Faculty Workload

Paul Caron, over at TaxProf Blog has parts of two articles on the dispute over faculty workload.  Joseph Epstein asks, “Who’ll Take A Pay Cut For Free College” over at the WSJ (subscription required).  Among other things, Joe says faculty have a sweet racket.  Coleen Flaherty calls shenanigans on Joe and wants to fact check him.  We’re generally with Colleen but think even Coleen could do better.  Do read all of what Colleen has to say.  Only read Joe if you want a rant.

Joe leads with a picture of Nick Saban, the Alabama football coach, and spends three paragraphs on college athletics.  We are not a fan of Division I sports, but they are irrelevant to the tuition cost.  Students do pay a separate fee but Division I athletics generates essentially all of their own revenue.  You can also ignore the college president but Joe has an important point on administrative creep.  He does get a bit wound up but he is close the the mark when he says:

The next big cut in the cost of higher education would be in superfluous administrative jobs, for the contemporary university is nothing if not vastly overstaffed. All those assistant provosts for diversity, those associate deans presiding over sensitivity programs, those directors for student experience—out, out with them.

He actually only spends two paragraphs on faculty.  Joe starts out imprecisely:

Which brings us to the faculty. Faculty jobs in American universities have risen well in excess of any visible improvement in the quality of university teachers: $200,000-a-year-or-more professorships are now not uncommon.  [Emphasis added]

Joe should have given us a little data on what the bold part means.  Yes, there are some highly paid faculty members in some departments.  Because we are retired we don’t have access to the data we did before.  Here is an AACSB summary of worldwide salaries for 2018/19.  AACSB is an organization of business schools.  It is hard to become part of AACSB so we could describe it as an elite organization.  Business school faculty make substantially more than most other faculty and elite schools pay more too.  There are just under 5,000 accounting (to pick a large discipline that is close to our heart, highly paid, and at the beginning of the alphabet) faculty in the survey and at least 300 are in the $200,000 category.

Sidebar One: We only have a very rough estimate from this data as it is 75 percentile, median, 25 percentile, and mean for four levels of faculty.  We can infer that there are some big salaries because the mean is above the median.  End Sidebar One.

So in one of the highest paid disciplines at the tonier universities, to use Joe’s term, perhaps 10% (that would mean 500 out of 5,000) make $200,000.  Some make much more than $200,000 but there are lots of schools and lots of disciplines where nobody is making $200,000.  We are close to certain that no faculty member at our former school is making $200,000 per year.  There is substantial faculty income inequality within and among universities.

Then Joe gets silly and decides he wants to pay us all on an hourly rate by experience. We might be able to staff the English department but the business school and many other departments would be out of luck.  We are not sure about what Joe plans to do about scholarship and service.  It is a bit of an overstatement to say that the faculty run the university but faculty committees do stuff like hire, fire, and budget.  Colleen notes one study finds professors spend 17 percent of their time in meetings.

Colleen brings up the opposite of the racket: the expansion of what are often called adjunct faculty who are paid by the course at a much lower rate than faculty and are not expected to do service or scholarship.  She says:

Among other things, Epstein’s essay ignores the structural shifts that have occurred since he began teaching — most significantly the transition to majority-non-tenure-track work force. This means that many professors don’t make a salary at all, but are paid on per-course basis. (In this sense, he’s closer to his “strict hourly wage” reality than he thinks. But adjuncts say that the $3,000 they often get to teach a course vastly undervalues the actual work they do to plan it, teach it and be available to students taking it while staying current in their fields. And that shift, in turn — along with public funding cuts — has led to a greater overall workload for tenured and tenure-track professors.)

She makes good points that this is Joe’s idea and that this increases the workload for the remaining faculty.  To be specific, there is more work because there are fewer people carrying a bigger service load.  Colleen leaves out that there is a mezzanine section of instructors who are full-time with a service expectation but (usually) no research expectation and no tenure.

Colleen has data from AAUP (all disciplines for American schools).  Income inequality shows up between private and public and by research intensity.  Here is some data:

At public doctoral institutions last year, the average full professor salary was $141,000. Associates made about $97,000. Assistants made $84,000. Full-time instructors made about $63,000, while lecturers made about $57,000.

Colleen leaves out the income inequality by discipline.  There are not many, if any, English faculty above the averages and no (well, there could be an exception) accounting faculty that are not above the averages.

