Tenure in Wisconsin

Cristian Schneider’s WSJ piece on tenure in Wisconsin raises some good points but has this terrible paragraph:

What tenure does well, however, is allow high-paid faculty to keep collecting paychecks while untenured academic staff and teaching assistants conduct the classes. The average “nine-month” professor at the UW-Madison earns $123,500 in salary, before benefits. Yet only 47% of the campus’s classes are taught by faculty. According to the UW-Madison chancellor, taxpayer-funded faculty taught an average of 3.41 classes a week in 2013 and spent an average of 21.3 hours a week on research. The end result is that students wind up paying rapidly rising tuition for professors they’ll rarely see.

Tenure does not lead to faculty teaching 47% of the classes.  A research institution leads to that.  Notice that the article adopts the statutory definition of faculty that is only true in Wisconsin: faculty are defined as only tenured or tenure-track.  For example when we were a visiting professor at Madison we were not faculty but when we returned to our home campus we were.

The scare quotes around nine months is interesting.  Is that tacit agreement that faculty work all year long?  In any case, for a variety of reasons including keeping cost (and prices) down, departments have a portfolio of faculty and instructional academic staff (IAS).  Anyone that teaches and is not faculty is IAS by Wisconsin statute.  IAS generally teach more and are paid less because research is not an expectation.  Many IAS are full-time continuing instructors that, for students, are indistinguishable from the faculty.

It is true if you go to a research institution like Madison you will see faculty less.  Part of that is the definition of faculty.  As a student you won’t see the difference between IAS and faculty but part of it is real.

Faculty teach 3.41 classes and research 21.3 hours is a misleading comparison suggesting a ratio of about six for research over teaching.  Teaching involves preparation for class, writing exams, grading exams and homework, and meeting with students outside of class.  The number of hours spent on teaching are much higher than the hours spent in class.  If we accept the data then the ratio should be much lower than six.

The paragraph suggests some reasons why tuition is high.  It does not make any argument as to why tuition is increasing although it concludes by blaming tenure for increasing tuition.  Tenure has been constant while tuition has increased.  More likely reasons for the increase in tuition are reduction in support from the state and administrative bloat.


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