don't like it that my department's was also cancelled, but I can deal with it.

I have more trouble dealing with the standard academic complaints, which tend to be arguments from envy.

The time and effort put forth by faculty, students and staff to conduct the search had been wasted.

For what? To save the cost of hiring a starting assistant professor, whose salary would be in the range of $55,000 per year, plus benefits. Compare that to the salaries of top administrators and athletics coaches. It’s nice that the University’s top brass froze executive compensation upon imposing the hiring pause. But it doesn’t hurt to have your salary frozen at several hundred thousand dollars per year.

See that big house? See those hovels? Isn't that awful? (Yes. Find the profit in making better houses for sale to hovel-dwellers.)

University Diaries picks up the Minnesota story, offering an argument from an opportunity cost as commentary.
No ancient religion, of course, can hope to compete on her campus with the Glory of the Gridiron.
Some glory. The Axe remains in Madison. Yes, resources that subsidize football are resources not available to Classics, or to Minnesota's well-regarded economics department. But where there is an opportunity cost, perhaps there is a business case.

Amidst all the talk about running universities like businesses, it would sometimes be nice if people actually ran universities like businesses. Take, say, accounting for faculty hours. How much does an hour of faculty time cost the university, and how many hours did Professor von Dassow and her colleagues spend on a search that has now been cancelled? That’s a cost, and it would be nice if it were occasionally considered as such.

To take another example, if a university spends, say, $1,000,000 on a start-up package for a natural scientist, who then leaves because the university can’t pony up $45,000 a year for a spousal lectureship, then that seems like an unbusinesslike and inefficient use of resources.

Yes, some so-called productivity measures drive productive faculty out, or make them less willing to accept offers from universities obsessed with raising contact hours and class sizes. But by the same token, there is lost enrollment when students who can't complete their schedules drop out, or enroll elsewhere.

I suspect the notion of a business case for a department's tenure-track positions is beyond the comprehension of administrators. There must be a logical explanation why the game of departments-close-the-sections-students-referred-to-the-dean-who-blames-the-legislature (or the endowment manager) persists. I just don't know what it is.

I'll conclude with one more observation: Union Pacific isn't running 844 and 3985 for the play value.

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