Colleen give some examples of faculty working really hard.  She is right.  All faculty do teaching, scholarship, and service but the emphasis is on different things at different schools.  At doctoral schools the emphasis is on scholarship.  At comprehensives there is more of a balance among the three.  At smaller schools scholarship is less of an emphasis and service is more of an emphasis.  Faculty work hard but lots of the work is not obvious to everyone.  Faculty committees like assessment of learning, curriculum design, and retention of other faculty are not obvious.  The value of scholarship is hard to evaluate.

Coleen mentions one thing we get as faculty and leaves two out.  She is right we get flexibility but doesn’t go far enough.  We might work seven days a week but we can usually pick up the kids when needed.  Faculty members also have flexibility about what to teach, what scholarship to engage in, and service areas.  The flip side of flexibility is that each faculty member has to figure out what to do.  She leaves out, once we are tenured, we get exceptional security and a good retirement plan.

Sidebar Two: Tenure is a double-edged sword.  Tenure must be granted.  The percentage of probationary faculty earning tenure those schools with big salaries is pretty low.  It is hard to get good data because most folks leave voluntarily before the sword falls.  If you don’t get tenure then you are fired.  End Sidebar Two.

When we were finishing our MBA program some of the teaching assistants had a discussion.  Should we teach or work?  We chose to teach and learned that it is more than teaching but it is different than work because you have so many choice.  We can’t put a number on it but we were willing to trade off lower current income for flexibility, security, and a good retirement plan.  Like any career, it is a racket if you like what you do.





College Drop Outs

Don’t try this at home!  MWG is going to review a book review.  We have been busy with non-fiction this summer and we are not sure if we can fit another in.  The book in question is The College Dropout Scandal by David Kirp.  The review is at NRO: Fixing The College-Dropout Problem by James P. Sutton.

First thing we are going to do is change the terminology.  If you want to find out about the issue you want to search for retention.  Other than perhaps the custodians, everyone at the university is worried about retention.  The University of Wisconsin System has a web page for progress and completion as part of the accountability dashboard for the UW System.

We have two problems with the review.  One is the conclusion which manages to have two problems in one paragraph.  We’ve put each of them in bold:

Kirp has written an important book, highlighting an underreported problem. He’s lifted up the kind of institutions and leaders we need more of: those who leave behind the prestige contests of American meritocracy and quietly work for the common good.

Retention is the most heavily reported underreported problem in some time.  We can’t think of a Yogi Berra or Groucho Marx quote but we are sure there is one for this situation.  For state institutions, the governor, legislators, university board, university administrators, and faculty all are aware of retention.

We haven’t read the book yet but the second bold item doesn’t make any sense.  We don’t want meritocracy?  Or is American meritocracy different from regular meritocracy?  How do we know what the common good is if it isn’t meritocracy?  Can we ever determine what is the common good?  And, if so, how do we determine it with regards to retention?

The common good ties into the second problem.  What is the optimal retention rate?  Often folks seem to imply it should be 100%.  We don’t think so and think that retention is much like income inequality.  Almost everyone agrees that the Gini coefficient should not be zero or one but it is hard to agree on a correct solution.

As department chair we have been involved in these discussions about grading from both perspectives.  First, Faculty X flunked 60 percent of the students.  Second, Faculty Z gave no grades below B.  Both outcomes are worrisome and difficult.  The Faculty Z scenario resonates with many faculty members because they worry that all the concern with retention will lead to even more grade inflation.

We do know that better students are more likely to be retained.  You can go to to site we mentioned above on UW retention and try to guess admission standards by retention.  You will be pretty close.

Retention rates are like beer: at some point more is not better.

Sidebar: We can do a better job than our undergraduate program where they “motivated” us by saying, “Look at the person on your right and the person on your left.  One of the three of you will not be here for graduation.”  End Sidebar.

We need to be concerned about retention rates being too high where they devalue the diploma or too low where we waste resources. We need to consider retention in terms of admission standards. Retention rates were low when we taught at open admissions school.  One notable student there was a plumber.  He was an excellent student but he couldn’t hope to make as much, at least starting out, as an accountant.  We asked why he was in school and he said, “I was starting to think like a plumber.”

Everyone should be worried about retention of conservatives but perhaps only conservatives will worry about it.  The problem for conservatives is particularly acute because most retention problems come early.  Thus, it is a concern for conservative students that students usually spend their first two years in the dorms and studying what we called General Education.  Both the dorms and Gen Ed are hotbeds of progressive thought.  Perhaps Kirp has a chapter on it but we doubt it.

