15.1.09

SOMEBODY COULD USE A MUGGING BY REALITY. Late last year, I noted the University of Oregon administration's ascent into Wolkenkuckucksheim.
The University of Oregon, a source of great amusement a few years ago, is the gift that keeps on giving. Repeat with me: the track and field championships are amateur sports. It has nothing to do with money. Nike is an Oregon company. That's coincidence.
Now comes Oregon's president arguing that it's a feature, not a bug.
Finally, the author of Sunday’s piece opined that the university had somehow misplaced its priorities by rescheduling commencement because of a track meet. I strongly disagree. This is not just any track meet, but the NCAA National Championships — an event that will pump millions of dollars into the local economy and is part and parcel of the rich track and field heritage of the UO.
I obtained this quote from University Diaries (where's the footnote, Professor Soltan?), where the reader will get this reaction. (Footnote provided later that evening, thanks!)

You see how the prose gives away the man. Not just any track meet! Look sharp! … And then that ultimate defense of bigtime university sports that UD’s heard so much from [Don NCAA President] Myles Brand: pumps dollars into the local economy…

Stop for a moment and try to recall, even if Frohnmayer and Brand cannot, what a university is. It may be a nice outcome of a university that it - like any institution that locates itself somewhere - might benefit the local economy. But a university is not a Toyota factory. It does not constitute a defense of university policies to say that they generate money for apparel shops and sports bars.

The awe that Frohnmayer feels as he contemplates a track meet, and his welfare state mentality (universities are really about job creation), make him a strange bird indeed.

The voice of reason in this continuing drama, not surprisingly, is an economist.
I'm a professor of economics at the University of Oregon. It's a great job. I love research, and I love teaching. On top of that, I earn more than most Oregonians, and a lot of my salary comes from their taxes. So maybe I should just keep my head down. But there are some problems at UO that need addressing. We're no longer a top-tier institution in research or in teaching, and our prestigious status with the Association of American Universities is in danger.
The president's statement is a reaction to that observation.

SECOND SECTION. The president's statement contains other dubious claims.

Applications for next fall, even in a time of family economic hardship, are almost 20 percent ahead of last year’s record pace.

Just what do these students know that our detractor does not?

The Legislature and State Board of Higher Education keep statistical track of our performance indicators. Students’ satisfaction with their classroom experience here routinely is the highest in the state system and has increased markedly in the last decade. Our graduates overwhelmingly express enormous regard for the education they receive. Student retention rates and graduation rates all show continued improvement.

Until Oregon's institutional research rules out the Principle of Substitutes and the Principle of Normal Goods, a simpler explanation is that Oregon is getting more students who otherwise would have used the hedge fund money to go to Chicago or Duke or Reed or Stanford.
And even with limited and inconsistent state support, we have demonstrated steady progress on the salary front. For example, a decade ago, salaries for newly hired tenure-track faculty members were 12 percent below the AAU average. This year, salaries for incoming professors are 2 percent above the AAU average. That is significant progress despite significant funding challenges.
Trough to peak? We've had years of rescissions and retrenchments in Illinois, which strike me as typical of the land-grants and comprehensives. Or a change in the hiring base? Without more specific data, I cannot rule out a pool of entry-level hires near market a decade ago compared with a smaller pool of experienced hires near market now, the balance of the slots filled with contingent faculty.

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