The real question is can retention be increased while maintaining standards?  Given all the emphasis on retention in the past decades we would be shocked if there was much room for improvement while maintaining standards.  Still the market produces many miracles so we can hope.



University Structural Problems

Much like Congress has ceded their responsibility to the bureaucracy university professors have done the same thing.  Samuel J. Abrams at Inside Higher Ed is on the case that we have commented on often:

When the past academic year began, I warned that professors have ceded ground to a growing and powerful class of student-facing administrators who not only shape considerable academic discourse at colleges and universities but also are dangerous to the promotion of deliberative dialogue. Those administrators — in offices such as student life and residential education — are overwhelmingly liberal and have fostered the creation of a progressive and activist monoculture among students on many campuses with their extracurricular agenda-setting power. [Emphasis added]

The process of professors ceding control of the curriculum has been going on for much longer than the year Samuel mentions.  The faculty, who have the responsibility to control the curriculum, have given up that right.  This is especially true outside the classroom as Samuel says.

We had an experience when we tried to set up a career preparation course.  All courses need to be approved by faculty committees.  That is how the faculty controls the curriculum.  The faculty chose to make a stand because Career Services personnel rather than just faculty would be involved in instruction.  The faculty were worried about that but did not care about the dorm programming and extracurricular power that Samuel mentions.

Neither faculty nor the Congress seem very interested in taking care of their responsibilities.  We wish they would but an example of the problem is that it was not a priority for us.  Internships, relations with employers, and budgeting were more important to us than the problem that we and Samuel have pointed out.  There needs to be advocates in the faculty and Congress but the probability of success is as low as the interest in being an advocate.

Making Public Universities Private

Richard Vetter has an interesting article at Minding the Campus with a strange start.  You should read the whole thing as vouchers for college is an interesting idea.  Near the beginning of Let’s Privatize State Colleges he categorizes colleges:

Some of them are renowned highly selective research institutions like the University of California at Berkeley or the University of Michigan, while others are relatively obscure schools with an open admissions policy. But all receive some degree of subsidization from the state government where they are physically located.

Writers love groups of three: Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear.  In Bonanza there is Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe.  In the Brady Bunch there is a dad with three boys marries a mom with three daughters.  When you add in the Brady’s housekeeper there are three groups of three.  Perfect.  Yet Richard has just two: Berkeley and open admissions.  It is particularly strange because the middle, what we will call comprehensives, is almost surely the majority of state college enrollment.  Here is a 2016 story for the University of Wisconsin System.  There are (rounding) 43,000 students at Madison (a Berkeley clone), 11,000 at the colleges (they have open admissions or close to it) out of 179,000.  The remaining 125,000 or 70 percent are enrolled elsewhere.  To call the 125,000 comprehensives is slightly expansive but that is what we are going with.  States will vary but comprehensives are likely a majority of enrollment nationwide.

Sidebar: The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee has 26,000 students and doesn’t fit as a comprehensive because it has a significant doctoral program but it is not, sorry, Berkeley.  The Carnegie classification is much more detailed. Check the numbers at the link.  There are 130 doctoral schools with very high research and 741 masters degree schools which is the traditional definition of a comprehensive.   We will use the term comprehensive to include these second tier research programs and some schools without a masters program.  We know there are more categories.  End Sidebar.

The comprehensives, as defined in the sidebar, are the biggest group of students.  Richard is not just talking about Berkeley.  Richard has a neat idea: Let’s give money to needy and/or accomplished individuals rather than schools.  He says:

Why don’t we provide vouchers for college attendance like some states do for students going to K-12 schools? The aid could be more explicitly targeted to kids who are either relatively poor or who excel academically.

We like vouchers for K-12 but are not supportive of Richard’s proposal for three (there is that number again) reasons: gamesmanship, lack of confidence in the state, and it is not a priority.  First, there is the opportunity for gamesmanship.  Do 529 accounts count? Is your parents’ income and assets considered if you go into the armed forces and then return to school?  The current system has enough of these challenges.  Making the potential returns bigger will only exacerbate the current challenges.

Second, we are expecting each state to come up with and adjust a system that prevents gamesmanship and deals with grad students, veterans, varying programs, and finances.  For example, 150 credits are required to sit for the CPA exam in most states.  Do you get five years in accounting but four years in finance?  We are not confident that the state will make things better.  Colleges have employee contracts that are set up before enrollment.  Under Richard’s system when a college does not reach enrollment targets there will be a big financial problem.  What will be the state’s plan for short-term versus long-term financial problems.  Will contracts be honored?

Third, and most importantly, state college vouchers should not be a priority for conservatives.  The reason vouchers for K-12 are a priority is to encourage competition.  Comprehensives are already intensely competitive within state and sometimes among states and they often have a program or two where they compete with the flagship school(s).  The flagship schools compete among states.  There is lots of overlap in the Wisconsin (Madison) and Minnesota application pools.  College vouchers might increase competition but there is already intense competition.

If we are going to spend our time on education we need to worry about (of course, three things) K-12 vouchers, union issues, and free speech, especially in college.  Vouchers for colleges is a fun topic to kick around among  conservatives (why not allow students to use them at private schools?) but it shouldn’t be a priority.


Two Harsh Views Of The University

We still owe you the consolidation piece on university systems but these two comments are interesting and related.  Both take an important issue and overstate the significance of it.

Barton Swaim is reviewing The Adjunct Underclass: How America’s Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, Their Students, and Their Mission by Herb Childress in the WSJ.  Barton, and many of the folks in Herb’s book have had a tough time in academia.  Barton says:

Unless your child attends an elite liberal-arts institution, during his first two years—and maybe even in his third and fourth years—he will almost certainly be taught mainly by graduate students or contract workers with no permanent connection to the institution.  [Emphasis added]

Over at the Corner in NRO, George Leef is worried about faculty in the North Carolina System being evaluated by students for teaching awards.  We called it Student Evaluation of Instruction (SEI):

For one thing, each of the  system’s constituent institutions selects one faculty member as its best teacher and that individual receives a cash prize of $12,500. But as Hennen notes, exactly how the selection committees make their selections is unknown. Do they just rely on student evaluations, which are of very dubious value since many students give high scores to faculty who are entertaining and give high grades for little effort and low scores for demanding ones. If the way to get yourself in the running for an award is being popular, that would tend to be counter-productive.

In our 40 years in academia we have had exposure to lots of different schools: two year, comprehensive, private, and flagships.  As department chair and associate dean we have looked at data on many more.  We have significant experience with hiring and SEI scores.  Wisconsin has useful terminology of faculty, meaning tenure track, and instructional academic staff (IAS) for those not on the tenure track.  Full-time IAS almost always have a connection to the university.  For business schools and others it is a way to bring in practitioners.

The one place we haven’t taught at is an elite liberal-arts institution so we don’t know if Barton is right about that.  We don’t know if he thinks our undergrad school was one of them but we weren’t keeping track of the contracts of the instructors.  In retrospect, we especially wonder how the contracts with the clergy were constructed.  What is true, if you go to a flagship school with PhD programs you will get many grad students as instructors.  It is also true there are some schools that use a higher percentage of part-time adjuncts.  Quality comprehensive schools don’t.   Accreditation standards ensure that certain ratios of IAS to faculty are met.  Accredited business schools have much more detailed standards.  See here to download.

Sidebar One: We spent time deciding on the adjective “quality” and are not entirely happy with it.  We don’t have the data to say most.  End Sidebar One.

At quality comprehensive schools you will have full-time folks with a connection to the university.  It doesn’t take away from the problem of the treatment of grad students and IAS by some schools but good consumers can avoid it.

One way to avoid these problems are SEI scores.  Students are in the classroom every day and should have a voice in evaluating instructors.  Students aren’t perfect at it but neither is anyone else.  There is little evidence of what George suggests that students are enticed by high grades or little effort.  Our research has found no relationship between grades and SEI scores.

Sidebar Two: Sometimes there are bad SEI questions.  At one school they asked for an numerical response and a written response to “The instructor is enthusiastic about the discipline.”  The written responses showed that the students misunderstood the question.  They thought is was about enforcing discipline rather that the discipline being taught.  End Sidebar Two.

George and Barton point out two serious problems: It is hard to evaluate instructors and some schools treat instructors and/or grad students very poorly.  We think both George and Barton are too harsh.  George needs to recognize that SEI scores need to be part of evaluating instructors. Barton needs to recognize that part-time IAS are going to be part of the instructional portfolio for most departments and grad students will be part for some.  Consumers, accreditation bodies, and oversight bodies (like the Board of Regents or the legislature) need to see that departments don’t abuse them.

Universities have many areas to clean up.  George and Barton have identified two of them but we don’t want to ignore other problems by going overboard on these.

Consolidating Universities

Anthony Hennen at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal has an interesting article using the University of Georgia as an example that consolidation can improve student performance.  Anthony says:

But these mergers and eleventh-hour survival moves have another benefit: consolidating campuses and university services can save a college money and improve student outcomes. Even for state college systems in relatively good financial shape, consolidation could make them fiscally leaner, help students learn more, and improve graduation rates.

Conservatives want to be very careful about supporting consolidation as it often means centralization.  One of the reasons that American public universities are great is the intra-state competition as well as the competition among states.  Also students are different and it makes sense for them to have different environments to pick from.  Anthony is absolutely right when he says how a system consolidates matters and positive results are not guaranteed.  He is on less solid ground when he says:

Consolidation isn’t a matter of cutting departments and laying off workers; it’s a matter of reforming a college’s structure and getting workers to focus on the most important aspects of their jobs. Restructuring a college can eliminate duplication and micromanagement, and identify problems with keeping workers accountable. Doing it well means using a school’s resources better and doing more with less.

There are at least three inconsistencies in that paragraph.  First, there will be cuts.  Reforming a college’s structure and eliminating duplication will mean layoffs and it might mean cutting departments.  Do we need two German departments on the East side of the state?  One important part of implementation is that the solution is student centered and the pain is distributed.  There are lots of ways to divide up the university but administrators, faculty (teachers), (non-teaching) staff, and clerical is one useful way.  In the next post we will give you our experience with mergers in Wisconsin.  The short answer is that faculty, at least, never forgets a slight.  All of these groups need to see the merger as “fair.”  Another way to put it is that all of the groups, and especially administration, need to suffer.  It is important that administration suffer for two reasons.  First, everybody is looking at that group.  Second, there are lots of expensive people in that group.  Getting rid of a dean might have the same financial impact as eliminating five to ten clerical positions.  Some of the administration suffering must include central (or system) administration.

Second, eliminating micromanagement while keeping workers accountable seems the least likely outcome.  Increasing micromanagement to try to keep workers accountable seems a much more likely outcome.  From a faculty perspective there have been lots of additions fairly recently like assessment, accreditation, and post-tenure reviews that many view as micromanagement.  Graduation rates are another level of micromanagement that causes concern about academic freedom.  Concern about graduation rates sounds to many faculty like ease up on your student workload and grading.  That kind of pressure could cause a faculty revolt.

Third, doing consolidation well means using a school’s resources better and doing more with less. Essentially every faculty member will tell you that he is doing more with less already.  We think the other groups will too but we have less exposure to them to give you a percentage.

One might read our concerns about merger and consolidation and conclude that we are dead set against them. We are not but recognize the many challenges that can be summarized in two parts.  First, consolidation should not be chiefly centralization.  It is critical for long term success that institutions have the ability to compete.  Second, employees at the university are there because of the established relationships [yes, we know that was wishy-washy but otherwise this is going to take another 1000 words].  Mergers and consolidations will upset folks.  Many of those folks are extremely productive and most of them are highly marketable.  Implementing change is always a challenge but it is even more so at a university.  It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it but you need a quality plan to succeed.



Porn And The Regent

We recently wrote about Joe Gow’s, the Chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UWL), failure to protect freedom of expression.  It is not far back if you want to look for it.  We had missed Bob Atwell’s, a Regent in the University of Wisconsin System, opinion piece on Joe and porn.  We have almost nothing in common with Wisconsin’s new governor but we see an opportunity..

We see now that the pressure on Joe was coming from the Regents.  We wish that he had the courage to stand up to them and, if necessary, fall on his sword.

Porn, like alcohol, weed, and gambling, to name a few, has all kinds of bad outcomes.  None of those things can be legislated out of existence.  We have tried and failed with all of them.  We can’t even define porn.  Inviting a former porn star or a current conservative doesn’t mean that the university supports either one.  Few people have been more wrong than Bob when he says:

There is ample scientific evidence that what [Joe] apparently admires as free expression, is in fact a massive public health problem.

I am hopeful this will result in a deep conversation about pornography rather than a shallow one about freedom.

If Bob is suggesting that Joe admires porn then he is dishonest.  He is correct that porn is a big problem.  His preferred solution, ignoring it, is not working.  Preventing a discussion about porn and all of the variants of near-porn is worthy of a deep conversation.  Bob doesn’t want one.  The conversation about freedom is anything but shallow.  Somebody needs to tell Bob that.  We hope Tony will use a pink slip to try and convince Bob about the importance of freedom of speech.  It would be our first opportunity to agree with Tony and a chance for him to show everyone that he is more than an empty chair.